Tune In, Turn On, Get Cancelled
May 6, 2010 3:26 PM   Subscribe

In 1969, George Schlatter was riding high as the producer of the high ratings blockbuster, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. So when Schlatter pitched a show to ABC that was like Laugh In only more so (with faster jokes, faster editing, and even more outrageous topical humor), ABC was willing to let Schlatter have free rein. The result was Turn-On, a show that bombed so badly it was cancelled the very night it aired.

Unfortunately, for the curious, the show is completely unavailable in any format, except for a brief YouTube clip from the unaired second episode. George Schlatter and Tim Conway both offer their take on the show. One commenter on IMDB even recalls how the show was yanked off the air in the middle of the show by one TV station, but the other comments on IMDB about the show are also historically interesting.
posted by jonp72 (43 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh man, I remember hearing about this years ago and always forgetting the damned name of the show. I would find it once in a while but then I would forget it again. I'm not sure what it says about me or the show (or its name) that I could never remember the name of a damned interesting piece of trivia. And I was a half-decent quiz bowl player once upon a time.

This time though... this time, I have a secret weapon: "add to favorites".
posted by kmz at 3:37 PM on May 6, 2010


the show is completely unavailable in any format

Looks like the Paley Center has it in their collection, so for those who live in or near New York or LA all is not lost...
posted by Nothing... and like it at 3:37 PM on May 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's too bad it isn't available, it sounds really interesting.
posted by TooFewShoes at 3:41 PM on May 6, 2010


So this is the episode where Tim Conway calls up 'Celery Man'?
posted by chambers at 3:54 PM on May 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


It's too bad it isn't available, it sounds really interesting.

Oops, I forgot to add the list of Turn-On skits on Wikipedia.
posted by jonp72 at 3:58 PM on May 6, 2010


Thanks for this. I always wondered if the internet would rustle it up.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:01 PM on May 6, 2010


The descriptions of the show remind of that episode of 30 Rock when Carrie Fisher guest stars as the former writer of a groundbreaking '60s tv show. The mailbox was Haldeman!
posted by Saxon Kane at 4:01 PM on May 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


Nobody was able to take Tim Conway seriously again.
posted by hal9k at 4:02 PM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's tough being a TV show 20 minutes into the future.
posted by Nelson at 4:27 PM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


One cop, played by Chuck McCann, asks a second, "You want to take some of this pornographic literature home with you tonight?" The colleague replies, "I don't even have a pornograph!"

That's actually got a laugh from me.
posted by feloniousmonk at 4:27 PM on May 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


I love Tim Conway, no matter his wrongs. "FNORKIE!"

And I would love to see this show. I saw a comment somewhere else that AFI has it? Next time I'm up there...note to self.....
posted by umberto at 4:30 PM on May 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


This show is often cited in lists of the "worst shows ever", usually compiled by people who never saw it. I first learned of it in a book called "TV Turkeys."
posted by evilcolonel at 4:42 PM on May 6, 2010


Wow. This sounds great. Reminds me of WONDER SHOWZEN.
Each bit was backed by strange unfamiliar, futuristic, threatening music

REMINDS ME A LOT OF WONDER SHOWZEN.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 4:46 PM on May 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


I can say that I saw that single episode, being a huge Laugh-In fan at the time. And the only joke I remember is the one about the swastika-shaped peace talks table. And the fact that a computerish voice narrated or introduced the show.

It wasn't as good as Laugh-In, at least to me at the time, but I'd love to see it again and review my impressions. I never understood then why it'd been canceled so quickly.

Thanks for posting this, jonp72.
posted by the sobsister at 4:46 PM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]




It wasn't as good as Laugh-In...

Wow, that's really saying something.

Michael McKean just credited MetaFilter for this story.

WTF?! Michael McKean is a) alive b) on the Internet (with injokes and everything!) and c) on MeFi?
posted by DU at 5:19 PM on May 6, 2010


Relative to what the industry expected back then, with a very small nightly line-up for viewers to choose from, I'm sure the show was below par. But with some of the crap we have seen on cable since the 1980's I cannot imagine this show was that bad. I would think it would surface some day.
posted by Rashomon at 5:22 PM on May 6, 2010


DU: Michael McKean is in tons of stuff. Are you not a disciple of the Church of Christopher Guest like all right thinking people?
posted by kmz at 5:27 PM on May 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


CBS claimed viewing Turn-On actually physically disturbed their executives and test audiences, saying that any professional, quality program would move at a milder, slower pace with softer humor.

You know, I actually had an experience somewhat like that myself. By my mid 20s, I'd been mostly away from television for just about a decade, having long since been swallowed up by computers instead. And on a lark, I sat down and watched some MTV.

It actually did make me a bit dizzy and nauseous; having been away from that sort of thing for so long, the high-speed cuts where you didn't even have time to focus on what was in frame really started to bother me after awhile. My brain felt a little bruised when I got up, a half-hour later. I'm sure it wouldn't have bothered me if I'd had more exposure, but to truly fresh eyes, it was rather disconcerting. I remember thinking that if it bothered me that much, it probably wasn't a good idea to watch it, so I just stayed away from MTV after that.

So, when CBS claims that their executives were physically disturbed, I totally buy it. Their eyes would have been much like mine, untrained at confuso-vision. And it can be pretty distressing if you don't have any practice with it.
posted by Malor at 5:29 PM on May 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


Actually, I had no reason to suspect McKean of being dead and have seen him as recently as a few years ago. I just needed a third thing for my list.

I hope I didn't jinx him. I'll always have a special place in my heart for Mr Green, the fruitplant.
posted by DU at 5:35 PM on May 6, 2010


It wasn't as good as Laugh-In...

Wow, that's really saying something.


Indeed. Laugh-In aired during my high school years, a time when I lived and breathed satire and parody. I was reading Aristophanes, Terry Southern, Hunter Thompson & Tom Wolfe, NatLamp, R. Crumb, Joseph Heller. Had a yearbook photo of me taken while I was reading Gilbert Highet's Anatomy of Satire. Evolved in my taste for stand-up comedy from Bill Cosby to Lenny Bruce, who was God to me for a long time. Laugh-In bored the crap out of me, apart from Lily Tomlin and a bit of Flip Wilson. I absolutely loathed Rowan and Martin and if I'd ever had the slightest fear that I might grow up to be an adult like one or the other would have committed suicide forthwith. But of course the huge difference between Laugh-In and Saturday Night Live was that the former was never aimed aimed at a young demographic, but firmly at the middle-class middle-aged, in particular at the sort of balding male who voted Nixon but secretly wished he was still young enough to make love not war with Goldie Hawn.
posted by Creosote at 5:51 PM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wait, Laugh In was aimed at the middle-aged? No wonder all the hippie stuff was so over the top and forced.
posted by DU at 5:53 PM on May 6, 2010


I was 16, so TurnOn was in my sweet spot & made me laugh out loud. The only bit that stuck with me all these years is the pregnant nun sitting in the rocking chair, singing "I Got Rhythm." My very Catholic mother was mortified. My religion-free father sort of chuckled, especially since the 10 year gap after my little brother had just been plugged by the arrival of the first girl baby in our family. IIRC, WLS-TV in Chicago was one of the stations that pulled the program mid-broadcast, cuz that's how I remembered it without the prompt of this FPP.

Another short lived program that was better through the long-lens of foggy memory than actually weeing it again was the NBC Richard Pryor show. Brilliant remembered bit was Pryor having musical guests The Pips on th eprogram. Not Gladys Knight & the Pips, but Knightless Pips.

Midnight Train To Georgia plays, the Pips twirl & spin & sing only the backing chorus.

The rest of the program sucked. I have the DVD to prove it (I'll mail it gratis to the first memail--it is NTSC).
posted by beelzbubba at 6:12 PM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


The colleague replies, "I don't even have a pornograph!"

Okay, I definitely remember that joke being used on Laugh-In, although possibly after the Turn-On debacle. I clearly recall it was Judy Carne, who I had a crush on for most of the show's run, doing the line as part of the regular 'Party' segment of quick gags. If I recall, it went "my boyfriend asked if I'd like him to bring over some pornography, and i told him..."

I was 13 when "Turn-On" aired. My parents had entrusted me with a portable TV in my room so that we didn't have to subject each other to our tastes in television. I remember seeing it start, thinking "what the heck?!?" (I was an innocent kid), tuning away, then tuning back and turning the volume way down while keeping a hand close to the tuner in case a parent came into my room. When the publicity hit the next day, my mother asked me if I'd seen it and I white-lied and said "just for a minute" then truthfully said "it was really kind of stupid." I don't remember anything specific except for the longest sequence on the show, as the camera cut between Tim Conway and a female cast member making funny (not so sexy) faces at each other while the word "SEX" flashed on the screen (half the time with a "?"). For a 13 year old kid, it ran way too long and made SEX look rather boring. Otherwise, what was most notable to me was all the 1-to-2 second jump cuts to people or scenes that had nothing to do with anything funny. Filler.

I just wish there was a complete credits list online (not even imdb has one) just to see who all the writers were. Several years later, I worked in radio with some people who had worked on "Laugh-In" (Gary Owens being the only one famous for it) and I never asked the non-famous ones if they were involved with "Turn-On" - I'll bet at least one of them was.
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:31 PM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I once heard Dick Martin talk about the jokes they'd write into Laugh-In specifically for the censors to cut out. Like a scene with a holidaying couple leaving Hawaii on an ocean liner: a crew member tells them "it's traditional to throw your lei overboard when we depart", so the guy picks up the woman and throws her over the side. They knew these jokes wouldn't get in, they threw them in to help the censor feel like he was doing his job and in the hope that he'd let other jokes slide.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:39 PM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


It wasn't as good as Laugh-In...

Wow, that's really saying something.

Indeed.


Not quite getting the Laugh-In hate, as I was a few years younger, with similar tastes, yet still found it entertaining. Did it co-opt "hippie culture"? As a referent, yes, but no more or less so than it did vaudeville or, more accurately, burlesque. It was all catchlines, guest stars and the sort of barrage of jokes, good and bad together, that Airplane! would bring to the screen.

I loved the show as a kid and would like to revisit it now. I thought Rowan and Martin were a good comedy team, maybe the last big-time on this side of the Atlantic. Was it watered down for a middle-class television audience? Of course. How could it not have been? But it's disingenuous to cite Southern, Bruce or Crumb as points of comparison, as none of them could ever have worked in that medium. The only other game in town were the Smothers Brothers, whose humor cut closer to the bone with little of the baggy-pants that was Laugh-In's stock in trade. Otherwise, what? Hollywood Palace? The Dean Martin Show? Even Flip Wilson, whom you cite, had a fairly boilerplate, middle-class, middle-brow variety show that was enlivened solely by his soft-edged but engaging characterizations.

So, while sneering at Laugh-In may be easy, it's only so if one ignores what it was able to do within its contraints.
posted by the sobsister at 8:06 PM on May 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


So, while sneering at Laugh-In may be easy, it's only so if one ignores what it was able to do within its contraints.

I can't agree. Partly because there have been other comic shows on TV that achieved brilliance within those same constraints, and I just don't think Laugh-In ever did. I was too young to see Sid Caesar live on TV, but in 1973, my freshman year of college, I was at the L.A. premiere of Ten From 'Your Show of Shows', a compilation of episodes from newly-discovered recordings, sitting a couple rows in front of Caesar, having received a reviewer's pass sent to my college newspaper. I was totally blown away, as I would be when I'd see my first Chaplin films. For the same reason: artistic genius. It's something Caesar had, SNL has had from time to time, but I sure don't remember from Laugh-In.
posted by Creosote at 8:32 PM on May 6, 2010


Yes, I was 13 and I saw it. Yes, it was awful. Awful in a "What were they thinking?" sort of way.

My working theory is that it didn't work because internally, the show was some sort of culture clash between the Old and the New that never resolved. ("Nudge, nudge" attitudes about sexuality simply WERE NOT FUNNY after the Sexual Revolution.)

It was simply painful to watch.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 9:59 PM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I would like to state the for record that, while I laughed when I read the pornograph joke here, it makes no sense at all. You don't "play" photography on a photograph, nor is there anything popularly called "phonography" that you could play on a phonograph.
posted by DU at 4:49 AM on May 7, 2010


I would like to state the for record

I just saw what I did there.
posted by DU at 4:49 AM on May 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Like a scene with a holidaying couple leaving Hawaii on an ocean liner: a crew member tells them "it's traditional to throw your lei overboard when we depart", so the guy picks up the woman and throws her over the side.

I've never seen either of these shoes, but man, do all of these "jokes" sound terrible.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:10 AM on May 7, 2010


Shows, too. Dammit.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:10 AM on May 7, 2010


For a second there Pho, I thought you were doing an Ed Sullivan impression and I groaned.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 5:55 AM on May 7, 2010


While watching a bunch of Laugh-In episodes to just enrich my TV comedy-nerdage.

ME: So, Goldie Hawn, her thing is ...that she's on TV
BF: Yes.
ME: ...because she's pretty...
BF: Yes.
ME: ..and she can't act...
BF: Yes.
ME: And is baked out of her mind?
BF: Yes.
ME: Nice work if you can get it.
posted by The Whelk at 7:26 AM on May 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Without Laugh-In, there's no Muppet Show...or, at least, it would have been a completely different program.

Same thing with "You Can't Do That On Television", for those who remember that.
posted by inturnaround at 7:29 AM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


*SLIME*
posted by The Whelk at 7:29 AM on May 7, 2010


And in the comedy transitive property, without Laugh-In there is no 30 Rock.

I was reading about the Vaudeville circuit and the development of the routines and the style of humor and was surprised by how much of it was echoed in Laugh-In and then The Muppet Show ...you also see bits of it in Warner Brothers Cartoons and now, I guess, done either as homage (The musical version of the Producers) or sly having-cake-and-eating-it-too winking at it (30 Rock). As a dramatic form and style, it's been remarkably resilient.
posted by The Whelk at 7:32 AM on May 7, 2010


Turn On may not have even been the weirdest attempt to cash in on the Laugh-In craze. Has anyone ever heard of the Laugh-In daytime game show Letters to Laugh-In, hosted by Space Ghost (and Laugh-In announcer) Gary Owens?
posted by inturnaround at 7:50 AM on May 7, 2010


For those who are fascinated by tales of long forgotten short-run TV shows, I highly suggest The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present. Highly entertaining.
posted by billyfleetwood at 9:12 AM on May 7, 2010


WTF was the deal with Hee-Haw, is what I want to know.
posted by everichon at 12:02 PM on May 7, 2010


ME: ..and she can't act...

And yet -- she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for "Cactus Flower" (a truly wretched movie with poor Ingrid Bergman reduced to playing an icy, bitter nurse who poses as Walter Matthau's wife so that he can get into the sack with Hawn) in 1970!
posted by blucevalo at 12:09 PM on May 7, 2010


David St. Hubbins reads metafilter? How cool is that!

or, Lenny reads metafilter? How cool is that!
posted by puny human at 6:50 PM on May 7, 2010


I would like to state the for record that, while I laughed when I read the pornograph joke here, it makes no sense at all. You don't "play" photography on a photograph, nor is there anything popularly called "phonography" that you could play on a phonograph.

Yes, DU, you have accurately deconstructed (a simple example of) absurdist humor.

"Jokes are funnier if you have to explain them."
posted by IAmBroom at 7:37 PM on May 11, 2010


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