Dana Carvey was an unknown comedian when he joined the cast of “Saturday Night Live” in 1986. It didn’t take long for audiences to get familiar with his name. Memorable impersonations of President George Bush Sr. and Johnny Carson as well as characters like Church Lady and Hans from Hans and Franz made Carvey one of the show’s most popular acts.
He parlayed his “SNL” popularity into a string of movies including two wildly successful “Wayne’s World” films. After a few bad experiences with movie directors, Carvey was ready to return to television and his roots in sketch comedy. He and producing partner Robert Smigel, who had previously worked with Carvey at “SNL,” came up with the variety show concept and assembled a bright young group of writers and performers.
They had their pick of homes for the new show. CBS made a big proposal, and ABC offered a favorable time slot. But given the edgy nature of the show, Carvey lobbied for cable, specifically HBO. In 2011, the actor told GQ:
“After soul searching, I had really wanted to do it on cable, HBO. But Robert [Smigel] and other people really believed I was an island on that. Robert sincerely believed variety should be on primetime at that point … I really ended up being the only one who sort of thought that we should do it on cable. Once we made that choice, our fate was sealed in not being a long-running show.
At the time ABC had several of the top programs in primetime, including the top-rated “Home Improvement” as a lead into Carvey’s show. A great cast and talented writing staff for a show debuting on a hot network with a popular established lead-in — where did it all go wrong?