What somebody says who wants to hold your attention, even though he knows that what is about to interrupt him is not anything that anyone would want to pay attention to. So he says that, or don't touch that dial, in hopes that he will not lose your attention. It is actually an imperative, like excuse me, and that is frankly a touch impolite. But, that's media for ya.

"Stay Tuned" was a mildly amusing movie staring John Ritter and Pam Dawber, about one of the oldest topics in The Book, the evils of too much television.

TV fanatic Roy Knable (Ritter) strains his already tenuous relationship with his wife Helen (Dawber) when he orders a sattelite TV system, on a free trial, from a mysterious salesman named Spike. Unfortunately for our lovely couple, their new sattelite sucks them into "Hellevision", a demonic alternate dimension run by the denizens of the Underworld itself, and filled with hell-bent parodies of television shows. Roy and Helen must work together in order to survive the often brutal nature of the programs for 24 hours, or they can kiss their souls goodbye. It's actually pretty funny at times, especially the scene where the two are turned into cartoon mice and must survive an encounter with a killer robot cat.

"Our parents are trapped in television!" - Darryl Knable, Stay Tuned

It's one of the oldest story cliches of the 1980s: television is evil. Countless sitcoms have covered the stale storyline of what happens when the evils of cable TV turn a lovable character into a couch potato: the whole family bands together to break TV's siren song, then everybody hugs and there's tender music, and they all live happily ever after until the next episode. The 1992 Peter Hyams film Stay Tuned tackles a similar plot, but with a fresh twist. In Stay Tuned, television actually is evil. When couch potato and general failure Roy Knable (John Ritter) ignores his family's pleas to give up television, his wife Helen (Pam Dawber) smashes his beloved TV set. Soon after he is approached by the mysterious Spike (played by the ever-smarmy Jeffrey Jones) who has an offer too good to refuse: a 44" television with stereo surround sound and a state-of-the-art satellite system that receives six hundred and sixty six channels. "Some people would give their souls for such system," Spike says, and the offer of a free trial woos Roy into signing up. While trying to adjust the satellite dish, Roy and Helen are sucked into the system and wind up on Hellvision, a satellite network devoted to entertaining one very choosy client with a pleathroa of sadistic and cruel entertainment. This is the bulk of Stay Tuned, as the Knables fight their way through a gauntlet of TV parodies such as I Love Lucifer, Duane's Underworld, and My Three Sons of Bitches. Spike and his programmers watch the action from the control room while the Knable's children, Darryl and Diane, watch their parents on the conventional HVTV television, all the while fretting about how to bring them home.

Stay Tuned's brightest moments are in the cleverness of the parodies (The Fresh Prince of Darkness, anyone?) that feature cameos from recognizable TV talent (including Don Pardo and Captain Lou Albano) and the ongoing verbal sparring match between Ritter's Roy Knable and Jones's Spike. Eugene Levy turns up in a small part as a former employee of the network doomed to spent eternity in the frozen wastes of Northern Overexposure, and he serves mainly to get past the exposition that the Knables need to know in order to beat Spike at his own game. The rule is that if the Knables can survive twenty-four hours in the Hellvision system, then they go free. Otherwise the devil gets their souls. The plot is fairly formulaic as these things go, and there's few surprises or amazing plot twists in the storyline. Come for the jokes (watch for an animated segment parodying Tom and Jerry created by Chuck Jones himself) and the gleefully hammy overacting from Jeffrey Jones (a man who makes the most of having a spring-loaded remote control attached to his wrist) and John Ritter (who, while jumping between channels in Hell, winds up trapped in Three's Company). They're having as much fun performing this stuff as we are watching it.

What makes Stay Tuned stand out is that, twelve years after the film was released, how oddly familar some of the parodies are in relation to what's really on television today. Consider the real-life UPN series I'm Still Alive! where the supposed entertainment comes from watching people very nearly die of injuries as compared to a TV parody segment in which two elderly men gasp and complain of numbness and blindness, only to be left for dead as a cheery announcer proclaims "Different Strokes! Tonight at 8!". Some of the hellish tortures that the Knables right to escape are on our own televisions every night in prime time. It makes one wonder just how far we've come as a society if concepts that were played for jokes as outrageous parodies ten years ago are presented as common realistic entertainment today. The film grossed only ten million dollars at the box office, although like other TV parody films such as UHF it has done much better on home video, having been released on DVD in 2000 in widescreen format along with the original trailer and short featurette as bonus features. Some of the references are a little dated now (The MaxHell commercial, for example), but Stay Tuned is a pleasantly entertaining film for a rainy afternoon. You might even catch it on television sometime... just be careful which satellite system you watch it on.


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