Watching Alan in ‘What’s Alan Watching?’


What’s Alan Watching?, a pilot produced by Eddie Murphy, originally ran on CBS in 1989. The show, though, never got picked up past the first episode. Sort of hard to believe, as it was the perfect recipe for an 80’s or 90’s television show: the dweeby, in this case younger, sibling has to deal with his jerk older brother (David Packer) and ditzy, self-centered sister played by a pre-The Nanny Fran Drescher, whose lack of “MAAA” shouts was a little jarring for me. For Alan Hoffstetter, the dweeb in What’s Alan Watching?,  played by Corin Nemec, the only way to do that is through televsion.

The show begins as many others in their first episodes do. Alan gives a five-minute rundown of all of the principal characters: Jeff, Gail, Lenny Kling the Carpet King (Gail’s fiancee), and Alan’s parents, Libby and Leo. The audience also meet Alyssa, Alan’s crush, and her boyfriend, Craig, played by Pauly Shore. Almost every character plays to some kind of trope. Alyssa is the beautiful, unattainable, yet accessible girl of Alan’s dreams. Craig is her stonerish, mismatched boyfriend, presumably presented that way to make us root for Alan. Alan’s brother Jeff is manipulative and conceited, while his sister Gail is absorbed with herself. Lenny is the hokey local celebrity who fancies himself a star, at least in the carpet world.

Alan’s escape from all of this is television. According to his mother, he watches too much. At one point, Alan tells us she fears he will die with his “fleshless fingers still clutching the remote control,” which is how I often feel I’ll meet my mortal end.

Alan’s television, though, provides the show’s best bits. Highlights include a James Brown TV movie, in which Eddie Murphy plays both Brown and a lookalike protester calling for his freedom, a Mr. Ed documentary, and an advertisement for Gandhi on Ice featuring the tagline “the anorexic imp of India.” Facepalm. George Carlin, Alex Trebek, Brent Spiner, and the Smothers Brothers make cameos during these scenes, which was pleasantly surprising.

Viewers also see some parts of Alan’s life outside of his home in what seemed to be a video he produced for a school project. Alyssa is a prominent player – so much so that Alan kisses the screen during one of her appearances, which is pretty much me every time I see a photo of Kit Harington.

Once these show-within-a-show injections stop What’s Alan Watching? loses its luster. It’s easy to see why Alan wants to escape his life so badly. It’s boring. I enjoyed the first half of the 48-minute episode. During the second half, however, the plot started to develop with Jeff manipulating Alan into believing their parents wanted the younger sibling to move out of the house as soon as possible because Jeff wanted to move back home and was in need of a bedroom. That’s when I lost interest. The episode ended with Leo’s illegitimate daughter he fathered while overseas during World War II knocking on the Hoffstetter’s door. That’s when I knew I was out.

Even so, What’s Alan Watching? as a whole wasn’t so bad. There have been much worse shows with MUCH longer runs. It was goofy and fluffy, a very typical example of 80’s television. It’s surprising, CBS was so quick to bring the hammer down.

You can watch the full pilot below.

About Sam Sciarrotta

Hi there! I'm Sam. I like baseball, Bruce Springsteen, tomato pie, and most other things. I'm looking at you, but I'm thinking about Breaking Bad. 2012 college graduate and budding journalist.

Posted on August 11, 2013, in CBS, Failed Pilots, Network Television, Primetime, Sitcoms and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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