Accompanied by a bouncy theme song, the opening credits roll past a photograph of an old Berlin apartment building.
Action. Apartment interior: Adolf Hitler walks in the front door to a burst of applause from the studio audience. He gives the Nazi salute and shouts the show's title. "Heil Honey, I'm Home!"
So goes the opening of a British sitcom about the domestic life of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun and a couple of happy-go-lucky Jews next door. The neighbors, Arny and Rosa Goldenstein, are too nosy for Adolf's taste and always seem to be causing trouble.
The show's gimmick, beyond the many oh-so-humorous situations that flow from the Nazi theme, is that it's supposed to look as though it were produced in Hollywood during the late 1950s or early 1960s. The actors have New York accents.
The series is being produced for the United Kingdom's newest satellite network, British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB), which bypasses the traditional forms of TV delivery by beaming programs off a satellite directly to homes equipped with receiver dishes. Fighting for subscribers against stiff competition, BSB showed the pilot episode for "Heil Honey" and has ordered 13 half-hour episodes, which are likely to debut in January.
The show's producers and BSB executives like to say that the series will be "dangerous," but not offensive. It is patterned, they say, after "I Love Lucy."
Early in the pilot episode, Hitler (Neil McCaul) is complaining about just how nosy the Goldensteins are. He says to Eva (Maria Friedman), "When I finally get to invade Poland, who will be the first to know? The Poles? No! Rosa Goldenstein!"
Much laughter. (Although attributed to a studio audience, the laughing is so perfect and on cue that it seems like it must be canned.)
The episode's plot line goes like this: After being harangued by Eva for coming home late, Adolf tells her that British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain is coming over to visit. Eva surmises that it's about Czechoslovakia (volume up on laugh track) and lays into Adolf for not telling her sooner about the guest so she could have taken something out of the icebox.
Against Adolf's specific demand, Eva lets slip to Rosa that Chamberlain is coming. Later, intent on meeting Chamberlain, Rosa and Arny bring tea and cakes over to the Hitler residence and make themselves comfortable in the living room while they wait for him. Rosa has a drippy relative she wants to fix up with Neville.
Adolf is absolutely furious! He doesn't want these lowlifes around when the prime minister arrives. But how to get rid of them?
At this juncture, some viewers are likely to think to themselves: "I know what happens next. Gestapo agents arrive, arrest the Goldensteins, ship them off to Auschwitz in boxcars and gas them to death."
But no. Not in this episode.
Adolf decides that getting the Goldensteins drunk will somehow hasten their departure. Only thing is, when Chamberlain arrives at the apartment, with his "Peace in Our Time" treaty for Adolf to sign, the Goldensteins are still there, a pair of sloppy drunks. Poor Adolf.
Is this dangerous? "It's in very bad taste," says Hayim Pinner, secretary general of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, who has seen the pilot. "We are against any trivialization of the Second World War, Hitler or the Holocaust, and this certainly trivializes those things. It's very distasteful and even offensive."
What's more, says Pinner, it's not funny. "I imagine very few intelligent people will watch it once they see a few seconds of it."
That's what he says. The producers of "Heil Honey I'm Home" have their own Jewish staffer, who sees it differently. He writes for the show and his name is American Jewish Writer Paul Wayne. Or at least that would appear to be his name, given the number of times the BSB publicity office refers to him that way.
"There have been a lot of problems doing this but I really think we found a way to make it work, being outrageous without being offensive," A.J.W.P. Wayne is quoted as saying in a press release. He did not return phone calls seeking elaboration.
John Gau, head of programming at BSB, says there were some problems with the pilot: "Some of it doesn't work. Some of it wasn't very funny." Specifically, he said, Adolf's relationship with the neighbors didn't work. And Gau wants to make sure Hitler is the butt of the jokes in the future.
BSB is hoping that "Heil Honey" can help give the five-channel satellite service some needed attention. Besides the problem of getting people to hand over large sums of money for a receiver dish, BSB has been beset by equipment shortages and stiff competition.
Sky Television, a four-channel satellite programming service, has a huge head start over BSB. Although Sky is still losing millions of dollars, it can be seen in far more homes than BSB.
But BSB has a plan and a role model. Its Galaxy channel, the BSB general entertainment channel on which "Heil Honey" will appear, is going to be programmed in a manner "closer to what Fox is doing in the States," says Gau. He wants to adopt the Fox strategy of running shows that are different from the shows available elsewhere on TV. (Fox, as it happens, is owned by the same person as Sky: Rupert Murdoch.)
Gau mentions Fox's "Married . . . With Children" as an example of a successful show on the edge of being offensive.
Being that "Married" attracted a lot of attention for Fox Broadcasting in its early days, could "Heil Honey" have been specifically designed as a way to attract attention to fledgling BSB?
"It's not quite that cynical," Gau says.