Thirty-two years ago today, the film UHF premiered. Filmed mostly in a bowling alley and abandoned shopping mall in Tulsa, Oklahoma, it also starred the best group of misfits the mid to late 80s can supply. Often referred to as “a sapling amongst redwoods” because within a month of it’s premier, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Ghostbusters II, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Lethal Weapon 2, Batman, License to Kill, When Harry Met Sally…, and Weekend at Bernie’s all also premiered.
Directed by: Jay Levey
Produced by: Gene Kirkwood, John W. Hyde
Written by: “Weird Al” Yankovic, Jay Levey
Starring: “Weird Al” Yankovic, Kevin McCarthy, Michael Richards, David Bowe, Victoria Jackson
Music by: John Du Prez
Cinematography: David Lewis
Edited by: Dennis M. O’Connor
Production company: Cinecorp
Distributed by: Orion Pictures
Release date: July 21, 1989
Running time: 97 minutes
Budget: $5 million
Box office: $6.1 million
George Newman is a daydreamer with a hyperactive imagination, making it difficult for him and his friend Bob to keep a steady job. George’s uncle Harvey wins the deed to Channel 62, a UHF television station, in a poker game, and Harvey’s wife Esther urges him to put George in charge, hoping it will help turn his life around. George and Bob find that the station is nearly bankrupt and struggles for ratings with its lineup of reruns. A package is then delivered to the station, meant for RJ Fletcher, the CEO of the primary competitor in the city – VHF station and network affiliate Channel 8 (it is never clear exactly which network). When George takes the package to RJ and introduces himself, Fletcher initially accuses George of stealing his mail and attempts to fire him. George tells him he doesn’t work there, so RJ accuses him of trespassing and threatens to call the police unless he leaves; which George hastily does. Outside, George runs into Stanley, a janitor just unfairly fired by RJ over some misplaced files, and offers him a job at Channel 62.
George and Bob attempt to create new programs, including a live children’s show, “Uncle Nutzy’s Clubhouse” with George as its host. The new shows barely alter Channel 62’s low viewership, and Bob warns George they are days from becoming insolvent. To add to George’s misery, he realizes he had stood up his girlfriend Teri on her birthday for a dinner he set up, and she leaves him. Depressed, George goes on “Uncle Nutzy” and laments about his life and then, during a break, decides to head to a bar to get a drink, letting Stanley take over the show. By the time George and Bob arrive at the bar, they find its patrons are eagerly watching Channel 62 and the humorous slapstick antics of Stanley. George and Bob race back, finding renewed interest in the station. Inspired by Stanley, George comes up with a whole range of wacky shows to fill Channel 62’s schedule, all headlined by the newly re-titled “Stanley Spadowski’s Clubhouse”, and tries to make amends with Teri.
Soon, Channel 62’s ratings rival that of Channel 8’s, infuriating RJ. RJ investigates and discovers that Harvey owns the station and, having just lost a wager on a horse race, owes his mysterious bookie Big Louie $75,000 by the end of the week. RJ offers to pay off Harvey’s debt in exchange for the deed to Channel 62, which he plans to shut down afterward (there were FCC regulations at the time forbidding the ownership of two TV stations in the same town, as Bob lucidly points out to RJ). Once Esther learns of this, she coerces Harvey into giving George the opportunity to make a counter-offer. George, after moping outside over the situation and wondering what to do, comes up with the idea of a telethon to sell stock in the station, which would not only save it from RJ but also make it publicly owned if they succeed. The telethon launches with great interest, fueled by Stanley’s boundless energy. RJ sends his henchmen to kidnap Stanley, which stalls the telethon. Philo, the station’s engineer who had previously bugged Channel 8, discovers the kidnapping and alerts George. George and several staff members mount a rescue mission to recover Stanley, bringing him back to the station with only hours left before Big Louie’s deadline. RJ makes one last attempt to stall the telethon by issuing a live public statement, but Philo interrupts this via video intrusion with previously taken footage of RJ talking to Teri derogatorily about the city’s population.
RJ arrives at the station just as the telethon ends, still $2,000 short of its goal. Big Louie’s limousine arrives, and Harvey anxiously concedes victory to RJ who, instead of taking the money right away, decides to celebrate his triumph with a speech to the crowd about what will become of the station. Meanwhile, George is approached by a hobo whom he had helped earlier. The man wants to buy the rest of the stock with money he got from selling a rare 1955 doubled die cent that RJ had given him, as a pittance, unaware of its true value. George hands the money over to Big Louie while RJ is still boasting to the crowd. Before RJ can do anything, Harvey signs the ownership transfer, and the station officially becomes publicly owned. RJ learns that due to Channel 8 being tardy in filing for renewal of their broadcast license and, moreover, the rant Philo had broadcast, the FCC is revoking their license, while George and the rest of the Channel 62 staff and their audience celebrate and George and Teri rekindle their romantic relationship.