Sketchfest Review: An Evening With Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant, and Kerri Kenney-Silver at Cobb’s, 1/27/12

by Dakin Hardwick on January 28, 2012

Photo By Jakub Mosur

There are three televisions series that I have every episode of committed to memory. Those are My So-Called Life, Police Squad, and The State. Of course, I made sure to follow the careers closely of all those involved. Yes, that meant weeding through a ton of Spy Hard’s, Stardust‘s, and VH-1’s I Love The Best Time Ever’s out of devotion, waiting for that genius to come about again. So, of course, it was a special treat to me when I found out that three of prime creative forces behind The State were going to have a discussion of their history in television. I was pretty stoked. (Excuse the slang)

Well, little did I know what we were actually getting to see. It was advertised as “A Conversation with…” that was moderated by Nerdist’s Matt Mira. Yes, Mira was there, along with Lennon, Garant, and Kenney-Silver. The four of them sat to the side of a large screen, and spent about 10 minutes briefly discussing “things.” Not so much career, but they talked about Newt Gingrich, they talked about doing sketch, they talked about being friends. They only briefly discussed all the crazy things you did to get a show on TV. It seems that all 11 members of The State interned somewhere in television or film. (Fun Fact: David Wain was the guy that worked at MTV)

Instead, we were treated to four film pieces that were rarely seen outside the studio offices. We were first treated to two bits from the MTV program You Wrote It, You Watch It. These were the prototype for The State. It was a program hosted by Jon Stewart, where viewers sent MTV real life stories, and actors “acted out” the stories. A tale of running around around, shooting a guy named “Skeet” was an early take on “The Inbred Brothers.” The second clip, which was a pleasant bit of sarcastic honesty, in which they showed a clip of a man getting stalked by Fred Schneider of The B-52’s. That’s when they revealed that a friend of the group submitted the story as written by the group.

Of course, everyone knows about the next 3 years, in which the group had a successful show on basic cable. They admitted to making more money on unemployment during the off season than they did while the show was in production. They discussed all the bad business deals, all the mistakes, and everything that caused chaos the group to go its separate ways. After many years of starts and stops, Lennon, Garant, Kenney-Silver, and Michael Ian Black all got the opportunity to do a new show with a struggling new network: Comedy Central. The show would be known as “Viva Variety!”, but the original show was called The Mr. and Former Mrs. Laupin Variety Program, and the pilot was amazing. They didn’t agree, but the audience loved it. It was a wonderful, chaotic program, which featured a clown group that was directed by Rainn Wilson, plenty of women in bikinis and even a performance by Spacehog.

The third video was the was the most fascinating. It was a pilot to a TV show called Hey Neighbor. The premise? A New York power couple is relocated to the midwest because the husband witnessed a mob killing. The cast had exactly six members, with those six playing every character. It was a high energy show, and there were plenty of great ideas, but I also understood how it didn’t get picked up. Everyone involved in Viva Variety! took part, aside from the Bikini Squad, and the cast was buffed out by Julia Campbell and Jack Plotnik. They cracked a joke about how the guy that turned down the show is now president of Fox.

The last video was the most successful piece of rejected footage. It was the original pilot to Reno 911, which was originally going to be a sketch show but was killed by the network during the first table read. The pilot was practically an after-thought. They didn’t rehearse it and they barely even had a fleshed out idea prior to filming. The pilot itself was the property of Fox, but Comedy Central ended up taking over the program. What was amazing about it seeing this was that the first episode of the show was, shot for shot, the same program as the pilot. The only difference was that these were literally shot 3 years apart. They even managed to keep nearly the entire cast.

It was a fun bit of TV history, and an excellent peak into the way TV works.

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