“Start Me Up,” by Salt-n-Pepa, from Stay Tuned
1992’s Stay Tuned is a fairly meta film, for being a movie about people sucked into a television. The film’s star, John Ritter, was best known for his work in sitcoms such as Three’s Company, as was the actress who played his wife, Pam Dawber, from the likes of Mork & Mindy and My Sister Sam. There are scads of TV personalities throughout the film’s more minor roles: Don Pardo of Saturday Night Live fame plays an announcer, and Captain Lou Albano even pops up.
Still, the film’s not exactly well-known, and while using the concept of being trapped in television hell as an excuse to string together an absurd amount of TV show parodies is funny, it didn’t exactly do gangbusters at the box office. It was released as a bare-bones DVD in 2000, and is long since out of print. However, given the fact that used copies go for $30-50 on the secondary market, there’s definitely a niche market of folks who appreciate the wackiness of the film.
A strange aspect of the film is that the soundtrack is almost exclusively hip-hop. Black Sheep’s “The Choice is Yours” makes an appearance, and given the fact that it had only just been released at the time Stay Tuned was filming, makes for a rather prescient selection by the film’s music supervisor. There are also tracks by Kool Moe Dee, X Clan, and UTFO, however, which suggests that the music wasn’t exactly on the cutting edge of hip-hop at the time, although the Ultramagnetic MC’s cut, “Message from the Boss,” is a pretty decent track from their sophomore album, Funk Your Head Up.
Stay Tuned does, though, feature Salt-n-Pepa in the film, and on the soundtrack, just a year before their multi-platinum smash, Very Necessary. The group is part of the climax of the film, wherein Ritter’s character battles Jeffrey Comb’s villain, Spike, on the set of a Salt-n-Pepa video for their song, “Start Me Up.” Strangely, the video for the song which was officially released has very little to do with the actual film, with the exception of there being TVs all over the set, featuring the film’s title and a guy turning on a TV at the video’s outset, and turning it off at the end.
The setpiece from the end of Stay Tuned does feature the song in its entirety, and has Ritter dressed as Prince, complete with head scarf. It’s arguably a better video than the one officially released by the record label, and you have to wonder why the hell they didn’t just shoot the full thing without all the shots of Ritter trying to retrieve the remote. The dancing’s certainly better, and the production values are stronger. Plus, Jeffrey Jones does a pretty convincing job on the wheels of steel.
The movie’s themes would be revisited quite a few times: 1998’s Treehouse of Horror IX episode of The Simpsons featured an installment called “The Terror of Tiny Toon,” where Bart and Lisa end up in an Itchy & Scratchy cartoon, courtesy of a remote control loaded with a plutonium rod. They’re terrorized by the animated cat and mouse, and thanks to Homer changing the channel, even end up in an episode of Live with Regis and Kathy Lee.
The film Pleasantville, also released in 1998, touches on similar themes of being in a television world, although with far more sociological depth. The film explores the concepts of race in a roundabout way, and as the Wiki article on the film notes, “Robert Beuka says in his book SuburbiaNation, ‘Pleasantville is a morality tale concerning the values of contemporary suburban America by holding that social landscape up against both the Utopian and the dystopian visions of suburbia that emerged in the 1950s.’”
Quite a bit to come from a nearly-forgotten 25 year-old film, really: a notable Simpsons sketch, an early comedic role for Reese Witherspoon, and a Salt-n-Pepa cut which really deserves more love. While the film’s going to run you a bit more than an obscure comedy ought to, you can snag the soundtrack for next to nothing on Discogs or Amazon. The CD is something like a penny, and I think I got a sealed copy on vinyl for $5.
Worth noting: Watching any film with Jeffrey Jones is fairly problematic these days, given his 2003 arrest for possession of child pornography and soliciting a 14-year-old boy to pose for pornographic pictures. He pleaded no contest and had to register as a sex offender, and has since been charged twice for failing to update his status when he’s changed addresses. He’s understandably had little work since.