Ken Ober From MTV’s Remote Control Has Died

MTV, the Peter Pan of TV networks, never grew older. People like Ken Ober did and were tossed aside.

ken ober remote control.jpgBack when they played music on MTV… back when I had the hots for Martha Quinn… there was an MTV game show: Remote Control. Ken Ober, Remote Control’s host, died today. He was 52–too old for MTV but way too young to die.

Remote Control was more skit comedy show than game show. Along with Ober there was Colin Quinn and, at various times, Adam Sandler, Denis Leary and Kari Wührer (who I also had the hots for).

MTV, the Peter Pan of TV networks, never grew older. People like Ken Ober did and were tossed aside. Too old to rock and roll–or at least too old to rock and roll with today’s viewers. That’s a shame.

I ran into him at an ice show in Hartford many years ago. I just wanted to say hello and tell him how much I enjoyed the show. As I began to introduce myself he said he was from Hartford and already knew who I was. I liked that more than a little.

Remote Control and it’s cast were witty. Witty was an acceptable MTV component then. Not any more.

Plane Talk About The Flight Home

We’re on our way home from Las Vegas. I’m typing this from 39,000 feet somewhere over the vast void that is the middle of America.

Helaine obtained a late checkout, so we left the hotel at 2:30, heading first to refill the rental car and then return it to the “Giant Rental Car Building,” newly opened south of the airport. All the car rental companies share this facility and the shuttle buses that leave every few minutes. This part of the experience, coming and going, was painless.

Oh – there is one thing. Our car had Sirius Satellite Radio. We discovered that sometime around day five and quite by accident. Since Dollar pays for it, and I wanted to use it, you’d think there would have been a placard or sticker advertising its availability. Even when I hit the right button (by mistake) there was only a hint of what I’d unlocked.

We did get to hear a little Nina Blackwood, Martha Quinn, Mark Goodman and former Philly favorite, Michael Tierson. I always had a thing for Martha.

Sunday afternoon at McCarren Airport is a medley of your favorite lines. We stood in line to get our baggage weighed and tagged. We stood in line for security. Helaine stood in line for food. And, of course, we sat in line to get our choice of seats on the plane.

AMAZING, BUT TRUE STORY ALERT: As we checked in, the agent asked for our heaviest bag first. On the scale it went. Southwest only allows (in my family the word ‘only’ must be included) 50 pounds per bag. The bag weighed 49.95 pounds! When the agent put the tag on the bag, the weight rose to exactly 50.00 pounds. None of us had ever seen anything like it.

This was probably the last time we’ll be sitting on the floor, holding our place in line, in the Southwest terminal. Next month they unveil a new, modified boarding system which will reward those who are anal retentive and get their boarding passes within the first few minutes after they become available. The punctual will then get their choice of the best seats!

From the cockpit, this is the pilot.” How many times do you want to hear those words on a flight?

Why ask?

We wanted to sleep. He wanted to speak. “Folks, it’s going to be bumpy over the Rockies.” “Folks, we’re over the Rockies and it’s bumpy.” “Folks we’re passed the Rockies and I’m turning off the seat belt sign.”

There were a few more announcements. I forget exactly what they were, except Iowa City was off to the left during one and “we’re over Chicago,” on the other. The “peddling as fast as we can” line was only funny the first time.

Considering the hour of this flight, I’m surprised the cabin lights were never dimmed. Though, with chatterbox driving, the point was probably moot.

Our flight left Las Vegas 45 minutes late. The plane was there on time, but we waited for connecting passengers from Oakland. Having been on the receiving end of that kind of largess in the past, I didn’t mind being on the giving side tonight.

All Southwest flights are in 737s. It’s funny how times have changed, because Southwest now uses that as a selling point in its ads. You never fly in a little plane on Southwest. A few years ago, when the domestic carriers used wide bodied jets of many more routes, Southwest’s claim would have been laughed off the TV. Now, when the alternative is a 30, 40 or 50 seat regional jet, Southwest has a point.

I have spent much of the last few hours trying to figure out a way to allow fully reclining seats on a 737. Maybe if you remove the overhead bins and create an upper-lower configuration for the seats? There’s got to be a way, and whichever airline does it first, wins.

It’s 1:00 AM now. We’re still in the air. Will there even be baggage handlers when we arrive?

I so want to go to sleep.

MTV At 25

Today is MTV’s 25th birthday. It has not been mentioned on MTV! More on that in a second. VH-1 Classic, a digital subchannel with vastly inferior reach, carried the flag with flashbacks to 1981.

By the time MTV came on, I was already in Buffalo, hosting PM Magazine. I was envious, to say the least. Alas, even by then, I was probably too old for MTV.

Today’s MTV isn’t anything like the MTV of 25 years ago. There’s little music on Music Television. Much of the day is spent in MTV’s version of reality.

This was all presaged. I’m sure this wasn’t the first time it was uttered, but Bob Pittman is on the record five years ago, on CNN, saying:

We made a decision not to grow old with our audience. It’s the Peter Pan network.

So, to today’s audience, the MTV of 25 years ago doesn’t exist… or if it does, it’s too closely related to their (unhip) parents to be mentioned. A 25th anniversary of anything isn’t very important when you’re 16.

I remember sitting home with Helaine, in Buffalo, waiting for the premiere of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. It was a simpler time.

Over the past few years I’ve become increasingly uneasy with the lifestyle portrayals on MTV’s reality shows. I’ve called it soft core porn for teens. Maybe that’s an exaggeration – though not much of one. Certainly I was uneasy when my daughter watched them through high school.

I’d say more, but I don’t want to sound like an old guy railing at youth.

There are no more VJs – no more Martha Quinn or Mark Goodman. I suspect MTV’s still a major incubator of talent. It always has been. It is amazing to look at who’s gone far after leaving MTV.

Meanwhile, if you’re wondering about the originals, here’s a quick rundown from NPR’s Talk of the Nation.

Martha Quinn

After leaving MTV in 1990, Quinn stayed in television, working as both actor and anchor. In 2005, she joined Sirius Satellite Radio, where she hosts a weekly show, Martha Quinn Presents: Gods of the Big ’80s.

J.J. Jackson

Jackson returned to radio in Los Angeles after his stint on MTV. He was host for a number of successful radio programs before he suffered a fatal heart attack in March 2004. He was 62.

Alan Hunter

Since his 1987 departure from MTV, Hunter formed a production company, Hunter Films, with his brother Hugh and co-founded the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival in Birmingham. He is currently a host on Sirius Satellite Radio’s 80s music channel.

Nina Blackwood


On My Way To Nashville

My friend Mike runs a television station in Nashville. Another friend, Steve, is the news director. They are in the midst of an interesting experiment. Depending on who you ask, you will be told it’s the future or the demise of local TV news.

On Friday, I’m going there to make up my own mind.

WKRN has decided to eliminate the line between reporters, editors and photographers. At that Nashville station, everyone’s a reporter who shoots and edits. They are called VJs, even though, to me, that name brings up memories of Mark Goodman, Allan Hunter, Nina Blackwood and Martha Quinn.

When I told this to some people at my station, they wondered how you could concentrate on getting the meat of a story while you were also worried about running the equipment? I don’t know. I want to see.

I think the vast majority of the photographers I work with could easily be reporters. They have to think like reporters to shoot well (and most of our guys are phenomenal shooters).

I don’t know about the reporters going the other way. Shooting a video camera is as much an art as anything else I can think of. It doesn’t seem to be something easily learned in a short time.

Reporters like to be seen in their stories. Stations like their reporters to be seen. How do you do that when you’re shooting and reporting? I want to find out.

What this rejiggering of resources does buy is a much larger head count on the street. You can cover many more stories, or assign people a longer time to cover a story, or you can use this technique to spend less money.

It would seem that last one is a very tempting outcome for a station’s owner. I am assured by my friends that’s not what they’re doing.

Moving to this new method of electronic journalism also brings new editing and storage techniques which should make the melding of TV news department and Internet news website easier. It’s all a brave new world, but will it be successful?

Is this how TV news will be done in the future? There are lots of vested interests who say no. In the right to work state of Tennessee it’s easier to give it a try.

I do know the hot breath of the Internet is being felt on the back of TV’s neck. At Yahoo, an ambitious plan is underway to add all sorts of video programming. It will all be on demand and without many of the content or time restrictions of over-the-air television. I’m still trying to decide if it will be a more or less expensive method of distribution?

Anyway, I’m excited about seeing my friends and spending time with them. I’m also excited, and in some ways petrified, that I might be taking a peek at the future of television.