It's Mad, but it just
BY GLENN McDONALD
ILLUSTRATION BY: NORMAN MINGO, WHATSITOO U.
EGENDARY MAD MAGAZINE ILLUSTRATOR SERGIO
Aragones is standing at the back of a Hollywood
sound stage. Before him, cast and crew prepare for
the final take of "Apollo the 13th," Mad TVs
Jason-meets-Jim Lovell send-up of the horror genre.
Aragones, who just dropped in on the set out of
curiosity, chuckles. "This should have happened a long
time ago," he says. One of the founding fathers of Mad
Magazine, Aragones has seen efforts to bring Mad to
the TV screen float and flounder for 20 years. "This is
Aragones pauses to consider the giant orbital module
prop. "You know the Russians had sex up there," he says
out of nowhere. "I mean - that's the first thing you'd
do, right? Zero-gravity sex? Masturbation, at least."
It's a mad, mad, mad Madworld.
This fall, television's upstart network
teams with juvenilia's sacred, satiri-
cal monthly to launch Mad TV -
an ambitious foray into the occupied
lands of Saturday night sketch come-
dy. The show has a lot going for it
- the prestige of the Madmoniker,
an experienced production team, a
talented cast and a world-class direc-
tor (John Blanchard, SCTV Kids in
the Hall). It also has some stiff com-
petition - a pesky little 20-year-old
comedy institution called Saturday
All right for fighting?
Executive producer Adam Small
realizes the particular spot Mad TV
is in. It's hard enough to make a
sketch show work in a half-hour
weekday format. (Small wrote for In
Living Color and co-produced the
frequently lame House of Buggin).
But competing with SNL, even con-
sidering that show's current slump,
is a tall order.
"I don't think you can last at 11
p.m. on Saturday night without
having that freedom to really be
edgy," Small says. "We're going up
against SNL, and the show's called
Mad We better be able to pack a
wallop, or we won't last."
To that end, Mad TV hopes to
incorporate some unorthodox ele-
ments into the show, including ani-
mated "Spy vs. Spy" and Don Mar-
tin cartoon sequences, as well as
frenetic, MTV-like computer ani-
mation. The show will shoot about
a third of its material on location,
with the other two-thirds taped live
before an audience a few days prior
to the Saturday airing.
"One of the things we've tried to
do is use lots of different looks and
textures," says executive producer
David Salzman. "Like the animation,
and movie parodies in 35 mm letter-
box. And we plan to do at least two
significant music parodies each show."
But can the show capitalize on
the rich satirical tradition of the
magazine? Will a network tolerate
such wanton subversity?
"We're going on the air with a
sensibility that there are no sacred
cows," Salzman says. "The magazine
was always about the mocking of
authority, hypocrisy exposed. It's
statement comedy as well as amuse'
Well, we'll see. Mad TV draws
its spirit from the magazine, but lit-
tle else. There is no actual creative
liaison between the magazine, pro-
duced in New York, and the TV
show, written primarily by a young
staff with sitcom and stand-up com-
Still, there is a deliberate effort
to move away from established
sketch comedy norms, and you
can't complain about that. Blaine
Capatch and Patton Oswalt are one
of the principal teams on Mad TVs
staff of 15 or so writers. Pop culture
junkies and comedy scholars, they
riff effortlessly on << >
Ernie Kovacs to u
The Simpsons. u
"We're aware of SNL,
what limits SNL
and other sketch o
stuff, and we try to
look at our stuff M a(
through that," Ca-
patch says. "They better
got the formula and
they knew what t
worked, and they
were afraid to move
away from it. As it
got bigger and more
bloated, they would
get one joke -
'OK, it's a guy with ADAM SMA
a massive head EXECUTIVE
wound.' And they
would write backwards from there."
"No offense to SNL - they've
had their ups and downs - but
right now they're in a real bad
down," says Oswalt. "They lost
their focus because they got too
much money and became too much
of an institution."
Those involved with Mad TVgo
out of their way to praise SNL for
its pioneering history. They're anx-
ious to avoid the inevitable media-
fueled confrontation. But the criti-
cism is valid - they know it, we
know it and SNL knows it.
"This is going to sound snotty,
but we're writing endings to the
sketches," says cast member Nicole
Sullivan. "I don't know where [SNL]
lost the fact that they needed end-
ings. I think they stopped caring."
What, them worry?
Sullivan, a classically trained
actress with considerable theater
experience, says most of the cast has
ensemble training and experience -
going decision on the part
ainst of the producers.
s "One of the
rnd the things that shows
have done before is
called just impressions of
political figures or
We entertainment fig-
'I ures, Salzman
b'e able says. "Usually the
point of. those
rck a sketches is 'Look
how great I am at
or we doing this impres-
sion.' Some of the
last. " people that do
them are hilarious,
but its kind of a
L, Mw TV one-level form of
"So we looked
for actors as opposed to stand-ups,"
All of these elements add up to a
show with fundamental differences
from traditional sketch comedy tele-
vision. Mad TV has an ambitious
agenda, and a lot on its plate. It's
time to skit or get off the pot.
"There's a lot of pressure," says
cast member Bryan Callen. "But it's
Like the rest of the Mad TV
team, Sullivan says the ultimate goal
is to produce a funny, maybe even
ground-breaking, comedy program.
And there's only one real judge of
that - America's TV nation.
"My favorite moment was after
shooting the pilot," Sullivan says.
"My friends came out and said,
'You know what? This is funny."'
"I went, 'Oh, my God. We
could have a show here."'
Glenn McDonald isU. Magazine'smusic
editor, and he always, always pulls for
the White Spy.
It' s One Of The Most Useful Credit
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Gump Fiction - "I am going to get medieval on
20 U. Magazise * November 1995
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