Ken Shapiro, writer and director “The Groove Tube” and “Modern Problems,” died of cancer Saturday in Las Cruces, N.M. He was 76.
Shapiro’s 1974 independent film, a collection of skits called “The Groove Tube,” starring himself, Richard Belzer, and Chevy Chase, has been lauded as a template for raw sketch comedy. The influence of its satirical style can be seen in “Saturday Night Live,” “The Kentucky Fried Movie,” Mad TV, SCTV, and beyond. The satire of 1970s television grew out of Channel One, an earlier New York innovation by Shapiro.
Shapiro’s news anchorman spoof was marked by his signature sign-off line, “Good night, and have a pleasant tomorrow,” which “SNL” adopted for its regular “Weekend Update.”
“In terms of contemporary American comedy, I’m hard-pressed to think of another single film that was more widely influential,” said Ozy.com’s Jim Knipfel about “The Groove Tube.”
By the time he was two months old, Kenneth Roy Shapiro was already appearing in commercials. Born to parents Leona and Frank, the Newark, New Jersey-native came to be known as “little Kenny Sharpe” during his rise to childhood stardom in New York television. He frequently appeared on Milton Berle’s Texaco Star Theater as “the kid.”
In addition to “The Groove Tube,” another one of his most successful projects was 20th Century Fox’s 1981 Chevy Chase comedy “Modern Problems,” which he directed and co-wrote. After “Modern Problems,” Shapiro’s discomfort with the corporate structure of studio and television networks drove him to leave Hollywood and relocate to New Mexico.
Shapiro is survived by his wife Kelly; sister Cookie and brother Stanley; daughter Rosy Rosenkrantz and Emily Shapiro; stepdaughter Danielle Lampkins and four grandchildren.