NBC’s Saturday Night Live, initially known as NBC’s Saturday Night, premiered with its debut host, George Carlin, on October 11, 1975. The show’s taboo, National Lampoon-inspired comedy sketches that parodied contemporary culture and politics, was a late-night ratings blockbuster. So it was inevitable it would inspire a series of low-budget, “sketch anthology” drive-in knock offs.
The best known — and box office successful — of the faux-Not Ready for Prime Time Players ensembles was the The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977) directed by John Landis and written by the ZAZ team of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker (later of Airplane! and The Naked Gun). Prior to SNL making it to air was the equally successful, X-rated The Groove Tube (1974). The writing and directing debut by Ken Shapiro, he would later do the same for the early, Chevy Chase comedy bomb, Modern Problems. You may also remember the better, late-to-the-game Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) featuring segments directed by Joe Dante.
Lost in between the success of those comedic omnibuses are Herschell Gordon Lewis’s trailblazer Miss Nymphet’s Zap-In (1970), The Boob Tube (1975), American Tickler (1978), Coming Attractions, aka Loose Shoes (1978; starring experienced improv-comics Bill Murray and Howard Hesseman), and National Lampoon’s hour-long cable special Disco Beaver from Outer Space (1979).
Then there’s this forgotten knockoff directed by Bradley R. Swirnoff and written by the BFS team of John Baskin, Stephen Feinberg, and Roger Shulman. Another similar, forgotten project from the comedic think tank was Tunnel Vision (1976).
As with their previous Tunnel Vision, Prime Time also deals with the nation’s first uncensored television network. This time — instead of the new network being part of a legitimate business venture in the future year of 1985 — all world television transmissions have been interrupted by an “unknown source” broadcasting a lineup of tasteless programs and commercials. Warner Bros. — who got involved hoping to appeal to the “hep” National Lampoon-reading college crowd weened on SNL — bankrolled the film for a mere $30,000 and intended to release it. When they saw the end product and deemed it “unreleasable,” they sold it to Cannon Films, which released it as American Raspberry in 1979. In fact, MGM was also burned (to the tune of $3 million) by Not Ready for Prime Time Players-connected material: the studio pulled SNL’s short film auteur Tom Schiller’s science fiction comedy (also working as a pseudo-anthology comedy), Nothing Last Forever (1984), from release and never screened it, anywhere (it’s now in the copyright vaults of Warners and part of the TCM library; Warners owns the pre-1986 MGM library).
Okay, back to the movie. . . .
As the President of the United States tries to get to bottom of who is responsible the tasteless transmissions, we’re subjected to a series of programs and commercials, aka skits, for 75-minutes of politically incorrect spoofs that would give today’s hashtag warriors a brain aneurysms as set they off on a quest to cancel-culture everyone connected to the project from existence.
There’s abortions and gynecologists. Catholic and midgets. Tampons and (fat) Charlie’s Angels (the series “Manny’s Nymphs”). There’s commercials calling out the tobacco industry and non-profit organizations like Save the Children. There’s spoofs on the then popular, yet annoying, commercials for car batteries (for an Execution organization promoting their “Die Tough Batteries”) and credit cards (“American Excess”). The capper is a commercial — that plays during the sitcom The Shitheads — for Trans Puerto Rico Airlines: its plane filled with goats and chickens as flies buzz around a pot of chili. Oh, wait: that’s topped by “sports coverage” of the Charles Whitman Invitational — as hunters sniper people and animals from a tower perch. And it goes on with a telethon raising funds for transvestites. Adolf Hitler pitching audio cassettes. Erection prevention sprays. Dog food commercials spoofing that funny topic of cannibalism.
And none of it is funny. None.
Well, at least not to me. Eh, the road to Judd Apatow had to start, somewhere. But why here? Oy, this was a chore to sit though. And to think my kid and teen self coveted these “adult comedies” back in the day. Yeah, sure . . . The Kentucky Fried Movie and The Groove Tube are okay, but this is, well, Plfffffffft!
The B&S About Movies crowd will notice the familiar character actors of Harris Yulin and Royce D. Applegate, along with Harry Shearer (This Is Spinal Tap), Warren Oates (Two-Lane Blacktop), Stephen Furst (Animal House), and an early Joanne Cassidy. And yes, that is Twink Caplan (Bloodspell), who became a successful producer in her own right with the ’90s comedies Curly Sue and Clueless. So, if you’re curious in seeing where those actors of VHS yore got their start, there’s something here to see. All others: hit that button and skip to the next Mill Creek selection.
It’s hard to believe the brains behind it all moved onto bigger and bigger things. But they did.
While Swirnoff and Freinberg left film and returned to the stage work from the improv lands which they came, we were unknowingly entertained by John Baskin and Stephen Feinberg into the late ’80s. The duo became a sought-after writing team for television, with multiple episodes of the hit series Love, American Style, All in the Family, Good Times, The Jeffersons, and Three’s Company, as well as developing the Jack Warden-starring series Crazy Like a Fox.