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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 – 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.

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!

Portside Brewery’s Big Chuck Barley Wine Ale!

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“Big Chuck’s getting a beer?! When?! Where?! MUST. HAVE. NOW.

That was more or less my reaction when I first learned a month or so ago that local legend “Big Chuck” Schodowski was getting his own beer. It’s funny how after all these years, the announcement of “somethin’ new” related to one of Northeast Ohio’s movie hosts *still* has the ability to turn me into a total spaz.  It’s one facet of my personality that I’ve come to accept as never changing. And, when it’s something out-of-the-box like a beer (as opposed to your expected t-shirts and whatnot), well, that’s the kind of thing that can turn me straight-up violent with anticipation.

I’m (sorta) kidding of course, but considering that the March announcement of Portside Brewery’s Big Chuck-themed barley wine ale didn’t include a specific release date (I only saw a somewhat-vague “In April” release mentioned) or where I could find it for sale when it was on sale, I was a bit concerned about finding some of my own. Was it going to be available only in Cleveland-area stores, or all of Northeast Ohio? Maybe there was an article somewhere that answered these burning questions, but I sure didn’t see it.

More troubling to me than all that, however, was the specific mention that the release was going to be limited to about 8000 cans. Not 8000 cases, not 8000 4-packs, 8000 cans. That doesn’t seem like very much to me, at all. Especially when you consider all of the Northeast Ohio beer-drinkers that could potentially be interested in this. Now, under most circumstances, I take the statement “limited edition” with a grain of salt; I’ve picked up so many ostensibly ‘collectible’ things over the years with that term plastered all over ’em that it really doesn’t mean anything to me anymore. Anything made to be collected usually isn’t worth much in the long-run. Everyone goes out and buys it (because it’s “limited edition,” you know), which means it’s not scarce, which means…well, you get the picture.

BUT, unless there’s another run, Big Chuck beer really is a limited edition, and considering it’s a disposable product, there are less likely to be unopened cans popping up online in the future. Then again, the sad fact of the matter is that there are people as fanatical about this kind of thing as I am; the more I think about it, the more I can almost guarantee there’s going to be a bunch of folks at the next Ghoulardifest getting Big Chuck to sign can after can for them.

All of this was indeed running through my head to prior to finally finding Big Chuck beer for sale in my neck of the woods. And with the way my mind works, I had basically worked myself into thinking “there’s no way I’m going to be able to find this stuff at one of my stores! It probably sold-out instantly, anyway!” I get the same way with concert tickets, though in that case it’s a bit more understandable. Heaven help anyone that gets in the way of my purchasing Springsteen tickets, by the way.

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Of course, in other, similar instances, I always tend to see the glass half-empty as far as my probable success-rate is concerned. But in reality, I usually do come out of things kinda sorta successful. It’s rarely as bad or rough as I get myself worked up into thinking it is or will be. And such was the case with Big Chuck beer. Prior to the release, a friend of mine said it would in all likelihood be at Acme. Since I had no idea when it was hitting stores (if it was hitting anyplace in my near-vicinity, that is), I just sort of started checking this store or that store when April came around. Three Giant Eagle stores, one independent drive-thru, and the info that Big Chuck beer was indeed at Acme “store #1” later, I finally decided to check the Acme on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls. Since this Acme is nearby and easily visited, it’s a mystery why I didn’t check there sooner, but nevertheless, they had it, and it’s now mine, as the picture above aptly demonstrates. Big Chuck beer, happily traveling in an official Acme-brand shoppin’ cart. Tis beautiful.

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There they are, the fruits of my semi-fervor. Ain’t they cute? The red plastic rings keeping the cans together are a sign of quality, and the well-known Big Chuck caricature on the front of the cans is ample proof that this isn’t just another alcoholic beverage, this is a product. Or, dare I say, an event? And look, the UPC is housed in an Ohio! Even before tasting it, you know this is something special. At $10.99 a pack, they kinda have to be.

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There’s the can, liberated from the necessary plastic rings that keep the four cans together and away from ragamuffins and whatnot.

Big Chuck beer comes only in 4-packs of 12 oz. cans. At $10.99 a pack, it’s most definitely a premium beer. Didn’t stop me from buying 3 packs of it, though (one to drink, sparingly, at home, one to drink, sparingly, with friends, and one to keep minty sealed fresh for the rest of my days). Your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter is many things, but rolling in dough he is not, so I had to make sure the $35 or whatever it totaled out to after taxes was not spent in vain. So, that means you can thank the higher-price for this post.

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For scale comparisons, there’s Big Chuck beer next to a regular ol’ can of Diet Pepsi and an Adam West Batman action figure. It’s the same size and height as the Diet Pepsi, but not as tall as the Batman. This is really a pretty pointless pic, since everyone knows what a 12 oz. can looks like and Batman has nothing to do with anything. I’m not sure why I’m including this at all, but hey, there it is. “Holy superfluous picture, Batman!”

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Geez o yikes – Big Chuck beer ain’t for the wimps! 11.7% alcohol is just under the current 12% Ohio limit. $10.99 for a 4-pack of 12 oz. cans may sound like “a lot for a little” to some, but if you’re just looking for alcoholic content, well, it kinda evens all out in the end (besides, a limited edition beer from a microbrewery almost has to cost more than your average beer, right?)

The high alcohol content presents a small problem for your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter: I am by no means a teetotaler, but the fact is that I’m not much of a drinker, either. The result is that I have an admittedly sad tolerance, which I’m sure is probably letting John Wayne down somewhere, somehow. Prior to picking up this beverage, I think the last alcoholic anything I bought was a pack of that Budweiser Cranbrrrrita stuff right before Christmas, and it sat untouched, except for one (by my Brother), in my fridge for several months afterwards, until I brought them to a friends, where I think I eventually ended up having one, maybe two, tops. I have no problem with alcohol, but I’m the first to admit I’m a lightweight.

So, I can drink Big Chuck’s beer, but I’m gonna have to drink it slo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-w. There’s just no conceivable way I can drink this thing even remotely fast, unless I want to put myself into a drunken coma, which I don’t. This, of course, is not a fault on the part of the beer at all, it’s totally my shortcoming. I yam a weakling, I admits it. As it stands, I’m gonna have to nurse this beverage like a, um, nurse.

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See that mug? Is it not fitting for the occasion? It’s the closest thing I have to a legit Big Chuck mug, at any rate. Never mind that the graphic on it is kinda obscuring a clear view of the Big Chuck beer outside of the aluminum prison it was formerly housed in, it’s still a nice match to me. Especially since when I do drink, this is totally my mug of choice.

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As you can see, it’s a dark beer, and boy, is it powerful! A big beer for Big Chuck! Another downside of not being much of a drinker is that I can’t really describe all of the nuances of the flavor (seriously, I admire the people that can drink wine or something and then list all of the little flavors they pick up, because I’ve just never been able to do that.)

Portside Brewery has done the formerly impossible though, because prior to this, I haven’t been a big fan of dark beers, preferring instead your lighter domestic beers (not only am I a lightweight, but I’m also extremely mainstream). Believe me when I say this is a good beer. I’m not just saying that because my judgement is clouded by fondness for Big Chuck, either. No joke, I really, really like it! It has that kind of bitter-y taste you associate with dark beers (what is that? Malted barley? Hops?), but in a good way; no cringing here. I may be taking it in slowly, but I’m totally enjoying it. This is really good stuff, the perfect drink to sit back and relax with after a hard day of work. Of course, in my case, a hard day depends on how long I decided to sit in front of a VCR going through ancient videotapes, but I’m assuming the sentiment is the same for people that have real jobs.

In the interest of full disclosure, I first tried Big Chuck beer the other day with a buddy, and he was picking out all of the subtle (or maybe not so subtle, I don’t know) flavors. He was impressed, as were two other pals that tried it. Unlike me, these guys know their beer, and Big Chuck totally passed the test with them. It also passed with high marks from my Brother. My word may not always mean much, but theirs certainly do.

So, you’ve got a limited edition beer featuring a local television legend that comes in a swanky can and is tasty to boot. I consider that a successful purchase. I should pick up some more while I’ve still got the chance. Sure, it’ll take me forever to drink all of it, but I’ll enjoy every second. I know full well that things I’m super-anxious to pick up are often hyped (in my mind) to near astronomical proportions, so much so that sometimes it’s impossible for them to live up to such lofty expectations. But, Big Chuck beer was definitely worth the wait and search. I dig it. It’s certainly worthy of the Big Chuck name.

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Awww, now it’s just a 3-pack. Tis a bittersweet sight.

I guess the only question remaining is: when are we going to get a “Lil’ John” Rinaldi beer?

Just for fun:

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(Visit the official Portside Brewery website here, and the official Big Chuck & Lil’ John site here.)

UPDATE: Totally went and got some more, which as it turned out, was the last one on Acme’s shelf (my brother got the penultimate pack.) Will more arrive in the future? Only time will tell, but I’m certainly stocked for awhile!

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Christmas & New Year’s with The Ghoul, Son of Ghoul and Big Chuck & Lil’ John (1998/1999)

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There it is. Not the most-heralded of my many late-90’s/early-2000’s tapes, but certainly one of the more-heralded ones. Please ignore my sloppy, 12-year old handwriting (I’ve kinda sorta improved in that area), and while we’re at it, please ignore The Avenger (a 1961 Steve Reeves film) and the vague “TV Land Programs” descriptive line; those recordings are not conducive to our ultimate goal today (indeed, the TV Land stuff was recorded later, in the summer of ’99). Nope, we’re focusing on the ‘big three’ of Northeast Ohio horror hosts today, all on one powerhouse of a tape, all recorded during or around the holiday season of 1998/99, and all part of some serious nostalgia for me.

1997-1999 was probably the time period most responsible for making me, well, me. Not completely, of course; I continued to refine my goofy self (whatever that means) in the years following, but there’s little doubt that some of the things I’m a still a huge, huge fan of first took hold of me in the era this tape hails from. I had discovered Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Son Of Ghoul in ’97, The Ghoul came back to Cleveland TV in ’98, and despite first watching them in ’96, I really started to appreciate Big Chuck & Lil’ John around ’99. Except for the absence of MST3K and the now-head scratching inclusion of The Avenger, the tape seen above is really a pretty great description of your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter’s interests in the late-90’s. Even the old TV Land programming is a sight-for-sore-eyes.

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The lead-off recording was The Ghoul’s first Christmas special of his WBNX TV-55 run. It’s also one of the earliest episodes I have from those WBNX years. I recorded the first couple episodes (which I still have), and a few select later ones (which I don’t), but as it stands, this is one of the earliest to survive. In lieu of any other opening credits or theme music, the specialized “Ghoul’s Christmas Special” title makes it clear that this is a ‘big deal’ in the Ghoul Power world. Also a big deal: according to a quick internet calendar search, this aired on Christmas ’98, a Friday, which was obviously December 25th (at the very tail-end of the day, 11:30 PM, but hey, it counts).

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The Ghoul loved the Christmas season and would go all out to celebrate it, including the special Christmas-themed border and groups of kids in attendance, as seen above. It’s clear he loved the holiday season, and the next year, he would even have, roughly, a month-long celebration, running the 1935 Scrooge as well as Santa Claus In Mother Goose Land (which was actually The Magic Land Of Mother Goose and was, if I recall correctly, only vaguely Christmassy) in addition to the film that was also shown that first year…

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It’s the 1959 Mexican film Santa Claus. A the time, I was only familiar with this movie via what was printed in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide, and since it wasn’t listed in Leonard Maltin’s guide nor had I discovered IMDb yet, I had no idea what year it was even released in, which is why, if you scroll back up, you’ll see I have only “Mexican” listed in brackets next to the title on the tape sleeve. I wouldn’t have known even that if the opening credits didn’t mention Mexico.

The Ghoul loved running this movie during Christmastime, and I have four separate Christmas airings of it: this first one from 1998, plus 1999, 2000 and 2001. And for all I know, he ran it again and again during the rest of his WBNX run.

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Truth be told though, I’ve never much cared for the movie. If it weren’t for the fact that it was then a (to me) obscure foreign film, and one that had been MST’d at that, I’m not sure it would have survived all these years, let alone the three other airings I have. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I have all of them, the more Ghoul the better, but I’m not as enamored of this flick as others are. In fact, for a movie that’s gained a pretty impressive cult following, I really can’t stand it at all. Oh, I should love it for the incredible weirdness it presents (Santa battling the forces of evil, wind-up mechanical reindeer, Merlin, and a bizarre pair of moving red lips that are the very definition of “terrifying”), but I don’t know, it’s a movie that has always left me cold.

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Not so with the second recording on the tape, which would have aired on Saturday, December 26th. It’s Son of Ghoul’s Christmas special! At the time, SOG was on both Friday and Saturdays, 8-10 PM, so an identical episode would have been aired the day before on Christmas Day as well. It’s interesting that both The Ghoul’s and Son of Ghoul’s shows were/are so different, yet they both really went the extra mile for Christmas.

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Oooh, I’m diggin’ that swanky green border! Unlike usual episodes, SOG read the mail on the main dungeon set, as seen in that left screencap. On the right, the screencap comes from the very close of the show. As you can see, they even had a guy in a reindeer costume, and fake reindeer poop on the floor to go with him/it! Tis the season?

SOG’s annual Christmas show has become one of my favorite ‘extra’ parts of the season. Nowadays he’s only on Saturdays, and every weekend before Christmas, there’s a yearly show dedicated to the holiday. More than once (twice, to be exact, including this year), stuff I’ve sent in has been presented on the Christmas show, and it’s always a nice addition to my holiday season. I was regularly writing SOG by 1998, but nothing of mine was presented during his ’98 special. Considering I never really had anything particularly interesting and/or important to say back then, that was probably for the best.

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It hasn’t been shown for a few years, but Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (see, I told you my UAV tape wasn’t the last you’d see of it this holiday season!) was once a yearly tradition, not unlike SOG’s running of Night Of The Living Dead every Halloween. I like this movie waaaay more than Santa Claus. It’s weird, it’s goofy, it’s idiotic, but all in a good way. Some may argue that the other movie was all of that and more, but the fact remains that Santa Claus Conquers The Martians is my preferred bad movie for the Christmas season. Even the MST3K version was, in my opinion, superior to their take on Santa Claus.

Speaking of the MST3K version, when they riffed the film, their print didn’t include the title card as seen above. Apparently, because of that, many people were unaware that the film circulated/circulates with a title card. which was odd to me, because by the time I saw the MST3K episode, every print of Santa Claus Conquers The Martians I had seen up to that point had a title as you’d expect.

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I first saw this movie when SOG ran it during the Christmas season of 1997, and then right after, I got my copy of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide for Christmas 1997, and learned they did the film, too. It’s a pretty weird movie, clearly aimed at the lil’ baby childrens, in which martians kidnap Santa in order liven the martian children up. It includes Pia Zadora (who, contrary to my UAV tape’s description, is not especially precocious – yes, I’m still irritated by that line), and a guy that looks a lot like Jamie Farr but isn’t Jamie Farr (much to my chagrin).

That left screencap above is either the embodiment of the Christmas season, or a truly nightmarish visage, I can’t decide. Maybe it’s both.

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At one point, SOG superimposed himself into the movie, and tried to light Santa’s pipe. I thought that was pretty funny.

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The last (applicable) recording on the tape is the New Years portion referred to in the title. It didn’t air on New Year’s Eve or Day, nearest I can figure is it was broadcast in the first half of January, but nevertheless, this episode of Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s Couch Potato Theater has some pretty strong memories attached to it (not the least of which is the image above, well familiar to me from so many Saturday afternoons).

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Ah, Big Chuck & Lil’ John on their old King Kong set. It was the same set as their usual Friday night Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show, except Couch Potato Theater was always broadcast Saturday afternoon and was called, you know, Couch Potato Theater. Couch Potato Theater was a bit of a wild-card: sometimes a full-length movie would be shown, other times old Three Stooges shorts or episodes of The Abbott And Costello Show, even skits-only if time was an issue (similar to what the revived Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show is now). In this case, though, old silent short comedies were the day’s subject.

My recording of this almost didn’t happen. At the time, I was a big, big fan of silent comedy films (still am, actually, though not quite as fervent), and trying to catch and tape some of them when they were run as unscheduled-between-programming-filler on WAOH/WAX was a common thing with me. Somehow, though, I missed the TV Guide listing for this episode of Couch Potato Theater, in which several old silent comedies were run over the course of the afternoon. To make matters worse, we had to leave soon because my brother had a basketball game. So, I grabbed the only available tape, cued it up after The Avenger, and hit record. Better than nothing, right?

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I began taping in the middle of some Keystone film, the title of which I no longer remember, but was able to capture the entire last subject of the day: Charlie Chaplin’s The Champion, a 1915 Essanay film, which was from the period when Chaplin’s movies started to get really good. From how I understand it, this particular short has been the subject of much editing and whatnot over the years, but the version Big Chuck & LIl’ John ran was the Blackhawk Films print, apparently one of the better ones. Certainly lengthier, if nothing else.

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The Champion, as the name and screenshots kinda sorta show, detail Chaplin’s Little Tramp character becoming a boxer. The subject of boxing is one I’ve always liked (having grown up on the Rocky movies), and the addition of an English Bulldog is always a plus, so yeah, I like this short. I’m sure I have many of them on cheap, public domain DVDs, but I’m not as familiar with Chaplin’s Essanay films as I am with his Mutual work, which I consider my favorite of his.

At the time, I was just then starting to appreciate Big Chuck & Lil’ John, something that would be more fully-realized when I began watching The Abbott And Costello Show on their Saturday afternoon program. Still, I recall having made a habit of at least checking the listing for their Friday night show, so I’m not sure how I missed the listing for these old silents. I can’t remember if I discovered the broadcast while flipping channels or if I came across it that day in TV Guide, but either way, I came in when most of it was over. It was one of those feelings, unfortunately well-familiar to me as a heavy-taper by then, of “Oh man, I’m missing this!” Of course, the follow-up “Well, at least I got some of it” took a bit of the sting away.

(If you go way back to the top and look at the tape’s label, you’ll see that the listing for this is off to the side and not where it should be, right after The Avenger. That’s because, for years, this broadcast was unlisted on the tape. I don’t know if it was due to the haphazard nature of the recording or what, but for whatever reason, I never labeled it properly. Oh sure, I took the time to label “TV Land Programs” later that summer, but Chuck & John got shorted on that front. It wasn’t until 2011 when I was making a concerted effort to label a lot of my tapes that had suffered in obscurity for years that this was duly notarized. It took a bit of searching, I could only remember it was on a tape with a purple Sony tape, but finally I found it, labeled it, and it is now given the proper respect it so deserves.)

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There’s just under an hour of Chuck & John action on the tape, but even so, several skits were captured. My favorite of them (tied with “The Lil’ Flash,” at least) was Cuyahoga Jones, their Indiana Jones parody. This was the first time I had ever seen one of these skits, which were part of a continuing storyline in which Cuyahoga tries to steal the “Kapusta Diamond.” Big Chuck played Cuyahoga, and Lil’ John played Shortstuff. In this one, they tried to earn $20 in order to buy supplies to help them carry the safe containing the diamond out of the castle. Pretty funny stuff!

Believe it or not, there’s a lot of memories tied into this tape, more than I could ever hope to accurately describe in print. The video itself, yeah, I fondly recall all of this stuff from that winter season, but it also brings to mind that general period in my life. All of the things/shows/etc. I was and am into, sure, but also other memories, like going to the mall with my Mom for Christmas shopping, come to mind when thinking of the era this tape comes from. As much as I love the actual recordings, I think those memories are even more important to me. Maybe I’m doing a sloppy job of getting across what I’m trying to say, but hopefully you know what I’m getting at. I’m sure you can all relate in one way or another.

And so, with that, this Christmas post nears an end. I sincerely hope all of you have a fantastic Christmas and New Years. Thank you to all that have taken the time to read this blog, and in some cases, even pass the link around. Have a wonderful holiday season and be safe in the new year.

Stay tuned, more goofy stuff to come!

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Batclips DVD Review

The $1 DVDs you sometimes find in the checkout aisle of grocery stores or in forlorn sections of major retail joints are often hit-and-miss. After all, there’s only so many public domain movies, TV shows and cartoons that can be released over and over again. Often, the companies presenting the umpteenth release of a given film to the public have to rely on creative cover art to trick unsuspecting passerby into thinking a particular DVD they’ve got collecting dust on the shelf is in actuality the feel-good, must-have hit of the holiday season. My favorite examples? Releases of John Wayne’s public domain 1930’s B-movies that feature cover art made to look like it’s for ‘real’ John Wayne movies. Why, certain people could very well be tricked into thinking Randy Rides Alone is of the same cinematic quality as The Searchers!

That’s not to say I don’t love the $1 DVD section at stores, though. In all honesty, I will happily rummage through the budget titles before I even think about glancing towards the ‘real’ big-time DVD releases. I know what I’ll find there, but the $1 section can be like a neverending grab-bag of surprises. You can find some truly awesome titles if you’re willing to dig past a lot of junk discs. An example of budget DVD greatness? Batclips.

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This one seemingly came out of nowhere when it showed up in $1 racks a few years ago, but don’t let the cheap price fool you. This is an awesome DVD and absolutely worth the dollar (it’s hard to beat a buck anyway, but given some of the material presented, I can easily see them charging a bit more and not being called out on it). The cartoonish artwork and rather odd tagline on the front cover may lead some to think this is a cut-rate documentary on the origins of the Batman character, but it’s actually about 30 minutes worth of material pertaining to the 1966-1968 Batman TV series starring Adam West (as well as the 1966 film based on said series and starring said badass). Let me clarify that this is often listed as Bat Clips, with a space between the two words, but the spine and description on my copy both call it Batclips, no space, so that’s what I’m calling it, too (I only mention this because while doing my research on this DVD, the spacing issue did indeed mess with my search results).

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Due to legal problems, the actual 1966-1968 TV series has, thus far, not been officially released in any format (though the 1966 movie has). But believe it or not, for those craving some 60’s Batman, this DVD actually holds some genuinely interesting tidbits. According to the back of the packaging, this was put out by Treasure Box Collection, which is one of those companies that has released a ton of movies, TV shows, etc. out as dollar DVDs. Or were they one of those companies? I heard they went out of business, and the single website link I found was dead, so…? Come to think of it, I haven’t seen any DVDs put out by them lately. Is it just my area, or have they closed up shop?

Either way, their products usually (always?) featured the “Platinum Collection” band across the top of the artwork, ostensibly meant to give the package a more “collectible” aura. And I’ll tell you right now that unless “Digitally Remastered” is just a fancy term for “transferred to a digital format,” well, lets just say this isn’t exactly Criterion Collection quality here. In fact, it appears the entire contents of the disc come transferred straight from a VHS source, complete with the video imperfections that are inherent to the format. That said, everything here is entirely watchable, and “Digitally Remastered” is a term thrown around so often regarding budget DVDs that it really doesn’t mean anything anymore. Just don’t go in thinking this to be comparable to something Kino had a hand in, okay? As you’ll see in a bit, the picture could be sharper, sure, but why nitpick the picture quality of a $1 DVD? There’s some really terrific, really unexpected stuff here, and damn dude, it was a dollar.

Also, my copy is in a regular plastic snap DVD keep case, but apparently Batclips was later reissued in a thin cardboard sleeve, albeit with the same artwork (that version apparently has a running time of “Approximately 60 Minutes” listed, though no mention of a running time is anywhere on my copy, and besides, the DVD is only about half that length). I haven’t seen that “edition” in person, however, and indeed, I haven’t seen Batclips available locally since, well, since around the time this copy was in stores. Does that mean the sealed Batclips I have stored away will one day be worth $1000?! Or MORE?!?!

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“An inside look at a superhero phenomenon?” is, to me, a bit of an odd tagline. At first, I thought the question mark at the end was a typo (typos being fairly common with $1 DVDs), but considering it’s found on the front and back of the case and on the disc face itself, it seems they were trying to give the impression this DVD would dig down and deep into what makes Batguy tick. Alternately, it also makes it sound like the DVD is going to be some kind of dirty laundry tell-all documentary, though of course it’s not.

The description on the back cover actually isn’t too far off. Aside from the mention of “posters” (which I don’t understand since there’s no picture gallery or anything on the disc, unless they’re talking about the covert art, which is found on the case, disc, and menu screen) and the phrase “…more Batmania than has ever been assembled in on [sic] DVD before” which I’m guessing is a bit of an exaggeration (unless we’re talking budget DVDs only, in which case they’re probably right), the description is really pretty accurate. Honestly, I was expecting much of it to be BS, but the DVD does indeed live up to the promises made on the back, more or less.

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There’s the front and back of the DVD itself. Thankfully, it’s a factory pressed silver disc, as opposed to a DVD-R or something, thus ensuring years of Batclips lovin’.

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The real jewel of Batclips is found right at the beginning of the DVD: the 7 minute, unaired Batgirl promo used to sell ABC on a third season of Batman. Not only is this completely unexpected, but it’s also a step closer to the actual episodes of the series that have so far been barred from official release. The pilot is set up like a mini-episode of the series, complete with narration and “Pow!” exclamations during fight scenes. The story goes that the ratings for Batman had fallen so much during the second season that ABC was questioning whether they wanted to bring it back for a third. So, the producers made this short pilot introducing Yvonne Craig as Batgirl. ABC was impressed enough with the pilot to give season three a go, and Batgirl became a regular castmember and fellow crimefighter to Batman and Robin.

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For a seven minute “episode” that was never intended to be seen outside of wherever this was shown to ABC execs in 1967, it’s pretty entertaining. Then again, 60’s Batman can do little wrong in my eyes. The gist of the pilot is that bad guy The Killer Moth and his henchmen are hanging out at the library, where Commissioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara (BATGIRL) works. Batman and Robin show up to kick some Moth ass, and quickly wind up in a predicament. Batgirl lends a hand. One funny scene, during a brawl with The Killer Moth’s henchmen, has Batman chatting with Batgirl, occasionally turning to punch out a bad guy, and then casually turning back to the conversation.

This pilot is the sort of thing you wouldn’t be surprised finding at a fan convention or something, but it showing up on a commercial DVD is definitely eyebrow raising. Where did it come from? How did Treasure Box Collection get it? How were they allowed to release it? Has Batgirl lapsed into the public domain, or is it a grey area legally? Batclips wasn’t exactly sold under the counter, and while it’s not really seen on shelves nowadays (not around here, at least), it was pretty widely available at the time (dollar DVDs tend to get around, y’know?). The only copyright found on the package is one credited to “Dan Dalton Productions.” So, I take it Mr. Dalton is one of the chosen few in the position to release this stuff? I mean, God bless him for making this DVD happen either way, but I’d hate for anyone to get into any trouble. Maybe that’s why Batclips is seemingly so scarce on DVD nowadays, or worse yet, why Treasure Box Collection appears to be incommunicado? Did Warner Bros. or DC Comics or whoever the hell owns all this stuff put their foot down?!?! Tune in next week, same Bat time, same…oh, never mind.

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From there the DVD swings into a 1972 public service announcement by the U.S. Department Of Labor Wage & Hour Division. The subject? Batgirl hasn’t been getting equal pay because she’s a girl, and thus isn’t sure if she wants to save Batman and Robin from being all blowed up. The PSA features Batman series stars Burt Ward as Robin and Yvonne Craig as Batgirl, as well as NOT Adam West as Batman (Bats is instead portrayed by Dick Gautier, though he adequately looks and sounds enough like West to keep the mega-fans at bay). Batgirl claims she’s been working for Batman “a long time,” but is paid less than Robin for the same job. I never really thought Batgirl worked for Batman, but was rather a separate but kindred crimefighter, right? Then again, they needed something to set the PSA in motion, in which case I’m all for some inaccuracies if it means getting Bats into it. Batman’s response when Batgirl states men and women are to be paid equally for the same job by the same employer? “No time for jokes, Batgirl!” Damn!

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Next, we’re presented with not one but several trailers for the 1966 Batman feature film. One of them is even partially in Spanish. They vary in length, and while they’re certainly neat to see, the “samey” nature of them quickly wears a bit thin. Featuring Adam West and Burt Ward in their respective characters announcing the upcoming film and the benefits to humanity it features, the stable of villains in it, as well as the required action shots, it’s all very cool, but some would say a little would have went a long way here. I guess Treasure Box Collection or whoever initially put this thing together was determined to use everything they had?

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There had been some movie serials in the 1940’s, but 1966’s Batman was the first full-length, color Batman film. It retained a lot of the campy fun of the series, albeit with a higher budget, allowing for some additonal Batgadgets and whatnot (which were then used in the series). An all-star assembly of villains (The Joker, Catwoman, The Penguin and The Riddler) also made this, in theory, the Batman movie to end all Batman movies. Frankly, I love it, but as previously stated, 60’s Batman, in TV or movie form, can do little wrong in my eyes. Obviously, this film is a quantum leap away from the 1989 Tim Burton film and it’s 1992 sequel, not to mention the Christopher Nolan films of recent years. If you’re not a fan of the 1966-1968 Adam West series, the feature film version probably isn’t going to do much to change your mind.

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After finishing up with the movie trailers, a 30-second promo for the series is seen. There’s no station I.D., date, timeslot or voiceover, so I can’t tell if this was meant for the original airings of the TV series or for later syndicated broadcasts. It features Commissioner Gordon calling Bruce Wayne on the Bat Phone, and then Batman and Robin swinging into action. There’s plenty of room for a local voiceover, station I.D. or timeslot to be inserted, so, I don’t know. I’m guessing this was for local airings after the series ended, but I could very well be wrong. I do know that in the early/mid-2000’s, before your NEO Video Hunter had wholly begun to collect his own material (something I now do absolutely exclusively), this promo was making the rounds on the internet, and if I recall correctly, it was listed as a 60’s spot. Which brings up an interesting point: I have a feeling that all or at least most of the material on Batclips was probably circulating (perhaps together, perhaps individually) in one form or another before Batclips collected it all into one convenient package. Maybe it was all the turf of fan-made comps available exclusively at conventions and the like, or maybe there was an official (or semi-official) VHS release at some point in the past. I don’t know, I have no proof, I’m only speculating.

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And that brings us to the most oddball section of Batclips: the personal appearances portion. First up: Adam West, in character as Batman, making a personal appearance at what seems to be a car show or the like somewhere. From the looks of the fashions seen in the crowd, this was maybe the late-80’s or early-90’s, and there seems to be a date on the banner hanging behind West that might say 1992, but the video quality is so soft that it’s really hard to tell. This was very clearly filmed with a home camcorder, a fact made all the more obvious by the picture and sound quality.

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It would be easy to make jokes about this, but the fact of the matter is that Adam West, Burt Ward and Yvonne Craig were all severely typecast by their roles in Batman, and whenever film or TV work was scarce, making personal appearances at conventions, car shows, store openings, etc. was a good way to pay the bills. Furthermore, West is never anything less than completely engaging and personable. He stays in character as Batman, makes jokes, speaks freely with audience members, and perhaps what impresses me most, clearly states that he’s not going to leave until every member of the audience that wants an autograph gets one. See that book he’s holding above? He tries to get the lady who brought it to read a scene with him, which she declines. I actually own a copy of that same book (a collection of older comic stories put together in the 1960’s to capitalize on the then-hot TV series), and I think if I’m ever fortunate enough to meet Adam West in person, I’d like to bring my copy to be autographed. Or, I could always bring, you know, Batclips.

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Next up, more camcorder action from the sidelines of some talk show that was apparently hosting a Batman cast reunion, complete with a recreation of the set. As evidenced by the crewmembers often obstructing the view, this was probably not an official outtake of whatever show this was.

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This part of Batclips works as a curiosity piece, but unlike the Adam West appearance prior, much of the sound is unintelligible, the camera is often moving, crewmembers are sometimes in the way, and there’s just no real rhyme or reason to any of it. I can safely say this is the least watchable part of the entire DVD. Don’t get me wrong, it’s interesting to have, if for no other reason than to have the cast all together on one stage, but it’s not something most people will want to watch over and over.

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The DVD ends with a 17-second kinda-animated sequence intended for…well, I don’t know what the hell this was intended for,

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The sequence starts off with the stick of dynamite (or is it just a firecracker?) blowing up, and then several Batman-esque action cards being shown before cutting to that probably-not-professional-drawing of Batman, who for whatever reason is thinking of his own logo (or possibly just a regular ol’ bat). it’s a real non-sequiter of a sequence, and I have no idea what it was meant to be a part of. The clip has some age to it, that’s for sure, so maybe it was meant for the movie theater and/or drive-in circuit, perhaps from some point in the 1970’s? I have absolutely no basis for that guess, just a gut-feeling, and just like that promo I was talking about earlier, I could very well be wrong.

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So there you have it, Treasure Box Collection’s DVD release of Batclips. It may look like an unassuming budget DVD, but man, it’s waaay cooler than you’d expect it to be, especially for only a buck. When this was purchased, multiple copies of Batclips were easily found at the same grocery store this copy came from, but since then, the DVD has apparently become scarce. At the time of the writing, there are only three used copies on Ebay, and one used copy on Amazon, and, get this, they’re all priced around $30! Granted, sellers can ask any price they want, but the point is that if this were still in some kind of wide-release (relatively speaking, I mean), both sites would in all likelihood be littered with both new and used copies at a much wider-range of prices. So, I wonder if legal actions were quietly taken when word of this release reached the respective copyright owners? Or, maybe because the film elements aren’t as widely available as other public domain movies on dollar DVDs, when Treasure Box Collection went under (*if* they went under), releasing a similar collection just isn’t as easy for other companies, especially since Dan Dalton Productions is supposedly in charge of the content. Of course, I have zero evidence that any of this is true, once again I’m just speculating, but it’s sure interesting to think about.

No matter, because I can say that as someone with some experience in budget DVDs (dubious honor that may be), I’ve never seen anything like Batclips, before or since. You can find some neat releases in the $1 DVD section, but from my viewpoint, Batclips is honestly the best disc I’ve ever found at that area. It just goes to show you, don’t pass up those cheap DVDs, because you never know what you’ll find!