The newest Hulu documentary, Too Funny to Fail, revisits a short-lived 1996 ABC sketch comedy series, The Dana Carvey Show. The sketch comedy series was truly ahead of its time.
I was there at the beginning in 1996 for The Dana Carvey Show. Carvey was fresh off the success of a run on Saturday Night Live and hit comedy Wayne’s World. Why wouldn’t I have watched the show? The Beatles sketches, fresh off of The Beatles Anthology, was fun in its own weird way. It’s very nostalgic to watch and it really makes you wonder what the hell ABC was thinking for canceling the sketch series after seven episodes. An eighth episode was taped but never aired. It was made available on the series DVD released in May 2009.
The Dana Carvey Show featured a ton of unknown comedians and comedy writers when it first hit the air on March 12, 1996. Led by executive producers Dana Carvey and Robert Smigel, the writers’ room for all eight episodes included Louis C.K., Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Robert Carlock, Bill Chott, Jon Glaser, Charlie Kaufmman, Heather Morgan, Dino Stamatopoulos, and Michael Stoyanov. Other writers that contributed material to the series included Michael Coleman, Greg Daniels, Spike Feresten, Elon Gold, Steve O’Donnell, and Bob Odenkirk.
Among the unknowns, Carell, Colbert, Louis CK, and Odenkirk have had the best post-Carvey success with their careers. There’s no doubt that neither Carell or Colbert would land their gigs at The Daily Show without having their time spent working on The Dana Carvey Show. It’s no surprise, however, that the documentary spends a large part of time on how these two were discovered at The Second City in Chicago or how their careers have gone since the series came to an untimely end in 1996.
The sketches were edgy and sponsors decided to leave the show, which had a running gag at the start of every episode with a different sponsor, much like the classic comedy shows of earlier eras. When ABC started to pressure them, Smigel hit back in his one way by portraying an ABC executive. Another bit shown is one in which a family just watches Seinfeld on television.
When they first started the show, they had a slot on the primetime schedule that followed the Tim Allen-starring Home Improvement on Tuesday nights. Their material, however, just didn’t hit with the viewers. Maybe it would have worked with a different audience in another era of television but in 1996, the audience just wasn’t ready and that’s a shame.
The documentary, directed by Josh Greenbaum, was first announced by Hulu during their 2016 TCA presentation.
Too Funny to Fail will be available on Hulu starting Saturday, October 21, 2017. An oral history is available at GQ.