November 18, 2009

Death of a quizmaster

I was a little blindsided by the news, just the other day, that Ken Ober has died. Not that I particularly cared about the well-being of Ken Ober—I'm often perturbed about how much people mourn for celebrities with whom they have no personal connection. Rather, what blasted me with a tsunami of nostalgia was the simple memory of Ober's greatest claim to fame, the late-'80s MTV game show Remote Control. Watch below:

Wow. I hadn't seen any of that show in probably 20 years, but nearly every element of it is intensely familiar—that opening sequence occupied a lot of space in my junior-high mind, somewhere in between wondering what breasts felt like and fantasizing I was Batman. Truly, when it premiered in 1987, Remote Control was the clearest reflection of my personal sensibility that I had ever seen on television. It still might be (although for a period in the '90s David Letterman seemed to be running a pipeline from out of my cerebral cortex). I loved games, I loved TV, I loved hanging out in the basement with my idiot friends: I longed to blend all of pop culture into a colorful goulash, and then serve that goulash to a large and appreciative audience.

This seemed to be what Ken Ober was doing, and it looked like so much damn fun. And here I am today, trying to do just that each and every fortnight with The Big Quiz Thing. And, of course, as we advance the concept of an actual BQT TV show, Remote Control becomes a useful reference point: We find ourselves comparing our concept to Win Ben Stein's Money, Jeopardy!, even The Price Is Right. But watching this clip, I am kind of amazed how eerily close it looks to what I imagine the Big Quiz Thing will be on the air. Yes, our format is significantly different, and there will be no Ray-Bans and legwarmers, but the vibe is remarkably close, the offhand atmosphere really familiar. We're looking to create the new geek-friendly game-show party, and Remote Control was unquestionably a pioneer in that field.

So maybe it's very appropriate for me to have an emotional reaction to Ken Ober's death, if he was indeed the 1980s analogue to myself. (And yes, that would make EDP a nouveau Colin Quinn.) Quizmasters are mortal too.