Tag Archives: Broadcasting

Episode Review: Son of Ghoul Presents THE VAMPIRE BAT (November 7, 1997)

Happy Halloween!

Ah yes, the big day is here once again. From decorations and television programming dedicated to the holiday proper, to the simple look and feel of ‘real life’ outside, I love the ambiance of this day and October in general – and that’s something even stupid dumb COVID-19 can’t ruin. Not totally, anyway.

I know, I know; I didn’t post as much as I had initially hoped to this month. Hey, I did say it’d be iffy! Nevertheless, methinks this Halloween post today will make up for whatever shortcomings I may have, uh, come up short with. Or not; whatever.

As you may have gleamed from that helpful post title, we’re taking another venture into the world of Northeast Ohio television, and horror host, icon Son of Ghoul, played by Keven Scarpino. This isn’t the first time we’ve taken a look at a vintage SOG broadcast, there’s also been this and before that this. But, it is the, erm, latest. As of this posting, anyway.

It’s also almost as far back as I can *personally* go with this subject. Why’s that? Because this was the very first episode of The Son of Ghoul Show I ever taped, that’s why! That’s also why what we’re looking at today hails from November, rather than the more-expected month of October. Although in regards to that aspect, I’d say that aside from specifically Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year/Easter themed episodes, almost any horror host installment works for a Halloween update. Or not; whatever.

And, this does still tie into Halloween, and even the upcoming holiday season, all of which we’re pretty much at right now. As of this posting, anyway.

(Also, hopefully I won’t use that paragraph-ending-repetition-for-ostensible-comic-effect bit too many more times in this article.)

Airing on November 7, 1997, on my much-loved WAOH TV-29/WAX TV-25, this is very nearly my SOG fandom at its very earliest – basically at the start of a journey that continues on to this day in 2020; just about 23 years later! Read on, I’ll explain all of this in more detail momentarily.

SOG starting the show.

First off, SOG’s intro places us squarely in early November, with his announcement of “we have survived Halloween” near the top of it. This was a nice bit of continuity with the previous week’s show, which of course was the big Halloween episode. I know this because, well, that’s where I as a SOG fan entered the picture.

I know I’ve recounted this before so I’m just going to give the shortened account this time around, but that Halloween episode was where I was first actually introduced to SOG. Oh I had seen bits and pieces beforehand, but it was whilst flipping around the TV on November 1, 1997 (back then, SOG ran on both Friday & Saturday nights, same time, same episode. Halloween ’97 fell on a Friday, I stumbled in on Saturday) that I first really watched SOG.

I was hooked immediately. From the skits to the sound effects to the movie (Night of the Living Dead, another first for me that night) to, obviously, SOG himself, at 11 years old I became an instant fan. And, while I didn’t realize it at the time, looking back, this was where my love and fascination with local broadcasting first truly took seed. You wanna know the honest truth? Without SOG, there’s a real possibility you’re not reading this blog right now. Not just because I’m talking about SOG at the moment, but rather because I just don’t know if my interests and hobbies and whatnot would have played out the same without him. It’s entirely possible that they wouldn’t have.

Simply put, that November 1, 1997 Son of Ghoul broadcast of Night of the Living Dead was perhaps the single most transformative television broadcast of my life.

So, less than a week later, I was in front of the TV with the VCR at the ready. I was, as you would say, “chomping at the bit” to further dive into this new thing I had discovered, the results of which you’re reading about this very moment. (By the way, I learned the hard way that both the Friday & Saturday shows for a given week were identical, though this made it handy for recording when one of my eventual letters was read on the air, or if I just particularly liked the movie/episode.)

Anyway, back to SOG’s intro. Along with just some general fooling around (and man, just seeing him on that old set and goofing off, what a trip!), he states that the movie that night “aw man, this is a first run on this show – I hope it’s the last!” Of course that wound up being wildly untrue; most of these movies have been seen repeatedly on the program over the years, though there’s something undoubtedly neat about capturing one of these standbys in its Son of Ghoul debut.

The Vampire Bat’s cute lil’ title screen.

The movie was The Vampire Bat, from 1933. At the time, this was an entirely new flick to me! I was, and am, I serious sucker for these old cheapies, and as a King Kong fan even back then, the mention that Fay Wray was in it only added to the interest.

So yeah, The Vampire Bat. You wanna know the honest truth? I’ve wound up sort of ambivalent towards the movie. I love it for it’s public domain ever-presence and quasi-Universal vibes (it used some of the same actors and sets), and the whole look and feel and the history surrounding it. But as a movie movie itself? Well, I think it’s just okay. Certainly not bad, and I get seriously excited over various cleaner/completer available prints, or even just new-to-me budget home video releases from years past. But yes, the flick itself is just alright in my eyes. Heck, I couldn’t even muster up the enthusiasm to actually re-watch it for this review. (Although I probably shoulda, considering whatever credentials I imagine myself to have.) I’m the same way with another early-30s horror film: White Zombie. I like it fine, it’s not bad, I take a real interest in it, but perhaps conversely, I don’t tend to feel like watching it very often at all.

Of course, The Vampire Bat was a bigger deal to me back in 1997 when SOG was winging it at my face. Like I said, this was new territory. That’s why we’re here now, after all. It was only as the years progressed that I relatively cooled on it.

If nothing else, The Vampire Bat features a cool lab.

The plot? Even if you haven’t seen this, you’ve probably seen something like it; it’s an early 1930s horror movie with vampires as the subject, so you can probably guess the gist of it before ever pressing “play.”

The short synopsis: a rash of blood loss has hit a village, so naturally vampires are suspected. Particular suspicion falls on one “Herman Glieb,” because he likes bats. (Glieb is played by Dwight Frye, so you’ve probably got a good idea of his performance before ever pressing “play”.) However, it’s actually a mad doctor played by Lionel Atwill, who’s draining villagers of their blood for some sort of organism he’s created. Also, Fay Wray is our heroine.

Yeah, I don’t have much more to say about this one. Look, it’s wildly public domain, so if you haven’t seen it, it’s not like it’s hard to do so. Some of the imagery in it, such as Atwill’s cool laboratory set (that’s it above), sticks with me more than anything. As such, it makes for a cool horror host feature and/or something fun to have lazily playing in the background around Halloween, and indeed, it does look appropriately “Halloweeny.” It may not knock me out, but it certainly does its part adequately enough.

Obviously, since this is an episode review, I’m sorta obligated to cover the movie in some fashion. A necessary aspect of this post? Uh, yeah. But if I’m being honest with you (and I am), it’s all about the Son of Ghoul here. And luckily, because I dictate how this article transpires, we’re at that point right now!

I’m not gonna hit each and every last segment aired, just the highlights as I see ’em, but rest assured, this was a pretty good episode of The Son of Ghoul Show. There was plenty of then-new stuff and a couple fun throwbacks, and while someone who didn’t grow up with all this may be a bit mystified by the enamor I’m exhibiting, trust me, as a whole this was (is) some solid SOG.

While I certainly love de facto skits, my favorite part of pretty much any horror host show is the simple host segment; the respective host, sitting on the set, reading viewer mail or just goofing off. Or more often than not, doing both. Such was the case right here, with this fairly lengthy (about 15 minutes total) mail bit.

In it, SOG shows off the poster and promotes a movie he has a small part in: the then-upcoming Little Miss Magic. Also, that past Halloween night, SOG appeared at a party at the Sheraton Suite, along with Big Chuck & Lil’ John. Such things are pretty par for the course nowadays, but back then it was a rarer occurrence. According to SOG, “We had a dynamite time! I mean, the three of us got along just like peas in a pod! Or a pod that took a pee, one of the two; I can’t figure it out.”

Reading Brett’s letter.

But the area of most interest in this segment? My good friend Brett Van Wagner, who has contributed to this site before (including the SOG 30th anniversary tribute; have it again) had one of his early letters to the show read on-air here! Although Brett and I were born like two days apart and grew up loving a lot of the same things (obviously!), he discovered SOG a few months before I did, so he was already in the game by this point. He and I share a common trait where we kinda cringe at some of our early, pre-teen letters to SOG (my first would be in January), although I think that’s probably a personal viewpoint; this stuff isn’t as embarrassing to somebody else watching.

Indeed, I thought Brett’s letter here was pretty funny. He asks for an autographed picture of SOG, but not mailed; he wants it dropped off personally at his house. (SOG just gives a smirk to the camera and moves on.) And when he asks to lend him money for a SOG t-shirt and an extra $50? “Start holding your breath right now.” Good stuff, Brett!

Scarey Tales.

An installment of “Scarey [sic] Tales.” This is an old TV-67 bit; there were more of these older things ran back then than I caught on to at the time, but they still worked, and in retrospect I’m glad they were run. A little Son of Ghoul history for the newbies!

These skits basically amounted to SOG recounting an ostensibly-spooky story with some kind of comic conclusion. In this one, he tells us the tale of Little Miss Muppet; the story unfolds the same as the version we all grew up with, until the end, when Little Miss Muppet decides to eat the spider that sat down beside her, too.

You know, Big Chuck & Lil’ John once did a skit with the exact same outcome. Which came first? Was this an instance of mere coincidence? Does it really matter?

SOG & Fidge: together again.

As implied by Brett’s letter, official Son of Ghoul t-shirts were the hot new item of the day, a point driven home directly by this next segment. Here, SOG gives us all of the details on how to order them. For $16.75 ($13 + $3 s/h + 75¢ Ohio sales tax), you had your choice of adult-sized large of extra large. There was still time to order and get them before Christmas, but you had to hurry!

The best way to demonstrate their “wearability,” you ask? Have the late, great Ron “Fidge” Huffman come out and model one! It’s always nice to see Fidge during these old shows. I met him once; very friendly guy.

I myself never got one of these exact shirts; in retrospect, this was a mistake. But then, I wasn’t into that sort of memorabilia back then. I’ve since made up for that over the years, but I can tell you now: if I ever come across one of these vintage versions (or better yet, an old 67-era shirt) somewhere, you just might hear me flipping out from wherever you happen to be.

Festive SOG?

Another mail segment!

In this one, someone sent SOG a sombrero, which he happily wears for the rest of the bit.

Also, to further illustrate the point that Halloween was just freshly past, a piece of mail is shown wherein someone carved a SOG jack-o-lantern! It actually looks pretty cool, and SOG got some comedy out of it, too. “A nice fat face, just like me…how dare you embarrass me like that in front of family and friends?! Who do you think you are, guy?!” Of course SOG’s just kidding. (I hope!)

Shortly thereafter, there’s another piece of mail that’s legitimate hate mail. Apparently someone was not too enamored by SOG, because he sent a homemade button that had little pictures symbolizing a rather, erm, crude expression relating to SOG. SOG: “I have to tell you, that really hurts my feelings,” after which he proudly pins it to his chest.

Finishing up the show for the night.

Following an after-movie cartoon (a short WWII-era Bug Bunny pitch for war bonds), the show was all over. During SOG’s outro, he mentions that the movie next week would be The Corpse Vanishes.

Now, I actually did tape that one as well. Like The Vampire Bat, The Corpse Vanishes was a new-to-me horror cheapie. I’m so used to so much of this stuff in this day and age that it’s amazing to think there was a time when I wasn’t familiar with a lot of it!

Unlike The Vampire Bat however, I later taped over The Corpse Vanishes. I no longer remember with what, but it (probably) doesn’t matter; this action was eventually revealed to be a big huge mistake, based almost entirely on that flick and it’s extreme poverty row Lugosi-ness. I’m serious; it actually took me years to truly warm up to it, but nowadays I absolutely love The Corpse Vanishes. And, well, you’ve seen how ambivalent I am regarding The Vampire Bat. Not that I’d trade this ep for that ep, there’s still that personal history with SOG to be accounted for. But nevertheless, file this one under the follies of youth or some other stupidly wistful saying like that.

(The above ain’t no joke; I’ll reiterate to fill space. It did take years to realize, but this is one record-over I seriously regret nowadays. A great cheap movie, airing during the early weeks of my SOG fandom, one that I had and then let go, as it were? Regret. Of course, at 11 years old and with even less money than I have now – which is really saying something – I had to be extra choosy with VHS tape space. Does that make me feel any better? Not really. Do I take solace in the fact that whether I kept this Corpse Vanishes episode or not, my life wouldn’t be appreciably different today? Not really.)

So anyway, there you have it; a quick rundown of The Son of Ghoul Show from November 7, 1997, a week after Halloween for this Halloween.

BUT WAIT! We’re not quite done just yet!

What’s left, you ask? How about a few old commercials! Nothing quite takes you, or at least me, back in time quite like an old commercial. There were several good’uns seen during this broadcast, so real quick now, here are my three favorites:

The Cafe in Stow’s cool 29/35 ad!

The Cafe in Stow! As I mentioned in my post on the first of this month (here, have it again), I absolutely love local restaurant memorabilia and the like. Of course that extends to old commercials, which means that I was quite pleased to see this ad for The Cafe in Stow, long a local institution, turn up during the episode.

The commercial itself is simple but effective: a jaunty “Let’s Eat” jingle plays over footage of patrons, erm, eating while a voiceover extols the virtues of The Cafe in Stow. Like I said, simple but effective.

But what makes this really cool is just how local it feels. That was one thing you could absolutely count on from 29/35: a serious sense of local pride. In a lot of the actual programming, sure, but also in the advertising. There were ads for places that you could (probably) only see on 29/35, which only added to the good vibes of the station.

The Cafe in Stow is still open to this day, and while I’ve never been there, it is now absolutely on my “gonna try” list. Why? 20+ year old commercials, that’s why! (Plus, I just like patronizing local establishments like this.)

Columbia House’s cool M*A*S*H VHS tapes!

M*A*S*H on Columbia House VHS! Advertising on 29/35 wasn’t just local; there could also be national-type stuff (sort of like what we saw here). Take this spot, for example. This is just fantastic; a minute-long commercial for Columbia House’s VHS releases of M*A*S*H! As a long, long time M*A*S*H fanatic, you better believe something like this airing during The Son of Ghoul Show is pure icing.

This series of tapes first showed up in the early-90s, but 1997 was the 25th anniversary of the show (can you believe we’re now closer to the 50th anniversary than we aren’t?), so not only were they being pushed once again, but you also got a swanky M*A*S*H 25th Anniversary t-shirt when you ordered! I really like this screencap here; they went all out and included a martini, stethoscope, even some golf balls! That’s dedication! (The $4.95 + s/h seen here was an introductory price; subsequent editions cost $19.95 + s/h, though that was still a small price to pay for some quality M*A*S*H. Plus, you got that shirt.)

In the years before the official DVD sets (and actually, VHS sets too – for the first five seasons, anyway), these Columbia House tapes were the only way to get much of the TV series as official releases. Oh sure, the big huge series finale “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” got a standalone release not long after airing, and of course the 1970 feature film was out there multiple times over, but there was a lot of good stuff in-between all that which could now be owned and watched whenever y’all pleased! Except for the super-long finale, which was naturally also included in this collection, there were several ‘themed’ episodes per tape. No, these weren’t in order from start to finish, and the whole series wasn’t represented either (though there were, I believe, over 50 volumes in this collection released, so you eventually got a good chunk of the show’s run), but does any of that really matter? It was M*A*S*H, a show I’d argue is in the top ten greatest U.S. TV series of all time, officially released on good ol’ VHS!

JC Comics & Cards, just being cool in general!

JC Comics & Cards! Ah, *my* comic place! I was already well familiar with JC’s before discovering SOG; as a young Star Wars nut (a fandom that eventually subsided considerably, though I still like it plenty), JC’s box of $3, loose old school SW figures was a thing of beauty.

Fortuitously, JC was also a sponsor of SOG. Why fortuitously? Because as I’ve recounted before, JC’s was where I first *met* SOG in person! Yep, SOG made a personal appearance at JC’s that coming December, and I was there; it was really the first time I ever felt the need to meet a celebrity, which shows you just what a big deal SOG was to me.

So, obviously JC ads were often seen during the show back then, and something still just feels ‘right’ about it when revisiting these old episodes. This particular spot is a herky-jerky (as in video effect) romp around the store whilst showing off its wares. At one point, a big inflatable Spiderman is seen, which I recall hanging in JC’s front window for years.

JC’s is still there in the same location, and while I’m no longer the Star Wars or comic book guy I once was, I do pop in occasionally, usually to check out the cool vintage toys in stock or to raid the 25¢ comic bins for neat old print advertisements (I’m a sucker for old video game ads, and I generally don’t feel too bad about extricating them from cheap old issues). JC’s is awesome.

And so with that, our big Halloween update comes to a close. Needless to say, I’m still a huge Son of Ghoul fan to this very day, so it’s a trip to go back to when that fandom was in the earliest of stages. I mean, I had just been introduced to the show less than a week prior! It’s amazing to look back and realize all that was ahead of me, some of it good, some of it bad, all of it still TBD at the time. And yet, one constant has been The Son of Ghoul Show; it’s still on the air! And, he had been on the air for 11 years before I even came into the picture! Talk about a local institution! I know nothing is forever, but I’m sure grateful for the time we’ve had, and will continue to have for the foreseeable future.

Have a Happy Halloween, everybody!

Vintage WUAB-TV 43 & WAKR TV-23 Golf Ball Markers (Circa 1984)

I went Christmas shopping this past Saturday. Well, ostensibly; I did find one thing to check off my list, but came up empty for everyone else. Well, except for me. I did find a few things for me.

I wasn’t trying to – really! This was a mission to get Christmas shopping done, and since I don’t have that many people to buy for, theoretically it could have been completed during this one outing. Several locations were visited over the course of several hours, and where I myself was concerned, I dutifully passed up on some things I considered merely “neato,” because unless something practically jumped out and punched me in the face with awesomeness, I wasn’t going to get anything for my personal collection. It wasn’t an issue of cost either; this was about principle. I was on a specific mission, man!

I made it safely through the day – until the last place I visited. There, as I perused small display boxes made up of compartments filled with various knick knacks, my eyes fell upon the baggie you’re seeing right here. This was one of those cases where I got so immediately excited, so incredibly stoked, that I dropped what I was doing and instantly began extricating it. I knew, I knew, that as long as the price wasn’t prohibitive (and it wasn’t in the slightest), it was coming home with me. And so it did.

I hadn’t been to this antique store in several months (as it has been operating on reduced hours lately), so this must have been a fairly new addition to their wares, because I’d really hate to think my normally-fairly-astute eyes passed over this time and time again. Dig this: two pairs of vintage Northeast Ohio television-branded golf markers, WUAB-43 and WAKR TV-23! Cool winnins!

And Golf markers! If there’s one thing my collection lacks, it’s golf stuff. Not that I have anything against the sport; it’s just that aside from some old school video games and Happy Gilmore, I have little experience with it. Heck, I wouldn’t have even known what these markers were if not for the handy sticker affixed to the baggie notating the contents. This was an entirely unexpected find, but this was also exactly the sort of random TV-related thing I’m always hoping to come across.

(Also picked up for myself at the same time? I rarely drink alcohol, but a vintage Bud Man patch for only a buck was just too cool to pass up.)

It was the old WUAB logo here that first caught my eye, and because I have such an ongoing-affinity for the station, those markers were the ‘biggies’ for me. As you can see, one is pink and one is white, but otherwise they’re identical with the black “half-moon” 43 logo. (“Half-moon” is how *I* refer to this particular iteration of the station I.D., but as far as I know, I’m the only one to do so. Maybe that is the ‘official’ term for it though, I dunno.)

The WAKR markers are less logos and more mere station identifications. Unlike the two WUAB markers, they’re both completely identical to each other. Besides WAKR, WAEZ is also featured; I can only guess that this refers to what later became WONE 97.5 FM, which was WAEZ prior and WAKR-FM before that. There was some kind of connection there, is what I’m sayin’.

I have no idea what the actual age of these markers are. I’m assuming both pair hail from the same general era, but they could have just as easily been, erm, paired up later. WUAB only used that style of logo from, roughly, 1980 to 1986, before going to a full-circular version. WAKR TV-23 became WAKC TV-23 in 1986, and WAEZ became WONE on January 1, 1985. So yeah, I’m sticking with what I used in the title of this update: “circa 1984.” That seems to be a safe guess. At any rate, the WUAB ones have to hail from 1986 or earlier, and the WAKR/WAEZ ones from before January 1, 1985.

Regardless of the actual date(s) that brought these markers forth, they both demonstrate a terrific time in Northeast Ohio television, when quirky local programming and an eclectic line-up of movies and shows was the order of the day. I love that!

Hey, know what I discovered when it came time for a picture-taking session of these earlier today? Golf ball markers aren’t the easiest things in the world to photograph! Not these ones, anyway. Because they’re rounded, they tend to roll ll over when I don’t want them to. Indeed, I had to poke them through a disposable styrofoam plate for the main shots, and to your left here is the best I could come up with as far as a side-view goes. See, they done got lil’ pegs, perfect for plunkin’ down into the ground! These aren’t especially big markers, they’re all the same size, which is roughly that of a regular shirt button (a bit bigger actually, but not by much). They seem to be bright enough to show up on the ground during a golf outing, but I’d have thought they’d be a bit bigger for easier visibility. But then, I’m not a golfer; far be it for me to go tellin’ ’em their business.

The last remaining question for me is: how did someone go about acquiring these originally? They almost seem too niche to be widely-spread promotional items. I have seen golf balls with station logos/I.D, emblazoned on them, so this sort of thing was (is?) not unheard of. Perhaps they were from some industry event? A friendly game between the staffs of 43 and 23? These are things I do not know, and perhaps the finer details of which have become lost to time. (If you’ve got some additional information on them, by all means share it in the comments!)

So, as it stands right now, I’ve still got some Christmas shopping to do, but when I come home with cool promo items such as these to add to the ever-growing collection, well, how can that ever be considered a wasted trip? Like I said earlier, TV-related things like this are what I always hope to come across during my travels; sadly, it doesn’t happen often enough for my liking, but when it does, it’s usually worth the dry spells. Given the last update, I seem to be on some kind of streak right now – hopefully it lasts a bit longer!

The CBS / Diet Coke Sneak Peak Promo VHS (1997)

Look at this incredible piece of 1990s television and VHS memorabilia!

This isn’t a super recent find; I came across it at a thrift store some months back, but man, I knew, knew it had to come home with me. And so it did! The content is right up my alley, and it’s still sealed, too! The price? Under a buck! Cool winnins!

As you can see, it’s a promotional VHS presented by both Diet Coke and CBS, given out in advance of the 1997 television season. Yep, this was the fall line-up on CBS! While out and about hunting for tapes, sometimes it’s easy for me to forget how neat they can be, especially after passing the 9000th copy of Titanic, but this is definitely one of the good’uns.

What’s really amazing about this, from a personal standpoint, is that even though I myself didn’t own this video back in the day, I remember so much of that ’97 CBS line-up. Even what I didn’t watch myself, I vividly recall being ‘around’ nevertheless. Advertisements in TV Guide and what have you.

But listen, this isn’t going to be a big huge full in-depth review of the tape, and for one very simple reason: I refuse to crack the shrinkwrap, man! I just can’t do it. I’ve never come across one of these before, and currently there’s only one like it on eBay…for a whopping $35! Whether that means it’s actually rare or not, I couldn’t say, though I doubt it; there was a time when preview cassettes (and later, DVDs) like this were fairly commonplace. Maybe still are, I don’t know. Nevertheless, my copy is going to stay minty sealed fresh – though I’m stretching the term minty here, since my copy is a little beat-up and dirty. Evidently someone did not appreciate the majesty of this tape the way yours truly does!

(Looking on eBay, it appears CBS released preview tapes such as this for several years. I’m not going to say I’ll go out of my way for any others, but should I come across them while thrifting, well, that’s a no-brainer purchase for sure.)

So, the front cover. The whole thing is apparently hosted by Ray Romano, whose sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond was steadily picking up steam around that time, if it hadn’t already. That was the season I started watching his show, though it was near the end of the year; actually, I think it had hit summer reruns when I first jumped on board. Anyway, it’s interesting to look back at the show in its earlier years; eventually it would be the cornerstone of CBS’ powerhouse Monday night line-up of sitcoms. (I watched the show avidly for years, though truth be told, it hasn’t worn particularly well for me.)

Cybill, the appropriately-named sitcom starring Cybill Shepherd, I never watched back in the day, though I caught some syndicated episodes in more recent times. Dellaventura and Michael Hayes were and are unknown to me outside of this cover, though the latter appears to feature David Caruso in some capacity, and that just puts the whole CSI: Miami pre-credits-pun thing in my head.

However, it’s the appropriate pictorial references to Meego and The Gregory Hines Show, neither of which I ever recall watching, that provide the real reason I’m so excited to own this tape. Y’see, there’s one very specific factor that makes this VHS a must-own, and it ain’t Ray Barone. Rather, the answer is found in Meego and Gregory The Hines Show, or to be precise, the block they were a part of…

Do ya see it?! Urkel! Yes, URKEL! The presence of Steve Urkel can only mean one thing: A Friday night block of sitcoms aimed at kids too young to go out and do anything else. That’s the pool CBS was jumping in that fall, and Family Matters was jumping with them.

Y’see, ABC’s Friday night sitcoms, deemed TGIF, was a big deal for quite some time. I absolutely grew up with it, and there’s a good chance you did too. I certainly have my share of nostalgic memories pertaining to the line-up (well, various line-ups), though in this more jaded day and age, it may be hard for some modern audiences to understand just why TGIF was such a dominate force. It was though, and while by no means was he the only reason, a big, big factor in that TGIF dominance was indeed Steve Urkel.

Meant to be a one-time-only character on a show that was supposedly facing cancellation, Jaleel White’s uber-nerd Steve Urkel instead became the de facto face of Family Matters and, for a time, a legit cultural phenom. Dude totally saved the series, stole the spotlight from ostensible star Al Powell Reginald Vel Johnson, got his own dolls, his own cereal, even his own novelty dance! Mystery Science Theater 3000 later brilliantly ripped into the (inexplicable?) phenomenon, and admittedly the Urkel character grew tiresome (and the storylines of Family Matters more insane) as the series progressed into the mid and late-1990s, but there’s no denying that, for a few years there, Urkel was one of the faces of ’90s television.

But you know what? I still like Family Matters! Oh sure, much of that has to do with nostalgia, the show was a big part of my childhood for sure, but as dumb (and crazy) as it could occasionally be, I still find myself enjoying it when I watch nowadays. Indeed, I’d say Family Matters is the definitive TGIF show, or at least tied with Boy Meets World. (Sorry Full House, you lose.) If you didn’t grow up during the 1990s, I’m not sure you’d get it, but those of us that were there, we know. Maybe. I do, at any rate.

ANYWAY, for the fall of ’97 CBS managed to snag Family Matters and other-TGIF-mainstay Step By Step from ABC and used them to headline the “CBS Block Party,” their very own attempt at a TGIF-ish line-up. Truth be told, both shows, and TGIF in general, were a little long-in-the-tooth by 1997 (and in my particular case, I was about to discover Son of Ghoul, which left little time for anything else Friday evenings), but there was a residual name-factor at play, so along with Meego and The Gregory Hines Show, CBS acquired Family Matters and Step By Step and proceeded to take TGIF head-on.

Annnnd it didn’t really work. None of the shows lasted beyond that season – some spectacularly so (Meego only made it six episodes!). Family Matters wound up being placed on hiatus mid-season, with the remaining episodes burned off during the summer of ’98. Still, despite the ultimate failure, as an experiment in late-90s programming and featuring two very 1990s shows, the CBS Block Party is an interesting subject to look back on, if nothing else. (Furthermore, while TGIF lived on, it was never really the same, though Boy Meets World continued to fight the good fight).

And that my friends is why this tape is such an important find for yours truly: It represents a piece of nostalgia tied directly into a programming experiment that ultimately didn’t fly. I couldn’t ask for anything more!

But what about the other shows promoted on the back cover of the tape? The Bryant Gumbel thing and Brooklyn South, I can’t say much about those. But Cosby and George & Leo I absolutely remember. Coming a few years after his previous, far more popular sitcom, Cosby I caught now and then, but frankly never thought it was very good. George & Leo, however, I liked a lot. It only lasted that single season, but I enjoyed it, and looking back, it was my first entry into what would end up being an endearing Bob Newhart fandom, though I wasn’t cognizant of that at the time.

So seeing all that plastered on the tape is an added bonus for me. Steve Urkel and Bob Newhart sharing the same stage? Did that ever happen prior? Or after, for that matter? Thas history, man.

Anyway, dig the helpfully included schedule on the back cover; it’s a veritable study in late-1990s television, albeit a CBS-centric one. (Well duh!) The only thing missing is David Letterman’s goofy smile to complete the package, though since this was the prime time line-up, his exclusion is understandable. Disregarding the shows I just don’t know much about, there’s not a whole lot listed that I actively hate. Except The Nanny. I detest The Nanny and always have. Also, I wonder how Don Johnson felt about Nash Bridges getting Step By Step as a lead-in? That’s not exactly a seamless transition!

Finally, I love the big WKBN TV-27 Youngstown sticker slapped on the back, even if they’re not quite my CBS affiliate (a WOIO sticker would have made this the ultimate). This isn’t unusual; the $35 copy on eBay demonstrates a sticker from the respective television market that one hails from, so tailoring these to local needs was evidently the norm. I would imagine this tape was made available for cheap (free?) in video stores, supermarkets, wherever VHS tapes were sold in WKBN’s market. I remember getting an NBC fall preview DVD in the early/mid-2000s at Best Buy, so I’ll go with that mindset regarding this CBS VHS.

On the surface, this may not seem like a “big” find, and in the grand scheme things, or at least in the grand scheme of my disturbingly large video collection, I guess it’s not. Nevertheless, it’s still amazing how this one transports me right back to the fall of 1997. Man, (I was in 5th grade! That’s mind-blowing to realize!) It’s a cool promotional representation of network television in the late-1990s, including some throwbacks to the earlier-1990s, as part of a TV experiment that ultimately didn’t take. Add in the looks at the shows that did take, and you’ve got an invaluable view of a very specific era in broadcasting. And I’m just going by the sleeve! I can only imagine what it’s like actually watching this!

I don’t know, maybe I should crack the shrinkwrap? Or do I dare hold out hope for a double instead? Oh the decisions that I must face!