Olive Films continues establishing itself as a spectacular source of the best cult films out there with the July 19, 2016 Blu-ray (BD) release of the 1984 comedy "The Ratings Game" 30 years after this directorial debut of Danny DeVito has seen the light of day. This film is notable as well as the first made-for-pay-TV movie to air on Showtime.
The essay that is part of the awesome booklet on "Game" that the BD includes explains that Showtime effectively takes an "its not TV" approach in selecting its first original movie. The primary criteria is that this be one that the broadcast networks would not air. This is two years before Showtime brings us the hysterically creative "It's Garry Shandling Show."
"Ratings" further reflects the expansion in quantity (and proportional decrease in quality) as the fledgling cable industry scrambles for content; "Ratings" gives rise to theatrical films, such as the John Ritter/Pam Dawber movie "Stay Tuned" and the Weird Al project "UHF," that center around parodies of television genres.
The subversive premise of "Game" is that New Jersey trucking magnate turned aspiring Hollywood television producer Vic DeSalvo is hysterically peddling horrendous ideas for television shows, such as the "Three's Company" rip-off "Sittin' Pretty," around the established networks only to universally be escorted out by security.
Not accepting that resistance is futile regarding all this rejection, DeSalvo cons his way into the office of an executive at the blackpoltation UPN-caliber (a.k.a. Underpaid N) MBC network. (MBC even has a 'Diff'rent Strokes"/"Webster" clone series.) The perfect timing of that meeting results in the MBC executive buying "Pretty" for a hysterical reason.
In typical DeVito fashion, DeSalvo finds a way to counter the tactic of the network president to limit the airing of "Pretty" to a pilot. MBC scheduling said pilot to air opposite a World Series game prompts DeSalvo to successfully rig the television ratings so that his show beats the baseball game.
The cynicism behind that successful ploy and the resulting "success" of "Pretty" and orders for several other DeSalvo shows reflects the desire of Showtime for a "not TV" movie. Two of the "best" DeSalvo shows are "Nunzio's Girls" about a pimp and his three hos and the even more offensive "Goombas" cartoon series about a stereotypical working-class Italian family.
Long-time DeVito spouse (and "Cheers" star) Rhea Perlman costars as Francine, the abused ratings company employee who facilitates the scam. As she points out, the reality in the pre-streaming and DVR '80s is that a relatively miniscule number of ratings families essentially dictates what the networks air. Actual quality is completely irrelevant.
The audience additionally gets the treat of seeing a plethora of current and future (mostly NBC) television stars in cameo roles. The earliest notable one is Jerry Seinfeld as a network executive who hilariously tells DeSalvo which concepts are selling that season. One spoiler is that this list does not include shows about "nothing."
We also get "Seinfeld" costar Michael Richards as DeSalvo's chauffeur/henchman, "Cheers" costar George Wendt as the father of a ratings family. "Night Court" star Selma Diamond as the mother of Francine, etc.
The award for most special cameo goes to "Bowery Boys" veteran Huntz Hall as an elderly legendary comedy film star.
Aside from "Ratings" very belatedly escaping from the vault, one of the most awesome aspects of the film is that it reflects the period before a change in national attitude from "f**k 'em if they can't take a joke" to "f**ked if you tell 'em a joke. (The Unreal TV reviewed) documentary "That's Not Funny" wonderfully documents this. The satirical portrayals of Italians alone may well have kept Showtime away in 2016.
Olive further shines regarding the plethora of special features on the "Ratings" BD. The highlight of these are the four "Ratings" era comedy shorts that DeVito directs. The standout of these is "The Selling of Vince D'Angelo."
"D'Angelo," which provides the basis for "Ratings" is a mockumentary on a sleazy New Jersey mayoral candidate who is a clone of DeSalvo. The "funny because its true" aspect of this one is that that campaign has a great deal in common with the 2016 presidential race.
Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Ratings" is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.