Q & A: The Canned Film Festival; Mr. Smith

I get a lot of e-mails from people asking me about television shows, made-for-TV movies or miniseries they remember from years or decades past. I try to answer each question as best I can. Every now and then I like to dig through my inbox and pull out a few choice e-mails to answer here at Television Obscurities for everyone to read. Keep reading for today’s questions and answers.

There was a syndicated b-movie show in the 80’s with Lorraine Newman that was set in an old theatre. Lorraine was an usherette there, and rather than talking over the show in a MSK3000 way, it was more like a comedy itself that cut back and forth showing the film. What was it called, and how many were made?

The Canned Film Festival was a syndicated, late-night movie series that aired for 13 weeks during the summer of 1986. Sponsored by soda manufacturer Dr Pepper, the series presented B movies interspersed with comedic segments featuring Saturday Night Live alum Laraine Newman. Her character, also named Laraine, operated a run-down movie theater located in a small town in Texas where the B movies were offered in an attempt to attract patrons. Each week, Laraine screened a new movie for an audience of exactly five; these characters appeared alongside Newman in the comedy segments.

Advertising company Young & Rubicam created the series for Dr Pepper; it was produced by Chelsea Communications and distributed by LBS Communications to roughly 70% of the country [1]. According to Advertising Age, each episode featured eight national one-minute commercials for Dr Pepper and ten local one-minute commercials sold on a barter basis [2]. The series premiered on or about June 16th, 1986 and ran through September, typically airing at 11:30PM or later.

Mark Schwed of United Press International referred to The Canned Film Festival as “perhaps the least anticipated series in modern television history.” Among the movies shown on were The Slime People (1963), Robot Monster (1953), The Crawling Hand (1963) and They Saved Hitler’s Brain (1963).

I might be making up a memory, but wasn’t there a show in the 80s about an orangutan who was U.S. President? Can’t remember any actors…I think it was voiceover for the monkey’s thoughts. Was this real? What was it?

He wasn’t quite the president but an orangutan served as an adviser/consultant to the United States government in a short-lived NBC sitcom called Mr. Smith. After escaping from his cage and drinking an advanced, super secret formula, the orangutan (named C.J. in real life) developed an IQ of 256 and the ability to talk. Ed. Weinberger, who co-created the series, provided Mr. Smith’s speaking voice.

At one point, in 10 Of The Most Outlandish TV Concepts Ever, I wrote that the series “was ridiculed by critics” but after reading more reviews it seems some critics were at least willing to give the show a chance despite the absurdity of the premise because of the creative talent involved. Viewers, however, didn’t feel the same way and NBC canned the show in December. A total of 13 episodes were aired.

Works Cited:

1 [Untitled]. Advertising Age. 16 Jun. 1986: 69.
2 Ibid.
3 Schwed, Mark. “The absolute pits.” United Press International. 4 Jun. 1986: BC Cycle.

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4 Replies to “Q & A: The Canned Film Festival; Mr. Smith”

  1. I remember “THE CANNED FILM FESTIVAL” well; Wendell Craig was the announcer…and I believe it was on WOR-TV in New York in the summer of ’86. A similar series appeared in syndication in the early ’90s, “SNICKER THEATER”, which consisted of obscure dubbed Italian films, and hosted by two male “goofballs” who commended on the movies before they aired. It lasted about as long as “CANNED”…

    Why “MR. SMITH”? Because Brandon Tartikoff, who was NBC’s chief programmer, was always looking for “offbeat” series to schedule on Friday nights in the ’80s, primarily to appeal to the “MTV crowd”- these included “MIAMI VICE” {his most successful}, “MISFITS OF SCIENCE”, “STINGRAY”, “THE LAST PRECINCT”, “RAGS TO RICHES”, “THE HIGHWAYMAN”, ‘SOMETHING IS OUT THERE”, “TRUE BLUE”, “UNSUB”, “QUANTUM LEAP” (which survived and flourished on Wednesday nights), “BAYWATCH” [the original version, before it became a worldwide syndicated phenomenon] and “NASTY BOYS”.

  2. There was another show I believe during this period or sooner that showed old B/W movies and had actors re-dub the dialog to current times. I think it aired on WNEW Channel 5 in New York. Does anybody remember it?

    Barry – you forgot the most popular NBC Friday night show of the 80s and that was the original Knight Rider. I never missed an ep.

  3. That was probably “MAD MOVIES WITH THE L.A. CONNECTION”, syndicated during 1985-’86, ‘pB’ (it was rebroadcast on ‘Nick At Nite’, several years later); that improv group took a bunch of public domain films, and “gagged” them up with new dialogue and situations (imagine Shirley Temple strangling someone in “The Little Princess”, or Edmond O’Brien being mistaken for ‘Ricky Ricardo’ in “D.O.A.”).

    “KNIGHT RIDER” appeared on Fridays during its first and final seasons (1982-’83, 1985-’86); after two successful seasons on Sundays, the ratings on Fridays declined to the point where NBC decided the series was “expendable”, and replaced it by moving “STINGRAY” into the time period for the fall of ’86 [it also ended after that season].

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