The first commercial entertainment broadcast on television was “Uncle Jim’s Question Bee,” aired at 9:15 p.m. on July 1, 1941. The moment it hit the airwaves, television executives at other stations began thinking: How can we rip this off? Thirty minutes later, 78 other game shows were on the air.
OK, I have exaggerated the last point, to the extent that it is an outright lie. But the fact is, TV has been copying itself for as long as there has been TV. You see it every time there is a new hit show. In 1994, “Friends” became a success and suddenly everyone was making shows about 20-somethings who sit around and are friends. In 1999, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” was ABC’s cash cow, and next thing you knew there were a million prime-time game shows on the air in which five minutes of question-asking were stretched out to an hour. “Gilligan’s Island” premiered on CBS in 1964, and 40 years later, here comes “Lost.”
And we have not seen the last of it. Through my inside sources, I have compiled the following run-down of shows currently in production that are clearly rip-offs of other networks’ hits. Prepare to be alarmed at how low the level of creativity in Hollywood has sunk.
Animal Planet’s “Serengeti Idol.” Wild animals compete to see who really is the king of the jungle. Each week a different animal is eliminated by audience voting, except in this case “eliminated” means “eaten” and “audience voting” means “hyenas.” Judges are a Labrador, a seal and Simon Cowell.
Fox’s “The CSImpsons.” An animated dysfunctional family investigates gory crime scenes and theorizes how the incidents occurred, despite having only four fingers on each hand.
MTV’s “4.” A hot, shirtless guy has to save the world in only four minutes, with each one-minute episode occupying one minute of real time. Adapted for MTV audiences because 24 one-hour episodes are too much for an MTV viewer’s attention span.
Fox News Channel’s “Everybody Loves Reagan.” FNC makes its first foray into scripted comedy (as opposed to the unscripted kind provided by Bill O’Reilly) with this sitcom about a hapless conservative president whom everybody loves, including liberal Democrats, feminists, homosexuals and minorities. EVERYBODY!
Discovery’s “Desperate Hutwives.” Set on the desert plains of Western Africa, “Desperate Hutwives” follows the steamy misadventures of the women in the N’gtu tribe. One is having an affair with the boy who clears away the monkey carcasses; another has trouble controlling her 18 children; yet another was recently killed by jackals yet continues to provide the series with annoying, pun-filled narration.
UPN’s “Black Eye for the White Guy.” A team of black experts (including Mo’nique, Li’l Kim and Will Smith) school hapless white men on how to be more black and therefore more with-it. Each team member has an area of expertise, including music/dancing, slang/mispronunciation, and making fun of white people.
HBO’s “Sur@#&$or.” Sixteen contestants are put on an island and made to fend for themselves. The only ways to survive: swear constantly, have promiscuous sex, run around naked, and murder your enemies. It’s all wrapped up in only six episodes, and the next season doesn’t begin until three years later. But hey, no commercials!
Game Show Network’s “Match Game: Special Victims Unit” Contestants try to match answers to fill-in-the-blank excerpts from sex-related police reports with a panel of C-list celebrities. For example: “The witness said she knew the man was a flasher because she could see his BLANK.” (Winning answer: “mother-in-law.”)
Pretty much any show followed by "Special Victims Unit" is going to be a hilarious title, in my opinion. I briefly considered "MTV's Spring Break: Special Victims Unit" but decided it was too close to what really happens on Spring Break and went for an absurd title instead.
If you have ever watched the 1970s version of "Match Game," you know that "boobs" and "mother-in-law" were two very common answers. If you have not ever watched "Match Game," then you are missing out, my friend.
Notice the qualifiers in the first sentence: The first commercial entertainment broadcast. The first broadcast of any kind was in the 1920s, but there were no commercials or advertisements until July 1, 1941, the date I specified. And even then, the first commercial broadcast of any kind was a General Mills-sponsored baseball game (Dodgers vs. Phillies), followed by a Sunoco-sponsored newscast. But the first commercial ENTERTAINMENT broadcast was right after the news, the "Uncle Jim's Question Bee" that I mentioned. I narrowed it down to the first entertainment program because neither the baseball game nor the newscast worked for the joke I wanted to make, about networks stealing from each other. (The joke of one network doing a newscast only to have another station copy them and also start reporting the news is a different joke altogether.)
See? Taking Communications 101 twice paid off after all.