Watch Mad Magazine’s Edgy, Never-Aired TV Special (1974)

1974 was a cyn­i­cal time. That was the year that Nixon resigned after the gru­el­ing Water­gate scan­dal, Viet­nam War was final­ly grind­ing to a halt and, thanks to the Oil Shock of ’73, the econ­o­my was in the toi­let. It was also a time when TV execs were scram­bling to keep up with America’s rapid­ly chang­ing cul­tur­al tastes. Audi­ences want­ed some­thing with a lit­tle edge. The TV adap­ta­tion of Robert Altman’s lac­er­at­ing war com­e­dy MASH became a huge hit. As did All in the Fam­i­ly, about everyone’s favorite arm­chair big­ot Archie Bunker. Sat­ur­day Night Live was just a year away from pre­mier­ing. So it isn’t sur­pris­ing that execs from ABC approached the “usu­al gang of idiots” at Mad Mag­a­zine — that fount of anti-author­i­tar­i­an satire — about mak­ing a series. The result­ing pilot, which was lat­er rebrand­ed as a TV spe­cial, nev­er aired because it pro­vid­ed way too much edge for the net­work. You can watch it above.

The show, culled from some of the bet­ter bits from the mag­a­zine, fea­tures art from Don Mar­tin, Mort Druck­er, Al Jaf­fee and Dave Berg – names that will be very famil­iar to you if you grew up obses­sive­ly read­ing the mag­a­zine as a child, like I did – and the ani­ma­tion was super­vised by Jim­my Muraka­mi along with Chris Ishii and Gor­don Bel­lamy.

The net­work claimed that the show was shelved because it had too much “adult” humor. In this post-South Park, post-Fam­i­ly Guy world, the adult humor in this show, by com­par­i­son, seems down­right tame. What the Mad Mag­a­zine TV Spe­cial does have in abun­dance is with­er­ing barbs. Some­thing about trans­lat­ing the cyn­i­cal, ado­les­cent humor of the mag­a­zine from the page to screen made its satire feel much, much sharp­er. Dur­ing their par­o­dy of The God­fa­ther, called the Odd­fa­ther, mafia don Vito Mine­strone (groan) tells a group of mob­sters that their gang war must stop. “We must stop destroy­ing each oth­er and start destroy­ing the plain, ordi­nary cit­i­zens again. Like nor­mal Amer­i­can busi­ness­men.”

The show’s most caus­tic zingers, how­ev­er, are reserved for America’s bloat­ed, com­pla­cent auto indus­try where a Wal­ter Cronkite-like jour­nal­ist inter­views auto exec Edsel Lemon. In five or so min­utes, the bit unspar­ing­ly lays out why GM and Ford even­tu­al­ly lost out to Toy­ota and Hon­da – crap­py cars, lousy safe­ty, and an upper man­age­ment that was as men­da­cious as it was short­sight­ed. While field test­ing a new mod­el, which involved coast­ing the car down a hill, Lemon quips, “If our pro­to­type can go 500 feet with­out falling apart we’ll put it into pro­duc­tion.” This seem­ing­ly explains how the Ford Pin­to got made.

In the end, the net­works squea­mish­ness with the show was more due to its ridicule of an indus­try with deep pock­ets than with its toi­let humor. As Dick DeBa­to­lo, the MAD’s mad­dest writer, who penned much of the show not­ed, “Nobody want­ed to spon­sor a show that made fun of prod­ucts that were adver­tised on TV, like car man­u­fac­tur­ers.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Shel Sil­ver­stein Nar­rates an Ani­mat­ed Ver­sion of The Giv­ing Tree (1973)

Watch 1970s Ani­ma­tions of Songs by Joni Mitchell, Jim Croce & The Kinks, Aired on The Son­ny & Cher Show

A Short His­to­ry of Amer­i­ca, Accord­ing to the Irrev­er­ent Com­ic Satirist Robert Crumb

Watch the First Ani­ma­tions of Peanuts: Com­mer­cials for the Ford Motor Com­pa­ny (1959–1961)

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.

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  • Peter Saumur says:

    Fun­ny that this flopped while Nation Lam­poon pros­pered in media; albeit not TV.

  • Gina Marie says:

    Just found this. Was on a MAD search fol­low­ing the demise of MAD Mag­a­zine’s “fresh, orig­i­nal con­tent” pub­li­ca­tion… If 2020 was­n’t the year for MAD’s out­ra­geous polit­i­cal satire I don’t know what would be! The inter­net’s instant-grat­i­fi­ca­tion crowd killed MAD Magazine…just like the net­works killed this MAD TV spe­cial.

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