The UHF Story

Everything you've ever wanted to know about UHF, but were afraid to ask!

What be this UHF?

UHF is the first feature film written by and starring rock parodist "Weird Al" Yankovic. Released in July 1989, the movie featured TV parodies, movie parodies, song parodies, silly sight gags, corny-yet-memorable one-liners, and a hilarious cast, including a pre-Seinfeld Michael Richards.

Unfortunately, UHF failed to catch on in a summer dominated by the first Batman movie. It wasn't until the film showed up on home video and cable that it started to gain an audience that understood and appreciated it. It would be this cult following that would prompt people to chant along with lines when clips are shown at Al's concerts or cause the souped-up 2002 DVD release to become a top-ten best seller long before its release date.

Fifteen years later, people now fondly look upon UHF as an innocent, zany comedy...maybe not in the same regard as Woody Allen's or Albert Brooks's films, but as off-the-wall and as quotable as Airplane! or Blazing Saddles.

Not bad for a fifteen-year-old box-office bomb!

What is this UHF about?

About 97 minutes long.

Seriously, UHF is about George Newman ("Weird Al" Yankovic), a playful daydreamer who just can't seem to hold down a steady job. That is, until his Uncle Harvey (Stanley Brock) wins a local television station in a poker game. George is appointed manager of the bankruptcy-bound Channel 62, and he almost immediately incurs the wrath of R.J. Fletcher (Kevin McCarthy), owner of crosstown rival Channel 8.

Just as he's about to throw in the towel, George gives goofy station janitor Stanley Spadowski (Michael Richards) a children's show to host...and it becomes a ratings winner. George tries to complement the new hit with a series of bizarre shows such as Wheel of Fish and Bowling for Burgers, but a gambling debt may force Uncle Harvey to sell U-62 to R.J. Fletcher!

Will George be able to save the station and win the heart of dental hygienist Teri (Victoria Jackson) all at the same time??

When was the supposed UHF made?

"Oh look. Orion is bankrupt."
-Crow T. Robot,
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie

The idea of UHF had been conceived as early as 1985. Al and director Jay Levey wrote most of the script at the time, and it would be a couple of years before the two would go back and rewrite it as they shopped the script around to various producers and studios. John Hyde and Gene Kirkwood agreed to produce it (Kirkwood had previously produced the first Rocky), and struggling Orion Pictures agreed to release it.

Principle filming ended in September 1988. When UHF was shown at test screenings, it received the best audience response Orion had received since the first Robocop movie. UHF was going to be Orion's major release for the summer of 1989, thus a major marketing campaign was commenced by the studio.

UHF had a sneak preview on July 14, 1989, and it officially opened in theaters a week later on July 21. Sadly, Orion picked the worst possible time to release the film, as it was competing against almost every blockbuster that was released that way.

Al elaborates:

"It didn't do as well at the box office as I thought because it got dropped in the middle of the biggest blockbuster summer in history. It had to compete against Batman and Lethal Weapon 2 and Indiana Jones and Honey I Shrunk the Kids, and several others that grossed a hundred-million dollars. So it kinda disappeared quickly from the theaters."*

Not that the competition was the film's only problem. In its initial release, it wasn't exactly a critically beloved movie. Not to say that always affects a movie's total take, but back in 1989 nothing looked better on a newspaper ad than "TWO THUMBS UP!"

Also, the film industry was at a turning point in 1989. Batman not only completely redefined how studios marketed their potential blockbusters, but it also sparked a new subgenre (the comic book-based action movie) that is still being exploited to this day. The number of sequels in theaters were at a seemingly all-time high. Even comedies in general became stagnant and more pedestrian. One would think something like UHF would have no problem finding an audience in the middle of all this. But alas, there was just so much out there that it went unnoticed.

So UHF quietly disappeared from theaters after only a month or so. The home video was released January 25, 1990, and it was on video and eventually cable television that people were able to see and enjoy the movie without bats and ghosts getting in the way.

With MGM coming in and acquiring the Orion Pictures library in 1998, fans begged, pleaded, and badgered the movie studio to release UHF on DVD. A jam-packed "collector's edition"-styled disc was released in June 2002. And just for a little bit of comparison, at that time Batman was on DVD only as a movie-only disc, while Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was still absent from the format!

The history behind UHF is recounted by Al in intricate detail on the UHF DVD commentary, so we'll close this brief sum-up with another quote from Al...

"I think comedies don't work if they're not funny; if nobody laughs. Every time I've sat in to a screening, people were laughing during the whole thing, so I don't look at that as a failure. And also people discovered it on home video and on cable. And I still get comments to this day from people who say it's one of their favorite movies, so I can't look at that as a failure."*


"As far as the critics. I knew when I was writing (the script) that it wasn't a critic's kind of movie. It's a silly, goofy, fun, harmless, brainless comedy, and the people who had accepted it as such had a great time with it."*

Some recent praise...

"Tastelessly innocent and funny."

Video & DVD Guide 2003 by Marsha Porter

"A genuinely funny and fast-paced take-off on TV, movies, and Americana."

TLA Video & DVD Guide 2004: The Discerning Film Lover's Guide by David Bleiler

"Story is threadbare, but some of the spoofs of commercials, movies, and TV shows are fun."
Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide 2002 by Leonard Maltin

Below are links to various reviews and summaries that are available on the web. Although most of the reviews listed praise the film, a couple of fairly negative reviews are also thrown in that offered good points as opposed to just saying "Wierd All sucks!"

User comments from the Internet Movie Database
These are funny to read just because if you go further back the earlier comments pretty much thought it was mediocre (Who else is getting sick of dorks who think because they're casually discussing a movie they have to award it "stars," like they're freakin' Pauline Kael?), but as you gradually get to the more-recent comments people are hailing it as the best comedy ever.

John S. Travis's review

Ken Kaufman's review

Greg Goebel's review

Randy Parker's review

Chad Polenz's review

Matt Kristek's review

Washington Post (Desson Howe)
Does anyone else get the impression that this writer thought Al smoked pot?

Washington Post (Rita Kempley)

Capsule by Jonathan Rosenbaum

Movie Critic at Large

Capsule by Dr. Daniel's Movie Emergency

And, the lowest of the low....

Roger "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" Ebert's review
Ol' Roger seems to have no clue behind Al's creativity, thinking Al simply does parodies of popular songs and nothing original on his own. Surely if there was some gratuitous nudity then Roger would have given it an extra star. If you would like to send an e-mail to the guy who thought UHF was crap but Batman Forever was gold, you can do so here.

*Al quotes from a MuchMusic interview, rebroadcasted in the fall of 1997 for a Spotlight program on Al.

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UHF ©1989 Orion Pictures/MGM.