One of the most popular sketches in season 2 of Netflix’s I Think You Should Leave is a PSA-style clip, in which the nameless host, played by Tim Robinson, warns viewers that Spectrum plans to take fictional channel Corncob TV off the air in 2022, which will deprive viewers from prestige programming like Coffin Flop.
Coffin Flop, if the host is to be believed, is a reality TV show where a camera crew records real-life funerals, but the only funerals that make it to Corncob TV are those in which the corpse falls out of the casket, often shooting through the bottom, as mourners gasp and scream in shock. One out of five of the corpses are nude. The host of the PSA denies claims that the show is rigged in any way, and instead blames “shit wood” for the coffin malfunctions. There is now an unofficial Change.org petition asking Spectrum to keep the fictional Corncob TV channel, though fans have not yet embarrassed the show as Rick and Morty fans did when they harassed McDonald’s workers for Szechuan sauce after the condiment was featured in an episode.
As networks and streaming services continue to dial up the depravity of reality television, it’s a worth asking whether Coffin Flop could be a real TV show. VICE spoke to media experts who focus on television to ask what would prevent the televised spectacle of a corpse falling out of a coffin from making its way into American living rooms.
A spokesperson for Charter, the company which owns Spectrum Networks, declined comment.
But Philip Scepanski, a communications professor at Marist College who studies American television history and cultural theory, thinks Coffin Flop has legs. “I don't see any reason why this show couldn't legally exist on cable,” he told VICE.
The fate of Coffin Flop would less be a matter of taste than it would be a matter of appeasing advertisers, who would be unlikely to seek association with such a program, according to Scepanski. Since Corncob TV appears to be a basic cable offering, the channel would have an obligation to offer programming it could advertise against.
“I can't imagine an advertiser wanting to touch this show,” Scepanski said.
If Coffin Flop were to air on television, he said, it would likely be after 10 p.m., as the Federal Communications Commission prohibits “indecent and profane content” between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children might be watching, according to the FCC website.
“There's three categories of content regulation that [the FCC] do. There's obscenity, indecency and profanity,” Scepanski said. “It's not sexual, so it wouldn't be obscene by that standard. And certainly, if they were blurring the genitals, it probably wouldn't even be considered indecent. So it could exist on broadcast. To me, the thing that would keep this from being on the air would be that they'd be flooded by lawsuits, which is referenced in the sketch.”
The necessity of releases from participants, Scepanski said, would vary state by state, but ventured that one could make a “pretty decent argument” that the funerals are public events—aside from those recorded inside of funeral parlors and churches.
Those who would be driven to boycott their cable provider for airing a show like Coffin Flop would also encounter the lack of agency they have in the matter. “In most markets, cable [companies] are like localized monopolies,” Scepanski said, noting that aside from simply cutting the cord, “any attempt to boycott cable is generally pretty unsuccessful.”
Scepanski reiterated that advertiser support would be the main hindrance to getting—and keeping—Coffin Flop on the air. “It seems to me like YouTube would be the place for something like this.”
One source within the cable provider industry, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said a potential Coffin Flop show would be “fairly tame in the grand scheme of things.” They actually shared the Corncob TV’s host’s sentiment that there are far worse things on television than Coffin Flop. (Robinson, in the sketch, yells, “There’s worse shit on the local news!”)
“There are shows on dozens of networks that have more explicit content, and are deemed by certain folks—for example, parents of young kids—to be more controversial,” they said.
After reviewing the sketch, Deborah Jaramillo, a professor of film and television at Boston University, saw the potential of Coffin Flop as a real television show as a multilayered query, one that touches on content regulation, but also the public’s shifting perceptions and attitudes about death.
“Attitudes about what constitutes entertainment are always shifting, and television standards are no different,” she said. As an example, she noted in the early 19th century, Parisians would visit the Paris morgue as a tourist attraction to gawk at dead bodies.
Corncob’s nameless host claimed they don’t need release forms from the families, because the dead people “ain’t got no soul.” Even if they did sign release forms, Jaramillo said, there is the issue of actually showing the body.
“Even if the fake coffin show had the permission of families to exploit their dead family members in that way, there's still the problem of the corpse on camera, how the camera treats the corpse, and how that treatment reflects on the channel's reputation,” Jaramillo said.
In the 20th century, she said, the public’s attitude towards death shifted. “Death became more sanitized and more hidden, and the practice of photographing and even posing with the dead fell out of fashion.”
Now, while true crime shows like Law & Order are scattered with bodies, and TV news broadcasts are filled with “police in the act of murdering people,” open-casket funerals are not as common, she noted.
“The theme here is that U.S. TV is okay with bodies in crisis, bodies on the cusp of death, and bodies that meet violent ends, but not with dead bodies peacefully at rest,” Jaramillo said. “Even if a show like this made it into a late-night time slot on a comedy channel that brands itself as irreverent, I can't imagine advertisers—even niche ones—standing by it.”
Advertisers be damned, Jaramillo could see Coffin Flop considered by the networks.
“Now, with cable channels that carry incredibly niche comedy programming, I wouldn't be surprised if something similar to Coffin Flop were pitched.”