“Remote Control,” in all its fearless goofiness, was a game show so far ahead of its time that TV land still hasn’t caught up with it. It was packed with soon-to-be-famous wild-card performers — the wonderfully demented Denis Leary, “Stud Boy” Adam Sandler, and gravelly sidekick Colin Quinn.
And Ken Ober, who died earlier this week of undisclosed causes, presided over their elaborate shenanigans — often just this side of out-of-control — with cheery aplomb. As Ken guided contestants through brilliant question categories like “Dead or Canadian?” and “Beat the Bishop,” you could feel a new comedy form being invented by guys who had little in the way of dignity or better prospects to lose. What a time it was.
Ken was a wonderfully warm and grounded guy — the iconic success he achieved with “Remote Control” never seemed to go to his head. (Then again, if “Remote Control” went to your head, your head would have to be a very troubled place.) I stopped by to see him one time in Los Angeles, after the show had run its course, in a little bungalow he was renting up in the hills. He’d moved to Hollywood in search of better prospects himself, and he apparently had considerable success. He also flew back to New York in 2001, for a big MTV 20th-anniversary party at which his old show, of course, loomed large. He was as cheery and upbeat as ever, and it was really good to see him in such high spirits.
But “Remote Control” was a once-in-a-lifetime score, and I hope he was proud of what he and his buddies achieved. The show is long gone from the airwaves, but who knows, maybe it’ll be brought back one day. Can there be any more timeless a pop-culture classic? It’s terribly sad, and very hard to process, that Ken himself is suddenly gone for good.