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Seven sketch comedies that deserved more chances than Mad TV got - VIDEOS

by Danny Gallagher, posted Dec 3rd 2008 10:34AM
Mad TV came along at a time in American television history when America had an excuse to get out of the house and live healthy and productive lives on Saturday night.

But eventually, the show evolved into a 60-minute scream fest of recurring characters spouting catchphrases over and over and celebrity satire that taught lessons about the proliferation of pop culture and ignorance. Important lessons, such as "Boy is Anna Nicole Smith dumb and fat!" and "Hey, is that Paris Hilton a whore or what?" Every episode felt like a hand was reaching out of the TV and rubbing a cheese grater across my face. Now 14 years after its inception, Fox has finally decided to pull the plug on Mad TV and let it die a slow horrible death instead of taking it out Old Yeller-style, the way God intended.

Sure the show had a few bright spots. Some of the movie parodies in the early seasons like Gump Fiction, Will Sasso's whiskey soaked Kenny Rogers and Frank Caliendo's dead-on impression of sports analyst John Madden gave the show a glimmer of mindless fun. But they weren't enough to a hold show together that could only manage to be outstanding in art design, makeup and hairstyling in the eyes of the almighty Emmy.

What makes its long and drawn-out cancellation even more frustrating is the fact that so many other superior sketch shows didn't have half the chance to become ratings grabbers that Mad TV got over the years. Here are some sketch shows that took the bullet that Mad TV deserved oh so long ago.

Upright Citizens Brigade - Just as Comedy Central found its way out of rerun-ville with hits like Mystery Science Theater 3000, their roster of original comedies slowly expanded. This sketch show from the founders of the legendary comedy theater of the same name centered around four agents of chaos who have "no government ties" and used their "unlimited resources" to complete their ongoing mission to shake up the status quo. It only lasted three seasons and was replaced by "Battlebots," a show that featured robots that battle each other. Sounds like their mission failed, if you ask me.

The Richard Pryor Show - NBC should have known what they were getting into when they stuck their foot in the bear trap, so why did they act so surprised when they realized they'd have to chew their foot off to get out of it? The show barely lasted four episodes and just about every one drew some kind of controversy from an opening sketch featuring Pryor in a nude suit with no genitalia to mock the way the network emasculated him to a sweet old woman in a park describing her first lesbian experience. The back and forth between the network's nervous censors eventually drove Pryor away from the show altogether and the networks had to coax him back, only for the show to fail in the ratings because Laverne & Shirley, which ran in the show's same time slot, rarely dealt with homosexual issues. At least not out in the open.

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Mr. Show
-It's hard to believe that God exists when the genius of Mr. Show struggles for three long years to find its footing and Mad TV gets more second chances than Darryl Strawberry to straighten up and fly right. But the Lord works in mysterious ways -- cruel, unfair and mysterious ways. Its creators, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, took their alternative comedy show to the unrestrained haven of curse words and frontal nudity that is HBO. The show featured a number of sketches that still get laughs on DVD today from the saga of perpetual "Fuzz" criminal Ronnie Dobbs to the failure of "Coupon: the Movie." The sketches skewed music, television and movies in brilliant and unconventional ways. Unfortunately, HBO kept juggling their time slot around until they ended up in the wee hours of Monday night before the show got the final axe.

The TV Wheel
- Joel Hodgson left his cult hit creation Mystery Science Theater 3000 barely before the peak of its popularity and HBO scooped him up with a chance to create his next prop-heavy comedy masterpiece. They got "The TV Wheel," a sketch comedy show that took place in real time with no cuts, breaks or commercials. The show only had one main camera that sat in the middle of a turntable in which sketches and scenes turned around it. The humor ranged from silly to surreal using some of Hodgson's trademark love of toys and puppets in just about every sketch. The show also featured a truckload of budding comedic talent including David Cross, Doug Benson, Paul Feig and Andy Kindler in the cast and a then-unknown Judd Apatow in the writer's pool. The pilot episode only aired once on Comedy Central following their final episode of MST3K. Did I mention this is the same network that replaced Upright Citizens Brigade with a show about battling robots?

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Almost Live! - The end of this sketch show based out of Seattle didn't just mark the end of a great comedy show. It also marked the end of local television programming as we once knew it. "Almost Live!" started as a local talk show hosted by John Keister but soon developed into a sketch comedy show that featured future famous regulars as Bill Nye and The Soup host Joel McHale. The show got national exposure when Comedy Central picked it up for their programming. Eventually the show got axed by the local affiliate when the network deemed it wasn't making enough of a profit and by enough, I mean enough to pay for a fifth coat of gold paint on the network executive's private hovercraft.

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The State - Hey, remember when MTV aired music videos? Yeah, me neither, but they did occasionally have some interesting and entertaining programming in its line-up that helped you forget you were watching a network that had the word "music" in its name. The cast of 11 created some funny sketches and characters like Doug and Barry and Lavon as well as some that made fun of the conventions of sketch comedy such as Louie, "the guy who comes in and says his catchphrase over and over again." It only lasted for three seasons after the troupe, which included Michael Ian Black, David Wain and Reno 911!'s Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant, decided to go their separate ways. They tried to make the jump to network television with CBS in the hopes they could attract an audience younger than the combined average age of 275.

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Exit 57 - If Monty Python's Flying Circus was the grandfather of surrealist comedy, Exit 57 is the crazy uncle of surrealist comedy that sets cats on fire for fun. This little known gem in Comedy Central's early programming featured future humorists Amy Sedaris, Paul Dinello and Stephen Colbert in a dramatic sketch show that took the off-ramp both literally and figuratively. The show's sketches centered around a fictional town called the Quad Cities with scenes that defied time, space and sanity. One sketch called "Down in the Basement" was just a constant loop of a scene between a neighborhood dad and his daughter's boyfriend asking for advice on "getting some" that became more and more strange and uncomfortable as the time passed. The show only lasted 12 episodes.

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The Dana Carvey Show definitely deserves a mention.

Take a look at this ridiculously talented group of performers and writers that made the 8 episodes that were produced some of the most insane stuff ever to appear on network TV:

- Dana Carvey
- Steve Carell
- Stephen Colbert
- Robert Smigel
- Charlie Kaufman
- Louis CK
- Dave Chappelle
- Jon Glaser
- Spike Feresten

Of course, had the show done well, "The Daily Show" may not have taken off the way it did (Colbert, Carell), and we could now be living in a world without "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and the American "Office" (Carell); "The Colbert Report" and Truthiness (Colbert); "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "Adaptation" (Kaufman); "The Chappelle Show" (Chappelle); "Lucky Louie" (CK); some amazing TV Funhouse cartoons on "SNL" and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (Smigel); or a cast of crazy characters on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" (Glaser, Smigel).

December 10 2008 at 10:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jeff stiefer

"Remember kids...Be Like Billy! Behave yourselves!"

i miss Almost Live. The speedwalker was funny too. It looks like there are quite a few clips on youtube.

December 06 2008 at 5:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What about In Living Color? It would have lasted a lot longer if FOX (or whatever network it aired on) hadn't censored it so much, causing the Wayans family to leave. Plus, that show created a lot of stars.

December 04 2008 at 1:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The Ben Stiller Show and The Dana Carvey Show

December 04 2008 at 2:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Cincinnati Mike

Favorite Ben Stiller sketches...
U2 reminiscing about their original manager, Mr Kincaid from Partridge family...who talked them into doing a Lucky Charms commercial.
Also, their Seattle-based Monkees takeoff, The Grungees.

December 03 2008 at 10:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bob Sassone

God, I loved Almost Live.

December 03 2008 at 2:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Come on Ben Stiller show was awesome! Legends of Springsteen, Cops in Ancient Egypt, and the Pig Latin lover. Also, I wish I could have seen Fridays when it aired.

December 03 2008 at 2:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Words cannot describe how much I loved The State.

December 03 2008 at 1:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"The Edge" -- Jennifer Aniston, Wayne Knight and the non-downtown Julie Brown.

December 03 2008 at 12:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Ben Stiller Show anyone?

December 03 2008 at 12:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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