“The Contest,” a delightfully restrained Seinfeld episode about abstaining from self pleasure, aired fairly early in the show’s run and helped push the show to new stratospheric heights. It was one of the show’s only award winners, and barely made it past the network’s censors on the strength of its brilliant concept, writing, and execution. Larry David admits in this oral history that he expected far stiffer (ahem) opposition and was ready to quit over any attempt at censorship. Click below to read more about an episode still quoted today.
The Oral History of Seinfeld’s ‘The Contest’
Dana Carvey left Saturday Night Live in 1993 as one of the best-known comedians in America. Besides innumerable memorable characters on SNL, he had starred in Wayne’s World (1992) to prove himself in Hollywood. When he started shopping a variety comedy show he had his pick of networks, finally settling on ABC just before they were bought by Disney. Slotted behind ratings juggernaut Home Improvement it seemed like The Dana Carvey Show was destined for greatness. Not so much. Esoteric, weird humor did not interest the Home Improvement crowd (or Disney) and it would only last eight episodes. However, the show did hire an impressive array of unknown talent that would go on to great things, including performers Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert as well as writers Jon Glaser, Robert Carlock, and Dino Stamatopoulos. This GQ piece is an interesting autopsy of a crushing failure by some of the most talented comedic talent in America.
Teats Out: An Oral History of the Rise and Fall (and Rise) of “The Dana Carvey Show”
As David Schwimmer notes in an engrossing Vanity Fair oral history of Friends, finding one actor who is perfect for a role is a true victory. Finding six actors who are perfect fits, and then they all turn out to have perfect chemistry, is divine intervention. And that’s Friends. Conceived by young playwrights turned TV producers Marta Kaufmann and David Crane, their pitch hit the sweet spot that NBC (and everyone else) was looking to fill: a close-knit group of young, attractive adults trying to make it together in the big city. The stories about casting, finding success, handling success, and the inevitable end–everyone involved gives honest, heartfelt answers while adding fascinating anecdotes. A great read (and there’s a fun slideshow too).
With Friends Like These
Jackass grew out of the skate-flick genre of the 90s, where the goal was to do gnarly tricks that your friends would dig. The Jackass crew took that aesthetic and applied it to any stunt that was both daring and funny. They exploded as a MTV show, and once the lawyers clamped down, had a successful movie trilogy. There is no shortage of copycats, but the originals excelled due to their self-deprecation and easy camaraderie. Although their legacy has been clouded through drug and alcohol abuse, the Jackass crew long ago cemented their legacy as lovable idiots.
An Oral History of ‘Jackass: The Movie’
Total Request Live, better known as TRL, will always be remembered as a product of its time, a kind of pop music zenith before filesharing and streaming would help reshape the industry. Britney and Christina, N’Sync and the Backstreet Boys, all broadcast live from Times Square in front of thousands of screaming teenagers. Carson Fucking Daly. In honor of MTV’s reboot, Billboard takes a look back at a modern pop-culture institution, and one that its principals show a remarkable amount of perspective in evaluating.
An Oral History of ‘TRL’: Trump’s Demands, Mariah’s Meltdown and Anthrax Scares
On the eve of Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s return The Hollywood Reporter provides some choice excerpts of an oral history podcast about the show. The unique sitcom’s unabashedly honest approach makes for an interesting dynamic amongst the cast. Shrinking violets need not apply. The quotes chosen for the piece are almost universally funny and are absolutely worth your time.
‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ The Early Years: Crazy Auditions and the Art of the Cringe
On the millennial Mount Rushmore of childhood programming is Good Burger, a send up of the fast-food industry courtesy of a couple good-hearted pranksters. Good Burger started as a comedy sketch on Nickelodeon’s All That and did so well that Paramount decided to option it for a movie. Besides stars Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell the production roped in a bunch of guest stars included Abe Vigoda, George Clinton, Carmen Electra and Sinbad. Although critics didn’t love the admittedly silly movie, Paramount certainly liked grossing $24M on a $9M budget. Complex revisits a 90’s classic.
The Oral History of Nickelodeon’s ‘Good Burger’
Battle of the Network Stars was a fun, very 70s show that presaged the celeb-obsessed culture to come. The premise was not complicated–get a bunch of famous, good-looking celebs and have them run and goof around for the camera. The celebs liked it for the exposure and the extra pay check (winners took him $20K). With a reboot on the horizon The A.V. Club gathers many of the principals to talk about their experiences on the show, including how seriously they took it and impressive/embarrassing events. Interviewees include Jimmy Walker, Jamie Farr, Scott Baio, Todd Bridges, LeVar Burton and Adrienne Barbeau.
A Battle Royale Revisited: An Oral History of Battle Of The Network Stars
The soap opera is notorious for its outlandish story lines but hidden beside the demon babies and fake deaths were some plot points that advanced what was “proper” to show on television, including the first TV abortion, rape, and depiction of HIV. But, of course, any good oral history of soap operas is going to get the dirt on the craziest scene a participant ever saw, and metal_floss does not disappoint in that regard!
Sex & Death in the Afternoon: An Oral History of the American Soap Opera
Trey Parker and Matt Stone were film school buddies at University of Colorado-Boulder and they thought they would do something “Christmassy” for the end-of-the-year student review. They had been cracking each other up with foul-mouthed little kid voices while sitting around film sets, and so they put those characters on screen using construction paper and crude animation. The audience loved it, and after a winding road, they convinced some adults at Comedy Central to approve the pilot. The rest is television history. Entertainment Weekly looks back at “The Spirit of Christmas.”
How ‘South Park’ was born: An oral history of ‘The Spirit of Christmas’
What was this pitch meeting like? “Let’s get a bunch of random celebrities together and have them play carnival versions of sports?” In the 90’s, when celeb culture really took off, it worked. Did people want to see 80-pound Leo DiCaprio dribble circles around Tone Loc and launch 25-point baskets? Yes, they did. Don’t judge. Do you remember Dan Cortese? Well, you can read about his career highlight in this oral history by Complex.
The Oral History of MTV’s Rock N’ Jock
Happy Endings was another of those quick-witted, fast-paced ensemble comedies that was criminally under-promoted and cut loose after three seasons, only for it to continue to live on as a cult and streaming favorite. The cast of 30-somethings had the instant chemistry that casting directors dream of, and seemingly all of them are still in regular touch years after the show. Casey Wilson also married series creator David Caspe, so they probably see each other regularly. Complex takes a fond look back at the series.
The Oral History of ‘Happy Endings’
On December 8, 2008 O.J. Simpson was sentenced to 33 years in prison and America hoped they’d never hear about him again. Enough, right? However, in 2016 two massive reappraisals of the O.J. saga appeared and surprisingly found both critical and popular success. The first was Ryan Murphy’s dramatic adaptation American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson and the second was ESPN’s O.J.: Made in America. The latter used a unique contextual approach that covered all of O.J.’s life, but also told the story through the lens of L.A.’s history of race relations, as well as America’s. The eight-hour epic was released on a variety of platforms, including in theaters (!), and shocked an American audience who thought they knew everything there was to know about this story. Wired digs into the two-year production process behind the successful documentary.
The Epic Story of O.J.: Made in America’s Creation
Mr. Show never had a big audience and the creators never gave much of a shit about that. HBO gave Bob Odenkirk and David Cross a platform to do stuff that wouldn’t fly on networks, or even at mainstream comedy clubs, including a slacker messiah sketch that would help launch Jack Black’s career. Many other talents worked on camera and off: 30 Rock‘s Scott Adsit, 24‘s Mary Lynn Rajskub, Sarah Silverman, Patton Oswalt, and Tom Kenny (voice of SpongeBob SquarePants). Spin takes a look back at a uncompromising comedic incubator.
Mr. Show: The Oral History
Hill Street Blues changed television forever when it debuted in 1981. A gritty, dark cop series that humanized cops with in-depth storylines was something that hadn’t been done before and now they’re a dime a dozen. Created by Steven Bochco, who would go on to also create L.A. Law and NYPD Blue, the series won eight Emmy Awards in its first season and was essentially prestige television 20 years before that became a thing. The series also broke boundaries in subject matter, covering PTSD, suicide, and rape. IndieWire rounds up the cast and crew for an insightful look back at a groundbreaking show.
‘I Just Got My Ass Broke All the Time’: An Oral History of ‘Hill Street Blues’
Shonda Rhimes, now television royalty, had to be talked into creating Scandal. She met with vaunted D.C. “fixer” Judy Smith, and after ten minutes could see how the series would percolate and progress at the intersection of power and greed. Actress Kerry Washington, who got the lead by blowing everyone away with the depth of her political knowledge, would be the first black women to head an American drama in 37 years (what?!?!). The show would be one of the first social media darlings and was a true trendsetter (cavernous wine goblets, anyone?). The Hollywood Reporter provides a typically awesome oral history of one of the great television dramas of the 21st century.
‘Scandal’ Hits 100 Episodes: Casting Secrets, Trump and a Battle Over Abortion Revealed in Dishy Oral History
Friday Night Lights, first a book, then a movie, then a TV series, was on the surface about the communal passion of Texas high school football. A critical darling regardless of media format the television show failed to capture a huge audience partially because lots of people don’t care about high school football. It’s a shame since the core of this story is intense interpersonal relationships, in particular between coach Eric Taylor and his wife Tami, played with natural chemistry by Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton. Even though the audience was small, it was passionate. Grantland‘s Robert Mays was one of those fans and he provided a fitting farewell on the eve of the last episode in 2011.
Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Couldn’t Lose
My So-Called Life lasted for just one season of 19 episodes, but stands as Generation X’s version of Freaks and Geeks: A beautifully authentic depiction of adolescence created by an unknown but talented cast that would go onto great things. The show introduced the world to the magnetic Claire Danes and Jared Leto, whose awkward courtship formed the emotional crux of the series. Marie Claire provides a touching retrospective of a show that ended too soon.
The Agony and the Angst: An Oral History of ‘My So-Called Life’
MTV’s Cribs was famous for chronicling the outragous material excess of music’s superstars, from Master P’s gold Louisiana mansion to Richard Branson’s private island resort. And then there was the Redman episode. He had bought a rundown duplex on the outskirts of Staten Island as a rehab project but he ended up liking the space and not doing much/any rehab. When MTV called he said come on out. They showed up early one morning, woke his ass up, and he proceeded to give a sleepily hilarious tour of a confirmed bachelor pad, complete with pizza boxes, shoeboxes full of money, and passed-out houseguests. Never change, Redman. Never change.
An Oral History of Redman’s Notorious MTV Cribs Episode
Star Wars was not just a cultural phenomenon but a major moneymaker for 20th-Century Fox. The Empire Strikes Back sequel would not be ready until 1980 so the studio had the brilliant idea to do a holiday special at the end of 1978 to keep the franchise in the public eye. The kitchsy, extremely 70s variety show would instead enter Thou Shall Not Speak Of It territory for everyone involved. Come hear the backstory of how the creators thought it was a good idea to explore the family dynamics of Chewbacca’s non-verbal Wookie family, how Bea Arthur didn’t even know the show was about Star Wars, and, of course, stories about Harrison Ford’s salty ass.
An Oral History of The Star Wars Holiday Special