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Ken Ober, 52, host of MTV's 'Remote Control'

By Dave Itzkoff
New York Times News Service / November 17, 2009

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Ken Ober, a brassy comedian best known as the host of the 1980s-era MTV game show "Remote Control," was found dead on Sunday in his home in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 52.

The cause was not immediately known.

Lee Kernis, who represented Ober for more than 20 years, confirmed the death, saying he was last heard from on Saturday night, when he spoke to a friend and complained of a headache and flu-like symptoms. Ober told the friend that he was going to take something and would see a doctor, Kernis said.

Ober grew up idolizing game show hosts like Bob Barker and Bob Eubanks and went on to host four game shows of his own, including a revived version of the old-time classic "Make Me Laugh" on Comedy Central in 1997.

His breakthrough came a decade earlier. He had received national exposure as a contestant on "Star Search," reaching the semifinal round in the comedy competition, when MTV hired him in 1987 to be the host of "Remote Control." It was among the network's first original series to focus on nonmusical content.

"Remote Control" tested participants' knowledge of television, music-video and pop-culture trivia. The show, which was a launching pad for the careers of comedians like Adam Sandler and Colin Quinn, drew much of its sarcastic, self-mocking spirit from Ober, who ran the program like a late-night talk show (or frat party) and gleefully teased players who gave wrong answers.

"His personality really brought `Remote Control' to life, as well as a new style of programming for MTV," Van Toffler, the president of MTV Networks, said Monday. "We were really flying by the seat of our pants then, and Ken was the reason it worked."

In recent years Ober was a producer on comedy series like "Mind of Mencia" and "The New Adventures of Old Christine."

Ober was born on July 3, 1957, in Brookline, Mass., and grew up in Hartford. After graduating from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1980, he began performing standup comedy based primarily in New York.

He is survived by his mother, Claire Freeman; his father, Bud Ober; his stepmother, Iris Ober, and a half-brother, Andrew Freeman.

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