When I interviewed Dan Connors for the Freelance Police article, one of the things that came up was the story of how he wound up with the "Almost on the Project” credit on Full Throttle. In recounting the tale, Dan referenced something that arched an eyebrow. Bolded part mine:
One project with a story was Full Throttle, which I started out as lead tester. One night as the work day was ending Tim Schafer came into the pit -- he was getting ready for a late night writing session because the script deadline was the next morning. He asked me if I felt like hanging out and working on dialog with him. I had been writing with Dave Grossman, Jesse Clark and Mark Cartwright on our local cable access show Fiction by Louie so it wasn’t out of the blue, plus I had a knack for dialog lines that were also hints. At this stage of my career there were very few things that would prevent me from the opportunity to work with and learn from a legend like Tim but I said sorry Tim I have a date tonight (with my future wife). The next week Steve Dauterman left Lucas to go to Activision and they moved me to Dark Forces. I was credited on Full Throttle as guy who didn’t work on the project.
Wait, what? There was, at one point in the 90s, a cable access show made by Dave Grossman and some of the team of Sam & Max Hit the Road and Day of the Tentacle? (Jesse Clark was an artist/animator on a number of early nineties classics, while Mark Cartwright and Dan had several QA credits during that era.) Did I read that right? How didn’t I know about this?
Over the decades (eep), Dave had shown occasional tolerance for Mojo’s uniquely invasive brand of investigative journalism, so I reached out to him to ask if there really was some sort of Marin County answer to Wayne’s World that he shared complicity in, or if Dan was pulling one of his world famous “inventing a public access show out of thin air” pranks on me. Only somewhat abashedly, Dave confirmed that I encountered a reference to a very real footnote in obscure, local broadcast history:
It was on public access tv, but Wayne's World won't give you the right idea, it was maybe somewhere between The Room and The Kentucky Fried Movie. We wrote stories in a free-form, top-of-the-head, no editing improvisational style, and then we went out and shot them with borrowed, aging equipment and no budget whatsoever. Other parts of the show were completely improvised. We were going for the "What The?" factor, the idea was for people to be channel surfing, which was still a thing twenty or so years ago, stumble across the show, and be compelled to continue watching it just to try to work out what was going on and why this sort of nonsense would be on tv.
Fancushion, the creative group responsible, was centered on me, Jesse Clark, Dan Connors, and Mark Cartwright, trading off various roles behind the camera, and sometimes in front of it. John Hannon joined us later on, and various other LucasArts folks wound up being cast in the show as well. The first episode features Justin Chin, Khris Brown, Bill Tiller, and Jonathan Ackley. (We did also involve plenty of non-Lucas people.)
As I recall, Jesse and I started writing together around 1994, but it was a few years before we actually did an episode of the show. And it was a spare-time activity for everybody, so we only did about one episode a year.
You’d think my initial reaction at this point would me to press Dave and Dan for more until the emails started bouncing. That was in fact my second reaction. My first was to do some independent research of the self-flagellating variety, to find out how such a scandalous Mojo Knowledge Gap could have yawned open in the first place. It’s like finding out that the Movie Brats made sketch comedy on the weekends, and that somewhere there’s footage shot in Francis Ford Coppola’s basement of John Milius and George Lucas having a circular argument about a dead parrot.
One could understand how Fiction by Louie wouldn’t be on the radar of 99.9% of the world’s population, but Mojo’s organizing principle is LucasArts, and LucasArts-adjacent, esoterica. We’re the site that published a dedicated inquiry into the various permutations of the danged LucasArts company logo, for cripes sake, and here we are caught flat-footed about an entire television show written, directed, and performed by developers of the SCUMM games?
Ego-bruising stuff indeed.
So I did some digging. Google seemed completely unaware of Fiction by Louie, and in the end, the only reference I could find to the project’s existence was an oblique one, from a 1998 interview with Grossman that was originally published by LucasFans.
What do you do in your spare time?
Spare time? Oh, that! Well, I’ve gotten interested in making public access television the last few years, and I do a show with some friends.
But hidden is not the same as lost. The show does in fact have a web presence, though no search engine will yield it. Dan gave me a direct link to a section of Phrenopolis (which some of you already know as Dave Grossman’s web site) dedicated to Fancushion, the troupe behind Fiction by Louie. It seems this section was available back when the show was a current thing, and became orphaned (but, quietly, still accessible) in the years hence. Even Dave was surprised it was still out there, however unadvertised.
There you will find a sort of episode guide for four out of putatively six episodes. Dave confirms that only five episodes were actually completed, and limited footage was shot for a sixth before the band broke up. Full segments from the first three episodes were once hosted as Realplayer streams on the defunct platform Earthnoise (1999-2001), but it looks like The Wayback Machine failed to smuggle any of that priceless video content out of the mists of time.
Still, the Phrenopolis pages are invaluable, and not only because they serve as the primary and all secondary sources. Scattered throughout are some surviving media (including this MIDI composed by Patrick Mundy of aerial-map-music-in-Monkey Island 1 fame), and the writeups connect a few (and only a few) dots about the program. Though I could be way off, they bring to mind a kind of prototype for the non-sequitur “infomercials” Adult Swim would program at ungodly hours to unnerve channel-surfing insomniacs. Maniacal, one-off confections like Paid Programming and the viral sensation Too Many Cooks occupy a kind of genre unto themselves, though the stumbled-upon inaccessibility central to the joke is itself a fiction in an age where entertainment isn’t truly ephemeral, and what was missed at 12:00 AM EST can simply be caught on a permanent online home the next day.
Though I am not suggesting that one directly inspired another, it’s interesting the way one can find antecedents to national successes in the laboratory environment of local TV. In the same way that the shrouded Fiction by Louie feels like it shares DNA with later, mainstreamed exercises in lunacy, the following spoof news report aired by local Minneapolis television station KTMA in the mid-80s (not long before it gave birth to Mystery Science Theater 3000), feels like it foretold the field piece segments that would come to be signature on The Daily Show. Host “Bob Bagadonuts” here is beloved Kevin Murphy, future performer of Tom Servo:
It’s more than a little charming to think that a fellowship of LucasArts mischief-makers were by night pulling off the caper of similarly zany counterprogramming for the unsuspecting local market. Sight unseen, I ascertain it to be the kind of bygone, analogue ephemera Weird Al was parodying/celebrating with UHF, in the era before Youtube and the ascendancy of four hundred streaming platforms made de-regulated nonsense almost unconditionally accessible, and in the process somehow less romantic.