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April 30, 2012 1:16 PM   Subscribe

A brief history of Nickelodeon's Roundhouse, that glorious early 90's sketch show with the guys doing backflips and the Dad in the motorized armchair.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero (43 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Oh god I spent like five years thinking I made this show up in my head.
posted by The Whelk at 1:20 PM on April 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

It always seems weird that people my age watched shows on Nickelodeon before my house got cable. Some especially dumb part of my brain wants to assume that those shows were all before our time, just because I couldn't watch them.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:28 PM on April 30, 2012

I blanked on the show's name and description, then I saw the opening-theme clip and realized I knew every bit of it, the words of the song, the names of the actors, I was waiting for the blond skater-haircut kid to run forward flipping out his hair with his back to the camera and YES THERE HE IS.

...which was a little scary that something could be so totally familiar to me, burned into my brain that deeply, and yet until I saw this post I had completely forgotten about it.
posted by flex at 1:39 PM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

I loved this show so much. Also, now the themesong is instantly stuck in my head.

I seem to remember thinking that pretty much every dude on that show was SO CUTE when I was, like, nine.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:41 PM on April 30, 2012

Yeah, that show had a real sense of style to it that separated it from Nickelodeon's usual faire at the time. I'd forgotten that when All That premiered, it was in Roundhouse's old timeslot. All That had some great moments too, but it was clearly more comfortably situated in Nickelodeon's pallette, and more made for spinoffs, movies, and the like.

Not that I didn't like All That. The Goodburger sketches remain some of the funniest things I've ever seen.
posted by roll truck roll at 1:43 PM on April 30, 2012

I also thought of Roundhouse last week, when I saw the live 30 Rock episode. The creative shortcuts you have to take to do a show live -- having more than one actor portray a character, creating real-life splitscreens with clever camera placement -- seemed reminiscent of Roundhouse at its best.
posted by roll truck roll at 1:45 PM on April 30, 2012

So why not just use kids to begin with?

In Crane’s experience (which includes not only having performed with Cheap Theatrix and Roundhouse, but also being the only cast member on the writing staff of the show as well as ten years spent on Fox’s MADtv), “It’s very difficult for children to do sketch because there’s no irony in it. They don’t have the life experience to give the sketches context.”

“And in my mind, that can make sketches very flat. What Rita insisted upon was that everybody in the cast have a certain measure of life experience so that they could pull the sketch off in the way it was intended to. With a little irony, with a little irreverence, with a little knowing smile. You gotta know stuff in order to be able to do that.”
I think this pinpointed precisely why Roundhouse worked for me and All That never did, apart from the "Vital Information" sketch. All That always felt kind of hammy and corny, unlike Roundhouse and You Can't Do That on Television, which both had a sense of irony and detachment.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:05 PM on April 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

No joke, I had cable before my friends did and literally no one I've ever asked in my peer group has remembered this show. This is the first time I've ever heard anyone talk about it, ever. What in the world!
posted by stoneandstar at 2:08 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

That's interesting, PhoBWan. You Can't had a lot of kids too, obviously, but the adults vs. kids theme of the show meant that it was usually an adult driving the comedy.
posted by roll truck roll at 2:09 PM on April 30, 2012

Wikipedia tells me that only two episodes of the show have ever been released on home video, which makes me sadder than anything else I've seen today.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:21 PM on April 30, 2012

I don't remember a thing about this show except for the opening theme, the dad in the motorized chair, and the fact that I adored it and watched it every chance I got.

I wonder if it would hold up.
posted by cmyk at 2:43 PM on April 30, 2012

*pours out some hose water for Roundhouse*
posted by defenestration at 3:05 PM on April 30, 2012

I think of Roundhouse ALL THE TIME.

There was an episode that revolved around a series of skits about a family, two actors playing mom and dad, two actors playing brother and sister.

At one point in the sketch, the camera does a close up of the brother and sister's faces, and they are making these hilarious verge-of-tears faces. Their lower lips trembled comically as they made the saddest faces EVAR.

Well, my little brother and I - who fought ruthlessly and could agree on nothing - started practicing those faces. He was really good at it, and making the face became one of the few in-jokes we had together.

I never gave up the face. My daughter now finds it hilarious, and gets me to do it then giggles uncontrollably.
posted by frecklefaerie at 3:12 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Random aside... What was the show that was likely shot on the same set, but had an interview portion? I think Dick DeBartolo was the special guest like every other week, which was fine by this MAD fan.
posted by frecklefaerie at 3:15 PM on April 30, 2012

I loved this show when I was young. I barely remember much of the particulars, except being fascinated with the moving sets. What I really remember was that my dad also enjoyed the show, and this was really the first show that we watched together. It made me feel grown-up, even though I probably only 6 or 7 years old, and the adult cast certainly contributed to that feeling. This was probably the show that initiated our longtime dad-daughter TV tradition that's held us together through the years. (That and Singled Out, whose warehouse-esque set permanently linked it with Roundhouse in my brain, but in retrospect was probably not the best show for a 7 year old to be watching.)

Roundhouse's abrupt cancellation was devastating in our household, and joined the list of brilliant shows that suffered such an unjust end. We've boiled it down to a pretty precise ritual over the years. The list always starts with Soap and moves its way through Firefly, Boomtown, Freaks & Geeks, Prime Suspect, and whatever current crop we're lamenting. One of us, either my dad or I, will name one and the other will shake their head and go "what a shame" or "that was such agood show; such a good show." Roundhouse and Angry Beavers are the two perennial Nickelodeon contributions.
posted by lilac girl at 3:23 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by belarius at 3:38 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't remember much about the show, other than being very chilled by the sudden walk-off ending of the gang episode. The message that in real life things don't always get resolved in a satisfying way, a way that's good and makes you happy and comfortable, and sometimes you don't even get to see it end at all -- that's a big one for an emotional eight-year-old.
posted by luftmensch at 4:14 PM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

How could anyone forget Roundhouse?
posted by radioamy at 4:31 PM on April 30, 2012

*pours out some hose water for Roundhouse*

I wrote that sketch and hadn't thought of it for years, so thank you for that defenestration. And yes, I am Metafilter's own former Roundhouse staff writer.
posted by last night a dj saved my life at 4:44 PM on April 30, 2012 [37 favorites]

Oh man, awesome.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:48 PM on April 30, 2012

Oh man I'm reading some of the blogger's other "Nick of Time" pieces, and going back to '90s heaven!
posted by radioamy at 4:51 PM on April 30, 2012

I was definitely one of the kids who wondered why no one else remembered it. I feel kind of bad that I can't remember any particular sketches, but mentions of, say, the gang episode, recall them.

I'll be honest, the main thing I recall is that the show initiated my obsession with floppy hair, which continues through this day.
posted by cobaltnine at 5:20 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wrote that sketch and hadn't thought of it for years, so thank you for that defenestration. And yes, I am Metafilter's own former Roundhouse staff writer.
posted by last night a dj saved my life at 4:44 PM on April 30 [11 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]

Hose Water is like the first thing I think of when I think of Roundhouse. That and Shame Boy.
posted by gc at 5:31 PM on April 30, 2012

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I was obsessed with this show when I was younger.
posted by MaritaCov at 5:43 PM on April 30, 2012

Good lord did I love this show.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:47 PM on April 30, 2012

Count me among the people who think about Roundhouse on a shockingly regular basis.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:50 PM on April 30, 2012

“At first, I wasn’t even sure it could be done,” I was told by Buddy Sheffield, who created Roundhouse with his former wife Rita.

“When I first heard in 1982 that there was this little kids channel, I wanted to be on there,” said Rita Hester (nee Sheffield).
Either there's a very strange story there or the writer doesn't know what "nee" means.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:54 PM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

For a quick sec, I thought the FPP said Nickelodeon Grindhouse. But you can't do that on television.
posted by bpm140 at 5:54 PM on April 30, 2012

Okay, spill, what was it like writing for Roundhouse?
posted by The Whelk at 5:58 PM on April 30, 2012

Whelk, it was as frenetic as the pace of the show. Burned through dozens of sketch ideas in the course of filling a miniature three act musical 52 times. It was horrendously, unapologetically punny. We banged out an episode a week on PowerBook 145s with 8MB of RAM and faxed them away to Nickelodeon Standards and Practices for approval. We slept very little and acted like a crew of college aged kids thrown together to put on a show in the barn.

I remember being at a premiere party for the Snick programming block that was festooned with orange Nick blimps and orange Nick beverages and of course the orange Nick couch. I'm cringing at the memory of myself at age twenty with a trés early 90s dreadlocked undercut. Bit of a proto-Skrillex girl. Anyway, I was searching the crowd for any sign of John Kricfalusi, when the first notes of the theme song filled the soundstage. It finally dawned on me that something we had all pitched in to make was airing live on television.

The series was different for me than for any of the other staff. This was the culmination of all the dreams my parents brought along through years of bus and truck tours, taking live theatre to schools and cafeterias and backwaters. Just a month or so earlier I'd been a production assistant, hired to drive Tony Hawk's shoes around town. Now I was on a soundstage with branded couches and my brand new WGA card burning a hole in my pocket. I was half the age that I am now, something still a little difficult to grasp. This job introduced me to the man who was my partner for 15 years and allowed my family to work together in television for a brief, shining moment.

So thank you, MeFi and ThePinkSuperhero for allowing my shamelessly self-indulgent memories a moment of blue airtime.

As a footnote, most of us are still friends both in real life and on facebook and all the boys are now total DILFs. Also my mother would like to add that the née reference in the linked article is totally incorrect. My parents are Southern, but not that Southern.
posted by last night a dj saved my life at 6:51 PM on April 30, 2012 [39 favorites]

Huh, I totally remember this show, watching it as a mid-twenty-something during its run. I thought it was incredibly inventive and daring and at times really pushed the envelope. I really liked the fact that it was apparent that it was live-to-tape when it was done, because I was getting involved with theater at the time, and had some inkling about what it would take to do such a production. I guess I hadn't realized that it was being produced during its run, and figured they probably wrote and filmed the season at a more leisurely pace than actually churning out a new show every 7 days.

Very cool to be reminded of this. It's a shame there isn't a better archive of this available for viewing. I'd love to go back and watch a season or two.
posted by hippybear at 7:29 PM on April 30, 2012

last night a dj saved my life, what do we have to do to get Roundhouse on DVD, or at least the instant streaming services??
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:34 PM on April 30, 2012

TPS, there are definitely rights holder issues at play. The network holds the broadcast rights for all episodes in perpetuity and thus far have declined to even rerun the show, much less make it available for home video release beyond the VHS volumes referenced earlier.

Oddly enough, the entire show was backed up digitally - one of the first weekly series to utilize what was then brand new technology. So now pristine copies sit gathering dust while bootlegged VHS tapes have been compiled onto fan made DVDs, sold on eBay, and posted on YouTube.
posted by last night a dj saved my life at 8:06 PM on April 30, 2012

I propose a highly skilled stealth mission by interested MeFites to the Nickelodeon vaults. This show must be freed.
posted by hippybear at 8:09 PM on April 30, 2012

I dearly loved Roundhouse, and I'll admit that about 12 years ago I tried to convince my college a cappella group (shut up!) to open one of our concerts with a cover of the theme song. Except that I couldn't actually convince any of the other singers that the show had existed.

Roundhouse and Are You Afraid of the Dark were my jam, though. I also harbor in my heart a miniature flame for the show Fifteen.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 8:09 PM on April 30, 2012

frecklefaerie:Random aside... What was the show that was likely shot on the same set, but had an interview portion? I think Dick DeBartolo was the special guest like every other week, which was fine by this MAD fan.

That was Don't Just Sit There. They had a special phone that could only call Dick De Bartolo.
posted by dr_dank at 8:36 PM on April 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

frecklefaerie: I completely remember that show, but only that Dick Debartolo had a running joke about leaving his wallet there. My pops is a comic book guy, and I grew up with an extensive history of Mad Magazine under my belt, but was still surprised, as a kid, that enough kids out there cared who he was.

Still, awesomesauce.
posted by lkc at 9:53 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dick De Bartolo also showed up several times as his alter ego Chick Glitz (who also crashed Bill Gaines' wedding.)
posted by Spatch at 10:34 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

The one joke I remember from Roundhouse (I liked the show! I just have a terrible memory!) is the following:

Someone introduces, "The band, unplugged!"

And then, the camera shows the band, sitting in the dark. You can hear crickets.

It's a stupid one liner joke, but it just struck a chord with me and I remember it to this day. The first thing that comes to my mind when someone mentions a musical act "unplugged" is not acoustic guitar, but crickets.
posted by maryr at 10:43 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Count me as another Roundhouse fan who has never found anyone else who remembers the show. I didn't get a lot of the jokes on In Living Color, but Roundhouse was a nice bridge between children's shows and the rest of the world.

That was Don't Just Sit There.

From that show, I learned the best way to eat spaghetti was to put the ingredients into your bowl upside down. First parmesan, then sauce, then noodles. I still do that.

And I would've given my right arm to dig through the messy rooms on Finders Keepers.
posted by msbrauer at 4:48 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh my god I still know the entire opening song. I don't know which cast member had the lead vocal but I remember that I wanted to be her. I used to practice. I can probably do it pretty well even today.

I have a terrible memory for details in shows, but what I remembered was the song, the music, and bits and snatches of characters. That and the "Vegetarian Loaf" gag that was used in the SNICK promos over and over and over again.

The overriding memory is just this feeling of joy and excitement about this show, but then when I started watching clips everything was so familiar. Also? The music is still great.

This show was way too important to be barely remembered, and I refuse to believe it is!
posted by menialjoy at 7:07 AM on May 1, 2012

I have always conflated J.R. "Bob" Dobbs with the dad in the motorized La-Z-Boy. Iconic!
posted by modernserf at 7:12 AM on May 1, 2012

Reprise the theme song and roll the credits!
posted by SpiffyRob at 9:05 AM on May 1, 2012

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