In 1996, Dana Carvey, the breakout star of mid-’80s SNL’s deep bench, was the top sketch comedian in a generation, so the idea that he would launch a primetime network series seemed like a no-brainer. He and producer Robert Smigel assembled a creative team of then-nobodies, among them Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Louis C.K., Charlie Kaufman, Bob Odenkirk, Robert Carlock and a host of now-legends, who wrote and performed the surefire mid-season hit, The Dana Carvey Show.
It ran for seven miserable episodes.
Now, more 20 years later, the team reconvenes to do a post-mortem on one of the greatest failures in broadcast history. Too Funny to Fail: The Life and Death of the Dana Carvey Show was either ahead of its time or a hubristic boondoggle, where too-smart-for-their-own-good comedy artists bucked the network and even insulted their sponsors in search of a larf. But while a core coterie of fans saw the genius, the audience from their lead-in show, the massive, middle-brow hit Home Improvement, darted like lemmings in the 8:30 time slot, costing ABC a fortune and Carvey tons of credibility.
The documentary, which airs exclusively on Hulu, is full of Inside Baseball behind-the-scenes anecdotes, hilarious recollections and the good nature of people who acknowledge their failure, but have the distance to be candid about their own errors. It’s said comedy equals tragedy plus time; by that measure the tragedy that was The Dana Carvey Show now feels like comic brilliance.
— Arnold Wayne Jones