The reason television was invented!
(Adapted from our painfully detailed history at the We Want The Weird Al Show section of All Things Yankovic.)
Albums in the 1990s such as Off The Deep End and Bad Hair Day made Al a prominent figure in pop music again, and UHF was starting to garner a reputation as a cinematic cult favorite, but by the end of 1996 there was still one major medium that Al had yet to tackle.
That changed in early 1997, when CBS and Dick Clark Productions announced that they would produce The Weird Al Show, a new live-action Saturday morning children's series created by and starring Al. The show was to begin in the fall, and plans were being made to license Weird Al Show merchandise in every product category imaginable.
Even though as a music star Al had been involved in various television productions over the years, this was his first regular foray into series television. In fact, before 1997 his most recurring TV role was that of the host of his one-shot Al-TV specials that would air with the release of each new album. The Weird Al Show would be television viewers' first weekly exposure to Al's humor.
Al had been trying to get the series off the ground for years, but for whatever reason he couldn't get a network interested in such a show, despite the tremendous success of other comedian-based Saturday morning series such as Bobby's World, Hey Vern, It's Ernest!, and of course Pee-Wee's Playhouse. Fortunately, CBS had decided to adhere to a recent FCC regulation that required each network to devote three hours per week to educational programming, which meant they needed new shows. Al and CBS reached an agreement: the network would pick up The Weird Al Show if Al would have it focus on moral and social dilemmas that children often face (bullies, lying to friends, ditching responsibilities, etc.).
To get The Weird Al Show on the air, Al had to agree to record a brand new parody for the show. He delivered with "Lousy Haircut," a short video parodying Prodigy's minor hit "Firestarter."
Unfortunately, when the show premiered that September, it was clear that CBS wasn't doing all it could to ensure that the show, or rather that year's entire Saturday morning schedule, would be a hit. Unlike most network shows that air at set times on set days, CBS let its individual affiliates schedule the show whenever they'd like. Most stations picked early morning Saturday or Sunday, while there was even one station that put the show in a bizarre Tuesday afternoon timeslot. If this wouldn't create enough exposure problems, the only time that CBS would actually advertise any of its Saturday morning shows was during those actual shows! So unless a viewer was already up at the crack of dawn to watch CBS's lineup, they wouldn't have even known it existed!
But for those who did know about the show and were able to catch it, they were in for a treat. Original songs, UHF-inspired TV and movie parodies, and likable supporting characters including a neighborly superhero made the series stand out from other Saturday morning shows, as did Al's trademark humor. Although a couple of the earlier episodes had trouble balancing the silliness with the weekly lessons, by the middle of the season the show had found its groove. Despite the fact that CBS had a few objections to Al's material (they were afraid Yoko Ono jokes would confuse children), Al was pretty much allowed to be his normal, zany self..."Weird Al lite" might even be too strong of a description. Al was a natural host and protagonist, someone the audience could definitely relate to. Considering its target audience and its intended purpose, The Weird Al Show rarely disappointed...that is, those who watched.
Even though The Weird Al Show debuted with higher ratings than any other CBS Saturday morning program, CBS's average ratings for the season were abysmal to say the least. The network only averaged a 0.6 rating with a 3 percent share in the crucial 2-11 age bracket. It was perhaps no surprise what was to come next.
In January 1998, not even a year after the show's original announcement, CBS announced that it would drop its entire Saturday morning lineup, including The Weird Al Show. The show was planning to leave the air that September, almost one year to the date after its debut.
"As well-produced as these shows are, the kids aren't watching them," said Lucy Johnson, the network's Senior Vice-President of Daytime-Children's Programming and Special Projects.
Al was disappointed but not stunned by the announcement. In fact he even said he had reservations about the idea of doing a second season on CBS. Originally, both Al and Dick Clark Productions vowed to find a new home for The Weird Al Show, but so far that hasn't happened.
Meanwhile, very much like what happened with UHF, the show became a sorely missed cult hit. Clips shown at Al's concerts are usually well-received, and the inclusion of some of the show's musical segments became a highlight on Al's 2003 DVD release The Ultimate Video Collection. In fact, the show has become so heavily bootlegged that a number of round-the-clock online outlets are devoted to offering each episode as streaming video files. And of course, there is always the chance that the series itself could be released on DVD, if only fans would show their support for such an idea....
Once again, Al's fans would embrace even his less-successful projects for many years to come.
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