November 17th, 2009
09:21 AM ET

Remembering game show host Ken Ober

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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.

soundoff (69 Responses)
  1. BettyDog

    Kenny was in my home room class for years. He was always such a nice guy and smart and really handsome. A real nice guy. What a shame.

    November 22, 2009 at 10:48 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Taissia

    I was a waitress at the original China Club downstairs from the Beacon Hotel and waited many times on Colin and Ken.They were so much fun and friendly.The MTV people used to come there a lot ..they were part of the CC family. My sincere condolences to Ken's family and friends.

    November 19, 2009 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
  3. Tyler

    You'll be missed Ken. Thanks for the memories!

    November 19, 2009 at 7:49 am | Report abuse |
  4. Elaine

    I always admired Ken's quick wit. It was his upbeat spirit and quick remarks that made the show. You always had the sense that he was the kind of guy that genuinely liked people and got a kick out of the silliness of life. You just knew he was a really smart guy, but didn't feel the need to make himself look better than anyone around him. I truly enjoyed Ken and the role he played on Remote Control. Thanks for making us laugh Ken. You really brightened our days! I will remember you with great fondness.

    November 18, 2009 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
  5. A

    Ken attended a high school reunion a month ago. It was great to see him. Now we know we were all very fortunate to get to see him. Who would ever think that today he would be gone. Miss you Ken.

    November 18, 2009 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
  6. jill sherbacow

    ken and I go all the way back to high school and a summer job we had together making sandwiches for a vending company. It was a 5;00 am job till about 1 pm. It was the two of us and about 5 old women. We had a blast. I am so shocked about his passing. I am glad that our paths crossed through high school...he was a wonderful, funny and caring person.

    November 18, 2009 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Melicious

    How did he pass?

    November 18, 2009 at 6:36 am | Report abuse |
  8. Christi Fulp

    Well you would think if MTV plays repeats of "my sweet sixteen" 24/7, surely they could honor him a lil more instead of showing a brief 5 second commercial. replays of the show should be in order.

    I'm 34 now, but could not wait to get home from school and watch this. I still have the shirt like many others. Ken, Kari, and Colin were a great 3some.

    such a shame.

    I think we should all tilt are chair's back, "Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey-ey, goodbye"

    November 18, 2009 at 2:34 am | Report abuse |
  9. jenn

    i was very young when remote control aired, but it was a major part of my childhood...thanks to my aunt and cousin who loved MTV. it's strange to think i am probably the only one of my friends who heard of it and i am very happy that is so, since i now a certified TV geek (in my own right).

    RIP ken, you will be missed.

    November 18, 2009 at 1:12 am | Report abuse |
  10. Rich

    Ken innovated and provoked. The youth of that time was inspired by his show and antics. Imaginations flourished because of his genius and "out of the box creativity". Smart does not quantify him, even though he was. Its sad that his life ended quickly I am not sure that he knew what his life meant to a generation. Hopefully he understands now. Thanks so much Ken. God bless you.

    November 18, 2009 at 12:26 am | Report abuse |
  11. Jerry B

    I too watched that show every day during my lunch hour. It was a great show. MTV please air some episodes in honor of this great host and producer please. RIP Ken.

    November 18, 2009 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
  12. B'

    I loved Remote Control. Skipped a class during high school and watched it at my friend's Grandmother's house across from the school. I was shocked to hear about Ken Ober. Anxious to see what happened to him.

    I will keep his friend's and family in my prayers. RIP Ken.

    November 17, 2009 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Kim

    I used to rush home from my classes in college to tune in to Remote Control. I still have my "home version' of the game. I'd love to see a tribute marathon on Mtv!

    God Bless Ken Ober – You made it cool to be a TV geek!

    November 17, 2009 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jaan

    I remember Ken in the actual Music days of MTV. Quick witted with a great sometimes dead pan sense of humour. Will miss him.
    Gone too soon.

    November 17, 2009 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  15. EricLR

    Adam Sandler got his start on Remote Control too (long before he was on SNL) Collin Quinn, Adam Sandler, Kari Wuhrer–a lot of people got their first job on that cheezy show.

    November 17, 2009 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Lori

    As an original viewer of MTV, i would say when remote control was on it was in the hey day of the channel. Remote Control, Al TV, Yo MTV Raps, Just Say Julie. The 1989 music awards was the year Bon Jovi played accoustic and it lead to Unplugged. It was awesome.

    November 17, 2009 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Melissa

    I have the original Nintendo version of Remote Control in my mom's basement somewhere... I think I'll dig it out this weekend! I'll miss you, Ken!

    November 17, 2009 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  18. Sam

    I was very saddened to hear of Ken Ober's passing. Like many others here, I was a huge fan of "Remote Control" and it became required viewing in my home every weeknight. Who can forget such categories as "Brady Physics" and "Sing Along With Colin"? I also remember it as the show in which I first saw Adam Sandler, who I remember thinking at the time had a brilliant future in comedy. Ken was the guy who, assisted by the very capable Kari Wuhrer, kept all the nightly insanity under control.

    If someone from MTV is reading this, how about re-airing some old episodes of "Remote Control" as a tribute to Ken? It might actually bring some of your viewers back to MTV!

    November 17, 2009 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Rich

    "When MTV was at its best" there was no such thing as Remote Control. It was actually MTV...Music Television.

    November 17, 2009 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  20. c

    I used to have a floppy disk withthe Remote Control game on it that I played on my computer.

    Sad news. RIP Ken

    November 17, 2009 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  21. Russ

    Besides watching Remote ControI, I talked with Ken several times during Spring Break in Daytona in '89. And attended the great pool-side taping of Remote Control at the Texas hotel. He was a really cool and friendly guy. Very sad to hear that he is gone!

    November 17, 2009 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Melissa

    I Loved Remote Control – so much that I've gone through two of the home versions, being able to find one on Ebay a few years ago to replace the original. That show just had so many great memories and he was the perfect host for it. Adam Sandler as that hot tub guy, Colin Quinn, Weird Al Sing-Along. The Halloween show when Freddy Krueger came through the wall instead of the contestants flipping back. I never missed a show. Ken was part of my growing up, he was someone me and my friends "got together with" to hang out. Will be sorely missed...

    November 17, 2009 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
  23. mikki

    I really loved Remote Control! It was a fun, quirky show, and Ken Ober was the perfect host. The news of his passing brought back memories that made me chuckle. Rest in peace, Ken, and thanks for all the fun.

    November 17, 2009 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
  24. Maria

    I remember watching Remote Control through high school. I could actually win that quiz show. I remember Adam Sandler and Colin Quinn too! We lost another 80's icon!

    November 17, 2009 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  25. J.Crobuzon

    I remember him bullying poor Kari Wuhrer by calling her 'Carey' no matter how much she hated it. It was a cool idea for a show, but he seemed like a total jerk with a huge ego.

    November 17, 2009 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  26. Phil Goode

    Ken Ober was an original. He was an innovator. His work might not be in the Louvre but he was as much an artist. Adam Sandler, Denis Leary, Colin Quinn and Kari Wuhrer all started and starred there But Ken Ober was the brains. That type of entertainment is hard to find these days. RIP

    November 17, 2009 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  27. Rob

    I was a contestant on Remote Control and it was a great experience. Ken Ober and Colin Quinn had great chemistry, and they continued at it throughout the commercial pauses. I was on the first year of the wheel (I was so looking forward to the bed). I didn't leave with much in prizes, but the the cast and crew were amazing. Thanks for letting me play in your basement Ken.

    November 17, 2009 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
  28. stinger62

    I was on in 1988 and won and was "lucky" enough to accompany Ken and Colin and the rest of the production crew to LA for The MTV Vdeo Music Awards pre-show and 2 weeks in LA . I flew out with Ken and we hit it off right away and the filming and 2 weeks passed all too quickly and I spent many nights bouncing around LA with Ken and he made sure that i was taken care of and looked after, he even got me a date for a party in Malibu.
    I ran into Colin in NYC Comedy Clubs now and again, but only spoke to Ken once or twice, but he always wanted to know how I was doing and if I got any girls from my "MTV Weekend", I did and it made him really happy that the show got me a hook-up.
    A great guy that was very genuine and alot of fun to be around. His contributions to '80s trivia will never be forgotten and I will never forget our ride into the desert in the rented Mustang convertable and all the fun we all had. Too many stories. a great time with a great guy.
    RIP, Ken.
    Steve "Squidly" Contos

    November 17, 2009 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
  29. Thom

    That show also launched the careers of Jenny McCarthy and Carmen Electra.

    November 17, 2009 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  30. Mark

    An original. I loved to watch Remote Control with Ken and Colin. It seemed just stupid enough to have taken place in my basement. I would have loved to have been on that show, just to have lost and been thrown out though the basement wall. Ken will be missed by those of us who remember dumb, funny trivial shows from our past. (I remember them giving snacks during the breaks.)

    November 17, 2009 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
  31. Athena

    I'm sure it will be so nice for his family and friends to read about the impression he left on everyone. Everyone is saying nothing but great things about how genuine and funny he was. He seemed like an awesome man. My condolences to those close to him.

    November 17, 2009 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  32. Mark

    I was in high school when MTV started and I remember watching Remote Control. Ken always had a great sense of humor.....RIP

    November 17, 2009 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  33. Kari

    Ur right Kaz found what she was on "singles Out" could have sworn it was Remote Control. Thanks for reminding me I am old and my memory is fading LOL!

    November 17, 2009 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  34. Maggie

    Great show, great memories. What fun. So sorry for Ken and his family. Too young to go...

    November 17, 2009 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  35. Kevin

    I was a contestant on Remote Control... heck, I won and got seven of the nine bonus round prizes... Ken Ober was a GREAT guy. He had warmth and compassion to go with a keen wit and good entertainment sense. He will be missed by me and any who knew him...

    November 17, 2009 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  36. Nat

    Wow, I forgot all about that show and era....I'm getting too old, but those were definitely "the good ol days"! Wouldn't it be great to get re-runs of that stuff. Great memories.

    November 17, 2009 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  37. Kaz

    Sorry, Kari, but Marisol [something] was the first girl sidekick. I can't believe nobody mentioned (Sandler's) Stud Boy, dressed in a terry cloth robe.

    November 17, 2009 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  38. Matt

    "Remote Control" coincided perfectly with my high school years, and was definitely one of my favorite shows. I liked the way that it blended the sensibilities and humor of our generation with the theme of its parent network (especially with the final round, but also the Sing Alongs, some of the guests, etc.). I remember Adam Sandler's characters, Quinn's raspy voice, and how much fun the cast all seemed to have...but most especially the Quiz Master of 72 Whooping Cough Lane, Ken Ober. RIP, Ken...

    November 17, 2009 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  39. lisa

    I was on Remote Control in of my categories was TOUPEE OR NOT TOUPEE! Was a great experience and a great show. I left that afternoon with crushed cookies in my hair!!!

    November 17, 2009 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  40. wg

    Another iconic piece of the 80's passes. RIP Ken – thanks for the fun.

    November 17, 2009 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
  41. Kari

    Thoughts and prayer go out to his family and friends. So sad and it doesn't make any easier to be someone from my generation. But one question wasn't Jenny McCarthy also in Remote Control? She was the 1st girl sidekick..correct me if I am wrong but I thought it was strange she was not mentioned as Colin and Adam were.

    November 17, 2009 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
  42. Pete

    I too remember Remote Control, and loved it. It had everything, Ken, Colin, Denis Leary, and the gorgeous Kari Wuhrer.

    I also had the honor of being "Spokane Pete", the local correspondent on his Comedy World Radio Network show. It was a great time and I'm saddened by this loss. RIP, Ken, nice shirt.

    November 17, 2009 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  43. chuck

    He was the Chuck Barris of his time. He was affable and always smiling. He would have been perfect for a new version of "The Gong Show".

    November 17, 2009 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  44. Rod M.

    Ken Ober made MTV fun at a time when videos had become stale and boring. The premise of "Remote Control" was not only unique but fun. I was saddened to hear of his passing.

    November 17, 2009 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  45. Bob

    Besides Remote Control, which was brilliant (ever see the Brady Bunch episode?) he also had the memorable part of the guy behind the curtain in the Blues Travelers' "Runaround" video. How prophetic - a good man and a good wizard...

    November 17, 2009 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
  46. Dave

    I met Ken a few times while working at a hotel in Beverly Hills. He was there visiting his buddy Tom Arnold. He and I shared a few stories and laughs about Tom....... Ken was a great and funny man.
    Sad to see his life ended too early.

    November 17, 2009 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  47. Spornk

    "Dead or Canadian?"...I also think there was a category called "Alive, Dead, or Indian Food", if I'm not mistaken...dang, I'm old.

    November 17, 2009 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  48. Allison

    "Remote Control" debut right around the time I graduated from college so I shouldn't have been interested in it (too old, perhaps), but I was. The show marked the last of my carefree days before my career and household bills took over my life and I thought the show was brilliant in its simplicity and creativity. The categories, the regular players, Bob Eubanks proclaiming he had a lightning round in his pocket, it all added up to a lot of fun.

    RIP, Ken, and thank you.

    November 17, 2009 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
  49. Rew

    I too am reminded of when M-TV was worth watching and actually showed music videos. Too bad someone hasn't had an "a-ha" moment and decided to start what M-TV never should have abandoned. It was our soundtrack. Now it's nothing but a video version of the Weekly World News/National Inquirer. Why do they even leave the "M" in its title?

    November 17, 2009 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  50. ceyan

    Very nice story, Thanks for sharing.

    November 17, 2009 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
  51. Tami from Atlanta

    This news jumped out at me today. So sad to hear about Ken's passing. I was in my early to mid-20's when "Remote Control" was on MTV, and consequently, saw a lot less episodes than I would have liked (had to begin my adult working life, of course). It was a great, fun show. I've often wondered throughout the years whatever became of him.

    November 17, 2009 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
  52. Ray Arthur

    I remember Quinn as kind of a sidekick, and, vaguely remember a manic kid who would occasionally run through the studio, almost like an escaped Production Assistant gone wild. IIRC, that was a young Adam Sandler!

    November 17, 2009 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  53. Jay

    I was also a contestant on Remote Control way back in the day...and I echo the author's comments. Ken interacted with us backstage and made the experience a very enjoyable one. It really did seem like we were just hanging out in the guy's basement., having a good time.

    November 17, 2009 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  54. Mike from Boston

    I grew up in the 'Hamptons', and I was never too surprised to see an ocassional celebrity, I went to the beach on day in 1988, and saw Ken Ober hanging out. I was actually psyched to see him. He was sort of the anti-celebrity at that point. Letterman was similar in the 80s in that respect. How could you not love the guy who introduced the world to the 'Stud Boy'?

    November 17, 2009 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  55. Jon Seger

    Loved that show.

    November 17, 2009 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  56. Sharon

    On my drive to work this morning I heard the news from Danny Bonneduce of all people. I remember Ken and Remote Control very well. Even though I am now 48, I still have my T-shirt from the show

    He is from our generation, those who remember the first epsiode of MTV and music videos. Everytime I see or hear Colin Quinn I am reminded of a time way gone.

    May he rest in peace and my those who he helped along the way say an extra prayer for him today

    November 17, 2009 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
  57. Lynn

    My Dad, sister and I watched Remote Control together for years – a bonding moment for a father and his 2 teenage daughters. If I recall correctly, all contestants wore bathrobes as part of the recliner-lounging, basement-loving vibe. One of our favorite parts was when a contestant lost a round and was sucked back into the "wall" still strapped to their respective chair while the crowd sang, "Na, Na, Na, Naaaaa Hey, Hey, Hey – GOODBYE!" Ken Ober appreciated spontaneous comedy and provided a forum for up-and-coming comedians to strut their stuff. Great memories!

    November 17, 2009 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  58. George

    Remote Control was funny, but it did spell the demise of the 'M' in MTV. It was a conundrum, in that I both loved it for what it was and hated it for what it meant for MTV.

    November 17, 2009 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
  59. Garak

    Very sad. But great piece. I used to love that show – i still think about bits all the time, especially the "Laughing Guy" (and his rendition of the "A-Team" theme), and the interplay between Colin Quinn and Kari Wuhrer.

    Ken was a great host – affable, and you felt like the concept of the show being in his basement/from his head could actually work. It seemed like a fun show to be a part of.

    I attend Pub Trivia pretty much every week, and my love of everything pop cultural/trivial may well be traced back to REMOTE CONTROL.

    November 17, 2009 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
  60. Katie

    I used to watch Remote Control religiously when I was a kid. It started when I was about 7 years old, and probably shaped me into the crazy pop-culture trivia nerd that I am today. Ken Ober was a fantastic host, with an awesome sense of humor. I haven't really thought of him in a while, probably since I happened to see Smush on TV several years ago, but I am really heartbroken that he died. He was smart, hilarious, and from what I have read yesterday and today, a really great guy. RIP Ken!

    November 17, 2009 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  61. Kim

    Gone too soon and very sad. RIP Ken.

    November 17, 2009 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  62. Suzanne

    Just last week I was talking to my teenage daughter about how MTV only used to play music videos and the had the music news. I also told her about the game show Remote Control, the chairs flipping back if the contestants gave wrong answers or lost the round. It always seemed like they had so much fun on that show. I used to have a crush on Ken. My sympathy goes out to his family and friends. What a shame.

    November 17, 2009 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  63. Seth

    Remote Control was great!! Show seemed more like a party than a scripted show. And Ken seemed like someone you know you would have fun just hanging out with.

    November 17, 2009 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  64. Leigh Ann

    Yes, I remember watching Ken Ober back when MTV was about music and not about keeping up with the Joneses.

    November 17, 2009 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  65. Claudia

    MTV when it was at its best. My roommate and I watched Remote Control religiously. Ken was witty and fun. I'm sorry to hear of his passing.

    November 17, 2009 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
  66. dave

    More than just a game show, Remote Control was an early sign that this new generation, (later dubbed X), would do everything differently. It was the anti-Jeopardy, a grunge gameshow before grunge; quite literally a garage-gameshow. Ken Ober was a fun and capable anti-host, while still nailing the host part.

    Ken Ober: not Canadian.

    Thanks Ken.

    November 17, 2009 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  67. lighthouseboy

    If I'm not mistaken, Ken did a few TV ads for Jerry's Subs (a chain of sandwich shops in the Washington DC area) and they were quite funny (I think ads took advantage of Ken's dead pan humor in those ads).

    November 17, 2009 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  68. Casey J Rudkin

    I remember Remote Control and Ken Ober. He was often part of the best half-hour of my day during my undergraduate years. Talk about an understated genius.

    I, as with millions of others, will miss him in a very personal way.

    November 17, 2009 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
  69. Joel

    Ken was one of the originals of MTV.

    I remember thinking to my self as a teen that once MTV started "branching out" that things would never be the same and it never was.

    Just like the MTV of old... Ken Ober will be truly missed.

    November 17, 2009 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |

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