Nostalgia corner: TV Nation (1994-1995)/The Awful Truth (1999-2000)

Michael Moore in TV Nation

12% of those polled believe the success of actor David Hasselhoff, star of Baywatch, is due at least in part to “dealings with the devil”.

These days, Michael Moore is best known as a film-maker. Indeed, that’s where he started with Roger and Me, a documentary in which he charted what happened in his hometown of Flint, Michigan, after General Motors closed its factories and moved to Mexico (‘Roger’ being Roger B Smith, the then-CEO of General Motors). Since then he’s gone on to make Fahrenheit 9/11, Bowling for Columbine and Sicko and other notable polemics that have looked at everything from gun control to the US healthcare system.

16% of Perot voters believe “if dolphins were really smart, they could get out of those nets”.

However, following the success of Roger & Me, Warner Bros contacted Moore about making a television series. After a long and circuitous route, Moore and his wife, TV producer Kathleen Glynn, came up with the idea of a humorous magazine show with a point of view. TV Nation was born.

NBC gave the go-ahead for a pilot for TV Nation in 1993 but soon discovered it didn’t have room in the schedule for the show. But, strangely enough, the head of BBC2 heard about the pilot, saw it and offered to buy the show. This spurred NBC into adding the show to its summer line-up.

39% of Americans believe that guns are not “as dangerous as they say”.

TV Nation was, as that initial idea and its pedigree suggested, a different kind of beast. Like 60 Minutes, the show had a number of correspondents – including Janeane Garofalo and Louis Theroux, who adopted a style of reporting much like Moore’s and which he’s been using ever since – reporting on issues while Moore (who himself did some stories) anchored the show and introduced each segment.

But the show had attitude. The kinds of stories chosen varied between the political to the consumer to the attitudinal. A correspondent might go undercover in shops to see if he could buy ‘small-sized’ condoms – and to see what the reaction was when he asked for them (laughter, frequently. And apparently you can buy them – they’re called ‘snug fit’). Or he might try to smuggle himself across the border… from Canada, only to discover that no one cared about illegal Canadian immigrants. Or perhaps an actor might move into a neighbourhood and behave in a ‘serial killer’ like way. On one occasion, the show hired a lobbyist for $5,000 in an effort to get Congress to declare a ‘TV Nation Day’ (it did).

And there was also Crackers, the ‘Corporate-Crime-fighting chicken’, who travelled the US highlighting incidents of corporate crime. Fondly remembered as well were the results of genuine opinion polls conducted for the show that highlighted both the silliness of opinion polls, as well as potentially worrying opinions among the US public.

12.5% of Americans that voted for Clinton believe that they will someday be told “just what Victoria’s Secret is”. 98% of Bush voters believe they will never know.

The BBC2 funding for the show ensured that not all investigations were American, however. As well as an investigation of the ‘naughty schoolgirl spanking and canning’ market for older men, the show featured segments on topics such as the TV licence, showing how Britons could be sent for prison for not paying the mandatory TV licence/tax.

37% of Americans agree that while they would hate being British, they wouldn’t mind having a British accent.

NBC cancelled the show after the first season, but surprisingly Fox picked it up for a second season in 1995. And then cancelled it, despite getting more letters than they had ever had for any other show before. Nevertheless, by 1997, the BBC had raised all the money necessary for a third season. Unfortunately, without a US network willing to air it, the third season never happened, instead transforming into a Channel 4 show The Awful Truth, which carried on in much the same way.

You can’t buy TV Nation on DVD, I’m afraid, but you can get The Awful Truth. Happily, you can watch clips from both below, including Louis Theroux’s happy little chat with a member of the Ku Klux Klan as he tries to give them a PR make-over.