Hey, if watered down sex doesn’t sell, toned down violence sure as hell will. Or at least, that’s what USA must have been thinking.
Fresh off the “success” of Darkstalkers, USA decided that its next children’s show should be based off of a game that uses a man ripping another man’s spine out as its biggest selling point — Mortal Kombat.
Actually, Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm, as USA named the show, was the mildest of the multiple animated, comic book and cinematic interpretations of the patron saint of video game violence. It toyed with the MK mythology and featured a team of Sonya Blade, Sub-Zero, Johnny Cage, Jax and Nightwolf battling against everyone else in the MK universe. Unable to feature the signature brutality of the series, Defenders of the Realm took a page from Ninja Turtles and featured robotic enemies that could be killed and maimed with impunity.
Not content with skimping on violence, the shows creators felt that they also needed to follow in the steps of the cartoon greats of the past (Super Friends and GI Joe, for example) and teach the youth of America life lessons with comically cheesy public service announcements.
One episode, for example, features an angst wracked Jax whining about being teased in elementary school because he was “the fat kid.” Of course, he grew up to be a ripped defender of the mortal realm. The lesson: It’s ok to be fat as long as you lose weight and save the planet with your flesh-rending cyber-arms. Otherwise, you’re worthless. Mortal Kombat wasn’t afraid to teach kids the hard truths about reality.
Apparently the harsh light of life’s tough lessons was too extreme even for 1990's television. USA pulled the plug after one season.
Maniac Mansion (1990)
Above: One of the greatest adventure games of all time
Maniac Mansion was the first major adventure game success from LucasArts. The company would release nearly a dozen smash-hit adventure titles (the Monkey Island games, Day of the Tentacle, etc) in the ten years after the 1987 release of Maniac Mansion. These games were based around dialog and humor. Seems like a natural fit for a TV show – in theory.
In the early 1990's, The Family channel (now ABC Family) was just one of dozens of other cable channels hungry for content. So it teamed up with Toronto-based Atlantis television to develop the Maniac Mansion TV series.
Eugene Levy, best known for his role as “the dad from American Pie,” was selected to head the show. The writing staff and cast was composed of guys from SCTV, an adult-oriented Canadian sketch comedy show that Levy was involved in. Despite the writers’ “adult-only” credentials, The Family Channel chose them as the right men for the job. And to their credit, Maniac Mansion wasn’t offensive or inappropriate. It was family friendly – and boring as hell.
Above: Maniac Mansion intro
Maniac Mansion premiered on The Family Channel and Canada's YTV in 1990, and was about as hilarious as the intro video above. Which is to say, not at all. The show managed to have zero comedic timing, despite being staffed and acted by comedy veterans. Someone who didn't know better would watch the show and conclude that the worst Canadian stand-up wash-outs were given their own TV program. How Maniac Mansion and the brilliant, if very Canadian, SCTV managed to come from the same creative team is a mystery too terrifying to comprehend.
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