UHF (film)

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
We got it all on UHF!

UHF is a 1989 movie starring "Weird Al" Yankovic, written by Al and his manager Jay Levey (who directed). Al plays George Newman, a young man with an all-too-fertile imagination adrift in life. After getting fired from yet another job due to excessive daydreaming, he is appointed by his uncle Harvey as manager of Channel U62, a local UHF television station that Harvey won in a Poker game.

George and his friend Bob soon discover that U62 is a near-abandoned station with a staff of three, almost no reception to speak of, and nothing but stale reruns for programming. With optimistic enthusiasm, George tries to revitalize the station's schedule, but quickly realizes that the channel will soon go bankrupt; the local airwaves are dominated by Channel 8, a network affiliate VHF station whose owners are card carrying villains with good publicity.

Things change when a depressed George carelessly puts station janitor Stanley Spadowski in charge of the channel's early-morning kids' show; to everyone's surprise, Stanley's Cloudcuckoolander antics become an instant hit across all demographics. Emboldened, George unleashes the full force of his creativity with a line of unique, oddball shows to fill out the rest of the schedule, with Stanley as their flagship superstar. These moves quickly catapult U62's ratings to #1 in town—which prompts Channel 8 head honcho R.J. Fletcher to take them down by any means necessary...

Like Weird Al's music, the film focuses its comedy on oddball humor and satire, parody, and pastiche of pop culture. Released in 1989, at the height of Weird Al's popularity, the film was expected to be a summer blockbuster, but barely broke even at the box office (opening against the 1989 Batman movie, after all) and instead became a Cult Classic.

Then again, maybe a feature making fun of independent local TV does fit best on the small screen?

Tropes used in UHF (film) include:
  • Abusive Parents: R.J. Fletcher portrays this well, when he's first seen and heard abusing his son R.J Fletcher Jr. for not acting intelligent enough.

R.J: You idiot! Can't you do anything I tell you to do? Does this look like a Number 2 pencil?
Richard: Well... I-I just thought --
R.J: You thought?! I don't pay you to think!
Richard: But Dad --
R.J: Shut up!

  • Affectionate Parody: The entire movie is strewn with them, especially the opening sequence.
    • Conceptually, the movie as a whole is an Affectionate Parody of cheaply run UHF stations from the 70s and 80s.
  • A-Team Firing: Taken to a ludicrous extreme in the Rambo sequence.
  • All or Nothing: At the end of the "Wheel of Fish" scene, the prize box turns out to be empty.
  • Almighty Janitor: Broken into two roles. Stanley lives for being a humble janitor even after becoming famous as a show host (and God help you if you try to take his mop from him). Philo's the somewhat spacey engineer of this run-down station who proves to be a damn sneaky bastard when needed, possibly a Mad Scientist, and definitely an alien.
  • And Starring: "and Victoria Jackson as Teri". She gets the extra mention because she's the last name listed on the opening credits. This may seem strange, but having been a prominent player on Saturday Night Live, she may have been the most famous person cast in the movie, other than Al himself.
    • Apparently, Al and Victoria were dating at the time, which couldn't have hurt.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: The human version...during the "Town Talk" promo, a bunch of weird guests are on the panel. They are, in order, A Neo-Nazi, A Dominatrix, A Klansman...A little girl with blond pigtails...and Jason Voorhees (or a Captain Ersatz therof). Subverted in that the little girl is implied as an Enfant Terrible with a perpetual Slasher Smile.
  • Attention Deficit Ooh Shiny: George is this in spades, especially in the film's early scenes.
  • Author Existence Failure: Trinidad Silva, who played Raul, died in an auto accident before shooting all his scenes. The film is dedicated to him. The movie also had to abort his subplot, where the poodles got revenge.
  • Axe Crazy: The "Killer Thug" is implied to be this.
  • Berserk Button: Just try to take Stanley's mop away. I dare you.
  • Big Win Sirens: Used in "Stanley Spadowski's Funhouse" when the kid finds a marble in a sandbox full of oatmeal. His prize? Getting blasted in the face with a fire hose.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Spoofed in George's Rambo fantasy sequence, where he sweeps an automatic rifle along a line of Mooks on a hillside. A moment later, they bloodlessly collapse simultaneously.
  • Burger Fool: George and Bob work at "Big Edna's Burger World" before they are fired for George insulting Big Edna while, unbeknownst to George, she's right behind him, which leads to her literally throwing George and Bob out of the restaurant.
  • But Now I Must Go: Philo makes his grand exit at the end of the film this way.

Philo: You're welcome. Well, it appears that my work on this planet is finished, so I must now return to my home planet of Zarquon.
George: [dubious] Oh...okay. Have fun!

Bob: I dunno about this, George.. I don't know the first thing about what goes on in a television station.
George Don't worry, Bob! It's just like working in a fish market, except you don't have to clean or gut fish all day.

R.J. Fletcher: This town means about as much to me as a festering bowl of dog snot! You think I care about the pea-brained yokels of this town?! If you took their collective IQ, and multiplied it by 1,000, you might just have enough intelligence to tie your shoe, if you didn't drool all over yourself first! I can't stand those sniveling maggots! They make me want to puke! But, there is one good thing about broadcasting to a town full of mindless sheep: I always know I have them exactly where I want them! (maniacal laugh)"

  • Evil Old Folks: R.J. Fletcher, who else?
  • Excited Kids' Show Host: Stanley Spadowski proves to act like this all the time. Putting him in front of the camera was just lucky. Subverted beforehand in that George tried to fill this role and failed miserably.
  • Fingore: The clumsy shop teacher, with a table saw, during George's interview with him.
  • The Fool: George Newman.
  • Free Prize At the Bottom: Stanley Spadowski, while hosting his show, goes through the process of digging a cheap plastic toy out from the bottom of a box of cereal.

Stanley: Don't let your parents know that you do this.

  • The Gambling Addict: Uncle Harvey, who regularly plays the horses and poker - the latter got him the station, and the former nearly resulted in him selling it to R.J. Fletcher.
  • George Jetson Job Security: The janitor, Stanley Spadowski got fired from Channel 8 by R.J. Fletcher who accused him of throwing away some very important files. They were later discovered right where Fletcher had left them, but Stanley wasn't un-fired.
    • There's even a slight implication that R.J. Fletcher did this deliberately to rid of Stanley.
  • Gilligan Cut: From Uncle Harvey saying "no way" about George becoming the manager of a TV station, to George and Teri on their way to the station for the first time.
    • A package meant for Channel 8 (Fletcher's station and lair of doom) arrives at Channel 62 (George's UHF station) by accident. George offers to deliver it personally to Fletcher. Pamela warns "...he's not the nicest guy in the world." After George scoffs and says "You just have to know how to talk to those guys..." CUT TO Fletcher berating his son about a pencil (see Abusive Parents example above).
  • Grumpy Old Man: R.J. Fletcher himself.
  • Harpo Does Something Funny: Aside from one action sequence, Michael Richards' part is entirely ad libbed because "it was funnier than anything we could write."
  • Historical Badass Upgrade: Gandhi II.
  • Humiliation Conga: R.J. Fletcher goes down HARD.
    • HARD doesn't even begin to describe it! First his true beliefs about the community are revealed, making him the most hated man in the city; then he loses his contract because a random homeless person purchased enough stock to save U-62; gets his license revoked; gets kicked in the nuts by an old lady; learns the one coin he gave the already mentioned homeless person was what caused his downfall; and the homeless man was able to get the same watch Fletcher wanted.
      • Weird Al states in the commentary that he put this in because he doesn't like it when a movie has a Karma Houdini.
        • And yet, he doesn't get arrested for kidnapping! Then again, by the time the homeless man reveals his role in Fletcher's downfall, Al must've decided that there was only so much hell he could inflict on Fletcher without making him into a Jerkass Woobie.
  • I Ate What?: George accidentally feeds dog biscuits to Bob during filming of a Product Placement segment during the kids' show. As Bob is in character as "Bobbo the Clown", he has to fake a smile even as he's grossed out by the taste of the "cookies" he's eating.

"That's right, Yappy's Dog Treats! Your dog will love that real liver and tuna taste...
*Cue sound of Bob being violently ill*
...With just a hint of cheese!"

  • I'm Your Worst Nightmare: George says this during his Rambo-parodying fantasy.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: Sort of. During the dreaded phone call between Uncle Harvey and Mr. Big, Mr. Big detaches his hand, replaces it with a meat cleaver appendage and violently chops a big loaf of lunchmeat (since it's Weird Al, probably bologna), signifying he means business. Harvey staggers in the pool (where he's lounging when the call takes place) and says, "I'm dead meat!".
  • Indy Escape: Parodied in a dream sequence with a dauntless boulder. Averted since the dream was interrupted, killing the character in said dream.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Invoked by George, but Bob calls him on it, saying he doesn't drink; George says he's been meaning to start.
  • Japanese Ranguage: "Supplies!"
  • Jingle: Spatula City.
  • Kitschy Local Commercial: There are a few of these, including the Spatula City ad ("we sell spatulas, and that's all!") and the ad for Crazy Eddie's Used Cars.
  • Large Ham: Kevin McCarthy's performance is so hammy that some major religions forbid eating watching it.
  • Laugh with Me: When R.J. Fletcher starts laughing, the two managers under him realize, after a short pause, that they'd better start forcing themselves to laugh along with him.
  • Like Reality Unless Noted: The town. It's a normal city with normal people watching their normal Channel 8... but when you see the odd content being aired on Channel 62 and realize all these people and things must have been out there already before they got TV shows, it makes you wonder what anyone found weird or odd about George at the beginning of the movie.
  • Loan Shark: Uncle Harvey owes $75,000 to an unseen shark who has a detachable cleaver for a hand.
    • Who may or may not be Merv Griffin, according to the commentary.
  • Man Child: Stanley, so very much.
  • Market-Based Title: Since the concept of UHF stations differs overseas (as some countries, like the UK, moved everything to UHF years ago), they asked Al for an alternate title. He suggested "The Vidiot".
    • In a prime example of Executive Meddling, the film was released in some countries, much to Al's chagrin, as "The Vidiot From UHF". This succeeded in transforming an incomprehensible title to a terrible one.
    • The Latin-American Spanish dub is known as "Los Telelocos".
    • The concept of the small independent UHF station running Anime cartoons into the wee hours does exist in Japan.
    • The United Kingdom, on the other hand? Most stations are regional, not local, and the majors (BBC1, BBC2, ITV, 4) are routinely transmitted on adjacent sets of channels from the same (BBC-owned) sites.
    • Of course, modern televisions don't differentiate between UHF and other frequencies, and haven't for years, so it's not much better in the US anymore.
  • Media Watchdog: The FCC appeared in the end of UHF.
  • Metaphorgotten: George delivers many of these.

Come on, Bob. You gotta grab life by the lips, and just yank as hard as you can.

    • Stanley squeezes in a couple as well.

And now they're throwing me out like a bag of moldy...tangerines.

  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: In Brick Joke form.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: as a parody of Geraldo and other 80's talk shows that lead the way for Jerry Springer, a bruised George tells us about what could be described as the ultimate controversial matter: "Lesbian Nazi hookers, abducted by UFOs and forced into weight-loss programs... all this week onTown Talk."
  • No Budget: While this limited who could be hired and where shooting takes place, this shows up most with the props. They couldn't afford to have any lead time on, leading to such things as a helicopter helmet with a Channel 8 logo made out of tape.
    • Used In-Universe, too, as U62 had a shoestring budget until "Uncle Nutsy's Clubhouse" got turned into "Stanley Spudowski's Clubhouse".
    • In the commentary Al jokes that they blew half the budget on the scene with the kid spitting in George's face on CG spit from Industrial Light and Magic.
  • Old Shame: Apparently, if you bring this film up to Michael Richards, he will not react well, though he did appear in the cast commentary.
    • For a couple of minutes... at a time. Of course after his infamous outburst in late 2006 he hopefully will recall this movie as a happier time.
    • Well, given his role...
  • The One Thing I Don't Hate About You: R. J. Fletcher's Engineered Public Confession ends with "But, there is one good thing about broadcasting to a town full of mindless sheep: I always know I have them exactly where I want them!"
  • Parody Commercial: Contains a number of commercials for various U62 shows, including "Gandhi II", "Conan the Librarian", and "Wheel of Fish", as well as a few fake companies, such as "Spatula City" and "Crazy Ernie's Used Cars". The audio for some of these commercials was included on Weird Al's UHF CD.
  • Periphery Demographic: In-universe, this is what turns around U62's fortunes.
  • Prop Recycling: The producers struck a deal with KOED to build a news set in their studio. The Tulsa network used the set for their own broadcasts for a couple years afterward.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "A U! H! F! Station!"
  • Real Trailer, Fake Movie: Gandhi II and a few others. There are also many joke listings on U-62's schedule board for implausible and ridiculous programmes that don't exist, not even as trailers.
  • Red Right Hand: Although he's technically not the main villain, Mr. Big is a spooky unseen loan shark/crime boss with a detachable meat-cleaver hand. Also, Evil Sounds Deep applies to him as well.
  • Sassy Secretary: Pamela Finklestein.
  • Scary Librarian: CONAN: THE LIBRARIAN

Conan: Don't you know dah dew-ay dec-ihm-ahl sys-tahm?

  • Science Marches On: An interesting tidbit in the very beginning at Big Edna's. You can see a sign in the background saying that they cook all of their meat "medium with a pink center unless otherwise specified". This was in 1989 and not a joke, as it was before the 1993 Jack-in-the-Box E coli disaster in which four children died and hundreds of others became sick in the Seattle area as well as California, Idaho and Nevada, after eating undercooked and contaminated meat from Jack in the Box. These days all meat is cooked well done unless specified, and menus have warnings against eating undercooked meats.
    • Though to be fair, pink beef can still be hot enough to kill bacteria. It's red beef that's trouble.
  • Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: R.J. Fletcher
  • Severely Specialized Store: Spatula City.
  • Shouting Shooter: In the Rambo parody.
  • Show Within a Show: The entire picture is basically a series of short comedy sketches; the fictional TV station is merely a framing device to pass this all off as one feature-length film. Al: "I was known for doing parodies, so we wanted to do a movie that was lousy with parodies — TV commercial parodies, movie trailer parodies, and obviously TV show parodies — and we hung them on a plot line that seemed like the thing to go well with that basic concept. Namely, that I would be the general manager for a small UHF TV station..."
  • Smug Snake: RJ Fletcher.
  • Struggling Broadcaster: Independent U-62's attempts to fill the entire schedule with No Budget original local programming. Most big-city independents would struggle but manage to fill most of their schedule with old movies, local/regional live sports coverage, "classic television" reruns or syndicated fare. U-62 doesn't even have the means to do that, so the operation basically runs ad-lib and hyperlocal.
  • Styrofoam Rocks: Parodied. In the opening sequence, a rock bounces right off George Newman's head mid-fantasy and does nothing to him.
  • Technology Marches On: The UHF band in general. In 1989? "It was a total anachronism even when it came out — it was on the tail end of UHF even being a thing. But as a kid, that was where you went to see all the weird programming. You know, you had your UHF dial, and you flipped it around, and there was everything from PBS stations to Spanish-speaking stations to low-budget public stations, to just out-and-out weirdness."
    • The launch of FOX TV as a fourth US commercial network in 1986 was the Trope Breaker. Twelve VHF TV channels (which had been enough for three stations in each major market) were no longer adequate. TV sets have improved. And then there's the digital HDTV transition. Many longtime NBC and CBS affiliates chose UHF for their HDTV, as the once-valuable low-VHF channels are too plagued with impulse noise to be useful. VHF 2-6 became largely an over-the-air wasteland, to the point that the government paid WGBH-TV about $160 million to move off a now-valuable UHF channel and go to VHF 5.
    • The "U-62" frequency? Gone. UHF 52-69 were auctioned to mobile phone operators for billions in 2009-11. American Television Stations were moved down to DT51 or lower, only to be further repacked to DT36 or lower by 2021. Stations historically on this channel (such as CBS owned-and-operated WWJ-TV 62 Detroit) may still display '62' or '62.1' in their branding, but physically they're on some other, lower channel.
  • Temporary Substitute: Anthony Geary wasn't originally planned to play Philo; one of Al's favorite comics, Joel Hodgson, was. But he couldn't accept the role. Before you go "aw, man!" keep in mind that Joel had turned it down due to being burned out in Los Angeles and returning to Minneapolis, where he ended up starting his own little show on its own UHF station KTMA.
  • They Just Didn't Care: Parodied with Gandhi II, which deliberately misses the entire point of the original movie (and, for that matter, Mahatma Gandhi's way of life).

"No more Mr. Passive Resistance... he's out to kick some butt!"

  • Trailers Always Spoil: As the trailers embedded in the film are jokes (where the corresponding feature presentations don't actually exist), the joke by necessity must be self-contained within the fake trailer.
  • What Could Have Been: Sylvester Stallone was going to cameo as the helicopter ride ticketer during the Rambo parody scene, but had to cancel due to schedule issues.
    • As mentioned above, Al originally wanted Joel Hodgson to play Philo.
    • After Hodgson turned down the role of Philo, Al asked Crispin Glover if he wanted the role, and Crispin said he would only be in the movie if he could play Crazy Ernie. Al turned him down.
    • David Spade was one of the people who auditioned for the role of Bob.
    • Christopher Lloyd would've been another choice for Stanley if Michael Richards turned the role down.
    • If the movie hadn't been picked up, Yankovic would have toured Europe opening for Michael Jackson.
  • The Unseen: Mr. Big. Picture "Dr. Claw" from Inspector Gadget but with a white jacket, smoking a cigar, no cat and a hand that detaches and can be replaced by a meat cleaver.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Although the station's location is never mentioned, it is clearly filmed in Tulsa, with several landmarks making appearances. There's an entire fan page listing these locations.
    • Al lists off the addresses for many of the locations as they appear during his commentary track.
  • Your Favorite: The "Twinkie Wiener" sandwich, a hot dog cut into a Twinkie and topped with spray cheese, offered by Al to his friend Bob.
  1. Sacred Cow warning: Hinduism considers practice of the consumption of beef taboo.