Brow Beat

Jimmy Kimmel Talks Space Force With Fred Willard, Star of the Failed 1978 TV Pilot Space Force

A split-screen image showing Jimmy Kimmel interviewing Fred Willard, who is wearing an absurd Space Force uniform.
“The United States of America means business … SPACE business!”
ABC

Mike Pence’s Space Force speech was greeted with the laughs it deserved when Jimmy Kimmel covered it in his monologue, including from Kimmel himself, who absolutely failed to keep a straight face. It’s easy to understand why: A man behind a podium solemnly intoning, “The time has come to establish the United States Space Force” is the best punch line since Mr. Show blew up the moon, and this tweet from the President of the United States is just a bonus:

No late night host could miss the easy layup that is Space Force, but Kimmel took the joke all the way to Space Force, a half-hour comedy that aired—once—on NBC in the spring of 1978. The show starred none other than Fred Willard, and Kimmel brought him on the show to talk Space Force and Space Force. Like everything Fred Willard does, it’s hilarious:

Kimmel gets tons of credit for digging up Space Force, but he misidentifies it as a TV movie. In fact, it was a pilot from the 1976–1977 season that didn’t get picked up, originally titled Fort Leo, which made its way to the airwaves as part of an NBC program called Comedy Time. (There’s a bad transfer—from a beta recording, no less—of the pilot on YouTube, which makes it pretty clear why it didn’t get a series order.) Peter Baldwin, who would go on to make The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island and A Very Brady Christmas, directed, from a script by John Boni and Norman Stiles, veterans of The Electric Company and Sesame Street, respectively. Besides Willard, the cast included 1950s sci-fi staple William Phipps and character actor Richard Paul as the voice of a supercomputer named—in a joke that exemplifies Space Force’s sense of humor—D.O.R.C. When it aired in 1978, Variety’s hapless reviewer called Space Force “witless,” “lackluster,” “chintzy,” and “silly, dully and mindless.” It’s good to know that, thanks to President Trump, Space Force still lives up to those same values decades later.