The Ben Stiller Show  

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It had to have been a bittersweet victory for the writers of "The Ben Stiller Show" to win an Emmy several months after their cancellation. While it validated what critics had been saying all along--that this was a revolutionary program that could change the face of modern comedy--one had to wonder if its short time on the air had been enough to have any influence at all. The answer, happily, is yes. Three years after being taken off the air, "The Ben Stiller Show" seems to finally be coming into its own. The show itself now re-runs on Comedy Central and the creative minds behind it are exerting their influence in every area of entertainment.

It is no coincidence that the three best shows on television all have ties to "Ben Stiller". Brent Forrester, the writer whose name was used for the "Relaxation King", is a regular contributor to "The Simpsons". If any show shares the same ironic style and skewed sense of humor as "Ben Stiller", this is it. Fox Television itself has called "The Simpsons," "the show that built a network" and credits the program with giving a struggling empire its early voice. On HBO, "The Larry Sanders Show" is perhaps the only vehicle to properly capitalize on the enormous appeal of Janeane Garofalo. Her Paula is graced with a sardonic wit, and Garofalo presents her excellent dialogue with just the right amount of venom--stinging, but not poisonous. HBO has long been proud to associate itself with "Larry Sanders", using its success to launch other original programming. And NBC's "NewsRadio" is easily the best new show in years, due largely to Andy Dick's physical and comedic talents.

The film world is also recognizing the talent on display on "The Ben Stiller Show." Why else would Jim Carrey, probably the biggest star in Hollywood, agree to star in "The Cable Guy" for sophomore director Stiller? Stiller will also be seen in front of the camera in a slew of new movies next year, including "If Lucy Fell", "Happy Gilmore" and "Flirting With Disaster". "Ben Stiller" executive producer and writer Judd Apatow is also in demand, having displayed considerable range by following up Disney's "Heavyweights" script with a rewrite of the dark "Cable Guy". And Janeane Garofalo will move from supporting roles to romantic lead in "The Truth About Cats and Dogs" early next year.

The influence of "Ben Stiller" has not been lost on sketch comedy. The past two years have seen an emergence of comedy troupes more like "Ben Stiller" and less like "Saturday Night Live". Shows like "MTV's The State", "Exit 57" and "Mad TV" have moved away from traditional sketch comedy and branched out into more unconventional areas. These shows are venturing outside their studios, shooting more films and moving beyond the obvious punchlines. "Mad TV" recently featured a movie parody titled "Apollo the 13th: Jason Takes Houston" that was similar to "Cape Munster" in its skillful blending of two separate genres.

"The Ben Stiller Show" cast have also done their part to see that other comedy voices can be heard. As creator and host of "Comedy Product", Janeane Garofalo welcomes "alternative" comedians to perform their acts. And HBO's "Mr. Show" gives former "Ben Stiller" writers Bob Odenkirk and David Cross a showcase for their hilarious and offbeat talents.

"The Ben Stiller Show" was a program that respected its audience and treated them with intelligence. Had the show been exposed to a wider audience, I believe it would have enjoyed the commercial success it deserved. Every member of my focus group said they would watch "Ben Stiller" now, after being exposed to a handful of episodes. When asked why they hadn't watched the show when it originally aired, the overwhelming response was a lack of interest. Kristy responded: "There were just too many sketch shows on back didn't stand out to me." But on a scale of 1 to 10, not a single person rated the overall quality of any of the seven episodes below an 8. Perhaps the strongest indicator that this group was taken with the program, every single one of them borrowed my copy of "Reality Bites" (even those who had seen it before).

It is my belief that we will be seeing the effects of "Ben Stiller" for years to come. Only time will tell how this skewed take on life will affect the artists of tomorrow. It is with considerable excitement that I look forward to an era where I won't feel like the only one getting the joke.


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