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Remote Control’s Ken Ober: 1957-2009

November 18, 2009

You may recall, a very, very long time ago, that MTV was a fun place to visit. It wasn’t full of teens unknowingly having babies in their pants, awful debutante princesses screaming at their fathers, or 40 year-old reality program stars trying desperately to hold on to dignity that clearly doesn’t exist anymore. 

It was an MTV of the eighties, garish in its colors and primitive in its music video special effects. MTV was an innovator in its field, and music fans of all types were glued to the neverending stream of videos and interesting hair. And somewhere, around the late eighties, MTV decided to branch out a little, you know, add some programming in.

In 2009, we see that the “adding some programming” experiment proved to be arguably the network’s downfall, since there’s very little to be found in the way of music at all on the network these days. But in 1987, you may remember a four-year run of a pop culture-based game show named Remote Control. If you’ve never heard of it, you might as well stop reading here. If you have, slap me some skin. Because I know you dug it as much as I did.

We would be remiss today, as a pop culture blog, if we didn’t pay our respects after Sunday’s passing of Ken Ober, the host of that distinct game show. Remote Control was not only a mecca of and homage to all things television, music and eighties-culture based; it also served as a launching pad for a young Adam Sandler (known as the character “The Stud Boy,” among others), Denis Leary (perfecting the cigarette-smoking rants which would later put him on the map), and Colin Quinn (just plain loved in comedy circles, even if he never quite hit his proper stride in the mainstream). 

The premise of the show was pure madness — contestants strapped into souped-up La-Z-Boys would choose “channels” and answer pop questions appropriately from categories like “Private Dicks” and “Dead or Canadian.” The winner would be secured tightly into a massive Craftmatic Adjustable Bed and faced with a wall of television screens, timed as he or she named the music video playing on each monitor.

Ober, as the master of ceremonies, chewed up the role as his own updated version of Wink Martindale, and the show had a comfortable, fun, one-of-the-gang atmosphere to it. After all, the set was designed to look like the basement of Ober’s house. And occasionally Ober’s “Mom” would even call down because there was too much noise.

Remote Control was one of the first television shows I remember watching that truly grasped a comprehensive snapshot of the moment’s pop culture. It fed off the hours of television I’d sponged in as a child and mashed it with the culture of that very second. It was fun, it was interesting, and it may very well be one of the greatest shows the network ever aired. And it’s basically all but completely forgotten in time. But here’s the thing — check out this clip of half an episode of the show, and tell me it’s not like watching part of your life in a time capsule you just dug up. 

So let’s raise a glass to Remote Control today and dust it off, if only to say goodbye to its immensely likeable host. Rest in Peace, Ken Ober — like all great things in pop culture, you had a specific time and a specific place, and even though it’s long gone, Remote Control will be boxed up and shelved in all of our minds, somewhere. Good times. Good times.

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