This was a sad day at MTV, as we had a death in the family. Ken Ober, the longtime comedian, television producer and host of early MTV game show “Remote Control,” passed away at age 52.
Arguably, Ober’s most indelible legacy is “Remote Control,” which premiered in 1987 and was one of MTV’s first attempts at crafting an original television series. The premise was delightfully low-fi: Ober posited that he hosted a media-obsessed game show out of the basement of his parents’ house, and he was joined by a cast of characters who wandered through the set (including fellow comedian and former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Colin Quinn, who acted as the Andy Richter to Ober’s Conan O’Brien). The show featured three contestants getting asked a barrage of pop culture questions about movies, music, television shows, sports and, of course, music videos. Along the way, the show was interrupted by comedy skits, guest appearances, projectiles thrown at the contestants and plenty of Ober’s trademark wit.
It can’t be understated how important Ober was to the show. His jokes were always acerbic and steeped in irony, but his love for junk culture gave him a warmth that made him lovable. He kept the MTV audience connected to the world of comedy and also provided exposure for a ton of videos and pop culture touchstones that were hard to access at the time. In the age before the Internet, DVD and video on demand, it was sometimes difficult to find a place where lines from “Jaws” could be mentioned alongside David Bowie lyrics. Ober brought the geeks and the cool kids together to hang out in his basement, and that melding of two worlds helped make MTV the definitive television destination for youth across the country.
But mostly, “Remote Control” was just supremely weird, and made MTV a place where you could find subversive comedy (most of it Ober’s). For example, take the clip below: It features a college student playing for a series of prizes by being spun around on a wheel, Colin Quinn as the “Evil Dwarf,” a random model and a ton of confetti. It was loose, it was loud and it was incredibly fun to watch.