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WJW TV-8’s Late Movie – 1985’s “Rambo: First Blood Part II” (2003)

Time for a sequel post! And not just a post about a sequel, but a post that’s in and of itself a sequel to a previous post. And it’s all the more fitting because the sequel this post is about is the sequel to the prequel that the prequel post was about!

There, wrap your mind around that introduction!

Surely you will recall back in August when I talked about an airing of First Blood as shown by Big Chuck & Lil’ John on May 11, 2001. What? You don’t?! That hurts me deep, but here it is. For a character I had grown up basically knowing of, that was my first time actually watching a Rambo film. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting at first, but before the broadcast ended that Friday night, I had become a fan. The following morning, I was determined to pick up the remastered VHS trilogy set that was then-available.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason (almost certainly due to lack of money on my part – as usual), I didn’t get the set, and thus I didn’t see the sequels as soon as I would have preferred. Add in all the other responsibilities and interests of a teenager, and ultimately, I wouldn’t see First Blood‘s sequel, Rambo: First Blood Part II, until very nearly two years later, when I taped it off WJW TV-8’s late movie showing. I have no concrete date for the broadcast, but it was the spring of 2003 (late April or early May is the closest I can deduce), but naturally it’s that very recording we’re looking at today.

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In the late-1990s and early-2000s, I had made a semi-habit of staying up late on weekend nights and catching a new-to-me movie on some local channel. More often than not, this was an action film, and it was through this method that I was introduced to flicks I almost certainly wouldn’t have been aware of otherwise. Army of One and One Man’s Justice come to mind. (Which is why I was far too excited to find the latter on DVD for cheap at Value City a few years later!) My love of action films, especially 1980s action films, was fostered via these late night airings, and it was through them that I eventually found myself staying up late to watch First Blood, and ultimately, First Blood Part II.

In retrospect, the broadcast we’re looking at today was from the tail-end of not only this habit of mine, but also of even being able to catch movies on local channels late on weekend nights in general. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen anymore, because it does (our WBNX TV-55 regularly runs movies in the late hours of the weekend), but by and large late night television is a wasteland of syndicated programming and infomercials now. And besides, the way we as a television-viewing audience watch movies nowadays has changed so drastically in the 14 years since that, even if I personally don’t go for the streaming thing, the very thought of a late night movie on television just doesn’t hold the same charm of discovery as it once did. This both saddens me and makes me all the fonder for the recordings I had the foresight to make back then.

Truth be told, I can’t recall if I actually stayed up late to watch this broadcast as it taped, or if I merely watched it soon thereafter, but the sentiment is ultimately the same. And boy does this one take me back. Even that bumper up above, complete with the immortal Bill Ward‘s voiceover, is a cause for nostalgia. Now granted, I wouldn’t be surprised if those same background graphics were used for Fox affiliates all across the country, and I don’t know when they were first utilized or when they were dropped, but they were present for at least a few years afterwards (I have a recording of Miracle Mile from 2006 that uses them), but I love ’em. They’re simple, sure; just that bluish color-scheme, spinning film reel, station I.D., and voiceover, but they work. By 2003, I’m not sure you could ask for all that much more, anyway. The same image was used as the intro to this broadcast, as well as for the commercial-break bumpers. Update your diaries accordingly.

(You’ll note that my title notates this as WJW’s “late movie,” but the bumper mentions nothing of the sort. Yes, this was well past the “8 All Night” days and associated pomp and circumstance. This was a late airing, however; I don’t recall an exact time, 1 AM, 2 AM, something like that.)

I know there won’t be as much vested interest in this post as there was in my First Blood article; Big Chuck & Lil’ John naturally attract local readership. Even beyond that, I know some will look at this and probably think “A 2003 airing of Rambo II? Who cares?” The thing to remember there is that this is a personal blog, and what it comes down to is that it’s all about what makes me, well, me. I mean, yes, the ultimate goal here is to educate readers on an obscure late night television broadcast that would almost-certainly be forgotten otherwise, but as always, a subject has to trip my trigger first. So, maybe this will strike a chord with certain readers, and maybe it won’t, but I’d rather share my memories and have this review out there than, uh, not.

Besides, just because Big Chuck & Lil’ John aren’t hosting this, that doesn’t mean they won’t show up in some form during it. What do I mean by that? Read on!

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Actually, had I been paying more attention, there probably was a Chuck & John showing of this film around the same period; as you’d expect, WJW would get these film packages, and show the same movie in different slots over a relatively short period of time. For example, I taped Iron Eagle II off The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show (a recording I still have!), a Friday night broadcast, and not long after, maybe even that following Sunday, the movie by itself ran again, in an afternoon slot. (I remember holding a yard sale and having it on to show that a TV I was desperately trying to shill did indeed work, which wasn’t all that successful in the bright sun, but whatever.) The aforementioned Miracle Mile was also aired this way, and it was how I first discovered the movie. Unfortunately, I didn’t tape it, and it didn’t run again until ’06, when I did tape it, in a non-Chuck & John showing. Meh, que sera sera and all that.

So anyway, 1985’s Rambo: First Blood Part II. If you go back and read my First Blood post, you’ll note that this sequel is more along the lines of the movie I expected to see the first time around. Indeed, when people picture Rambo and his exploits, the plot of this film is probably what first comes to mind. And why wouldn’t it? The movie was a massive hit, it’s still fantastic, and it’s easily one of the defining action films of the 1980s. I mean, this movie is 1985. This is the film that truly drove the Rambo, one-man-against-an-army image into the public consciousness, as evidenced by the wave of merchandise it spawned (including a fantastic Sega Master System game and an odd, Zelda II-esque Nintendo Entertainment System game).

Of course I loved the film right from the start. If you’d ask me to put together a top 10 list of my favorite action films, First Blood Part II would easily, easily make the cut. But then, so would First Blood and Rambo III, too. (and Schwarzenegger’s Commando, while we’re at it.) Maybe a year or so after I taped this, we finally upgraded to DVD, and near as I can recall, Rambo: First Blood Part II was the first film I bought for myself in the format (unless you count the restored Metropolis, which Kino sent me on DVD despite my ordering it on VHS, which I don’t). For me, that’s pretty telling. I love this movie.

That’s the title screen up above, by the way. When you see a fire-filled “Rambo,” pop on-screen, you know you’re in for a ride. That Fox 8 logo in the bottom right corner totally takes me back, too.

(And yes, there is a Big Chuck & Lil’ John airing of this very movie floating around trade circles, though I don’t concern myself with such 2nd gen or more shenanigans, and thus it is presently barred from me. Meh, que sera sera and all that.)

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Caution! Some spoilers for a nearly-32-year-old movie are ahead! 32 years?! Yep, First Blood Part II was released on May 22, 1985 – pretty darn close to a straight 18 years the night this aired. I find it interesting that the film was less than 20 years old when I first saw it, but is now over 30. I’m not sure why I find that interesting, but I do. I think it has to do with the quick passage of time and me being quite a bit older now. Well, now I’m depressed!

Part II isn’t really a direct sequel, but does pick up in the aftermath of the events that transpired by the end of First Blood. In that one, remember how John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone, of course!) had pretty much destroyed an entire town, totally outwitted the local police force, and whose life was saved only when his former-commanding officer Col. Trautman (Richard Crenna!) told him to cut it out? (I’m trying not to divulge too much of First Blood, for the 2.6 of you that haven’t seen it yet.) Well, Part II picks up some time after all that; Rambo is serving his sentence, performing back-breaking hard labor, when Trautman shows up at the prison with an offer (above): It’s rumored that some POWs are still left in Vietnam, and a special team is being assembled to go in and get them – if they are indeed still there. Rambo is the best candidate, and with the opportunity to get out of a prison for the time being, as well as a full presidential pardon dangled in front of him, not to mention him being a former-POW himself, of course he accepts.

I like this; less than 5 minutes in, the title hasn’t even appeared on-screen yet, and the movie is already off and running. In short order, Rambo finds himself in the presence of one Marshall Murdock (Charles Napier, who fills the roll of you-just-know-he’s-a-jerk-from-the-start that Brian Dennehy so-ably occupied in the previous film). Rambo’s mission? To head back into Vietnam, and take pictures of a Vietcong camp. Seriously, just take pictures? Rambo expresses his concern over this, but he is again ordered to only take pictures – he is not to engage the enemy. If evidence is found of POWs, a full-fledged rescue team will head in and get ’em. Rambo goes along with this.

Welp, Rambo parachutes in, and yes, there are indeed POWs still there. Despite Murdock’s orders, Rambo has to rescue one, and thus, engage the enemy. This causes Murdock to show his true colors when Rambo meets the extraction site. He and the POW are then (re)captured, and must (re)escape the Vietcong, who it turns out are being supplied by the Russian military (1985, the Cold War and all).

“Murdock, I’m coming to get you!” If you’re not fully rooting for the ‘Bo by the time he utters that line, well then I just don’t know.

(Also, now is as good a time as any to point out that, as you may surmise from the diagonal rainbow “stripes” overlayed in my screencaps, we were using an antenna of the rabbit ears variety at the time, with the resulting reception naturally captured on my tape – a malady that was only exacerbated by my choice of an SLP recording speed. This all looks far uglier as still screen captures than it does in motion, but nevertheless, my tape ain’t Criterion quality.)

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Rambo: First Blood Part II is pretty much a non-stop stream of testosterone. Above left: Blowin’ stuff up with ‘splosive arrows. Above right: Shooting anything and everything in sight (and looking uncannily close to that Rambo action figure they released in the 1980s – or vice versa, rather). Audience manipulation? Well of course it is! It’s pretty much impossible to not cheer Rambo on as he dismantles the enemy camp while long-imprisoned POWs celebrate – that may be the very definition of audience manipulation!

But don’t think this is just a mindless celebration of violence, though; many of the same themes present in First Blood are on display here, but almost from an opposite viewpoint and with an added wrinkle of redemption and hope – the undertones aren’t quite as dark and somber as they were in First Blood. Okay, sure, this is all seen through the “popcorn action movie” lens, I know, and that tends to tone the message of the film down considerably. Well, except when the flick is beating you over the head with it, as in Rambo’s final speech – which I love nevertheless.

Maybe that’s why Rambo: First Blood Part II was a huge hit commercially, but the critics didn’t particularly like it. To that, I say “man, forget that noise.” First Blood may have been more successful at presenting the plight of the Vietnam vet while also remaining an engrossing action film, whereas Part II is, for lack of a better description, more of a “straight-ahead” film, but with some “rah rah” overtones. Except, that’s not quite fair to the movie; it’s deceptively smarter than that (sort of like Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”). Yes, Rambo loves his country and is prepared to die for it, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t criticisms of a confusing war – it’s just that the film pulls them off without throwing the soldiers that fought in it under the bus. There’s courage and heroism on display here, both from Rambo and the rescued POWs. As someone who has the utmost respect for any of our veterans, this all strikes a chord with me.

Or maybe the critics just didn’t like the film based on the usual suspects of plot, writing, whatever. I haven’t really gone and checked any of the old reviews online in-depth, because my opinion of a film is the only one I care about. So for all I know, I may be totally full of it right now.

And on that note (ha!), you know what? To me, this is just such a good, solid action movie. No kidding, right here we basically have the archetype for the one-man-army action film. Yes, Missing in Action did the same basic plot in 1984, but it didn’t do it nearly as well, nor as popularly. For all intents and purposes, this type of action movie, which has come to define a good chunk of 1980s mainstream cinema, begins right here. (Furthermore, while I like Chuck Norris’ James Braddock, Rambo is a far more compelling character; the psychological scars he carries with him truly give an added resonance to the proceedings – even though Braddock was also a former POW. But, I digress.)

So, getting back to this broadcast as a whole, was there anything that, in retrospect, makes this 2003 airing significantly unique? Kinda. There’s the usual suspects of the editing for television (sometimes egregiously so; very obvious fade-outs and fade-ins, for example), and this aired at a time when TV broadcasts, particularly local broadcasts, could still look markedly inferior to official home video releases. Even with my SLP recording speed and rabbit ears making things difficult, this is still clearly an older, un-remastered television print of the film; not really bad, but sorta drab looking, and almost certainly a step below any official VHS edition of the film. Or maybe it was just my reception, I don’t know.

Look, if you haven’t seen this film (yeah, sure, uh huh), just go buy your own copy. If nothing else, it’ll certainly look nicer.

You know, the fact that this is from 2003, and thus still fairly ‘new’ in my eyes (nearly 14 years new, ha!), and not being that unique in terms of film-content, aside from TV-editing, it all had me questioning whether I wanted to get a post out of this. As I said near the start of this piece, there would probably be inherently less interest in this, especially without a unique factor such as Big Chuck & Lil’ John hosting it. But then I remembered this is about my nostalgia; what gets my memories fired up.

And on that front, there are the original commercials. It’s funny, there’s stuff during this broadcast that, for the most part, I probably haven’t thought of since the early-2000s, and yet when they came up on-screen, it was like they just aired yesterday to me. Here now are some of my favorite ads found during this late night broadcast of Rambo: First Blood Part II

Affordable Jewelry Coins & Loans Ad

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This is fantastic. Pawn shop/jewelry/etc. ads were all over this broadcast, as you’d expect of late night TV. This was my favorite of the bunch though, simply because it exemplifies local advertising in the wee hours of the day; you can’t not love it!

Here, a Sinatra-ish lounge singer performs “My Kind of Store” in regards to Affordable, complete with back-up singers, all while the screen flashes over their various wares and a voiceover gives their buy-sell-pawn pitch. The spot finishes with a little kid (in the bottom-left in the right screenshot above) exclaiming “It’s so affordable!” This is the kind of advertising that exemplifies local TV.

Affordable Jewelry Coins & Loans is still in business, too! Looks like the ad did its job!

WJW Dharma & Greg Promo

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Remember Dharma & Greg? I’m not sure any channel plays it anymore, and It was never a show I cared much for, but it was one of the hallmarks of ABC’s late-1990s & early-2000s sitcom powerhouse line-up, a line-up that included Spin City, The Norm Show, and of course The Drew Carey Show. So, even though Dharma & Greg never did a lot for me, it still ranks a bit on the nostalgia meter. The premise of the show was the Dharma was a free-spirit, Greg was uptight, and they both married on their first date. At least, that’s how I recall it. It ran for, I think, a respectable six seasons, so apparently more people cared for it than I did. I could Wikipedia the show, but I refuse.

Anyway, WJW became the repository for local reruns when the series entered syndication, and as you can see above, it garnered the weeknights at 7 PM slot. Bill Ward’s voiceover: “Hot comedy with Dharma & Greg! Weeknights at 7 on Fox 8!” For years, that 7 PM to 8 PM block was a cornucopia of comedy on WJW, naturally spearheaded by The Drew Carey Show, and for a time 3rd Rock From the Sun was also a big part of it. Good memories!

Norton Furniture Ad

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Ah ha! A Norton Furniture ad! Now we’re talkin’ some legit Northeast Ohio advertising! Heck, these commercials even went beyond our area, and into the national spotlight! Read on…

There were others ads for the store, even during this broadcast, but the best known were the ones featuring owner Marc Brown, who you’re seeing above. My favorites were those featuring The Ghoul, for obvious reasons, but there was a long, long line of offbeat, sometimes even surreal, commercials. Marc spoke in a quiet, almost halting manner, proclaiming if you can’t get credit there, you can’t get it anywhere. And then the ads would turn strange. The Ghoul ones, for instance, would have The Ghoul popping up and chasing Marc, trying to cut off his pony tail. In another, Marc would turn to a mannequin and ask it a question, apropos of nothing whatsoever. Look, Norton Furniture actually has a bunch of these up on Youtube, so just go see for yourself.

Anyway, this all attracted the attention of national comics, and eventually these ads were being featured on late night shows as joke fodder. I even seem to recall The Soup (which I avidly watched for a time) taking a crack at it. The Norton Furniture ads became well known enough that Taco Bell used one as a basis for one of their commercials – during the Super Bowl. Wikipedia (yes, there’s a Norton Furniture page) says this was only a regional Super Bowl commercial, but nevertheless, I flipped out when I first saw it!

So, the installment found here, this one is actually one of the milder entries, though still kinda out there in a hazy, late night kinda way. In it, Marc gives a lecture to an unseen group of people about the features and benefits of Norton Furniture. Unfortunately, no surreal occurrence in this one, besides some canned applause by the “audience” at the end. Interestingly, this is a minute-long spot; usually they were the standard 30 seconds.

While not one of the wackier Norton Furniture ads, its presence here is still most definitely welcome. And, Norton Furniture is still around! Check out their website!

TeleMaxx Communications Ad

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I’m including this one mainly because it shows just how wildly the cellphone world has changed in the nearly 14 years since this aired.

TeleMaxx was, as you may surmise, a spot for all your wireless needs. As you can see to the left above, the ad features cutting-edge cellphone technology – of the early-2000s. It’s wild how far these things have come in such a relatively short amount of time. Nowadays, we have phones that’ll make you a sandwich if you ask them nice enough, but the ones seen here? They were somewhat bulky things that did little more than make phone calls (go figure!) and maybe, maybe play rudimentary games of bowling and/or solitaire.

And above, to the right! Pagers! Pagers!! Do they even make pagers anymore? The rise of the cellphone pretty much made them obsolete, which means it’s really a trip back in time seeing them spotlighted in this ad. A steal at only $29!

Unfortunately, it looks like TeleMaxx closed up shop some time ago; such is the price of working with transitory products such as these, I suppose.

Big Chuck & Lil’ John For Pizza Pan Ad

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I saved the best for last, and boy is this one phenomenal! Not only because it’s an ad featuring Big Chuck & Lil’ John as spokesmen, though of course that’s the, as I like to say, “cool winnins factor.” But also because, man, it just takes me right back to 2003.

The gimmick of Pizza Pan was this: Order a pizza and have it delivered, you got another pizza free. Order a pizza and pick it up yourself, you got two extra pizzas free! Obviously deals like that are gonna attract some attention, and in short order, Pizza Pan had made a pretty big local name for itself. It seemed there were locations all over, and we patronized the one near us pretty often, because hey, three pizzas for the price of one! This was all bolstered by some pretty heavy advertising, including Big Chuck & Lil’ John, who pitched the chain for a number of years.

Indeed, we’ve already seen Big Chuck & Lil’ John do their Pizza Pan shtick on a larger scale; remember the Big Chuck & Lil’ John Pre-Game Show post? Check it out, because Pizza Pan was all over that one.

Unfortunately, by the mid-2000s or so, Pizza Pan seemed to just sort of fade away. My memories are vague, but I seem to recall them ending the whole free pizza offer, which of course was what their name was built on. I believe it was later brought back in some form, though it might have only been a single free pizza no matter whether it was delivered or picked up. I can’t say for sure, because by that time, the one near us had closed. Anyone wanna give the details in the comments?

But back in 2003, that was when Pizza Pan was still reigning supreme. (Get it? Supreme? Because it’s pizza! Aw never mind.) Here, this commercial summarizes the whole deal succinctly. In it, Chuck explains to John the buy one pizza, get one or two pizzas free gimmick, before telling the staff to pick up the pace because they’re so busy (which is a cue to comically speed up the video as pizzas being assembled are shown). It’s a simple ad, sure, but it got the point across, it had Chuck & John’s endorsement, and it spotlights one of the most memorable aspects of Northeast Ohio pizza-eatin’ in the early 2000s. AND it has a Bill Ward voiceover at the end!

It seems there are still a few Pizza Pans left; here’s the official website, though no matter what link you click, the only page you get is a list of store locations. (A Cleveland store gets a different, full-fledged website; I’m guessing that’s the original, or at least most popular, location?)


And so, some two years after I became a full-fledged Rambo fan, this recording was how I continued the fandom. A little late on all fronts, I know, but hey, it’s always better late than never!

As I said before, when I finally jumped into DVDs a year or so later, this movie was the first I went out and purchased. Indeed, the other two Rambo entries were also among my first purchases on the format, as well. Obviously, I held (and hold!) the series in a severely high regard.

When it comes to what I taped before all that though, this particular recording actually became a bit lost in the shuffle. My earlier First Blood recording had Big Chuck & Lil’ John hosting it, but this one had no such extras (besides that cool Pizza Pan commercial). As such, I watched it, I loved it, but I never did much with it again. Not until 2011 or so, anyway. That’s when I began really getting into the nostalgia of all the stuff I had taped years prior, even the comparatively newer stuff such as our subject today.

But, I was always glad I taped this, because it’s Rambo, and I loved the film. Even though my official DVD ‘replaced’ my TV recording relatively soon thereafter, I was, and am, still pleased that I kept this recording. This was what introduced me to First Blood Part II, man! And what’s more, it turned out to be a very solid example of Cleveland late nights in the early-2000s, when I loved discovering new-to-me movies. As such, I will happily deem this one a “winner.”

WJW TV-8’s The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show – “Terror of Mechagodzilla” (December 12, 1997)

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“How’d y’all find somethin’ from just a week later, North Video Guy?”

Remember last Monday, when I spotlighted my own personal recording from December 5, 1997, 19 years to the day? Evidently, your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter was a busy little taper in the waning weeks of 1997, because just a seven days later, I recorded yet another powerhouse of a broadcast – and directly after that Son of Ghoul episode from last week, to boot! By and large, I taped things I was interested in (“gee, no kidding!”), but even so, very rarely did I capture a phenomenal double-header such as this.

From December 12, 1997, 19 years ago today (!), it’s The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show, and its presentation of Terror of Mechagodzilla. Rest assured, if the post last week got my nostalgia rolling, this one here blasts it sky high.

Coming at a time when my Godzilla fandom was at (or very near) its height, and as part of general Christmas-month festivities, you have no idea what fond memories that bumper above fills me with. Man, I was 11-years-old, Christmas (and Christmas break!) was right around the corner, and I was discovering a new-to-me Godzilla flick; an early Christmas gift if there ever was one! Throw Big Chuck & Lil’ John in that mix, and, well, does it get much better than that? I posit that it does not.

Also, depending on how busy/lazy I get, there may or may not be an actual Christmas post here at the blog. So for the time being, consider this it, okay?

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This broadcast was also a life-preserver of sorts.

In a story I have recounted before, my parents dropped cable near the end of summer ’97. The cable box was too expensive, and having even less money than I do now, I didn’t have much say in the matter. So, for the foreseeable future, basic television channels were going to be it. As a young film-buff, this was not an ideal situation, with the most grievous aspect being that Mystery Science Theater 3000 was now barred from me. I was (and am) a big-time MSTie, so this hurt deep.

Actually, the loss of the Sci-Fi Channel as a whole was a serious blow to yours truly. Their Godzilla marathons were things of beauty, serving to introduce me to many entries I was unaware of prior, especially the 1970s stuff, some of which was out of print or otherwise not readily available on home video in the late-1990s. Coincidentally, one of the last things I taped before we dropped the cable box was Sci-Fi’s airing of Godzilla Vs. The Cosmic Monster, the prequel to the very film we’re looking at now!

There were some positives to being cable-less at the time, however. First and foremost, I now had to pay more attention to the local channels available to me. That’s how I came to be a Son of Ghoul fan. And, looking back, it was in this time period that the seeds of a legit love for Northeast Ohio broadcasting were first planted; that love would blossom in full within the next few years, and continues at full-strength to this very day.

Also, there was another silver lining: In the late-1990s, Godzilla films could still show up on ‘regular’ TV channels. It seems that steadily decreased as the 2000s dawned, and in retrospect I was witnessing the tail-end of it here, but at the time, all I knew was that I had the opportunity to catch a ‘Zilla flick unbeknownst to me prior.

And so here we are, Terror of Mechagodzilla. I needed some fresh ‘Zilla in my life, and this came at just the right time. I can still recall the excitement upon first seeing this listing in TV Guide that week; I’m not sure I was even aware of this film beforehand! That’s the title screen up above, by the way. The Terror of Mecahagodzilla title as seen here always looked newly-generated to me, and thus, I think the print aired by Big Chuck & Lil’ John that night was the same one as released on home video in the late-1980s. This movie went through a number of edits in the US, and frankly, I’m not sure exactly which one I’m looking at here. I guess it’s the chopped up US theatrical edit. This is the one I grew up with, at any rate.

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Made in 1975 (but not released in the US until 1978), Terror of Mechagodzilla is a direct sequel to Godzilla Vs. The Cosmic Monster, aka Godzilla Vs. The Bionic Monster, aka Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla. In that one, alien ape guys had created a robotic double of Godzilla, as part of the expected “take over earth” plot. Godzilla (and new buddy King Caesar) naturally intervened. Earth was saved, ‘Zilla’s good name was cleared, and so on and so forth.

Now, in Terror of Mechagodzilla, the aliens are back; not only do they have continued plans to take over the world (of course), but they also want to revive Mechagodzilla. And, with the help of a human scientist that hates all mankind (bet it’s fun looking in the mirror each morning!) and his now-cyborg daughter (she was dead then she wasn’t; thanks aliens!), they summon heretofore-unknown undersea monster Titanosaurus to team up with their Mechagodzilla to help eliminate Godzilla once and for all.

Above: Godzilla suffering a beat down at the hands (claws?) of his robotic clone and Titanosaurus. You can probably guess the eventual outcome, but Terror features (in my opinion) some significantly more exciting monster battles than many (most?) of the immediate (read: 1970s) Godzilla films preceding it. Also, even though he has a bit of human help with Titanosaurus, it’s nice to see Godzilla on his own, not having to team up with another giant monster (or in Jet Jaguar’s case, robot) to get the job done.

Terror of Mechagodzilla is unique in several respects. First off, it’s the last entry in the original “Showa” series (1954-1975, or 1956-1978 if you go by US release dates); Godzilla would take a break until the mid-1980s. That means this is the last of my “preferred” Godzilla flicks – the 1980s on up entries have never done much for me, and trust me, I’ve tried. (Is that anathema to admit? Oh well, it’s the truth.)

Furthermore, I can’t think of a single entry in the original Showa series that’s a direct sequel such as this one (unless I’m just totally blanking on a similar, earlier occurrence; correct me if I’m wrong, big time G-fans). There were prior Godzilla movies that sort of followed along from previous events (for example, Godzilla is buried in ice at the end of Godzilla Raids Again, he breaks out of ice at the start of King Kong Vs. Godzilla), but to actually pick up on the story line from the film right before, same antagonists, back with a revised plan, it’s kinda neat.

It’s also far less silly than most of the other 1970s installments. There’s a very somber, dark feel to the film, not unlike a lot of mid/late-1970s cinema in general, really. It’s kind of jarring to see Godzilla in that light, honestly. Granted, 1971’s Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster was a pretty dark film as well, and even occasionally surreal (Smog Monster is also one of my top personal favorites), but the presence of a “Kenny” (i.e., little kid) dissipated some of that bleakness. Here, with much of the focus on a woman (the cybernetic Katsura), it lends a very different tone to the proceedings.

There’s little doubt that returning-original-director Ishiro Honda had much to do with the radical shift in that tone. There may be giant monsters leveling a city, but the plot is generally pretty serious; in some ways, this feels like an earlier Godzilla film, but with a definitively 1970s-look to it. Truth be told, it’s pretty refreshing when compared to most of the other G films of the decade. Make no mistake, Honda makes a huge difference; just compare any one of his Godzilla films to one that’s, uh, not, and you’ll see.

When I first watched this airing 19 years ago, truthfully, the movie didn’t do much for me. It’s a somewhat slow moving, character-driven piece; Godzilla really isn’t in it all that much, and while I wasn’t an 11-year-old that needed instant gratification in his ‘Zilla movies by any means, the fairly-talky nature of the film coupled with the late hour (11:30 PM start time) and 2 1/2 hour length of this broadcast, it all took a toll on my patience. Quite honestly, I was bored by it – though it was still Godzilla, so there was zero chance of my recording over it later.

But you know what? Upon this latest viewing, I found myself getting into the movie – far more than I expected to. Don’t get me wrong, this still isn’t Godzilla’s finest hour, and how many times could they go back to the “invading aliens” well? I can think of two 1970s entries that don’t use that plot device: Smog Monster and Megalon. (And even then, Hedorah was initially an extraterrestrial organism.) Godzilla clearly needed a break, but even so, the generally serious tone and character-driven story (which I can definitely appreciate now) allowed the original series to end on a higher note than I previously gave it credit for.

Here, buy your own copy and judge for yourself!

(Funny-to-me movie moment: The discovery of Titanosaurus near the beginning of the film has a group of scientists in utter disbelief over the new “dinosaur,” as if that sort of thing should be even remotely surprising after decades of monster attacks and city-levelings. Seriously, by that point, it should rank pretty low on the “disbelief meter.”)

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And that brings us to Big Chuck & Lil’ John – and even better, Big Chuck & Lil’ John during the Christmas season! In 1997, I wasn’t yet the true BC & LJ fan I’d be in just a few years, and so my tuning in to their show was, at the time, based almost entirely on the movie featured. As such, I didn’t spend as many Christmases with them as I now wish I had. Still, being able to relive seeing a new-to-me Godzilla movie for the first time on their show is pretty great all on its own.

19 years ago, I can’t believe it! It was a banner Christmas that year. As I said last post, my brother and I got a Nintendo 64; kids today probably can’t imagine how positively mind blowing Super Mario 64 was back then. To go from 16-bit to that, it was a monumental leap. Also, I’m pretty sure that was the Christmas that brought yours truly a couple new Godzilla VHS’ under the tree. Cool winnins!

Anyway, Chuck and John. This wasn’t exactly Christmas Eve, it was only December 12th, so while there’s a general smattering of holiday cheer throughout the show, it’s not an overtly Christmassy affair. As seen above, there’s the expected wreaths and the Lionel train set on the floor (more on that in a bit), and a couple of fun Christmas skits, but it’s all mixed in with the ‘normal’ Big Chuck & Lil’ John shenanigans you know and love. The result was an exponentially strong show, from both movie and a BC & LJ-material standpoints. No joke, this one is a blast.

[For those just tuning in to this blog, and there are apparently a few of you, Big Chuck & Lil’ John were, respectively, Chuck Shodowski and John Rinaldi, who hosted movies and performed comedic skits on Northeast Ohio’s TV-8 from 1979 to 2007, though the format stretches back to 1966 with Bob “Hoolihan” Wells and The Hoolihan & Big Chuck Show. And even further back to 1963 if you count the Ghoulardi years, which Chuck had a hand in, too. Anyway, the show ended in 2007, but they came back with a 30-minute, skits-only show in 2011, which is still running. Cool winnins!]

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Because it’s a Godzilla movie, the “Cuyahoga Kaiju” club makes up a part of the studio audience – pretty cool! According to Chuck, they even brought the Godzilla-related items sitting on the desk that night! (Yes, I know one of those is a Gamera; we’re all friends here, right?) The Cuyahoga Kaiju are apparently still around – or at least, they have a Facebook group. I joined the FB group, though as previously stated (well, inferred), my knowledge of post-Terror of Mechagodzilla-related Kaiju matters is woefully lacking, plus I ain’t exactly an ever-flowing font of Kaiju knowledge anyway. Thus, any kind of membership on my part is probably best left behind a keyboard, where I can think about what I’m going to say before I make an absolute fool of myself. Granted, that would probably still happen either way, but the severity would be lesser. Maybe.

Wait, where was I going with all this? Oh, the studio audience, right.

At this point, it was time for the first trivia question of the night. As I have recounted before, I almost always knew these, but since I was at home, shouting at the TV screen would yield me no sweet, sweet prizes for giving the correct answer. You had to be in the studio audience for that, man.

The prize for trivia #1 was a gift certificate for the Lakewood YMCA Christmas tree lot, which was pretty handy since it was only December 12th; still plenty of time to get a tree home and set up in the house, had you not done so already. Stop calling me a procrastinator. Anyway, the question was: What were the names of Santa’s eight original reindeer? A lady in the back row (I don’t know if she was part of the Cuyahoga Kaiju or not) gets it. This is an instance where I kinda sorta remember the names of the reindeer, but probably would have screwed up live and in-person nevertheless.

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A very funny Christmas-themed skit follows.

John has brought his wife an early Christmas gift home, and it has to be opened right then. She’s hesitant, and begins guessing what could it be. It’s something she’s always wanted, and no, don’t shake it! When it begins leaking all over her new dress, she’s horrified, and asks if it was perfume. Nope, it’s a…puppy!

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Look, I love Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s skits, but there’s no doubt some of them were built on a pretty thin premise. And speaking of thin…

In this one, three guys in what I can only guess is the washroom of a gym pass by a mirror and take the opportunity to flex their muscles. The third guy is on the skinny side of things, and when he’s not satisfied with the result of his flexing, he artificially builds up his muscle mass – with shaving cream.

And…that’s kinda it.

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Look at this sign of the times!

In what turned out to be his final album (he died in October of ’98), polka king Frankie Yankovic’s then-recent Songs of the Polka King Vol. 2 CD was pitched. Not only does it make a good stocking stuffer, but get this: Chuck & John actually sing on it! No kidding, they’re on Yankovic’s cover of My Melody of Love! (Surely you recall the Bobby Vinton hit version?) Pretty snazzy! This CD is now out of print, but not too hard to come by used.

Fun Fact: Drew Carey and Weird Al Yankovic (no relation to Frank) were on Songs of the Polka King Vol. 1!

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After that reminder, a short video of Chuck & John’s trip to BW-3 the previous Monday for a wing-eating contest and Monday Night Football is shown. There was of course a winner, trivia, and a good time had by all. And according to them, it would all be done again the next Monday.

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Another Christmas skit follows that.

Here, Chuck is working a tree lot, which promises a half-off sale. Suddenly, he gets a call from irate customer John; he didn’t expect the tree to be literally half off!

Didn’t John notice when he was loading the tree up to take home? Or am I just thinking too much about this?

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The next skit isn’t specifically Christmas-themed, but appropriate enough due to the gift-giving nature of the holiday. I like this one a lot.

John is a sidewalk salesman for “lucky charms” (no, not the cereal; actual lucky charms), and when he entices passerby Chuck to purchase one, it’s revealed that it was actually the last in stock. As John prepares to go home to get some more, a safe falls on him!

Get it???

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Perhaps the quintessential, or at least most “quintessentially idealized” (does that make any sense?) Christmas gift is a train set. In this jaded day and age, I’m not sure how popular they actually are, but when you think “Christmas toy,” there’s a good chance you’ll think of one of these.

As such, it makes sense to pitch one on show, and that night, Big Chuck & Lil’ John did just that. They were raffling off a genuine Lionel train set, with a winner to be pulled on their December 26th show.

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Immediately after that announcement came this one: If someone was still in need of a last-minute gift, they could pick up the then-new book Ghoulardi: Inside Cleveland TV’s Wildest Ride, by Tom Feran and R.D. Heldenfels. It’s interesting to look back at a time when this book was still basically “hot off the press.” In short order, it became a certified local institution. When it comes to Cleveland TV history, this is one of the books to have.

I believe I got my own copy the next Christmas, and to this day I love it. Such a fascinating, detailed look at what essentially started (sorry Mad Daddy Pete Myers) the Northeast Ohio horror hosting legacy.

The book has remained in-print since it was published. Get your copy here. If you have an interest in Ghoulardi, TV history, horror hosts, and/or Cleveland, it is a must have! Utterly vital and completely entertaining, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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A Saturday Night Mysteries installment, a favorite recurring skit of mine.

The gist of these was that a detective (or detectives) were called in to see if someone selling something or otherwise asking for money was on the up-and-up. It would quickly be deduced that he or she was not, and the reason why would be revealed later in the show. The challenge was for the viewer to determine, from the clues given in the first part, how the detective knew it was a fraudulent scheme.

In this one, an English archaeologist claims to have uncovered ancient cave paintings, and wants a wealthy widow to finance an expedition to unearth more artifacts. Detectives Schodowski and Rinaldi (of the “Parma Detective Agency”) are called to determine if the guy is legit. After hearing his story, Detective Rinaldi quickly declares the archaeologist a phony.

How did he know? “The answer? Later in the program!”

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A funny bit in which, despite a prominent “NO HUNTING” sign, Lil’ John happily struts through a park, gun in hand and dead birds (aka, rubber chickens) slung over his shoulder. When he’s stopped by the game warden, he claims he was just out taking target practice. When the warden points out the birds over his shoulder, John freaks out, throwing them to the ground and screaming about how “gross” they are!

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Trivia time again.

For this round, winner got four passes to the then-new An American Werewolf in Paris flick. The question? Besides St. Nick, what is another name for Santa Claus? An answer of “Kris Kringle” gets it. Too easy.

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Because it’s a Japanese movie that night, the next skit is considered particularly fitting. I’m fine with that, because this is one of my top favorites. I had totally forgotten it was included in this episode too, which made its inclusion double-exciting for me.

To start the show (evidently this was an episode intro back whenever it originally aired), Chuck interviews Judo & Karate expert John. Problem is, John is very into it, and constantly goes off on Chuck, pummeling him. When he first comes out and shakes Chuck’s hand, he automatically flips him over his shoulder and then chops and kicks him!

John has written a book, “How To Karot Good,” a title I absolutely love, and attempts to demonstrate techniques from it, which only results in further pain for Chuck. Trying to roundhouse kick some wooden boards? Chuck winds up kicked in his, uh, nether region. (John’s concerned “You alright man?” while Chuck writhes on the ground is a riot.) After that, karate-chopping a wooden board? The rigged board breaks and Chuck winds up getting it in the face!

Yes, it’s a skit that relies heavily on physical humor, but John’s chopping and kicking Chuck while screaming stereotypical karate “sounds” is hilarious. And the final gag, in which John demonstrates how he’d deal with being surrounded by attackers, is terrific: In slow-motion (because it’d be too fast for the cameras otherwise), he mimes running away!

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A goof on the old Ella Fitzgerald Memorex ads, in which both Ella’s actual voice and her voice as recorded on a cassette tape shattered a glass.

Here, opera singer “Ella Carmela” sings for “Rememorex” audio tape. Her voice shatters a glass, and her recorded voice shatters…Chuck!

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The conclusion to Saturday Night Mysteries. How did Detective Rinaldi know it was all a scam? Cavemen and dinosaurs, as one of the cave paintings posited, did not exist at the same time! What did the culprit (the wonderfully named “Benny the Gooch”) use as research? The Raquel Welch movie One Million Years B.C.!

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“Kung Fu-Ski,” a take-off on the old Kung-Fu TV series. I’m not all that familiar with the series, so forgive my not really knowing which characters are being parodied here.

A traveler, played by Chuck and who I guess was supposed to be the main character from the show, travels through the desert, begging for water. He comes upon a stand, which only sells neckties; no water. The traveler continues on, and eventually comes upon a restaurant. When he goes inside and desperately asks for water, he’s turned away…for not wearing a necktie!

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A play on the old “workplace suggestion box” idea.

Here, Chuck sheepishly puts a suggestion in the box, only to have boss John pop out of it after he’s gone, get on the phone, and ask his secretary to remind him to fire that “Schodowski jerk” first thing in the morning!

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A terrific skit; this “Kielbasy Kid” entry is up there with the karate sketch as my favorite of the night. This was also my introduction to the Kielbasy Kid, and thus holds some added nostalgia for me.

Here, the Kid and his Indian sidekick “Kishka” have had their home ransacked by a mysterious thief three times now. So, to combat the robber, they set up a pot of water rigged over one door, and a string of cans attached to the other. Whichever door the thief comes in, they’ll be alerted.

One night, it works; someone has come through the can-rigged door, and the Kid and Kishka tackle him. Turns out…it’s Santa! St. Nick angrily takes the 100 pound sack of kielbasy he brought as a gift and leaves. When the Kid tries to stop him, the pot of water falls on his head, and Kishka loudly cries at the loss of all that kielbasy.

This skit is run frequently enough on Chuck & John’s current 30-minute show, but strangely, there’s a small moment edited out that was intact for this airing: After setting the traps, the Kid and Kishka are going to bed. When the Kid sees Kishka’s stuffed animal laying in it already, he throws it out, saying there isn’t enough room for three in the bed. This causes Kishka to loudly cry. I’m unsure why this short scene is (usually?) cut from current broadcasts; maybe it’s a time-issue? I don’t know, but it’s very, very funny.

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Because I was all about the movie when I recorded this back in December ’97, I didn’t tape the intro or outro to this episode, instead beginning at the very start of the movie, and stopping right after it ended. This is something that causes me to cringe now, both as a completest and as a Big Chuck & Lil’ John fan, but back then, I didn’t know any better. It was all about the ‘Zilla, man!

As such, this was the last skit of the night as far as my tape goes, airing right before the concluding segment of Terror of Mechagodzilla. This is “Fallacy island,” obviously a parody of Fantasy Island. Here, a hapless man who can’t get any attention from women comes to the island, asking to make himself irresistible to them. The result? He’s turned into a puppy!


And that was the show itself, or at least as much as I captured of it. A very strong installment from all standpoints, far more so than I gave it credit for upon my initial viewing 19 years ago today.

The last remaining facet? A few of the more notable commercials to have aired during it. You want Christmas? You’re about to get it! Not a ton though; just a few of my favorites. Honestly, there were some great, nostalgic (for me) ads here, but I’m only gonna spotlight three of them right now. Why’s that? Because these, these signify late night and/or local Christmas advertising in a nutshell.

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Commercial #1: A spot for one of the perennial Christmas gift suggestions, The Clapper. Or rather, the revised “Smart Clapper.” Everyone knows about The Clapper and the gimmick behind it; clap on, clap off, baby! You can turn anything that plugs into an electrical outlet on or off just by clapping! Just plug The Clapper in, then plug your device of choice into The Clapper, and then have at it!

So, what was different about the Smart Clapper? You could plug two devices into it, that’s what! Clap twice for one appliance, clap three times for the other. The commercial makes ample demonstration of this, too. Turn on the lights, turn on the TV, and heck, if someone tries to break in while you’re away, there’s a feature where The Smart Clapper will turn on your lights (if they’re plugged into it, that is) at the slightest sound! Neato!

The Clapper is still sold today, and every year around this time you’ll begin seeing the commercials for them with that oh-so-familiar jingle. And you know what? These things do work, and they’re pretty cool lookin,’ too. Plus, they’re handy, especially if someone has mobility problems or the like.

Bottom line: I have a Clapper. And you should too.

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Commercial #2: A spot for one of the other perennial Christmas gift suggestions, Chia Pets. Everyone knows about Chia Pets; they’re even more ubiquitous than The Clapper. Available year-round but particularly visible during this time of the year, you’d almost have to be trying to not know what a Chia Pet is.

Just in case you don’t though: Chia Pets are pieces of pottery, typically shaped like an animal or human head or what have you, with which you smear the included plant seed concoction all over them. Then, with enough watering and sunlight and whatnot, plants will actually grow on the pottery, giving an animal fur, a head hair, and so on and so forth. You gotta pay some attention to ’em, but these do work and they look pretty neat, too.

For this commercial, the number of different Chia Pets and Chia Heads are spotlighted. The Chia Heads in particular are given prominent screentime, including a Chia Professor and Chia Clown. BUT, what really makes this spot is the brief but very cool set-up: an archaeologist has discovered ancient pottery, that just happens to be Chias, and by the end of the ad, he’s wound up with a treasure chest full of ’em. It’s a surprisingly involved production, with the archaeological scenes interspersed with the ‘normal’ Chia shots. Quite honestly, it’s the coolest Chia Pet commercial I’ve ever seen.

Bottom line: There’s an old Chia Head floating around my basement somewhere, but now I want a new one. And you should too.

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And finally, commercial #3: This one is less of an obvious choice than the previous two, mainly because it’s for Sun Super Savings Centers, a chain of electronics and appliance stores that I’m not sure exist anymore. Nowhere near me, at any rate.

The premise for the ad is simple: Sun has the big time Christmas season savings, especially on a mega-cheap Microwave (above right; $67?! Bargain buck bill!). Included are the perquisite shots of a family opening their gifts around the Christmas tree on, ostensibly all from Sun, and ostensibly all on Christmas morning. It’s a pretty typical Christmas-themed electronic and appliance store ad, really.

So why include it here? Two reasons. 1) Look at the kid on the left above; he’s just opened a Nintendo 64 controller! As I mentioned earlier, my brother and I got our Nintendo 64 that very Christmas of 1997, so that alone is enough to make me spotlight this Sun ad here; a kindred spirit! And 2) I bought my first brand new video game console with my own money from Sun; a Sega Genesis, in the mid-1990s. That alone is enough to make me spotlight this Sun ad here. So, fond memories and all that.

Bottom line: I loved the Nintendo 64 and really loved the Sega Genesis. And you should too.


And with that, our big giant look at Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s presentation of Terror of Mechagodzilla draws to a close.

You know, it wasn’t until I pulled out the tape that held Son of Ghoul’s The Hoodlum for last week’s post that I realized, boy, Big Chuck & Lil’ John hosting Terror of Mechagodzilla during the Christmas season would make a fine, fine follow-up article. Like I said during my intro, these were taped back-to-back, and between the two, I don’t think I could find a better, more powerful trip back to the Christmas season of 1997 in my video collection. Some scattered individual recordings, perhaps, but what we’ve seen over these past two weeks is not only an indelible slice of Northeast Ohio television in the late-1990s, but also a peak at my 11-year-old mindset, which, TV-wise, isn’t all that different from my modern day mindset, truth be told.

For this update as well as the last, I was originally recording because I wanted to capture and relive this weekend entertainment over and over. What I wasn’t aware of then was that I was also capturing a significant part of my life – as reflected by my television viewing habits, anyway. Over the years, as my knowledge of Northeast Ohio television history increased and I became more appreciative of what I grew up watching, it was stuff like this that I became more and more grateful for both taping and keeping. For example, Son of Ghoul last week, that was a winner from the start. But the broadcast we’ve looked at today, as I said earlier, it was initially all about the movie featured. It wasn’t until I really started to “get” Big Chuck & Lil’ John that I realized Man I’m glad I held onto that!” Needless to say, that holds doubly-true today.

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One final note…

I’m a busy cat, and since there’s a good chance this will be my last post of 2016, here’s a Christmas-appropriate image from earlier in the show we just finished looking at. Chuck’s holding a wreath, dig? Christmas. Also, I want that Gamera toy on the table somethin’ hardcore.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think I will leave this as my official Christmas post; it’s not like I can really top Christmas-themed Big Chuck & Lil’ John and ‘Zilla, anyway. Who could? So, with that said, I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Be safe, be well, and be kind to one another.

See you in 2017!

WJW TV-8’s The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show – 1982’s “First Blood” (May 11, 2001)

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Nostalgia time!

I recorded this one myself, way back on May 11, 2001. 15 years?! I refuse to believe it’s been that long!

Speaking of 15 years, that’s exactly how old I was at the time (wow, I think I just gave myself record-setting depression!). During that period, I was still the avid video taper and movie/TV fan that I had been for the several years preceding, but as I got a bit older, I found myself steadily branching out from the genres that had traditionally been ‘mine.’

That is, the classic horror and sci-fi films, b-westerns, silents, and so on. (A lot of the stuff we’ve seen here at the blog, basically.) Oh I still liked all those, but my tastes were evolving to include newer, relatively more extreme horror and sci-fi, and even action films. The taste for horror and sci-fi beyond the 1960s or so would eventually recede, but the love of action flicks (especially those from the 1980s and early-1990s) remains.

Which brings us to the subject for today. Yes, Northeast Ohio movie-hostin’ heroes Big Chuck & Lil’ John once ran the 1982 Sylvester Stallone action classic First Blood, and yes, it was fantastic. “Wait, ain’t they horror hosts though, B?” Well, yes, Chuck & John (and before John, Hoolihan) made their name on film offerings more befitting the horror host genre (though not necessarily always). By the time this episode aired, the film selections had turned into a more all-around assortment. I’ll explain more about that situation in a bit.

Frankly, it didn’t (and doesn’t) really matter to me whether the movie used that night in May 2001 fit in with what the show was supposed to feature or not; this was a viewing, and recording, born out of my fairly new love of action flicks and a joy in discovering them for myself on late night TV. Discovering Rambo? In 2001? I’ll explain more about that situation in a bit, too.

I certainly didn’t realize it at the time, or even in the years immediately proceeding it, but of the hundreds and hundreds of movies I personally recorded from, roughly, 1996-2002, this has turned out to be one of my favorites. Aside from some intense nostalgia on my part, it’s not linked to any actually important aspect of my life, nor is it a particularly historical broadcast in and of itself. Nope, I just really, really like this one as a whole. Does it take me right back to Friday nights in Spring 2001? You better believe it does!

(Also, that header pic above? That was the bumper for the episode, an image that now currently resides as the background on my phone. A superfluous-but-rare honor!)

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A general widening of my film tastes wasn’t the only thing going on with me, TV-wise, at the time, either; it was also around that point that I truly began to enjoy and appreciate Big Chuck & Lil’ John as a whole, rather than just a showcase for certain movies I wanted to see/tape. That may be anathema to admit, and I certainly don’t like admitting it, but the sad fact of the matter is it took me a few years to really ‘get’ these guys.

Now, that may be a surprising statement to some; after all, Chuck & John have had no small influence on this blog, and indeed, I’m a self-professed mega-fan. Besides the annual Ghoulardifest posts, I’ve written about them numerous times. But back in 2001, even though I had watched (and taped!) their show(s) prior, it wasn’t until, roughly, the 1999-2001 time frame that I truly became a fan. Prior to that, it was all about the movie with me, as evidenced by the fact that I usually cut the intros and outros off when recording, opting instead for just the movie (whatever bits showed up during commercial breaks were of course left in, and in retrospect I’m glad they’re still there, but back then, they were merely an extra-addition to the film in my eyes). This was all in stark contrast to The Ghoul Show and The Son of Ghoul Show, which were kept in their entirety, as I saw them as “complete shows,” and not just mere movie showcases.

That eventually all changed however, due to a few factors. Once I began watching, really watching, Chuck & John, I began to appreciate their comedic bits and host segments (my learning more about the history of the show, and Chuck’s involvement in Northeast Ohio TV in general, was also a factor). Plus, WBNX TV-55 moving The Ghoul Show from Friday nights to Sunday nights didn’t hurt, either. Their normal Friday night program was thus easier for me to catch, and that, in addition to watching more of their Saturday afternoon Couch Potato Theater show, really helped get me on board the BC & LJ train. I still didn’t tape Chuck & John as much as I did those other shows, but at least I “got it.” After ’98 or so, I began, as a rule, recording their entire broadcasts, from start to finish.

(For those unawares, and I have picked up some new readers/followers lately, especially after my trendsetting performance at Monsterfestmania, that’s “Lil’ John” Rinaldi on the left, “Big Chuck” Schodowski on the right. Read more about ’em here if necessary, or just keep going with this post; you’ll probably get the gist of all this in short order.)

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So, First Blood on the show. Why play such an obvious non-horror or sci-fi film, when Chuck & John are widely considered legit horror hosts?

They did (but not always) run ‘regular’ flicks in the years before, but by the mid-1990s, the film selections became much more ‘standardized.’ That is, all genres were represented. Sure, there could be a typical horror or sci-fi oldie (I taped more than one Toho opus off the program during the period), but there were also comedies, dramas, westerns, and as we’re seeing today, action films.

Some fans tend to decry the usage of ‘general’ films during this later era of The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show. I understand that sentiment, but even when ignoring the changing television landscape of the time, I’d argue that since Chuck & John didn’t dress or act “spooky,” and their comedy was broader and generally not tied to a horror theme, the overall product still came out successful. Granted, I’m coming from a different place than others, but nevertheless, horror/sci-fi or not, the ‘new’ show certainly introduced me to films I might not have seen otherwise.

First Blood I probably would have wound up catching sooner or later anyway, but this broadcast hit me at just the right time. Due to my burgeoning interest in the genre, I often stayed up late on weekends and caught new-to-me action movies on local channels. One Man’s Justice and Army of One were introduced to me that way. Even beyond TV airings, I was picking up used VHS tapes at a local indie video store (the Missing in Action films became personal favorites). And yet, before catching this airing of First Blood on Big Chuck & Lil’ John, Rambo was uncharted territory to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I knew who Rambo was, or at least had a vague idea of the character. And I had caught bits and pieces of the films earlier in the decade (on cable TV, when movies like this seemed to always be on). But up until May 2001, I had never actually seen an entry in the series.

Truth be told, it took me a bit to get into it. My vague knowledge of Rambo was that of a mercenary, a legit one-man-army, going into a foreign country, rescuing hostages of some sort, and blowing away a lot of bad guys. First Blood isn’t quite that, and at the start of this initial viewing, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it at first.

But sure enough, I was soon absolutely drawn into the film, just completely and totally enthralled by it. I wound up loving the movie, and from that point on, I was a Rambo fan. I remember the morning after this aired, we were at some gymnastics thing for my little cousin, and all I could think of was getting the trilogy (there was a swanky widescreen VHS boxset out then). I wanted to see more of these, man!

Eventually, of course, I did. Indeed, not too long after this aired, I went and bought a ‘legit’ VHS copy of the film from the aforementioned indie video store. In the years since, I’ve obtained First Blood in a variety of formats and releases, but truth be told, none mean as much to me as this personal recording I made back in the Spring of ’01 does.

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I find it hard to believe that anyone stumbling upon this post hasn’t seen First Blood. The first entry in the Rambo series, and (as far as I’m concerned) legitimate action classic? C’mon! I mean, having not seen it by the time I was 15, there’s not much excuse there, but there’s even less now; the movie-viewing world was a bit different 15 years ago, but there are countless ways to catch this one nowadays.

I’m not gonna go too in-depth here, because if you haven’t seen it yet, go see it! Anyway, First Blood details the plight of John Rambo, a Vietnam Vet who runs into trouble with the police of a small town and must fend for himself. The End!

…Well, I guess I can go a bit more in-depth than that. Here’s the set-up: as the film opens, Rambo is seen visiting the home of one of his old army buddies and learning that he has passed away. This leaves Rambo as the last surviving member of his Special Forces Unit from ‘Nam. Already suffering with the memories of the war, this news puts him into an emotional tailspin, and he winds up a drifter.

Eventually, he finds him self in Hope, Washington. Almost immediately, he’s hassled by Sheriff Will Teasle (it’s Brian Dennehy!), who concludes that, based on his looks, Rambo isn’t the kind of element the people need in their nice, quite little town. Although he puts on a (somewhat) friendly facade, he drives Rambo outside of the city and tells him to find somewhere else to go. Rambo, being the the definitive badass, of course turns around and heads right back in. When Teasle sees this, he arrests ‘Bo for vagrancy. (The big giant knife Rambo carries around doesn’t help, either.)

Teasle’s a jerk, but his fellow officers, Deputy Art Galt in particular, are worse. When they try to book Rambo in at the police station, and it becomes increasingly obvious that Rambo is emotionally disturbed, they begin abusing him. Beating him, spraying him with a fire hose in the shower, and the final straw, attempting to shave him with a straight-razor. Y’see, Rambo wasn’t just in ‘Nam, he was a POW, and the abuse triggers flashbacks of his imprisonment there. On top of everything else he’s had to deal with since then, this is just too much, and in short order he busts out of the station and escapes into the woods.

(Note: Michael “Stan Switek” Talbott and David “CSI: Miami Guy” Caruso play young police officers in the flick, too.)

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Naturally, Teasle is none too pleased with this development, and of course a search party is formed to recover the prisoner. Being an expert in such situations, Rambo is able to elude them, though eventually Galt shows up in a helicopter and gets him in his sights. Despite Teasle’s order that Rambo be taken alive, Galt begins firing at him. Not having much other recourse, Rambo wings a rock at the chopper, which cracks the windshield and surprises the pilot, who then jerks the chopper – causing Galt to fall his to death. Suddenly, this isn’t just a manhunt anymore; this has become personal to Teasle.

From there on out, it is on. But they drew first blood (get it?), and it’s up to Rambo to fend for himself. Well, he’s not quite alone; Colonel Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna!), hearing reports of what’s going on, shows up in town, and essentially keeps telling Teasle there’s no chance of the cops getting Rambo. Trautman oughta know, too; he was Rambo’s commanding officer in ‘Nam (“God didn’t make Rambo; *I* made him!”) and fully understands what Rambo is capable of. Of course Teasle doesn’t listen. Massive amounts of destruction and general badassery ensues.

As I recall it, much of my initial apprehension upon viewing this film had little to do with the movie itself, and more to do with the fact that it didn’t quite fit my preconceived notions of what a Rambo flick was supposed to be. That is, a one-man-army heading into a foreign country and basically taking the whole place out for one reason or another. That was the prevailing image I had of Rambo, anyway. What I didn’t know was that that viewpoint was more in line with the sequels; this first installment was a bit of a different animal.

Except when it wasn’t. After all, First Blood still has Rambo pretty much by himself and fending off and/or evading large numbers of people after him. He is a one-man-army here, and he does do the things that I expected him to do. It’s just that in First Blood, this is all in a more domestic setting, and that’s what threw me at first. A large portion of the film is set in the woods outside of fictional Hope, Washington, which was in opposition to my initial thoughts of “Shouldn’t this be set in a jungle somewhere?” The more I watched the film, the more I realized that, no, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but what I got was just as, if not more, fantastic. Like I said before, by the time it had ended, I was a bonafide fan.

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The entire movie is terrific, and the final portion of the film, in which Rambo makes his way back to the city and just totally tears things up, is particularly so. He blows up a gas station! He knocks out the power! He gets himself a big ol’ gun! All in an effort to draw Teasle out for a final confrontation…

…A confrontation that results in the most powerful moment of the entire film: just as Rambo is about to finish off Teasle once and for all, Trautman stops him, and what follows is a heavily dramatic monologue by Stallone. In it, his Rambo laments his status in the US following the war, how he’s been treated, his usefulness to society, and how the horrors of the war still haunt him. It’s a fantastic, moving monologue, the most emotional moment of the movie.

The monologue also brings out to the open a dramatic undercurrent that runs through the rest of the film: the plight of the Vietnam Veteran in the years following the war. As such, First Blood manages to include a somber, social commentary on Vets that the sequels increasingly ignored. Regardless of what anyone thinks about war, the way our Veterans are often treated is a sore spot with me, which means that, personally, this dramatic monologue really hits home.

First Blood is action-packed, make no mistake. There are chases, fights, explosions, gunfire, near misses and escapes. It’s at certain points unflinchingly brutal, especially near the beginning when Rambo is in police custody. The movie earns the R-rating given to it. But paradoxically, and contrary to popular opinion (myself at 15 included), it’s not actually that violent. Not as far as deaths are concerned, anyway. Indeed, only one person is actually killed throughout the entire film: Galt, and that was both an accident on Rambo’s part and due to Galt himself being a dumbass. (I mean, yes, Rambo tossed a rock at the chopper, but Galt was hanging out of the side without a harness of any kind!) Everyone else, Rambo stops but doesn’t kill. The high-body counts generally associated with Rambo films? Those fit the sequels, but not First Blood.

As such, the version seen on Big Chuck & Lil’ John that night in May 2001, sure there was some editing for content, and time, and naturally some salty language was censored, but unlike a lot of R-rated films that wound up on local TV, First Blood didn’t suffer too badly. Indeed, as long as you didn’t mind Chuck & John occasionally interrupting the proceedings with their silliness, this was actually a pretty good example of First Blood.

And speaking of Big Chuck & Lil’ John, it’s time for their portion of the show. This won’t be everything they did that night, but here are some of the personal highlights…

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The show as a whole kicks off with this introductory skit, in lieu of an opening sequence or any similar such fanfare. In it, Bill Ward (I’ve met him before!) plays the Cleveland Indians’ new pitcher Billy Bob, who just rolled in from North Carolina. He apparently loves Cleveland and especially The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show, which he proclaims to be wholesome, clean, family entertainment – all while progressively throwing more chewing tobacco in his mouth and letting the juice run down his chin when he spits! Gross? Maybe. Is there much to the bit? Not really. Is it funny? Yep!

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That leads directly into the first host segment of the night, which, needless to say, introduced the movie, mentioned some of the things Chuck & John had planned for the evening (the US mail carriers were there for the episode; we’ll see them in a bit), and so on. Not a particularly long intro, but there was no need for it to be; this got the night kicked off proper, and frankly, just having Chuck & John intro the movie was enough. Even though they’re back on the air nowadays (as a 30 minute, skits-only program), there was something really special about them actually hosting a film. It’s a sight for sore eyes, absolutely.

For any non-Northeast Ohioans reading this, you may wonder how a couple of hosts presenting silly skits between commercial-breaks of First Blood can really work as entertainment. It doesn’t, on paper, sound like it would ‘fit.’ To be honest with you, I don’t know why it works either, just that it does. Maybe you have to be a Northeast Ohioan of a certain age to appreciate this sort of thing. Maybe it’s a format that couldn’t really work (with the vast majority of viewers) today. Perhaps that 30 minute skits-only show is the best we can hope for in this day and age, where genuine local TV is at a minimum.

All I know is that, more than once, I was introduced to movies in this “format” that, for all intents and purposes, worked. This is how I first saw Theatre of Blood, this is how I first saw Miracle Mile, and obviously, this is how I first saw First Blood.

I hope Big Chuck & Lil’ John never go away.

(Also, isn’t that screencap above just awesome? I couldn’t not post it. ‘Course, this probably means it’ll be stolen and passed around the internet without mentioning where it originally came from, because why would anyone give me credit for anything ever?)

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Next up, another installment in the long-running series of “Certain Ethnic” skits. “Certain Ethnic” was a euphemism for “Polish,” a running joke that reached back to the Ghoulardi days. Chuck himself is Polish, and the mocking was always done affectionately, but still, people complained, and so “Polish” became “Certain Ethnic.”

In this one, it’s the “Certain Ethnic Jaccuzzi [sic].” After a long day of work, Chuck’s famous Stash character just wants to relax, and a nice jacuzzi is the way to unwind. For this scenario, this is accomplished by running the garden hose through the window and into the tub!

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Trivia time!

There were usually at least two trivia contests held per show. Another one of the benefits of having a live studio audience, I guess. Even then, I was all about vintage television and movies, and more often than not, I knew the answers. Much to my chagrin, I was never able to attend a studio taping to show off my trivial (and I do mean trivial) prowess. This hurts me deep.

There were three trivia segments for this episode. For this first one, the prize was a 4-pack of tickets to the Mansfield Motorsports Speedway. The question? What television series was Richard Crenna a part of loooong before he became known as Rambo’s Colonel Trautman? Why, The Real McCoys, of course! I knew that!!! I win/lose again!

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Ah, Ben Crazy. Did anyone not like the Ben Crazy skits? That would hurt me deep, too.

This one features Cleveland/television legend Tim Conway himself, as Dr. Crazy’s patient. The skit mostly works as a vehicle for Conway’s deadpan, jokey delivery (he was in the office earlier because he got his Ben-Gay and Preparation H mixed up – his shoulder was starting to shrink!). The punchline: he misunderstood what Dr. Crazy meant when he said he wanted a stool sample! (Above, duh.)

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More trivia.

This time, the prize was the then-new book 365 Ways to Meet People in Cleveland, by Miriam Carey (looks like it’s out of print now). The question: what was Rambo’s first name? Aw c’mon! That’s so easy it’s not even fair! Had fate smiled upon me, I could be sitting here admiring my little book right this instant.

(By the way, the answer was “John.” John Rambo. Geez, even if someone somehow didn’t know that, they could have just taken a wild guess; there’s like a 95% chance they would have said “John” anyway.)

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Saturday, May 12th (the next day, for those keeping track at home) was “Help Stamp Out Hunger Day,” courtesy of the US Postal Service. I remember those food drives; basically, you would place a bag of non-perishable food by your mail box on the appropriate day, and the mailperson would collect it to help replenish local food banks. So, the night before the event, the appropriate people went on The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show to explain all this. See how that works?

A joke is made in which Lil’ John apparently left a half-plate of uneaten spaghetti and meatballs by the mailbox the year before (it’s gotta be non-perishable, folks!), and both Chuck and John are presented with commemorative plaques as a thank you for all their help with the drive over the years. A nice moment.

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Ajax Airlines!

The Ajax skits went waaaay back on the show. They were basically just miming bits from old Hudson & Landry records, but man, they were always a riot. This was a newer installment in the series (on the show I mean, not the records themselves), in which a very drunk person (Art Lofredo) calls the airline to find out when the next plane leaves. It’s a very funny bit, though the pay-off is a bit dated: they’ve got to hold the plane, because Art is the pilot!

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Last trivia question of the night.

The prize was a “Zube Tube,” which made lots of weird electronic-like noises and gave your voice a cool booming quality when you spoke into it. I want to say my brother and/or I had something like this, but I don’t know. It’s a neat product though, and it’s basically given away. The question relates to Rambo’s status as a Green Beret and the John Wayne movie that dealt with the same subject. The answer: The Green Berets.

‘Course, it would’ve been a hard one to miss, since the words “Green Berets” are said about a thousand times leading up to the answer. I’m pretty sure my recording is just retroactively mocking me now.

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A simple-but-great skit. When John and his wife (Mary Allen!) are denied admittance to a restaurant because John isn’t wearing a necktie, he leaves and later comes back wearing nothing but a necktie (one large enough to cover his, erm, lower extremities, naturally), much to the shock of the maitre d’ and the other patrons of the restaurant.

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Another classic. Chuck is the manager of a Hallmark store, and John wants to return a “Get Well” card. Why? The guy died! Short, to the point, and very, very funny!

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Unlike some of the other episodes we’ve looked at here, this was a later episode, in which the famous “Pajama Party” outro had been done away with; Pajama Party was the traditional closer in which Chuck and John (and before John, Hoolihan) closed out the show dressed in their PJs and reading submitted jokes. After looking at so many older broadcasts, it’s a little weird to see the segment absent here, even though this is the way I always saw the show closed out in my formative years.

Instead, this was just a standard outro, with reminders for the food drive the next day, the movie next week, goodnights and goodbyes, the expected stuff. In less than 12 hours, their Saturday afternoon Couch Potato Theater would start (earlier in the show, it was touted as “Abbott & Costello,” which almost certainly meant the 1950s sitcom – a show that was run fairly frequently on Couch Potato Theater).

Even so, there’s a real bittersweet feeling to watching the fellas sign off to the famous “Is That All There Is?” by Peggy Lee. Maybe it’s because I know now that Chuck & John wouldn’t be hosting movies for all that much longer; that sorta thing ended in 2007, when Chuck “retired.” But then, it’s wild to realize that in just a little over 10 years after this aired, they’d be back, with the current, aforementioned skits-only show.

No kidding, I hope these guys never go away again.

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Chuck & John that night ran 2 hours and 18 minutes. Since this was a 2 hour and 30 minute timeslot, it stands to reason there was some filler at the end. On that front, WJW presented 1933’s Polly Tix in Washington, a bizarre short comedy featuring little kids in the roles of adult politicians. Shirley Temple is featured in some capacity. It’s pretty weird, it hasn’t aged particularly well, and it’s about as far away from First Blood as possible. Maybe that was the point. Either way, I think I hate it. It’s not funny or cute, just strange.

While not part of the actual episode (the show officially ended immediately before this), this was a surprising bit of filler. Finishing up a slot with old short comedies was more of a WAOH/WAX thing to do – I never expected WJW to pull something like that. I don’t know, maybe it was more common than I realize(d). All I know is that back in the late hours of that Spring 2001 night, I was like “say what?”


So, commercial time. This is where I traditionally look at some of the more interesting ads aired during a respective broadcast. Unfortunately, this time around, 2001 is just a bit too new for my tastes. A lot of this stuff has aged well, meaning they wouldn’t be all that out-of-place on TV nowadays. Still, there were a few interesting spots for us to look at. (And despite the 15 years elapsed since they aired, I actually do recall some of these as if they aired just yesterday.)

WJW TV-8 Stamp Out Hunger Ad

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If they were pushing the food drive on The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show, it stands to reason there’d be commercials for it, too. Needless to say, that’s exactly what this, with anchorman Wayne Dawson, congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones, and a mail carrier (I guess) giving us all the details I, uh, already described earlier.

Labatt Blue Beer “Bear at the Party” Ad

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Not too long ago, I found another spot from this series of ads on a tape, and even though I hadn’t even thought about these commercials in years, I was able to recall the ad far better than I would have anticipated.

The gist of these was that an anthropomorphic Canadian bear (really just a guy in a bear suit – duh!) pitched Labatt Blue beer wherever he went, and got into semi-wacky situations because he’s, you know, a bear. In this installment, he’s brought to a party by a mega-hot chick, and then does awkward things…because he’s a bear. He does the “raise the roof” gesture, he sees a tank of goldfish and believes they’re hors d’oeuvres, he waits in line for the bathroom. This is all ostensibly to sell Labatt Blue, which I guess worked, because this campaign was around for decent length of time.

KFC’s Extra-Crispy Chicken Deal Ad

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Kentucky Fried Chicken didn’t always need George Hamilton to waltz around a set dressed as the Colonel in order to sell their extra-crispy fried chicken parts. Nope, back in 2001, all they needed was a $2.99 deal and shots of people noisily crunchin’ on the things as obnoxiously as possible. Then again, the spot does makes me want some KFC, so I guess it’s still doing the job 15 years later.

Nevertheless, Escape! it is not. KFC will, never, never top Escape!

Alltel’s Kyocera Phone “Chained Down” Ad

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The theme of this spot is that without a cellular phone, you feel ‘chained down.’ This is demonstrated by a hapless lady chained to various products while out and about during her day. Chained to her desk in the elevator, chained to a shopping cart while being a karate ninja, chained to a fax machine and washer/dryer while camping. You get the gist. The point is, you need not feel chained down when you have Alltel’s Kyocera cellular phone and appropriate calling plan. You know, cause it’s mobile.

Frankly, I just included this one here because, man, look at that cellphone! Just look at it! It’s unbelievable what was considered cutting edge technology as recently as 15 years ago! That’s not a knock, either; nope, I love it. What a fantastic example of the early-2000s!

Volk’s Mothers Day Sale Ad

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I thought this was pretty cool. Looking at thousand-year-old videotapes of the local variety, you tend to see ads for Volk’s pretty often; they advertised on local late night TV for years. Apparently they’re still around, though I hear conflicting reports. I refuse to drive to Cleveland just to find out. Here’s the Yelp page, either way.

Anyway, it is (was?) a jewelry/pawn shop. You know, trade/sell, get cash, that sort of thing. For this ad, with Mothers Day coming up, the pitch is, hey, why not go get her a nice piece of jewelry for the occasion?

Rod Stewart Tour Promo

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As this mega-brief promo touts, Rod Stewart was coming to town on his “Human Tour 2001.” Ostensibly this was to promote an album I’ve never heard. Sorry Rod, I would not have gone to this.

Lynyrd Skynyrd – Deep Purple – Ted Nugent Tour Promo

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Lynyrd Skynyrd, Deep Purple and Ted Nugent were also gonna be in town that coming summer. I really would not have gone to this.

Basic Instinct on Big Chuck & Lil’ John Promo

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And finally, next Friday on The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show, it was Basic Instinct. I have not seen Basic Instinct, but from what I know of it, I doubt it aired, editing-wise, as relatively unscathed as First Blood did. Or maybe it did. I don’t friggin’ know.

Though this brings up a point: there were always a lot of kids in the audience when they were taping these shows; were they also watching the movies as they went? Chuck & John seem to generally be following the action. I can’t see them setting up the cameras and hauling an audience in just to film the host segments. On the other hand, even with editing for television, a lot of these movies weren’t really suitable for kids. First Blood, sure, and especially Basic Instinct. I don’t friggin’ know.


And so, there you have it, the 1982 Sly Stallone classic First Blood, as aired on The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show, May 11, 2001. Leonard Maltin didn’t like the movie, but *I* sure did – enough so that I had the foresight to keep the recording. Not that I wouldn’t have anyway; as I’ve said over and over, it’s a great film.

But the sad fact of the matter is, I didn’t always have the foresight to keep these shows. Casino Royale and True Grit, both I recorded but later taped over. I wish I hadn’t done that now, but back then, I had to be a bit pickier on what I used to fill precious tape-space. After all, Big Chuck & Lil’ John had looong shows, especially on Friday night. I’ve said before that watching an entire episode felt like you had run a marathon or something by the time it was over, and First Blood is no different. It felt, and feels, less like a mere movie broadcast and more like an experience, an event, of some sort.

Beyond just being a really fun, entertaining recording, it’s also a reminder of where I was, movie-choice-wise, at the time. And, in the grand scheme of things, it has the feeling of waning days of innocence (which is a funny thing to say about First Blood, I know). We had that Spring, and Summer, but then, well, we all know how everything just went straight to hell that coming Fall. But in May 2001, that was unknowingly, thankfully still inconceivable to us. I was in 8th grade, just about to graduate, high school looming ominously ahead. That’s all I knew then, that I had high school coming up.

In that regard, it’s a terrific snapshot of the time, when all I had to worry about was what I was gonna watch that weekend. And for that weekend, I’m convinced there was no better way to kick things off than with First Blood as presented on The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show.

Son of Ghoul 30th Anniversary Tribute!

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That screenshot above was taken nearly five years ago, during Son of Ghoul’s 25th anniversary special. (Has it really been five years? I refuse to believe five years passed that quickly!) A momentous occasion for sure, and a marvelously entertaining episode to boot. Interviews with past crew members, historic clips and bits, and an honest-to-goodness movie (The Most Dangerous Game), it was a fantastic show that stayed on my DVR for, no joke, around 6 or 7 months. It was like the perfect summation of what made Son of Ghoul, well, Son of Ghoul. (And you can get a copy of that show or any show from SOG’s official website here!)

However, something SOG said, not during that episode but during a later show, has stuck in the back of my mind ever since it was uttered: when describing his 20th and 25th anniversaries, he made an off-hand comment about a potential 30th, essentially stating he had no idea if he’d even make it to 30. It was something along the lines of “Can I make it that long?” It was a throwaway line, not even really a joke, but it did bring up an interesting question: in this day and age of waning local television, where horror hosts in particular are an increasingly endangered species, could SOG hold in there for the big 3-0? How long can a good thing last?

I don’t know where today falls in the ultimate larger picture of The Son of Ghoul Show, but I do know that Keven “Son of Ghoul” Scarpino has accomplished the nearly impossible: a horror hosted movie showcase that has continuously run weekly since June 13, 1986 – 30 years ago today!

Make no mistake, this is a monumental achievement. Any television personality doing what they do for an uninterrupted 30 years is something to be celebrated, but a horror host? It’s not unheard of for one to run for a number of years, leave the airwaves (for one reason or another), and then come back some time later. But, to stay on for three decades, simply by doing what they do best? All while facing station changes, shifting television landscapes, and the decline of horror hosts on over-the-air TV stations nationwide? Just how does that happen?!

In fact, he is easily one of the longest continually-running horror hosts in the nation! Indeed, it seems he is THE longest running! That just makes this achievement all the more amazing!

It’s times like this that I count myself especially fortunate to be a Northeast Ohioan, or at least a TV-watchin’ Northeast Ohioan. It seems like if a local television personality has had an impact on us, they never really go away. I mean, Ghoulardi was only on from 1963 to 1966, and yet, Ernie Anderson’s iconic host is still instantly recognizable around here. And Big Chuck & Lil’ John? Even when they ‘retired’ back in 2007, they were still all over the place, and then they came back to TV in 2011. My point is, if you can make it around here, there will always be a place for you, somehow, somewhere.

Throughout all the changes in television in general, never mind locally, over the last 30 years, SOG has been there, doing what he does best: hosting a movie, performing in some skits, interacting with the viewers. It’s perfect “sit back and chill” weekend entertainment, and SOG has it down to a science. I simply can’t imagine a weekend without his show, a fact that made his uncertainty in regards to reaching 30 years a bit unsettling. Northeast Ohioans have long memories, but I suppose nothing and no one is immune to the sands of time.

But for now, SOG is still here, still plugging away, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I go way back with the show. Indeed, quite a few of my weekends have featured The Son of Ghoul Show, starting all the way back to the fall of 1997. In many ways, my love of local broadcasting can be traced back to The Son of Ghoul Show. That’s not a small statement I make, either.

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The man himself, via an exclusive shot taken at his 1997 personal appearance at JC Comics & Cards. Check out the SOG cake to the right!

Anyone taking even a cursory glance at this blog has undoubtedly seen the presence SOG has had; I’m blatantly and unabashedly a longtime fan. We’ve looked at an episode or two, he’s gotten specific shout-outs during all three of my Ghoulardifest write-ups, and heck, I even took the time to post an update when his time slot was shifted back in February 2015. ‘Course, it was the big extensive interview with the man himself nearly two years ago (as of this writing) that was the ultimate example of SOG on this BLOG. (See what I did there?)

So yes, SOG reaching 30 years on the air is a big deal in general, but especially for me. Why? Because I’ve been around for 19 of those 30 years. I had seen Big Chuck & Lil’ John first, and was aware of Superhost in my formative years, but truthfully, it was SOG that introduced me to this whole Northeast Ohio horror host deal. And therein lies some nostalgia…

(I know I’ve related some, or all, of this before, so please, bear with me…)

I first discovered the show in the fall of 1997. At the time, I was looking for a Mystery Science Theater 3000 surrogate. I had become (and remain to this day) a die-hard fan of MST3K, but at the end of summer ’97, it was too expensive to keep the premium cable box needed to access the Sci-Fi Channel, and thus, MST3K (the network later became part of our basic cable package, but that was a few years away). Being only 11 years old, I didn’t have much say in the matter, and so, as summer came to a close, it became increasingly obvious I needed something to satisfy my bad movie-mocking needs.

Also during that same summer, I had become aware of “The Cat,” TV-29 in Akron, TV-35 in Cleveland. While I was primarily a horror and sci-fi fan (albeit a still-burgeoning one), The Cat introduced me to a wider range of older, sometimes wildly obscure, flicks. B-westerns, silents, foreign films and so on, I quickly found a growing interest in all of them.

By the time fall came around, I was jonesing for MST3K, or something similar, and I was jonesing bad. In retrospect, it’s a bit odd that it took me several months to actually discover The Son of Ghoul Show, but the fact is that some idle channel-surfing one Saturday night landed me upon SOG’s annual Halloween show. He was on Friday and Saturday at that point, same episode both nights, so I guess this would have been November 1, 1997 (since an online calendar tells me Friday was October 31st).

The movie was the original Night of the Living Dead, a flick he runs each Halloween. My brother Luke was watching with me, and as I recall it, we turned the channel on just as SOG’s introductory segment was coming to a close. The movie started shortly thereafter, and man, that was all it took. Before long, I was hooked. It took me a minute to realize that SOG was dropping in sound effects and music into the movie, but I loved it. I loved the film too, which was my first time seeing it.

But it was the host segments and skits that really got me. SOG was something entirely new to me. A genuine horror host, a concept I only had a vague notion of prior (I never thought of Chuck & John as horror hosts until later, and besides, it took me a few more years to really appreciate them). He was witty, he was acerbic, he was silly, he read mail. In short, it was everything I had been craving. In that single two-hour block that Saturday night, an entire new world of television, of comedy, was opened to me. Baby, I was done.

And he was ours! This was all local! SOG is the kind of entertainer anyone from anywhere can enjoy, but his program takes on a whole new dimension if you’re from the area. I doubt I was cognizant of all that when I watched for the first time (in fact, I’m sure I wasn’t), but it’s a factor that became increasingly important to me the more I watched and the bigger a fan I became.

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Another exclusive shot taken at JC Comics & Cards. Here SOG autographs a promotional picture, for either my brother or myself. We both still have our signed pictures to this day, either way.

Even though it was only until the following week, it was a long, long wait for the next episode. I was in 5th grade, and while (as I recall it), the other kids were into wrestling and/or MTV and whatnot, I personally could not wait to see more of this new thing I found.

Finally it was there; the movie was The Vampire Bat, and I knew I had made the right decision in jumping on this bandwagon. (I also learned it was the same movie, same episode both Friday and Saturday nights, but this wound up being beyond helpful. If I particularly liked a movie or bit, or one of the letters I later started sending in was on, I could sample Friday night and record Saturday night.)

From there on out, it was a constant sense of discovery. Nearly every single week, I was seeing a movie completely new to me. Okay, sure, they weren’t good movies, but they weren’t supposed to be! I can’t say this is where my love of watching bad movies because they’re so awful began, but the selections SOG ran certainly helped fuel the ongoing desire for a good baddie. The Hoodlum, The Corpse Vanishes, Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, Colossus and the Amazon Queen, all of those (and many more!) were introduced to me via SOG. I can’t say I ‘love’ the films, but they hold a nostalgic place in my heart nevertheless, simply because of how and where they fall in my lifetime.

And it was all so funny! I loved the mail segments, where SOG’s acerbic, sarcastic wit was on full-display. He had no problem goofing on the letter writers, and really, that was part of the fun, even if you were the one who had written in! And the skits! Barfaby, Mr. Banjo, Fatman and Rotten, Zero, Eat At Joe’s, and even the one-offs, so much of it had a hip, edgy, oftentimes “warped” tone that made the whole experience irresistible. I mean, “Genie of the John,” in which SOG played the titular character, one who emerges from a toilet? Stuff like that appealed (and appeals) endlessly to me.

‘Course, when I began watching, I didn’t really know about the first home of the show (Canton’s WOAC TV-67, from 1986 to 1995), and thus what bits were new and what bits old. Nor did I have a full understanding of the Ghoulardi lineage, only a vague knowledge of the tradition. (Ah, the days before the internet presented every last drop of information at the touch of a button!) This was almost all totally new to me, but I loved it.

Within just a few weeks of my becoming an instant mega-fan, SOG announced on the air that he was going to be making a personal appearance at JC Comics & Cards on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls. JCs?! I knew right where that was! It was practically just down the street from me! Dare I go and meet my newfound hero? Of course! (By the way, JC Comics & Cards is still at the same location; you’d be well-advised to stop in and buy some stuff – there’s a lot of great things there!)

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That’s my brother Luke on the left. I’m the one on the right. A rare shot of me not being a total badass? I think I’ve aged for the better.

Looking back, his personal appearance at JC Comics & Cards was probably my first real celebrity meeting. Okay, my school had a Cleveland Indian (don’t remember his name) appear and sign autographs once, and I had gotten baseballs autographed outside of (then) Jacob’s Field before, but as far as being a fan and specifically seeking out a meet-and-greet, SOG was the pretty much the first.

There was only one hindrance: I was a fairly shy 11 year old. It’s something I’ve long since grown out of, and nowadays I have no qualms with walking right up to a celebrity and bugging meeting them. But back then? It was totally uncharted territory for me. I didn’t quite know what to expect.

So, the big day arrived. My brother, mom and I waltzed into JCs, and there he was: Son of Ghoul, in person! I was excited and insanely nervous at the same time. I needn’t have worried though; as has been proven time and time again over the years, SOG is absolutely fantastic with his fans. He was personable, he was funny, he answered all questions posed to him, he took pictures, he signed autographs. Even if I did lock-up once after asking him a question (shy and all, remember), it was a great experience.

In fact, here’s something about the visit that I’ll never forget: after we had met him, got our pictures and so on, I was browsing the comics, and I found that 1988 reprint issue of Action Comics #1, for $3. Without prompting, SOG came up and actually looked at it with me, marveling at the price and the 1938 date in the corner. I thought (and think) that was just the coolest. When a personality goes that extra mile to interact with a fan, it shows how genuine they are. In the years since, talking with SOG or watching him talk with other fans, I know my impression of him back in ’97 at JCs was spot-on.

It really is hard to put in words the influence SOG had on me growing up. His show helped shape how I look at movies, at comedy, at broadcasting, everything. And I’m not the only one; There were other kids my age that were just as enthralled with it as I was.

In fact, this blog has introduced me to one: Brett Van Wagner. He discovered this site due to the SOG content, he messaged me, and we’ve been chatting ever since. Even though he lives out-of-state and we’ve never met in person, I’m proud to call him friend. We’ve even had shockingly similar experiences with The Son of Ghoul Show, and we’ve both been fans for nearly the same amount of time. I’m going to turn things over to him for a moment here; I’ve known for awhile now how important his recollections of “SOG history” are, and when I came up with the idea for this post, he was the first one I asked to contribute. Here he is now in his own words…

Brett:

Where to start? First off, a huge thank you to the Northeast Ohio Video Hunter for letting me be a part of an article about such a historic moment in Northeast Ohio television! Although we have never met, I have enjoyed emailing the author of this blog and sharing memories and stories of Son of Ghoul for probably close to a year now. Our SOG stories are actually quite similar, and it makes me wonder how many other kids our age were watching the show at that time. While I live in Florida now, I make it home to NE Ohio from time to time and perhaps one day we will meet up at a convention or SOG appearance. But, thank you for allowing me to be a part of this!

I was first introduced to the Son of Ghoul Show sometime in 1997. My dad would occasionally have the show on, although it seems like my mom would always make him turn it off. My dad grew up watching both Ghoulardi and The Ghoul, and would talk about watching those shows when he was young. After months of catching a few minutes here or there, I remember the first episode I ever watched from start to finish. It was Friday, August 29, 1997 and it was the first week of 6th grade for me. After a week of realizing that middle school was now my life, I realized I needed something to take the edge off. The movie that night was Godzilla vs. Megalon and I only recently realized it was actually a rerun of the very first show to ever air on the CAT. Going back and watching that episode again, it makes quite a bit of sense, as SOG refers to the fact that we are now seeing him in prime time and actually in Cleveland quite a bit. A great episode to officially start watching. The episode also featured what would quickly become, and still is, my favorite SOG sketch, Mr. Banjo. I’m not quite sure what it was about that green-screened dog, but no matter how many times I hear the opening rifts of that song and hear SOG start to talk in that ridiculous accent, I truly laugh out loud every time.

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This is the Mr. Banjo character Brett is referring to. Coincidentally (as you’re about to read), this is from a promo for The Brain That Wouldn’t Die!

In all of the years, my favorite SOG movie is The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. Fittingly, my very first fan letter was read during a show that featured this movie on October 10, 1997. Honorable mentions for other movies that I have a soft spot for go to favorites such as The Giant Gila Monster, Alice Sweet Alice (the only SOG movie that actually scared me as a kid – love it now though) Phantom from Space, Plan Nine from Outer Space, Killers from Space, (I’m noticing a space theme here) White Zombie, and the lost but still survives on VHS collections somewhere, Lethal Justice.

Despite the dungeon and skulls the faux scary vibe of the show, what I took away from the show more than anything was a love of comedy. From all of the drops in the movies (yeah, I know Bill Cosby has kind of fallen out of grace in society in the last year, and rightfully so.. but those old comedy albums of his are pure gold and the way SOG would incorporate drop pieces from those albums into the movies and show were fantastic) to the incredibly dry and witty sense of humor SOG would posses during mail breaks and show segments, the show for me was comedy first and foremost. SOG never fails to make me laugh with one of his one liners or observations during a skit or mail break. In addition to helping me with my love and appreciation for comedy, SOG always reinforced my love of The Beatles. While most kids grew up listening to their sing-a-long tapes, I remember listening to our old Beatles LP’s as young as 3 or 4, and my love for the band is still just as strong all these years later. Knowing SOG shared that love and appreciation for the band and incorporated them so heavily on his show was the icing on the cake.

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Another exclusive shot of SOG at that fateful JC Comics & Cards appearance!

Just like the Northeast Ohio Video Hunter, the first time I ventured out to meet SOG at a personal appearance was in December 1997 at JC Comics and Cards in Cuyahoga Falls. Heck, maybe I have met him after all. What I do remember is how friendly and kind SOG has always been to his fans. He remembered me from letters I had written, talked to my dad and I, and was just such a nice guy. I would again go to many personal appearances, including the 1999 FrightVision where I would spent lots of time talking to my horror host idol and also had the chance to meet, according to the headshot, the one…the only…Fidge! Fidge was also the nicest guy in the world, and the years he and SOG spent together are the best years of the show for me. The last time I saw SOG (and Fidge) in person was in October 2002 when they had the stage show during Fright Fest at what was then Six Flags Worlds of Adventure amusement park. (Sidenote, I am also a HUGE amusement park and roller coaster buff. Geauga Lake Amusement Park, which was a Northeast Ohio institution that spent a few years as a Six Flags park before becoming Geauga Lake again under the same owners of Cedar Point, Cedar Fair, is a place that I miss more than anything and am super sad about losing) Back on track, even though I haven’t seen SOG in person since 2002, I have stayed in touch with him via e-mail and he is nothing but kind and helpful to his fans. Questions I have had regarding episodes, etc, always are answered and he is just the nicest guy in the world, despite what he may want us to think from his on air persona.

It was so sad to hear of the passing of Fidge, especially because of the circumstances, in 2003, and SOG handled it with such class and respect in the tribute episode. Between that at the recent Colonel Klink tribute episodes, SOG has proven that even in the worst situations, he is the ultimate professional and is able to bring the audience together to celebrate the lives of two great men who were so influential on the show.

As the years went on, I went off to college and then moved to Florida eight years ago. I’ve experienced several jobs, a few serious girlfriends, and the usual ups and downs of life. Still, I always caught SOG any time I was home in Ohio on a Saturday night. In the more recent years, I have purchased over 20 episodes of the show from the SOG website and as time continues to go on, I’m sure I will purchase 20 more. Any time I am feeling a bit homesick, or just at the end of a long week, the excitement and comfort of popping in a Son of Ghoul DVD is just as strong as when I first discovered the show nearly 19 years ago. There have been countless horror hosts that have come and gone, but for one host to be on for 30 consecutive years is truly an amazing feat, especially in today’s constantly changing broadcast world. Hats off to the Son of Ghoul. I can only hope he appreciates not only the accomplishment of 30 years on the air, but how influential he was for kids like me who didn’t really have a place to fit in. Thanks for everything, SOG. Here’s to a happy 30th anniversary, and hope for many, many more.

Brett Van Wagner

It really is wild how close our experiences with the show are. I think we would have become fast friends back in the day, and I’m certainly happy to know him now. His contribution is invaluable to this article and I can’t thank him enough for providing it. You is good people, Brett!

Brett also touched on a great point: it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the show. The fact that it has continued to survive though every seemingly-insurmountable obstacle shows not only how durable the show is, but how good SOG is at what he does.

The Son of Ghoul Show has survived a nasty lawsuit in the late-1980s, time changes, station changes, the switch to digital TV in ’09, the eroding of local TV in general and the presence of horror hosts in particular, even actual deaths…

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The passing of Ron “Fidge” Huffman in 2003 was an absolute shocker. Fidge was SOG’s sidekick, and in the late-90s/early-2000s, he was ever present. He took a lot of abuse on the show, but I think he knew it was all in fun; his presence gave the program something of a “warped” Big Chuck & Lil’ John quality.

I had the fortune to meet Fidge at FrightVision ’99, where that autographed picture above comes from. He couldn’t have been any nicer; it truly seemed like he got a kick out of the whole thing, and it showed when meeting his fans. I’m truly sorry that he passed; I’m glad I got to meet him when I did.

Something else Brett mentioned was the more-recent death of Jim “The Colonel” Klink. Klink went way back with our local horror hosts, sending tons of his artwork to Superhost and later SOG. Not only that, but at least as far as SOG went, he’d send in packages of random items, always decorated with a variety of stickers on the outside (as SOG said once, he couldn’t believe the post office accepted them!). Needless to say, SOG ragged on Klink quite a bit too, but again, it was all in fun.

I never met Klink, though I did see him walking around at Ghoulardifest once or twice. I wish I would have went up and spoken to him now. Still, he did leave this nice comment on my interview with SOG page, and it’s worth sharing here:

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The outpouring of grief online for Klink was quite large, and reading that comment, it’s easy to see why. He was a genuinely nice, enthusiastic fan, as his note above makes abundantly clear.

As Brett mentioned, SOG’s tribute shows to both Fidge and Klink are fantastic. Genuine, honest, funny, they were perfect in honoring both guys.

Their passing was tragic, and the unfortunate fact of the matter is when a show reaches such longevity, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll run into something like that. It comes with the territory of being on for so many years, I suppose.

Indeed, when something like that happens, it only serves to remind you of how far back this all goes, and how quickly it can all go away. By this point, SOG has become a veritable staple of Northeast Ohio television. It’s simply impossible to imagine a time when he’s not on the air in some fashion. But obviously, all good things come to an end, which makes treasuring them while they’re here all the more important. I’ve made that mistake with some other shows, but luckily, I won’t make it here. I’m grateful for each week SOG is on the air.

So, that’s my history with SOG, but it’s not a finished history by any means; it continues to this very day. His current shows, of course I’m there, and just like when I was 11, I still get a sense of anticipation in hearing what movie will be shown on a given night, or seeing if some letter or package I sent in is going to be presented. Stuff like that I don’t think will ever change.

And of course, given the theme of this blog, I place a premium on anything SOG-related I can dig up. Remember just a few weeks ago when he appeared during an old A-Team via WOAC broadcast we were looking at? Stuff like that makes this whole “job” (HA!) worth it. Like I said, it’s a continuing history, one I’m always trying to build upon.


So, my thoughts, and Brett’s up above obviously, on this big 30th anniversary are now known. But, I also reached out online for some other contributions to this big ol’ tribute, to help show what an impact SOG has had on other viewers and collaborators. Some wonderful additions were gathered, which I’d like to share now.

From famous fellow horror host “Wolfman Mac” Kelly (who for years shared Saturday nights with SOG on our local RTV affiliate; SOG 7 PM-9PM, Mac 10 PM-12 AM):

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Son of Ghoul with Wolfman Mac, as they appeared together during an episode of Wolfman Mac’s Chiller Drive-In.

Hey Son Of Ghoul, happy 30th anniversary to you my fellow horror host! You have such an awesome talent and your fans are truly fortunate to have YOU keeping the genre alive. Er…undead…

I had the honor of meeting you a few years ago at Wasteland. You’re not only a great horror host, you’re also a really good guy. All the best to you. Stay Creepy!! – Wolfman Mac

Mac, like SOG, is one of the coolest, nicest guys you could ever hope to talk to, which is not something that can be said for every television personality.

From longtime SOG-friend and genuine good guy Jungle Bob Tuma (check out his official website!) comes this hilarious recollection:

Jungle Bob, longtime buddy of Son of Ghoul and all-around good egg. Photo used with permission.

Jungle Bob, longtime buddy of Son of Ghoul and all-around good egg. Photo used with permission.

I remember the time that the Son of Ghoul & I went out to eat after Cinema Wasteland at an all you can eat Chinese Restaurant (his favorite place to eat). He had been there the week before & ” spoke up” when somebody tried to leave without paying their bill. This made him a hero to the girls who worked there…while we were there, we noticed them smiling, they even brought over a plate of crab legs for him.

He went to go wash his hands & I took my pen & drew a heart & wrote “I love you” on his napkin & when he returned I told him that the Chinese waitress wrote it…I had no idea that SOG would call the waitress over & ask her name & flirt with her…I even tried to stop him but when she came over she let him know that it was not her who wrote that …she also told him that she actually saw me write it while he was away from the table…

He looked at me & said..”OMG Jung, what is wrong with you…I am so embarrassed!” I thought about it & said to myself…”See, we even have fun when we are not on TV…Whether we are on & off the air, Keven (SOG) & I always seem to have a good time & that’s why we have been friends for so long… Happy 30th buddy & looking forward to our next Chinese dinner, LOL.

Anyone that has seen Jung on SOG’s show or watched them interact together in-person knows they have an incredible rapport that is absolutely hilarious, as his story demonstrates!

JB is not only ridiculously friendly, but he knows pretty much everything about every animal ever. You’d be well-advised to book him for any event.

From my buddy Matt Brassfield over at Rotten Ink (he was also kind enough to contribute to this post here):

Son of Ghoul with Dayton's Baron Von Porkchop. Photo used with permission.

Son of Ghoul with Dayton’s Baron Von Porkchop. Photo used with permission.

Hometown Horror Hosts mean a lot to viewers, and Cleveland has had their share of iconic hosts from Ghoulardi to Superhost in the golden age of broadcast TV hosting to modern late night ghoulies like Janet Decay…but for over 30 years The Son Of Ghoul has entertained viewers with his silly antics and zany sidekicks like the Fidge (R.I.P.) and has truly became a staple for the Cleveland area.

I have had the honor to have met and chatted with Son Of Ghoul many times during his convention appearances and he has always taken the time to shoot the breeze and even was the first to introduce me to footage of Superhost as well as Woodrow The Woodsman! Son Of Ghoul is a Horror Host Hall Of Famer, a Musician, a Comedian and from Rotten Ink as well as from the cast of Baron Von Porkchop’s Terrifying Tales Of The Macabre, we want to wish Son Of Ghoul a Happy 30th Anniversary and wish him many more years of TV goodness.

Matt’s also the producer of Baron Von Porkchop’s Terrifying Tales of the Macabre; check it out!

My Facebook pal John Walch had this photo of SOG with his son Lil’ Kong to share, along with the following comment:

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Photo courtesy John Walch.

The highlight of April’s Cinema Wasteland show was when my son met Kevin. Such a great guy.

Yes he is!

From another Facebook pal, Danny Harasyn:

I live in Lake County and Time Warner won’t give me the station SOG is on …..so I had a friend I worked with who lived in the area Time Warner carried the show record it for me each week…

I know what he means; there was a time in the earlier-2000s in which we were using rabbit ears, and you could NOT pick up SOG’s show to save your life.

From Facebook’s Gary Smith:

Photo courtesy Gary Smith.

Photo courtesy Gary Smith.

Several years ago. it seemed like every week, I would see him at Jamie’s Flea Market in Amherst. On top of that, getting a chance to see and chat with him at Ghoulardifest and Monster Bash conventions the past few years. Looking forward to seeing him again at this year’s fests and congratulations on his 30 year milestone.

Thanks Gary!


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One final personal story before I close this tribute out. This one means as much to me as the nostalgia of discovering and watching SOG back in the late-90s does.

Back in November of 2011, I had a serious hand injury at where I then-worked. This was my first (and thus far only) real injury. Sure, I had sprained my ankle before, pinched a nerve in my neck, relatively little things like that, but this was a biggie. I eventually clocked three separate surgeries, a five-day hospital stay, several weeks of a home IV, and a whole lotta physical therapy. It was a mess.

I was blessed with some legitimately great doctors and nurses that helped me through the ordeal. I am thankful every day for that. Today, while there is some remaining evidence that a severe accident occurred, you probably wouldn’t notice unless I pointed it out to you. It could have been much, much worse, so yes, I’m most definitely grateful to those that made sure it wasn’t.

But anyway, back in December 2011, much of what I eventually had to go through was still ahead of me. All I knew was that I was injured, I was off work until after the new year, and I was severely bummed.

Meanwhile, prior to all that, after being a regular writer-in’r to the show in the late-90s, I had begun sending packages to SOG again in 2010 or so. Shortly before my injury, I had mocked up a SOG-album cover in a parody of Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run cover, titled Born To Be Awesome. (See above.)

So, Saturday, December 24, 2011, it was SOG’s annual Christmas showing, appropriately airing on Christmas Eve. At a time when I was in critical need of a morale boost, SOG presented the album cover on the air. Not only that, but he really seemed to get a kick out of it! And that was in addition to all the older holiday-themed bits and cartoons, which all made for a wonderfully entertaining episode.

Obviously, SOG didn’t know what I had been going through at the time, this was all business-as-usual for him, but this was absolutely the pick-me-up I needed at that moment. I’ll always be grateful for that.

I think that points to an often-unrecognized aspect of not only The Son of Ghoul Show but any program people may turn to during those times when they just need to escape: they become more than just a television series to us, something deeper, though perhaps indefinable. And when they reach a historic milestone, like SOG has today, you feel, in some small way, a part of it, even if it was just by tuning in for so many years. And by now, I think it’s safe to say I’ll hang in there with him till the very end.

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Your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter hangin’ with the man himself! Ghoulardifest 2013.

There’s no better way to finish this article than with some words from the man himself, Keven Scarpino, aka Son of Ghoul. I reached out to him for a closing comment, and in true SOG-fashion, he first gave me Yeah, I would give a comment if I thought anybody actually reads your posts. LOL” Of course he was kidding (?), and immediately followed that up with this statement, directed towards all his fans:

Thanks for hanging with me all these 30 years. The viewers are the reason I’m still here – plus nobody else is willing to work as cheap as I do. Stay Sick! SOG.

Kinda says it all, doesn’t it?

Happy 30th anniversary Son of Ghoul! Here’s to the next 30!

WJW TV-8 – Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s Pregame Show (September 20, 2003)

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Man, I used to tape a lot of stuff, so much so that it’s not uncommon for me to come across something I recorded myself back in the day and yet have NO recollection of ever doing so. (See: this post.) When it came to all of the crap things I taped, I like to think that I have a pretty good memory, but I’ve been genuinely surprised by what I recorded years ago enough times to realize that my mental synapses aren’t always untouchable when it comes to this sort of thing.

While this particular broadcast isn’t one I had completely and totally forgotten about capturing, I only retained the vaguest memories of taping it. For obvious reasons, I’m sure glad I did, though. Behold: from WJW 8, it’s Big Chuck & Lil John’s Saturday afternoon “Pregame Show,” from 2003. Has it really been 12 years since this first aired? I refuse to believe it’s been 12 years. I was 17 years old! A junior in high school!

Truth be told, I’m really not sure what drove me to record this. I was of course a full-fledged Big Chuck & Lil’ John fan by 2003, but, aside from a few scattered instances (such as the one seen in this post), I didn’t really tape their show(s) that often. Thanks to those aforementioned super-vague memories, I seem to recall there being something ostensibly special about this broadcast. Maybe I thought it would be a one-off kinda thing?

No matter, because I taped it, I saved it, and thus, here we are.

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Even though the branding is never used here, make no mistake, this is really an installment of Couch Potato Theater, Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s long-running Saturday afternoon showcase, which was always in addition to their regular late night program (they had moved to Saturday nights after MadTV by this point). The features shown during Couch Potato Theater varied from week-to-week; could be a movie, could be old comedy shorts, could be episodes of The Abbott And Costello Show. Or, as in this case, it could be just be skits.

As implied by the whole “Pregame” thing, this episode preceded baseball on WJW 8 that day (actually, it precedes a local special on football and an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer before the game, a difference of scheduling that is noted during the show). As such, it’s a half-hour show made up entirely of skits.

Actually, one thing I really like about this broadcast is just how much it reminds me of Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s current show: 30 minutes of skits with the occasional host segment. One major difference between now and then, besides the set and live audience of the old days I mean, is how ‘current’ they were back in the day; references and reminders of what was going on around Northeast Ohio, including where they would be appearing in person (indeed, as per an announcement from Chuck, they were appearing somewhere following this very episode), was a constant part of their hosting duties. Not so hard to understand, since they were (I’m guessing) in the studio quite a bit back then. It’s a much simpler affair nowadays, though anything that keeps Big Chuck & Lil’ John on the air is fine by me.

(Speaking of on the air: up until a few months ago, WJW was running Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s new show in a Saturday11:30 AM time slot, which reminded me even more of the old Couch Potato Theater days. They’ve since moved them to 11;30 PM, Sundays. I DVR the show no matter what, so the time change doesn’t impact me all that much, but I preferred Saturday mornings solely due to that nostalgia element it presented. There was just something about kicking off your Saturday with Chuck & John!)

Being only 30 minutes in length (or, if you want to be really anal, about 28 minutes; the next show didn’t start immediately after this one, dig?), I naturally don’t have a whole lot to work with here, even if I do find it incredibly cool and undeniably nostalgic. But, I’ll give it a shot.

First up, the skits themselves:

Muldoon’s Bar

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One of my all-time favorites, though I’m pretty sure it’s just a filmed version of an old joke. “Resident Irishman” Tom Bush plays Paddy, who every week or so enters Muldoon’s Bar for two shots of Irish whiskey: one for him, and one to drink for his brother back in Ireland (“To his health!”). One week, he stops at the bar, but only orders a single shot. The bartender is understandably concerned about Paddy’s brother back in Ireland, but when questioned, Paddy reveals the truth: his brother is fine, and in fact, the one shot he drinks is for him. So why not the second shot? Because Paddy gave up drinking for Lent! I love it!

 

The Amazing Stanley

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You can almost see where this one is going from the start. it’s the classic “sawing a woman in half” magic routine, which “The Amazing Stanley” performs to the satisfaction of the crowd. It’s only backstage that the “magic” of the illusion is seen: it’s been two little people curled up in the individual sections of the box! It’s a trip seeing John in high heels, and as per the host segment following the skit, the woman is played by John’s real-life sister.

 

Rockhead

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The Rockhead skits were never my favorites, though I think there were only a few of them. It’s a parody of Rocky, obviously. In this one, Rockhead is training for his big fight with “Alonzo,” while fake Adrian continuously nags him to give up boxing and instead take a steady job as a delivery boy for Rego’s Supermarket. Rockhead always gives the idea the brush off, until he disturbs Alonzo during his training; Alonzo angrily crashing through the wall is enough for Rockhead to immediately change his plans for the future. Fun fact: Chuck’s Rockhead wears a Ghoul sweatshirt throughout the entire skit!

 

Art Modell’s Back!

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Even though he passed away three years ago, Art Modell still isn’t the most popular guy in Northeast Ohio. But back in 2003, the hate for him was pretty venomous. He took away our Browns, man! This sketch plays into that sentiment. In it, Modell is seen talking on the phone and snickering; turns out Cleveland wants him back! We just couldn’t live without him! The pay-off to the skit is that he is indeed brought back to Cleveland…selling hot dogs! And to further insult him, he’s seen calling after people asking if the men’s toilets are backed up while holding up a plunger!

Obviously, there’s no way the real Art Modell was going to come back to Cleveland just to film a skit ragging on him. Instead, “Art” is either seen from behind or, using the same technology as Clutch Cargo and Conan O’Brien, with a pair of live-action, talking lips superimposed over a still image of his head.

It’s a very, very Cleveland sketch, needless to say.

 

$10 Magic Wands

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A pretty well-known skit. A sidewalk salesman tries to sucker John’s character into buying a magic wand for the low, low price of $10. The prospective customer is apprehensive until he sees the magic wand instantaneously produce a beautiful girl right before his very eyes! He quickly buys a wand, and the salesman sneaks off. The Purchaser’s attempt at using the wand produces a woman alright, albeit one of a rather more robust variety, who then proceeds chase him around as the skit ends.

 

Madame Mary

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Another skit I’m pretty sure is just a filmed version of an old joke. In fact, I know it is; variations of the gag are really pretty common. In this version, an old man goes to visit fortune teller “Madame Mary,” and asks her if there is pro football in Heaven. The good news? Yes, there is indeed pro football in heaven. The bad news? He has box seats for the next game!

 

Ben Crazy

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A classic. The Ben Crazy skits are always welcome, and this is a particularly good entry. The scene opens on a group of doctors drawing lots. One Dr. White wins, much to the chagrin of everyone else. He then enters a hospital room and informs a “Ms. Goodbody” that it’s time for her morning shot. Obviously, this is not a shot in the arm! So that’s why they were drawing lots!

 

The Certain Ethnic Artist

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Another really good one. Chuck’s classic Stash character is the “certain ethnic artist.” He’s seen painting a portrait of John, the results of which, well, you can see above.

Okay, so that does it for the skits themselves, but what about the host segments? I’m so used to Chuck & John only appearing intermittently during the new show that I had forgotten just how many there were back then; they follow every single skit! For the most part, I like the batch of skits seen in this episode, but as far as I’m concerned, the real heart lies in the host segments. Just seeing Chuck & John on that classic set takes me back like you wouldn’t believe.

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Did you notice the pizza box on the table in the host segment screencap way at the start of this post? That was your first clue that quite a bit of the host segments are dedicated to pitching Pizza Pan pizza (alliteration). Pizza Pan was a big sponsor of Big Chuck & Lil’ John at the time. The fellas even did a number of commercials for the company (I’ve got a few). Chuck & John make a point of showing off the pizza box and mentioning the company numerous times during the episode. This is borderline The Pizza Pan Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show!

The gimmick of Pizza Pan was this: order a pizza and have it delivered, you got an extra pizza free. Even better, order a pizza and pick it up yourself, you got two free pizzas! Obviously, a deal like that is going to attract some attention, and for a time, Pizza Pan was pretty ubiquitous in Northeast Ohio. I certainly partook of the ‘Pan more than once. Why? Chuck & John told me to. (Also, free pizza is always nice.)

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At one point during the show, the owner of Pizza Pan himself joins Chuck & John onstage to further promote the company. Not only is a special deal mentioned (free ribs when a pizza is ordered – at the Mentor location only), but also the then-recent expansion of the company to more areas. I wasn’t kidding, there was a time in the early-to-mid-2000s when Pizza Pan was a pretty big local chain.

And then, it just sort of seemed to fade away. I seem to recall, though don’t quote me on this because my memory isn’t that clear on the matter, that after awhile the free pizza deal was done away with. If that is indeed what happened, I guess I can understand it; the whole free pizza thing was what the company built its success on!

There are a few locations still around though. As to whether the free pizza deal was brought back or not, I couldn’t say (the official website seems to only give me the current locations and the ability to order online). Check the official website out to see if there’s one near you.

See, now I’m plugging Pizza Pan! Why? Chuck & John, man, Chuck & John.

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Finally, the pregame show ends with a mention of their feature for their normal, late night program: Rocky II! They both seem quite excited by this, not only because they had run the original Rocky the week before, but also because this is apparently the third good movie they’ve had in a row, though what entailed the third movie in that line-up isn’t stated.

Now is as good a time as any to mention that I love the old movie bumpers Big Chuck & Lil’ John used for their films. The Rocky II one above is a good example. There’s something just so right about them, though my nostalgia obviously plays a part in that feeling.

(By the way: I didn’t notate on the tape when this originally aired, but Bob “Hoolihan” Wells’ 70th birthday is mentioned as coming up on September 27th, and this episode followed my recording of Conan O’Brien’s 10th anniversary show and preceded Saturday Night Live‘s 29th season premiere. Those aired September 14th and October 4th, respectively, and with the help of this calendar, it pretty much has to be September 20, 2003. I can’t see a way that it’s not!)

Anyway, during these broadcast recaps, I usually look at some of the interesting (to me) commercials found during the respective airing. Being only half an hour, again, I’ve only got so much to work with, and frankly, there wasn’t a whole lot that stood out to me. BUT, there were two I couldn’t end the article without taking a quick look at:

 

Buddy’s Carpet Ad

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Buddy’s Carpet! At one time, it was pretty difficult to watch local TV in Northeast Ohio without seeing at least one Buddy’s Carpet ad. Initially, Buddy himself pitched the company in these commercials, though later on a woman (his daughter, I guess?) took over those duties. As evidenced above, this is one of those later commercials. No matter, because it still gives me a far bigger nostalgic charge than any carpet commercial has a right to.

Buddy’s Carpet is still around, though like Pizza Pan, it seems the locations are more limited now. Check them out here.

 

Regency Windows Ad

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I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that up until fairly recently, I didn’t realize I hadn’t seen a Regency Windows ad on TV in a long, long time. Just like Buddy’s Carpet, their commercials were nearly omnipresent on Northeast Ohio TV. Most of them featured owner and spokesman Mikey (that’s him above) screaming “I’m gonna save you a lotttttttta money!” This ad is (probably) one of the few where he doesn’t give his famous line, but he’s still there, and he’s still excitable, so it’s not a total loss.

Turns out Regency Windows closed some years ago, though what remained of the company was purchased by Window Nation. That official website is here.


 

For what is only a 30 minute recording, this one actually packs quite a nostalgic wallop for me. Besides the whole Big Chuck & Lil’ John Saturday afternoon thing (which is more than enough by itself), there’s also Pizza Pan, Buddy’s Carpet, Regency Windows (and more specifically, Regency’s Mikey), and of course, the skits.

Also, It’s amazing to realize that in 2003, in four years Chuck would retire and they’d be off the air entirely, but in less than 10 years, they’d be back hosting a show that is very reminiscent of this (and other, I’m sure) pregame episodes, a show which continues to this day. If there’s one thing I love about Northeast Ohio, it’s that more than once, our movie hosts have not gone quietly into the figurative night. One way or another, they find their way back!

WBNX TV-55 – The Ghoul’s Airing Of 1982’s Poltergeist (2001)

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You can thank my brother for this post.

Y’see, I’ve got a lot of The Ghoul’s later episodes on WBNX TV-55, which I recorded myself back in the day. Recently, my brother and I were discussing movies, and he started talking about how much he enjoyed the 1982 Steven Spielberg horror opus Poltergeist. Using my incredible powers of memory, I recalled that the only version of the film I’ve ever had was the one aired on The Ghoul so many years prior. Much to my surprise, he was quite stoked by this piece of information, and immediately requested that I dig the tape out and convert the episode to DVD for our viewing enjoyment.

Poltergeist, despite the accolades it has garnered over the years, really isn’t my kind of horror film. Not that I have anything against it, it’s just that when it comes to the genre, I really like horror movies of a more vintage variety, particularly the whackadoodle older stuff. Nevertheless, anytime I have an excuse to dig out an old Ghoul episode (beyond the occasional personal whim, I mean) is just fine by me, so if I had to watch Poltergeist, it might as well be along with Ron Sweed’s legendary late night horror host.

Unfortunately, this proved to be a bit easier said than done. Once the process of actually locating the tape (not always an easy task, though relatively pain-free in this instance) was completed, I discovered that, much to my chagrin, I had recorded the episode on a pretty cheap brand of tape, one that my normative playing/converting/whatever VCR wasn’t exactly fond of. When the tracking issues weren’t punching me in the face, the VCR enjoyed a steady diet freezing up and un-spooling the tape inside the deck on me. This isn’t normative behavior for the machine, though I have, rarely, encountered this malady before with other tapes; usually, switching the reels into a new tape shell cures the problem. Not in this case, because I had the same result. Whatever the problem is/was, it was with the actual tape.

Anyway, when all was said and done, an older Sony VCR played the thing back decently enough for me to get a conversion out of it. But by the time this was all over, I was irritated enough to decide that I was getting a post out of the whole thing no matter how much or how little I had to work with. I have a very unnatural sense of personal ethics, so if this article dissolves into incoherent babbling, that’s why. My pride.

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30 years! Yep, The Ghoul began on Cleveland’s WKBF TV-61 waaaaaay back in 1971. He wasn’t on a continuous 30 years all in a row, nor were the years he was on the air always spent in Cleveland, but nevertheless, 2001 was the big 3-0, so it’s cool to see an episode partaking in that. The screencap above may give the impression that this was specifically a special 30th anniversary episode. It wasn’t. Rather, it was just a quick blurb from the then-current opening credits. I’m not sure if there even was a specific 30th anniversary episode.

I tend to think of this as the “In Mono Where Available” era of The Ghoul, thanks to what you saw as the header of this post; that was the first image of the opening theme, accompanied by the sound effect of sirens blaring. It’s a pretty memorable start, though it belies the sad state of the actual show at the time: this wasn’t just the “In Mono Where Available” era of The Ghoul, this was the Sunday night-era of The Ghoul.

I went into further detail about this here, but a streamlined account of what happened is this: The Ghoul started on WBNX TV-55 in the summer of 1998 in a Friday 11:30 PM time slot, running numerous cheesy (i.e., bad in a good way) horror and sci-fi flicks with the expected humorous audio and video drop-ins, all interspersed with the prerequisite skits and host segments. It was a lot of fun, and I never missed it.

The Ghoul stayed that way until the fall of 2000, when the station moved him to Sunday nights, first at 12 AM and then later at 1 AM (yes, yes, technically that’s Monday morning, I know). For obvious reasons, this was a less desirable time slot, and even worse, The Ghoul’s segments were cut back AND the film selections were changed to a more general range of movies, which meant the audio/video drop-ins were more-or-less eliminated completely, except for select ‘old style’ flicks that were pretty few and far between. It basically destroyed everything that had been building since 1998 in one fell swoop, and naturally The Ghoul was vocal about his displeasure on the air.

The show was later moved to a late, late Friday night/early Saturday time slot sometime in 2002, but the other problems weren’t really fixed, and the show kind of just faded off-the-air that way around 2003/2004.

This 2001 airing of Poltergeist was right smack dab in that “new era” of The Ghoul. In other words, a relatively uncut movie, no drop-ins, etc. It’s a good flick but, for reasons I’ll get to in a bit, a rather disappointing show overall. And the unfortunate fact of the matter is that while the broadcast may not be representative of every episode at the time, it is emblematic of the problems that, as far as I’m concerned, helped eventually destroy the program.

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(You’ve probably noticed by this point the antenna reception issues in these screencaps. That’s because we were using gol’ derned rabbit ears at the time. And the sad fact of the matter is there are infinitely worse examples of this occurrence found on several of my other recordings!)

Because of my inherent problems with the Sunday night time slot (namely, I had school the next day and couldn’t stay up to watch without some serious draggin’ come Monday morning), I naturally wound up taping these episodes. And taping, and taping, and taping. The problem was, it became increasingly hard to find the time to sit down and actually watch them. Eventually, it got to the point where I had boxes of tapes with The Ghoul on them, most of them either unmarked or with a vague “Ghoul” scrawled on the sleeve. It’s kind of the same sort of thing with the DVR nowadays; I’ll have stuff I fully intend to get on tape sit there for months at a time, simply because I can’t find a moment to sit down and watch them. And when I do have time, I’m usually going through thousand-year-old videotapes or writing for my stupid dumb blog.

Around 2011, I made a concerted effort to dig out all of these Ghoul tapes and duly notate them. As far as I can remember, that’s when I first actually discovered he ran Poltergeist, though my mind is playing games with me; maybe this was one of the few I labeled correctly back then. Not that this matters to anyone but me, of course.

Anyway, Poltergeist is one of the better features run during those later years on 55. Not only because it’s such an acclaimed horror film, but also because it actually fits within the genre so widely (and understandably) associated with The Ghoul. Horror and sci-fi, it’s what horror hosts are made of, man! Action movies, comedies, dramas, even animated films were ran during the Sunday-era, and given the loose horror motif of the rest of the show and the general absence of the audio/video drop-ins, well, it made for the occasional awkward broadcast. Trading Places and Cocktail hosted by The Ghoul, they happened and they were strange (and not in a good way).

Luckily, Poltergeist is so good that the lack of drop-ins doesn’t really hurt the movie; people probably would have been angry had they been used, I imagine.

That’s the title screen up above, by the way.

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I think most everyone has seen Poltergeist by this point. It’s one of those horror movies that have wound up pretty much beyond reproach. The whole “They’re heeeere!” quote is even known by people that haven’t seen the film (all 8 of ’em). Generally considered a legitimate classic, it really is one of the more famous films run during that later era of The Ghoul on WBNX. Deliverance is another, though I’d easily take Poltergeist over that one.

I’m tempted to describe Poltergeist as “Coach fights ghosts!” even though that really, really does the movie a disservice (and isn’t all that accurate, either). Starring Craig T. “Hayden Fox” Nelson and JoBeth “Frasier’s girlfriend that one time” Williams (I, of course, am being a cad; both Nelson and Williams are accomplished actors with a ton of great stuff to their credit), Poltergeist, for those that don’t know (again, all 8 of ’em), details a California family beset by problems of a supernatural nature. The end!

Actually, that description also does the movie a disservice. Since the danger of spoilers is even more of an issue here than it usually is with these posts (since, unlike what I usually talk about, people will actually want to watch this one!), let me see how much I can and can’t get away with. Yes, it’s a household under attack by the titular character(s), but it’s quite a bit more than that. In this unfortunate house, weird spooky occurrences start out small, but soon turn deadly dangerous, including a killer tree and the youngest daughter being straight-up kidnapped by the ghostly forces. Building a house over a cemetery usually yields these results, and that’s exactly the reason this all happens here. This is a poor synopsis of the movie, isn’t it? Stop relying on me and just go watch it, already!

Being a PG-rated film, no one should go in expecting a gore-fest, which is fine by me since I don’t go for those kinda flicks anyway. And with this being a big budget Steven Spielberg film (directed by Tobe Hooper, no less), it stands to reason that this is going to be a cut-above the rest, and well, it is. And even with the editing for television (as was especially par for the course with films shown by The Ghoul), it’s an entertaining watch. I dig it!

Even though, as previously stated, this isn’t the kind of horror movie I usually watch, I actually wound up liking what I saw. I can’t promise that I’d ever watch Poltergeist again or in any other format, but at least I now ‘get’ why so many people are so wild about it.

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Unfortunately, for as good as the movie is, The Ghoul segments are the area that turns the overall episode into a disappointment. Simply put, they’re almost non-existent. Granted, the switch from Fridays to Sundays brought a lessening of Ghoul bits, but rarely were they this sparse. Maybe it was done to keep as much of Poltergeist intact as possible, but the bottom line is this barely qualifies as an episode of The Ghoul. Honestly, if it weren’t for the intro, no one would really know what was going on. Usually, for a ‘normal’ episode, I’d pick-and-choose which segments I wanted to spotlight, but in this case, there are so few and the ones that are here are pretty short, I might as well take a quick look at each of them.

There is no introductory segment or skit following the opening theme; the show goes directly into the movie. Indeed, at no point does The Ghoul ever mention the movie, have a mail-reading segment, or even talk to the viewer one-on one as he usually did. Rather, the first we actually see of him in action is during the first commercial break: As per the screencaps above, he’s visiting Fresh Hair at Great Lakes Mall. It’s a short bit, in which he enters the establishment, and smells everyone’s hair to make sure it is indeed “fresh.” Simple, but kinda funny.

Looks like Fresh Hair is still up and running at Great Lakes Mall, too! Thanks, Ghoul…?

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You best believe there was at least one Ghoul-style blow-up in the episode; there almost has to be! It’s practically a prerequisite of the show! In this “installment” (ha!), a little car of some sort is blowed up. The firecracker used is kinda wimpy, and thus the explosion is relatively subdued (though any destruction is always fun, of course). Also, The Ghoul seems to have a hard time finding a working lighter prior to said explosion, which points to the general off-the-cuff, improvised nature of the show (which was always a lot of fun).

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A return to Fresh Hair. In this one, The Ghoul sits down for a trim, which is amusing because, obviously, hey, fright wig, fake beard and mustache. Still, there’s not a whole lot to the bit beyond that, which makes it the weakest of the four (!!!) Ghoul segments in this episode.

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The last bit of the night. The Ghoul is at a carnival/fair/something somewhere, and instead of throwing darts at the normal targets that would usually garner a cheap prize, he is instead wingin’ ’em at Froggy! After a miss or two, he finally hits a bullseye…in Froggy’s “lower extremities!” Funniest moment in the episode!

And…that’s it. Those are the only Ghoul bits of the night.

Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if all of these bits were taken from older shows, and made up to look like a “new” episode, as that had been done in the past (The Curse, during the Friday night run, is the one I remember most; I was taping that night, but was so disappointed with the result that I wound up taping over it). Even so, the segments presented here are short, random, and not at all representative of the show as it could be (to be fair, even during the Sunday years there were episodes that were more ‘complete’ with mail segments and whatnot, so I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s all Poltergeist‘s fault).

Nevertheless, it’s not an ideal way to celebrate a 30th anniversary year, is it?

It’s at this point that I usually look at the old commercials aired during a respective broadcast. While the original ads were included on this recording (I never cut them during The Ghoul, or for that matter, 99.9% of my other recordings either), truth be told, there just weren’t any good ones. There’s some okay ads that are a neat blast from the past during the actual viewing, but nothing interesting enough for the purposes of this post. So, the heck with it, I’m skippin’ that feature this time around. It would have just been filler in this case, anyway. Even more so than usual, I mean.

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This is the final image of the episode, show immediately after Poltergeist‘s end credits. No Ghoul outro, nothing. It’s just over. The ending “Runaway Production” card was always a melancholy moment anyway, since you knew The Ghoul was all done for the week, but in this case, it leaves an especially bitter taste in your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter’s mouth. Figuratively, I mean; it’d be kinda weird if it were in a literal sense.

And yet, a part of me is still glad I have this recording. It’s not representative of The Ghoul at his best on WBNX, but still, if I have to watch a movie, I’d rather it be with one of our local late night legends than not. Even in this diminished a form, I still get the old thrill of staying up late and watching a horror/sci-fi flick. The Ghoul may have been buried on Sunday nights and cut waaaay back in every way possible, but yet, some of that old magic still remained. That’s what’s so amazing about our Northeast Ohio horror hosts; you just can’t keep ’em down! It’s a thing of beauty!

Oh, and thanks, Northeast Ohio Video Hunter Brother, for making me convert this to DVD! You gave me the post for this week, and that’s also a thing of beauty!

CBS Late Show With David Letterman – Dave Reads MY Letter On The Air! (2002)

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I’m not sure how much you can really see it here on this blog, but David Letterman has been a huge, huge influence on me. From my sense of humor to just how I look at comedy in general, Dave’s contribution to me (that sounds weirder than I meant it to) has been nearly incalculable; only Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the various local horror hosted movie shows from my neck of the woods can claim a larger influence on your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter. I’m a pretty big Letterman fan is what I’m saying.

Which is why today is such a bummer for me. For those that haven’t heard (and really, if this is news you’re just now getting from me, well, there’s a serious disconnect somewhere there), tonight Letterman will air the final episode of his Late Show on CBS. All good things must come to an end and so on, I know. Doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it.

I guess I can understand it, though. The late night TV climate has changed wildly over the last several years, and Dave has increasingly looked like the odd-man-out. Not to mention, and I say this as a longtime fan, he’s more-or-less been on autopilot the last several years. Not that the show has been bad,  it hasn’t, but from my perspective, it (or rather Dave himself), has been operating at a level markedly below previous years.

At any rate, Dave has always been my favorite, always will be my favorite, and thus I’d be remiss if I didn’t do some kind of post in regards to him on my silly blog. That’s just what I’m doing now, with what was (and is) undoubtedly the most exciting moment for me in my time as a Letterman fan.

‘Course, I’m particularly biased towards this particular moment, because this was the man himself, Mr. David Letterman, reading my letter on national television! As you can see above, that’s him, gearing up to read a letter that, to him, was almost certainly just business as usual, but to me is one of my most legendary “achievements” (such as they are).

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The practice became infrequent in later years (eventually they stopped doing it altogether), but at the time, Friday night was the dedicated viewer mail night on the show. Through an online submission page, you could send an email to the show in hopes of future usage during the “CBS Mailbag” portion of the program. Of course, the trick was to send something they could get a bit out of, because this was no serious question-and-answer deal.

I wound up bombarding them with questions. Most of them were, I thought, good fodder for the segment, though a few were, if I recall correctly, of a more “real question” nature (I don’t know what I was thinking). You have to imagine more than a couple people were writing to the show, and undoubtedly some were doing exactly what I did. With only fours letters read per segment, obviously chances of yours making it on the show were fairly slim. BUT, somehow, someway, through brute strength and sheer endurance (aka: got lucky), one of mine made it on the air.

At the time, I was heavily into the TV ratings/renewals/cancellations game; these were stats I followed as closely as some did their favorite sports teams. In more recent years I’ve only really paid attention to my favorite ‘new’ shows (there’s not many) in these regards, but at the time, this was an area of high interest to me. So, it being early in that fall television season, my question naturally was “What show do you think will be cancelled first this TV season?” Maybe not the most probing question ever posed to Dave, but hey, it got my mail on the air, so in yo’ face.

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That’s me! Thanks for zooming in for that close up of my letter, Late Show!

Dave’s reading of this wasn’t a complete surprise, which is a good thing, because otherwise I probably wouldn’t have been taping the show that night. I was able to know about the letter-reading beforehand thanks to the the Late Show‘s online Wahoo Gazette, which is still running (for now, anyway). Every Friday, they posted the mail questions that would be read that night, along with the names of the people that sent them. I can not overstate how much I flipped when I saw that one of my submissions had been selected to be on the show that week. In short order, a new blank VHS was obtained and earmarked for an SP mode recording; this was historic stuff, man! Needless to say, I still have it (duh!).

Also, I know I had at least one print-out of the Wahoo Gazette page featuring the revelation my question would be read on the air that night, but for the life of me I can’t find it. And to make matters worse, for whatever reason I didn’t notate the full date of the broadcast on the label of my VHS recording; this was definitely fall 2002, but I can’t remember the exact date otherwise. The fact that I can’t find my print-out irritates me mightily, but then, I really should have this date burnt into my memory. Still, Dave read my letter, so in yo’ face, I guess.

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Dave’s immediate response? “You’re lookin’ at it, Larry!” That wacky guy! I need to make that line a ringtone of some sort. David Letterman: said my name not once, but twice. This, of course, was cool winnins before the term “cool winnins” had been coined by yours truly. Cool winnins!

Just like most of his answers during the mail segment, Dave pretty much ignored the actual question in favor of setting up the respective gag. In this case, he mentions that everyone is excited about the then-new CSI spin-off CSI: Miami, and CBS has another such spin-off in the works.

Behold:

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60 Minutes: Miami. I love it. As per Dave, whenever there’s a hit show, the network makes another one just like it, but set in a different location, which, well, you can’t argue with him there. I mean, this aired nearly 13 years ago (as of this post) and networks still do this sort of thing, though it doesn’t seem like it’s as ubiquitous as it was back then.

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What could a 60 Minutes: Miami possibly entail? Dave wasn’t lying about the spin-offs being pretty much the same as the original shows. 60 Minutes: Miami is little more than regular 60 Minutes, with all of the same hosts, except they’re wearing swimwear (and ostensibly in Miami).

Obviously, they just superimposed tropical attire over the actual hosts as they give their customary “I’m ______________” diatribe. For such a simple gag, this really is pretty funny, and there is a final pay-off to the bit…

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It’s the final shot of a shirtless Andy Rooney that is the punchline to the whole thing. The audience had been laughing steadily at the whole deal anyway, but the topless Andy Rooney (that sounds weirder than I meant it to) causes them to erupt in surprised laughter.

While I’m not sure this gag really qualifies as the best example, I think what attracts me to Letterman’s humor so much is just how weird it is. Not that Andy Rooney without a shirt isn’t supremely weird enough as it is, but I mean, just look at the whole bit in general: it’s the cast of 60 Minutes in swimwear. That’s pretty much it! Dave always had a real streak of non-sequitur in his humor, and that’s right up my alley. I really do love random bits of humor that leave a viewer confused, and Dave’s show has (well, had) it in spades. Admittedly, it’s not for everyone, but personally, it always struck a chord with me (obviously).

And unless you’re missing the big picture here, let me spell it out: I wrote David Letterman, and it gave the world a mocked-up picture of a shirtless Andy Rooney.

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Dave’s final thoughts on the matter? The combined age of everyone on 60 minutes must be “well over two or three thousand” and Mike Wallace alone is “at least a hundred.” Funny stuff! It may come off a little dark to some people nowadays since both Mike Wallace and Andy Rooney have passed (RIP, fellas), but hey, they were still alive then. Anyone offended by that needs to chill out, man.

And so, that is the saga of my letter being read by David Letterman on national television. HOWEVER…

Now is as good a time as any to mention that in the summer of 2005, I had the good fortune to actually attend a taping of Late Show With David Letterman, with guests Jennifer Connelly and The Eels. It was a terrific show, and Dave really was “on” that night (and no, I’m not just saying that because I was there in person). For a trip that really only had, maybe, three days in advance planning, it went off without a hitch. I got to see Letterman in person, it was a great show, I got to walk around New York City (I’m not normally a sightseer, but NYC is an absolute exception), and to cap it all off, I got to meet two Letterman regulars in person: fan-favorite Rupert Gee of the Hello Deli (right next to the Ed Sullivan Theater) was working that day, and shortly thereafter, I ran into stagehand Pat Farmer taking a break around the side of the building. Both guys were extremely friendly and gracious enough to take pictures with me. I made a concerted effort to find those snapshots amongst the rest of the family photos to post here, but I have no idea where they are. The only thing I got out of the deal was some wasted time and depression from looking at old pictures of myself.

Anyway, those are my memories. It may not be much, but hopefully this is some kind of acceptable tribute to Letterman and what he’s meant to me over the years.

And so, it is with that that I now wait in apprehension for Dave’s swansong tonight. So long Dave, and thanks for all the laughs.