30 rock

TSG, Tool Time, and More: Which Shows-Within-Shows Would Work?

Sure, the behind-the-scenes craziness of TGS With Tracy Jordan is wildly entertaining — but would TGS itself be watchable? In theory, the idea of Tracy in a sketch called “Gaybraham Lincoln” is amusing, but in practice? For years, many TV series about TV have featured shows-within-shows — some intentionally bad but entertaining, some intentionally good but actually quite bad. What follows is an assessment of thirteen of these fictional shows: Would we DVR them if they were real? Let us know your opinions below.

The Show: Herschel Shmoikel Pinkus Yerucham Krustofski is a chain-smoking manic depressive haunted by addictions, ex-wives, and showbiz vendettas. Onscreen, Krusty is aggressively cheerful — and in the ranks of children’s television characters, he isn’t even that strange. Only an occasional heart attack or murder attempt makes Krusty less plausible than Pee-Wee Herman or HR Pufnstuf. Sample dialogue: Krusty: “Hey kids, it’s story time! I’m gonna tell you the story of Krusty’s expensive new suit. His sexual harassment suit! Oh boy. Anyway, as part of Krusty’s plea bargain, he has a new court-ordered sidekick, Ms. No-Means-No! Whoa! You’re hot! Let’s get some dinner after the show!” Would we watch it? No — like any sensible adult, we find clowns terrifying, and the constant product placement makes The Apprentice look classy. However, we would buy a DVD that just collects its “Itchy and Scratchy” segments.
The Show: A vindictive, controlling nymphomaniac off-camera, Betty White’s Sue Ann Nivens was all sunshine and squeegee-cleaning tips when the cameras turned on. She took on such Today show–esque topics as “What Turns a Man On?” and “A Salute to Fruit,” as well as weightier segments like “What’s All This Fuss About Famine?” Sample dialogue: “Now, if you want to tidy up in a hurry, think of your living room as a big clock. Start at midnight, and then go around the room working clockwise toward the kitchen. You’ll be done in two shakes of a lamb’s tail!” Would we watch it? The show, maybe; oven-cleaning tips are timeless. But we’d definitely watch the angry blooper reel.
The Show: Nearly every time Daria Morgendorffer clicked the power button on her pre-HD TV, she was greeted with the same show: Sick, Sad World, a TV news magazine with a penchant for the absurd. Daria and her best friend Jane rarely watched past the teasers, which promised footage of polygamist hippopotami, psychic Nazi hunters, and drunk ballerinas (“Tanked in a tutu!”). Sample dialogue: “Are drug-crazed rodents raiding your child’s medicine cabinet? Rats on Ritalin, next on Sick Sad World.” Would We Watch It? We’re pretty sure we already have.
The Show: Aaron Sorkin’s hour-long sermons about the nobility of television were painful to watch — but not as painful as the show that self-proclaimed anti-hacks Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford’s characters were ostensibly writing. The few sketches that made it on-camera were loaded with unintentional oxymorons: an edgy Gilbert & Sullivan parody, a side-splitting dolphin impression, a controversial Dubya joke. It would have been hilarious, had Sorkin not expected us to laugh. Sample dialogue: Cast, singing to the tune of “Modern Major General” from The Pirates of Penzance: “If you feel you’ve been cheated and our sordid content lets you down/ We’ll happ’ly do the favor of an intellectual reach-around!” Would we watch it? Not for all the Nicolas Cage impressions in the world.
The Show: The premise of Love Handles — “One heavy hunk, fifteen large and luscious ladies, all stuffed in one super-sized villa” — bears an uncanny resemblance to More to Love, Fox’s tasteless 2009 dating show about a plus-size guy and the plus-size ladies who fight to win his plus-size heart. But Love Handles takes the premise one step further, with all of the challenges being junk-food related. Sample dialogue: Bachelor: “Now, even though I’m a dot-com millionaire, I still like a woman who can bring home the bacon. That’s why, for your next challenge, you’ll have to carry this plate of bacon through this obstacle course and feed it to me, without dropping a single slice.” Would we watch it? Yes, but only late at night, preferably while eating Cheetos.
The Show: Although the faux daytime drama appeared to be playing nonstop on every television in Twin Peaks, only the ditsy sheriff’s secretary Lucy bothered to follow the plot. Had the other residents paid attention, they might have noticed some odd coincidences — like soap character Jade’s identical twin Emerald appearing onscreen, while dead teenager Laura Palmer’s identical cousin Maddy arrived in Twin Peaks. Sadly, Invitation to Love lasted for only one season; the producers decided that the extended gag wasn’t worth the effort, so we never got to see how weird it could actually get. Sample dialogue: Chet: “For god’s sake, Emerald … I’m married to your sister now. It’s wrong!” Emerald: “Well, you always said you could never tell us apart.” Would we watch it? Only if they added a backwards-talking dwarf to the cast. You know, for realism.
The Show: A 20/20-ish news hour featuring star reporter Murphy Brown, an uncompromising journalist and scathing commentator so opposed to throwing softballs that she was banned from the White House press room (twice). Her co-anchors, including former Miss America Corky Sherwood, seemed to spend less time working on their own stories than they did backing up Brown (or reining her in). Good thing none of them could see into the future, when the world would soon be sucked into a 24-hour news cycle narrated entirely by Corkys. Sample dialogue: Anchor Jim Dial: “Good evening. For Your Information tonight, Frank O’Hara spends 24 hours on patrol with the Guardian Angels, while Corky Sherwood gets a private tap-dancing lesson from star Tommy Tune. But first, an exclusive report: Murphy Brown exposes a major defense contracting scandal.” Would we watch it? Yes, although Rachel Maddow is doing a decent job of filling the Murphy-shaped hole in our hearts.
The Show: This Old House on testosterone boosters, Tool Time was hosted by father of three Tim Taylor (Allen), whose personal mantra — “More power!” — resulted in weekly on-camera catastrophes, despite the best efforts of Taylor’s put-upon sidekick, Al (Richard Karn). The fictional studio audience was meant to believe that all those super-glue and staple gun accidents were staged, which would perhaps make Tool Time the PBS version of Jackass. Sample dialogue: Tim: “Always think ‘safety’ when working with a spinning lathe. You notice I didn’t wear a necktie: you want nothing hanging down, and no loose clothing.” Tim’s untucked shirt is ripped off by the spinning lathe, leaving him bare-chested. Tim: “Is it cold in here?” Would we watch it? We were thinking “no,” until we came up with that PBS/Jackass analogy.
The Show: Jerry was an audacious stroke of metafiction, a show created by Jerry (Seinfeld) and George (Jason Alexander) about characters named Jerry and George. However, while it was intended to be a sitcom based on the “real” events of Seinfeld, network notes turned it into a pat high-concept comedy. For a show that only existed in a fun-house mirror, Jerry attracted some promising talent, including Jeremy Piven (cast as “George”) and Mariska Hargitay (rejected for “Elaine”). Sample dialogue: Jerry: “Did you ever notice a lot of butlers are named Jeeves? I think when you name a baby Jeeves, you’ve pretty much mapped out his future. Not much chance he’s gonna be a hit man. ‘Terribly sorry, sir, but I’m going to have to whack you.’” Would we watch it? Obviously.
The Show: Those who watched The Dick Van Dyke Show in its heyday (or during its Nick at Nite revival) might be surprised at how rarely comedy writer Rob Petrie’s life’s work, The Alan Brady Show, was actually shown onscreen. But judging from the material bandied about in the writers’ room — by characters based on Reiner’s Your Show of Shows cohorts Mel Brooks and Selma Diamond — Alan Brady (Reiner) delivered Borscht Belt groaners and post-Vaudevillian character sketches that would have made Sid Caesar proud. Sample dialogue: Alan Brady: “Do you realize that it takes two elephants to make the keys for a piano like this?” Guest Star: “My, I didn’t know those big brutes did such delicate work!” Would we watch it? Underneath the dusty shtick, you can still see the outlines of Caesar veterans Woody Allen, Neil Simon, and Mel Brooks. So that’s a sentimental yes.
The Show: While the original pilot script Ricky Gervais’s Andy Millman pitched was a dry, realistic workplace comedy about a narcissistic boss and his sarcastic employees (sound familiar?), the resulting show, When the Whistle Blows, was the antithesis of The Office: a garish mishmash of spit takes, double entendres, and mugging, sewn together with the remarkably unfunny catchphrase, “Are you having a laugh? Is he having a laugh?” Sample dialogue: Ray: “Do some bloody work! What’s up with you lot?” Rita: “We’re depressed, Mr. Stokes.” Gobbler: “Radio’s broken, Mr. Stokes.” Brains: “Statistics prove that work is much more productive with musical accompaniment.” Ray: “You having a laugh? Is he having a laugh?” Would we watch it? Are you having a laugh?
The Show: Larry Sanders, the host of his own late-night chat show, seemed a barely fictionalized version of his alter ego, former Tonight Show guest host Garry Shandling. The Larry Sanders Show followed a basic Johnny Carson formula, mixing desk bits, performances, celebrity interviews (with guests from Jim Carrey to Elvis Costello), and comedy sketches. Always seated to guests’ right was Hank Kingsley (Jeffrey Tambor), the affection-starved sidekick best described in Larry’s own words: “His heart’s in the right place, but he keeps his brain in a box at home.” Sample dialogue: Guest Gene Siskel: “Hollywood really misses the boat by not filming good love stories.” Larry Sanders: You see, ‘cause were I dating, I would look in the paper and take a woman to see Free Willy. Nudge her when he comes, you know, heaving out of the water. See if she gets the hint.” Would we watch it? Hey, fictional Sanders is still far funnier than his less-fictional rival, Jay Leno.
The Show: With sketches like “The Bear and Robot Talk Show,” “The Fart Doctor,” and “Pam, the Overly Confident Morbidly Obese Woman,” TGS (originally The Girlie Show) seems to be lifting its material straight from the Friday-night reject pile at SNL … which Tina Fey may well be doing. Sample dialogue: Jenna Maroney: “If he wears an Atlantic Falcons jersey to your sister’s wedding? That’s a dealbreakah, ladies!” Would we watch it? Nah. MILF Island, on the other hand …
TSG, Tool Time, and More: Which Shows-Within-Shows Would Work?