Turn-On (partially found ABC sketch comedy series; 1969)

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This article has been tagged as NSFW due to its sexual humor.


The show's logo.

Status: Partially Found

On February 5th, 1969, ABC premiered a sketch-comedy program titled Turn-On. The show is infamous for being taken off-air during the screening of its first episode. Turn-On's sole broadcast episode was shown on Wednesday, February 5, 1969, at 8:30 pm ET. The planned second episode was never screened and the show was canceled with only one half of the first episode being the only thing to have screened on television.

History[edit | edit source]

The show was created by Ed Friendly and George Schlatter, the producers of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. Bristol-Myers, the pharmaceutical company, sponsored the show and contracted with them to develop the show. The show was originally rejected by NBC and CBS. A CBS official confessed, "It was so fast with the cuts and chops that some of our people actually got physically disturbed by it." In the end; US network ABC approved the production for a projected 13-week run.

Premise and Production[edit | edit source]

The cast included Teresa Graves, Hamilton Camp, Mel Stewart, Chuck McCann, with guest host Tim Conway (on the first episode). Production executive Digby Wolfe described it as a "visual, comedic, sensory assault involving animation, videotape, stop-action film, electronic distortion, computer graphics—even people." The earliest motion capture technology was also used for the show.

Behind the scenes photo. A Turn-On dancer, seen using a primitive form of motion capture to render the stick figure on the monitor. The footage would later appear on YouTube. Photo: Yale Joel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images.

Turn-On format was sketch-comedy. The premise was that the show was "programed" by a computer. To illustrate this; avant-garde moog synthesizer music would play continuously through-out the program, the short skits (most no more than 7 seconds) being played in quick cuts, one after the other and the background would be a completely white (or sometimes black), infinity set. The humor was adult focused and ranged from sexual to social commentary. Unlike most comedy shows of the 1960s, there was no laugh-track. Short animation and still cartoons would scroll across the screen with such gags as "Remember Pearl....(Harbor)". The cast and crew credits would also intercut through-out the program, with no end credits closing the program. The only recurring character that is named E. Eddie Edwards, a shoe salesman with a foot fetish[1]

According to Andrew Sandoval's book The Monkees: The Day-By-Day Story of the 60s TV Pop Sensation, The Monkees made an appearance in a different unaired episode, meaning that more episodes of the show may have been filmed.

According to an article for Vulture, only two episodes were produced before the shows premier.[2]

Television Premiere and Cancelation[edit | edit source]

The show premiered on ABC Wednesday, February 5, 1969, at 8:30 pm ET. Turn-On replaced the successful prime-time soap opera Peyton Place. The show was pulled from the air midway during it's only screening. A WEWS spokesman claimed that the station's switchboard was "lit up" with protest calls, and general manager Donald Perris derided Turn-On as being "in excessive poor taste." Upon dropping the program, Perris sent to ABC president Elton Rule an angry telegram: "If your naughty little boys have to write dirty words on the walls, please don't use our walls. Turn-On is turned off, as far as WEWS is concerned." George Schlatter would later claim that Perris actively lobbied other affiliates prior to the broadcast to force a network cancellation after objecting to it replacing Peyton Place on the Wednesday night schedule. At the same time, WAKR-TV in Akron, Ohio—the Cleveland market's other primary ABC affiliate—did not drop the program nor receive any negative phone calls but their general manager criticized the show's "questionable taste".

Many people across America complained about the show and its sexual and religious content. Co-creator of the show Ed Friendly decided to respond to the complaints by interrupting the live broadcast of the show and stating that "the remainder of this program will not be seen this evening, or ever". The screen then cut to black and the show was never broadcast again.

Availability[edit | edit source]

The show fell into obscurity until the 1980s, when ABC News aired a news report featuring footage from the show and subsequently revealed that the second episode of Turn-On had been recorded, though not broadcast. A clip from this program was later uploaded to YouTube.

While the two known episodes can be viewed at The Paley Center for Media in New York City, it is unknown if any other copies are available elsewhere, and the episodes can not be viewed outside of the Center.

One other clip from the series is known to be available: one of the interstitial "dancing" animations. These interstitials were especially notable as some of the first uses of both computer graphics and motion capture in television history, and were produced using the ANIMAC video synthesizer. It can be found on Scanimate DVD-1, a disc compilation of clips generated by both ANIMAC along with its successors CAESAR and Scanimate. The DVD is sold online by Dave Sieg, engineering historian, and owner and caretaker of the last functional Scanimate unit.[3] On April 18, 2021 YouTube channel Ultimate History of CGI uploaded a clip of animation titled Turn On! Dancer (1969) - First dance motion capture the clip featured footage of the motion capture used.

On March 1, 2021 another clip was uploaded to YouTube by user BlueFrog. The clip appeared to be from the first episode featuring a skit between an actress and guest host Tim Conway.

Modern Criticism[edit | edit source]

On the Plus Two Comedy series Stay Doomed, hosts Laura Prince and Noah Houlihand visited the Paley Center to view both shows held in their archive for an episode about Turn-On. Both responded negatively to the show and found the presentation unnerving, pointing out that the avant-garde Moog soundtrack combined with the fast edits, spilt screens, random messages and credits across the screen and the disorientating white background made for uncomfortable viewing. They further added that screening such an experimental show at prime-time in 1969 was a mistake.

And while Prince gave the show a strongly negative review, Houlihand was more positive giving it a "stay tuned" rating and in summary committed that the show was a "...Vine compilation video, if it was produced by Tim and Eric". Comparing the shows format to modern surreal dark comedies like Too Many Cooks and that it would be at home on Adult Swim if they ever screened it.

Gallery[edit | edit source]

Images[edit | edit source]

Videos[edit | edit source]

News report featuring some of the sketches from the second episode of Turn-On.
Turn-On Executive Producer George Schlatter telling the story about the series.
a clip from the first episode featuring guest host Tim Conway.
a clip from the show of motion capture footage.
Stay Doomed 36: Turn-on - a review and break down of the two known surviving episodes.
ABC promo featuring Turn-On.
Clip of Turn-On from the 2002 Trio TV documentary TV's Most Censored Moments.

Reference[edit | edit source]