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Bye Bye, MADTV


 

Farewell, oh, MadTV! For fourteen seasons
Your comedy was staid and slightly slow.
And yet, for a variety of reasons,
I think I’m gonna miss you when you go.
Accept this rhyme from one who’ll never know
Why no one who was ever on your show
Became a superstar like Piscopo.

It’s so easy to trash MadTV, Fox’s cynical attempt to pull off a complex, multi-layered ripoff troika: it’s Saturday Night Live meets In Living Color meets Mad Magazine. And since many of the writers were from SCTV, you could even call it a quadruple ripoff (what’s like a troika, only four instead of three?). But there have been plenty of nights when Mad had more laughs than SNL, and whole seasons when it was better than SNL. The broad lowbrow comedy of MadTV could be pretty refreshing when you changed the channel from another one of SNL‘s cute, comedy-for-comedy-writers skits.

There was always something a little compromised about MadTV, though. If you look at the list of cast members (no superstars, but a lot of good people) and writers they’ve had over the years, they really should have had more memorable sketches or characters than they did. Yet while SNL occasionally comes up with a sketch that really catches on, MadTV rarely did. Cult-favourite comedy writer Dino Stamatopoulos — writer for The Ben Stiller Show, Mr. Show, Moral Orel — wrote for MadTV for a season; he explained to TV Squad that the show did not take full advantage of the available writing talent:

Actually, there’s a lot of great writers on Mad TV, but none of the good stuff gets through, really. When it does, it’s very poorly produced. There’s something about the show that looks so cheap.

New York Magazine recently had an article on product placement in TV, prominently featuring MadTV and its showrunner, Dick Blasucci (an SCTV guy) that gave a hint of some of the problems:

The deal they’d cut guaranteed four sketches for Toyota. Classic product placement, and if it kept them on the air, where was the harm? But then Blasucci started to get notes. Showing the Yaris wasn’t sufficient, said the rep from Madison Road. The characters must praise the car’s features: its roomy interior, its sleek lines. The writers pitched a spoof of a commercial, with a young couple making out in the Yaris, panting about its fuel efficiency. No, said Madison Road. Cut the parody bit. The skit should just feature the couple panting over the Yaris. They aired it—and Blasucci began to recognize he was part of “an experiment,” a test of how far the sponsor could go.

I think I first realized how compromised MadTV was when I saw a sketch — it must have been about five years ago — where someone sang a song about all the bad programs on TV, and didn’t mention any Fox shows. Say what you will about SNL, but it’s at least allowed to make fun of its own network, and while it has its writing weaknesses, it’s seen as a place for talented writers on the way up, whereas MadTV was clearly a place for talented writers who couldn’t find a job elsewhere (because they were considered too old, like the SCTV guys, or too troublesome, like Stamatopoulos).

But on a laugh-by-laugh basis I don’t think MadTV had that much to be ashamed of, at least by comparison with SNL. And it delivered what Fox was looking for, a late-night comedy show that would skew younger than SNL and at least keep them in the game on Saturday nights.


 
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Bye Bye, MADTV

  1. Lowered expectations!

  2. Lowered expectations!

    You say that like it was a bad thing, rather than what it is: the lifeblood of TV networks.

    • you missed the point i think. lowered expectations was a sketch on madtv about a dating service for people who couldn't find, well… anyone!! classic sketch! it was in the same spirit as phil hartman's daily affirmation sketches. ahh how i'm gonna miss that and of course rest in peace, phil. we all miss you

  3. I actually quite like MADTV and in the 3 years that I’ve lived North America and watched both preferred the writing on it to SNL – you are right about how cheap it looked though.

  4. Oops. That’s one sketch I didn’t see before, though I did see this one.

    Hopefully I will benefit from lowered expectations and not be expected to know what I’m talking about…

  5. I got it, Clarence. That bit got tired after a while, but there were some real gems.

    I also enjoyed the Spishack (sp?) products infomercials.

  6. Now that I think about it I do remember the Lowered Expectations segment with Bjork (Alex Borstein).

  7. This wouldn’t make MadTV happy, but a friend and I have often quoted Lowered Expectations – it’s kind of my motto for a lot of things – but we both thought those skits were from SNL. Poor show doesn’t even get credit for their memorable moments.

  8. Mad-TV never did find its breakout skit/characters on the show who was best-know for what they did ON the show — Frank Caliendo made his name more when Fox pulled him over to do his John Madden routine on “Fox NFL Sunday”.

    But in terms of quality of writing and lack of cynicism it was far ahead of ABC’s attempt back in the late 70s/early 80s to copy SNL with “Fridays”. It’s best-known now for the (we’ve got to copy what SNL is doing) Andy Kaufman incident and getting Michael Richards his first major pre-Seinfeld TV exposure, but the skits in general were as painfully awful as the Jean Doumanian 1980-81 season of SNL and came during that time when ABC (in a hangover from the Fred Silverman days) wanted its studio audiences to be as loud and as shrill as possible. So you’d get an incredibly lame sketch combined with an audience reaction as if they were watching the This Is Your Life parody from “Your Show of Shows”. It was like a weekly dose of fingernails on a blackboard trying to pretend it’s comedy.

  9. MadTV benefitted from good timing at the beginning. SNL had just come off the disastrous 1994-95 season, which many fans feel was even worse than the 1980-81 season. That was the year that SNL tried a “comedy all-star” cast, but instead it ended up being a mixture of bored vets biding their time until their movie deals were set (Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, David Spade), and talented established outside performers who were totally lost trying to adapt to the SNL style (Chris Elliott, Michael McKean, Janene Garofalo). So when MadTV debuted, it was seen as the fresh-faced challenger to the tired old established show. But eventually SNL regained its momentum during the Will Ferrell-Molly Shannon years, while MadTV failed to evolve much.

  10. This is a terrible article with an ax to grind with FOX coming from an absolute biased and ill-informed point of view. Your trying to come across as someone who hates Mad TV more than likes SNL..but its so easy to see you love SNL and have felt threatened since your little show sucks in comparison. I’ve never ever seen a show worse consistently for six years than SNL and i’ve seen some of the most hillarious, and cynical, (cynical humor is a good thing by the way) skits on Mad TV tearing down the pretentious in the world of entertainment. The production was crappy you say? Who gives a shit@!! Really. Its the comedy you tune in for right?? Obviously not, its the production isn’t it?? Now i see your reasoning..

    You are criticizing Mad TV because some of its writers wrote for SCTV??? SCTV was a hillarious show until it went off the air and all its stars moved on to SNL because they were Canadian and had to go somewhere. Mad TV’s American stars haven’t moved on to SNL not because they never catapulted into stars, but because most of them would never want to act out the terrible skits wrote up by them by that inept writing team in New York. Its funny you think SNL creates stars, the comedians who left SNL after Will Ferrell are terrible. Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch, Tina Fey?? Horatio Sanz? Jimmy Fallon? Will Arnett? Those guys suck ass, no one with a sense of humor goes to watch the movies these guys star in..like Baby Mama..what a piece of crap!! They are only stars because they have the connections that come with being on Saturday Night Live. Mad TV doesn’t have the connections because they maliciously destroy the pretentiousness that exists with connections, like Fallon getting to have his own late night show..what a joke!! The only person laughing will be him, whoever leads the lame band, and the laugh track.

    SNL is all about sucking, who do they have currently whose gonna be a big star?? Exactly. Its on late at night for old people and diehards who want to laugh at anything and remember the good old days, they see themselves as in an allegiance to stay loyal to their show no matter how bad it is. These people are too stubborn to turn the channel over to real entertainment because they would prefer falling asleep bored on their couch at that time of night.

    Your article is mixed up too and shows you know very little beyond what your stubborn mind will let you about the show. Mad TV always always always ALWAYS makes fun of Fox..in fact they make fun of Fox at least once per episode..When SNL makes fun of the network, they’ve got to run it by the network first thus canceling out any of the humor in it. SNL has much more than writing weaknesses, the writers have had a 10 year writers’ block. There are no talented writers on their way up, just people with connections moving on to write bigger pieces of crap scripts for other shows. Mad TV’s writers Steven Cragg, Michael Hitchcock are absolutely hillarious and the type of humor in the skits they write would be permitted on a program like SNL and by the type of lameass network that would continue airing it.

    I’ve watched every season of Mad TV, you obviously haven’t, so you have no idea what you are talking about. You are pandering to the over abundant amount of idiots out there who like being spoonfed crap, the same types of people that laugh at anything and everything thats trying to be funny but just isn’t.
    I consider all of Mad TVs past comedians as stars and most people who watch the show feel the same way. There are so many memorable sketches and characters and i wouldn’t even know where to start telling you how wrong you are. SNL NEVER comes up with a sketch that catches on…the only time SNL is even funny is if Tina Fey comes back to play Sarah Palin or if Justin Timberlake guest stars. What does that tell you about SNL? A shitty musician and the most overrated comedian in the history of comedy come back to SNL and make the show more watchable…If you don’t think the skits about Stewart, Coach Hines, Oprah, Kenny Rogers, Lorraine, Bae Sung, Ms Swan, Dane Cook, Bible Dude etc didn’t catch on then you’re living in your own world of very bad taste in humor. I feel bad for you.

    One last thing: You sound so triumphant, you had this piece written the day it was announced Mad TV wouldn’t be aired on Fox anymore. I think you haven’t seen the end of Mad TV quite yet, it’ll most likely be picked up by another network and you’ll continue hearing how bad your SNL is compared to Mad TV.

  11. The writing and as well as the humour is so lowbrow, immature, tasteless, unimaginative, forgettable, and mediocre as a kindergarten stageplay to even begin with. I can’t believe I was so brainwashed by that public display of fecal matter. Good riddance.

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