I'm a fan of sketch comedy, and I figured I'd like to get a word in about a show that I discovered by accident thanks to the idiosyncracies of Canadian cable TV packages, where you can get channels from the other side of the country as part of a "time shifting" package. Almost Live! was a half-hour sketch comedy show produced by Seattle NBC affiliate KING-TV between 1984 and 1999. The reruns still play in the post-SNL spot on KING. What makes this show particularly notable is that it was actually a non-news, non-talk show produced by a local TV station, which was practically unheard of then and even less likely now. It had quite a bit of success, even launching a repackaged version that ran on Comedy Central in 1992.
Being a local show, a lot of the show depends on references to Washington cities, suburbs and towns, but there is enough material for someone who has never been to Seattle to get in on the ground floor. In fact, the local focus is done in a way that people get the jokes once they watch a few episodes, and some of the best material is the most explicitly local. Despite being out of production for over a decade, it still holds a special place in many Seattleites' hearts and remains a link to something that had disappeared as the city changed in recent years.
I have a slightly different perspective on the show, having never been to Seattle. I was getting recordings of SNL from someone who got KING on their cable package (I'll save my ranting about simultaneous subsititution for another post), and because the timer left a few minutes after the show ended, I would usually get the cold openings and the opening montages. Eventually when I finally decided to spring for cable, I ordered the Seattle stations. I did a little research and found out that this was the show that launched the careers of Joel McHale (The Soup, Community) and Bill Nye (The Science Guy); in fact, Nye's had a few Almost Live! performers appear on his show as their established characters, including short-tempered kung-fu etiquette master Billy Quan and bitter kids show host Uncle Fran. I was pretty impressed with the bits I could find on Youtube, and eventually started recording the reruns myself. Sometimes the formulas in place for the recurring sketches were obvious, but because it was a shorter show, it usually had a better hit-to-miss ratio than SNL. The cast was also solid.
Today is the launch of a brand new tribute to this show, George Buford's Almost Live! Fansite. There are a few bugs to work out here and there but the site hopes to celebrate a piece of Seattle broadcast history, and I assisted the webmaster with a few things here and there. In honor of the site launch, I thought I'd list a few of my favorite sketches:
Whiney Ass Kid World Book Encyclopedia: Steve Wilson (also the show's director) spoofs the irritating Donovan Freberg Encyclopedia Brittanica commercials from the early 90s.
Antiques Road Show: Various cast members bring their valuables to be appraised by John Keister. Adding googly eyes to a Klimt doesn't increase the value, despite what Lauren Weedman's character believes.
The Family Dinner: A first-person perspective Christmas bit featuring Tracey Conway as a type-A mother and Nancy Guppy as her rebellious daughter.
Local Music Store: Matt Smith is a record store clerk with a certain way of criticising his customers' music selections.
The Sales Meeting: Perhaps the only company with a hangman on its board. Features a very young Joel McHale.
Who Killed JFK Today: The game show where Bill Stainton, Tracey Conway and Bill Nye compete to come up with the best Kennedy assassination conspiracy theory .
First Impressions: Pat Cashman's odd habits effectively doom his date with Nancy Guppy. Unfortunately, his attempt to remedy these habits causes a whole new set of problems.
The Workout: Brooks McBeth leads an exercise bike workout with a novel way to keep his class' minds off the pain.
Red Meat Council: Pat Cashman's sleazy corporate spokesman character Neil White speaks in defense of red meat.
Message from DOT: Roadworkers have words about ignoring the big "SLOW" sign, drinking and driving, and sandwiches.
Aggressive News: The show that gets the story before those other wimps do.
The Drain Game: A game show where you don't lose money when you get a question wrong...
Stop Sleeping Seminar: Get 8 hours more productivity every day, other side effects be damned.
Ballard Driving Academy: Perhaps the greatest local reference on the show, making fun of the neighborhood once populated by elderly people of Scandinavian descent. I have it on good authority that the Ballard Driver Diaspora extends into New Brunswick, Canada.
Nut In The House: A commercial for a sitcom featuring a very unpredictable (and unstable) little girl (Nancy Guppy).