November 17th, 2009
09:21 AM ET
It was a tremendously busy work day, even for a Monday, but seeing the news that Ken Ober had died stopped me in my tracks. I'm just one of millions who remember him as the host of MTV's "Remote Control," but I may be the only person who appeared on two of his game shows.
Some of you may be too young to remember – or believe – this, but back in 1987, MTV actually played music videos. Lots of them. But it was starting to branch out into other kinds of programs, and one of the first was "Remote Control." The premise was that Ken was such a TV geek that he'd set up his own game show in his mother's basement. Three college kids were strapped into recliners, handed prop remote controls, and asked goofy questions from such categories as "Dead or Canadian?" and "Sing Along With Colin" [Quinn]. At the end of the game, the top scorer was strapped to a Craftmatic Adjustable Bed and had to identify the artist in as many music videos as possible in 30 seconds. (I'm not sure what all of the being strapped to furniture was about, but hey, the show ran for five years, so they must have been doing something right.)
That first season, MTV came to my New England college for tryouts, and I was one of the students selected. I had no idea what the show was about, as our dorms weren't yet wired for cable, but who wouldn't have jumped at the chance? On show taping day, I hopped a shuttle flight to New York, headed for the studio, and soon found myself in "the basement."
I made it to the Craftmatic, though not having seen any music videos in a few months hurt me in the final round. And I had fun, mostly because of Ken, who seemed to be the perfect low-budget game show host: he was friendly, told bad jokes, and kept the game moving. He appeared to be having a blast, and that attitude carried over to the rest of the show staff and the players.
Jump ahead 14 years: I was out in Los Angeles, and heard about a new game show, "Smush," in which players combined clues to come up with answers. For instance, "Chinese martial art + Japanese folding bed" would be "kung futon." The wordplay seemed right up my alley, so I tried out, made the show... and discovered the host was Ken Ober. When I told him on the set that I'd been on "Remote Control," he was delighted – and relieved that I didn't expect him to remember me from one taping of a show he'd done for five seasons more than a decade ago.
I had better luck on "Smush," winning the grand prize: $8,000. (Hey, the show aired after midnight on USA network; it wasn't exactly "Millionaire," or even "$25,000 Pyramid.") It was a lot of fun, and once again, Ober was a great host. He marveled at the trickier wordplay, made all of the players feel good regardless of the score, and cracked more bad jokes, making the audience laugh with his reaction if the joke itself didn't draw guffaws.
Taping a game show takes very little time: not much more than the half-hour of the program's running time. But those two half-hours, out of the hundreds of thousands of hours of my life, are extremely fond memories – memories that will now be somewhat bittersweet. Thanks for the fun, Ken.
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