Burly TV created programs to be aired on college TV networks around America (an audience that no doubt included a large contingent of weed-smoking twilight gamers). Lorne Michaels would then buy show time on national TV networks such as TBS, and broadcast the shows as if they were original programming. But budgets were implausibly tight and, rather than hire writers and actors, Michaels approached David Mandel and Steve Lookner to both write and star in a new show.
“His thought process went something like this,” Mandel, who left Saturday Night Live to work on Seinfeld and, more recently, films such as The Dictator, told me: “‘I know nerdy writers that used to work for me. If we hire them to be on screen as talent they will have no choice but to write and ad-lib the show, whereas we couldn’t necessarily afford them as writers.’ We had just enough ego and desire to be on TV that we did it.” Lookner agrees that it was a smart move. “We were terrible on camera, but we do know how to block out a thirty-minute sketch show, write some jokes and have a sense of how long things should last,” he says.
So “Dave & Steve’s Video Game Explosion” was born.
The low-budget production and seemingly low stakes allowed the pair to do things like ridicule their sponsor, the soft drink-maker Sobe, and even the network on which they appeared. In one later episode, the pair review a World War II-themed first person shooter game, set on the D-Day landings; Mandel exclaims that because the game is so easy to finish, he simply doesn’t understand what war veterans keep “bitching” about. Not infrequently, they would have video conference calls with Japanese video game designers as if they were thousands of miles apart, but when the interview concluded, the designer would step out from behind the set to shake hands with the Mandel and Lookner. “It wrecked working in TV for me,” Lookner says. “That freedom is never going to happen again. There was literally no supervision and no co-workers to compete with for jokes.”