Sunday, May 3, 2009

In which we're Back after an exciting Commercial Break

Now then, where was I before life so rudely interrupted me? Oh, yes ... the Pirate Show.

So here we are waiting for the Watings Word, or Ratings Rood, or whatever, elaborately pretending that we don't care a fig for such mundane things but really hoping for some external validation here folks, because playing to the camera is fun n all and it's amusing to try to get the guys to break up but otherwise there's not much indication that anybody's watching beyond the fan mail from the flounders. Production has settled into a routine, which is:

  • Get dub of next week's movie from Keith as we finish the debrief of the current show
  • Watch home tape of the show Sunday afternoon (speed through movie, on account of it probably stunk); watch dub of next week's movie, talk back at it a lot; watch dub a second time, talk back at it a lot, time and take notes of movie and back-sassing
  • Walk around Ruckus Arenus and the so-called Hermitage Hall during Monday lunch, look at the movie notes and cull them into Promising Leads and Dead-End Bores; take the long way home and try to break a theme for the week's show
  • Try the theme out on Barb during Monday dinner -- if she laughs it's a go and we talk the overall show through, if not it's Plan B which is lots of "Darlings" and sassing Keith
  • Break the consensual theme and related notes into the Intro, Outro, and assigned commercial breaks
  • Write the first half of the show (through Mail) Tuesday night;
  • Write the second half of the show (through close) Wednesday night;
  • Read through with Barb, polish script, and deliver the script to Keith Thursday night;
  • Get a life Friday night
  • Prop and music shop Saturday afternoon; final readthrough and polish Saturday evening; pick up Bob at Joe B's
  • Arrive at station Saturday around 11:30; make faces at Mike n Mindy through the door, try to get them to break up on camera
  • Makeup and wardrobe for Barb; set goes in and crew goes to lunch; review final script with Keith before he goes to lunch; Keith sets up graphics and whatever bluescreen we're doing
  • Make cue cards, pace, wait for people to come in; ignore the No Smoking signs and stink up the joint with the vile cigars I was smoking at the time; SNL network feed is playing in the studio and I'm trying to decide which will be less funny -- tonight's SNL or tonight's MT (usually giving the prize to SNL, although this was the first year of the Church Lady, the Pathological Liar, Master Thespian and Fernando)
  • Barb, Bob, Keith, Doug, Jeff are usually the first back, around 12:30 or so; Barb gets plugged in, Bob gets his sides, Doug and Jeff get cameras lined up; Keith runs down the show with his crew, crew runs down Keith for whatever mischievous reason they have that week; elaborately ignore the children's quarrels as well as the "Who's been smoking in here?" questions -- "I didn't see anybody come in here smoking," which was true enough as far as it went
  • About the time the Musical Guests play their second set, rehearse the open once or twice; suggestions and comments are proffered, considered, accepted or rejected; Keith starts the countdown clock when the SNL house band starts vamping the waltz outro theme, everybody gets into position
  • Do show
  • Repeat until cancelled.

This routine works well until the dreaded week in November when Keith allows as to how there's a problem with next week's movie.

See, the movies were 16mm films that arrived from the distributor usually on Wednesday or Thursday. Keith's Friday afternoon task was to take the reels of film, screen them to make sure that a) we had the right movie b) we had all of the right movie iii) remove any black leader that had been spliced into the movie by the previous renter and 4) retime and recut the movie into MT's commercial segments, cleverly inserting black leader as necessary. He would then dub the movie onto VHS cassettes, one each for himself, us and audio (first Jeff1, then Doug). During broadcast, the actual movie its own bad self was still in 16mm format and run through a film chain. Yes, children, and all the audio cues were reel-to-reel or cassettes, many of which were made by Jeff1, Doug or me on our home tape decks. Amazing, but true. The highest of high tech was that the final show was written on a C64 (is that a real C64 or a Sears C64? the latter I fear, bought on sale at Fayette Mall).

So a problem with the movie usually was either a remarkably crummy color print that needed hellacious electronic tweaking to try to rebalance the color, or a remarkably crummy black n white print with all of the pristine clarity of a third carbon copy, occasionally a remarkably crummy print that had been run through a projector that had a 6d nail inexplicably stuck in the film gate.

Not this week. The problem with the movie was that it hadn't arrived from the distributor yet.

Normally, this would not be a big deal, because we had The List of Movies. This was a typed list prepared by Bill Back in the Day, that listed (wait for it) the air date and the movie title. That's it -- no other information available. Now a quick scan of IMDB (or, back then, our by-now well-thumbed copies of The Golden Turkey Awards, Maltin's Movie Directory and the Psychotronic Encyclopedia) tells us that there aren't a lot of movies out there with titles like Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things or The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave; but the movie in question was Bluebeard, and there are rather a few movies out there with Bluebeard in the title, and three of them could have been the one we were programmed to show: a Richard Burton paycheck vehicle featuring Raquel Welch, a French pirate movie, or an Edgar Ulmer PRC oddity featuring John Carradine and singing puppets.

Keith and I summoned our vaunted powers of deduction (we had, after all, recently put up a Hard Boiled Dick show so we were experts at this sort of stuff) and reasoned:

  • A color Richard Burton movie with Raquel Welch in it was too expensive for the drek package we were slogging through
  • A PRC oddity would fit in with the other PRC classics we were slogging through, but not even Bill would stick us with singing puppets
  • Therefore it must be the French pirate movie.

So we decided to program around the French pirate movie for starters. Although Monday was Keith's day off, he would check in with the station: undoubtedly the package was delayed in the mail, would have been delivered Saturday except that the station picked its mail up from a post office box and the post office box pickup guy (who had the only key to the post office box) didn't work Saturdays, so of course it would come in on Monday. Keith would get his counterpart to check the first few feet of movie to identify the studio and star, we'd know what movie we really were showing, and Monday was early enough to shift writing gears if necessary.

A sound plan, worthy of praise. Except that when Keith called us Monday night, the movie still wasn't in.

Didn't come in Tuesday, either.

So now we've got Wednesday to write, no matter what. And of course the movie didn't come in on Wednesday. Barb and I decide to cast our lot with the pirates. This is in the innocent days before National Talk Like a Pirate Day; occasionally the Opry House and Ruckus Arenus riggers would decide to Talk Like Pirates, because it was Amusing. Typically, pirate-speak was employed either because the Opry House show was full of teeny tiny dance school kids (we particularly favored talking like pirates during Miss Jane's School o Dance, because it highly amused Miss Jane, who quivered approvingly when she laughed) or during the wretched hives of scum n villainy that traveled with such arena rock dinosaurs as AC/DC or Mr. Osbourne (this year was the Year of Alleged Bat-Biting).

So up we stay half the night, making pirate jokes and scattering them across the various positions. The deliverable script is all over the place, with Arrrs instead of Darlings, and the Line That Shall Live On Forever: "Shiver me timbers. That means 'My Lumber is Cold'." We read it through Thursday night, punchy as can be, and roister off to WLEX. Keith is chewing away on his moustache when we arrive, because we're two days to air and the thing still hasn't come in, and neither has next week's movie. We opine that maybe we should leave a note for Bill to call the distributor and see what's up; it might be nice if Bill actually did some Producing for a change. So we scribble an Oh By the Way on our Invoice for Services Rendered, slip it under his door, and motor off into the night trailing titters n sniggers all the way.

I guess Bill made the call, because both movies were rush-shipped and delivered (!) to WLEX on Saturday. It made Elmer's day; he had to sign for a delivery. We arrive, make the requisite faces at Mike n Mindy, and Keith comes out of the control room.

To tell us that it's the singing puppet movie.

Well, all righty then. Barb pales, I'm speechless; we decide that no matter what she's still got to get into makeup and wardrobe, so off go Barb n Bob while Keith and I put our heads back together to figure out this Fine Mess.

Didn't take long; it's not like we had a lot of options. We decide we're going with the pirate show as planned, and whatever happened would happen. As would be said in the future, It Was what It Was. I go tell Barb that we'll go with what we planned. She's dubious, and if that's the case then she'd really rather not have the movie program run in the studio while we're on the air; she's afraid that the disconnect will throw her performance off. Seems reasonable to me, Keith's fine with it (because all that's involved is to turn the floor monitors off), and we're off. The only change we decide to make is to give Keith a line correcting Millie about the movie, which Millie immediately blows off and continues with her spiel as written.

During the second position, we hear hoots from the control room while we're running the scene. Turns out they're watching the movie in the control room, and the movie (ridiculous enough to start with) is so out of sync with our show that it's a continuous WTF experience. We turn the floor monitors on, and they're right: this is a Dada night if ever there was one. By now everybody is laughing so hard we're having a hard time getting back in place for the next sequence. Barb compensates by slowing her delivery down, and it comes out as Millie is Never Wrong, Even When She's Wrong. This gives everybody ideas for the rest of the show, and we start writing in more Keith/Millie banter to heighten the disconnect. It's getting harder and harder to keep from laughing in the studio during the on-air sequences; the disconnect is too silly for words.

By the time we're done, if somebody hadn't been Bwah-ha-ha-ha'ing they should have been. We were pretty dizzy from the performance. Even Keith is laughing, and he never laughs. Keith apologizes, hasn't had time to dub next week's movie but he'll get to it later today (it is Sunday, after all). We'll stop by around dinner and pick it up.

When we get home, we can't wait: we rewind our tape of the broadcast and watch the first half hour or so. It is ridiculous; we can't believe we actually went ahead and did this. It's just so -- so -- oh, Bwah-ha-ha-ha!



  1. I totally don't remmeber this, but I have few memories of the show other than what I taped and a few others (the Time Change thing, Barb/Millie comparing herself to Elvira using a DC Comic book illustration, Wags, for some reason I know really enjoyed all the host segments for CSPWDT but I don't remember any of them, and I have a fleeting memory of the last show, (which really bugged me because I could have rented a VCR that weekend but just didn't because I wanted a pizza from the Southern Treet that Saturday).

    Mentioning Bluebeard kinda brings something back, but only a fleeting memory. I like that you were using the same film books that I was to look up the show's next movies. (I have to say my older brother was responsible for having those--they came out way to much before my driving age for me to purchase them myself.)

    Things I'm really curious about? I don't remember what was done for holidays besides Halloween... Christmas? Thanksgiving? New Years? Can't remember if you guys mostly focused on the local politics as much as did seasonal stuff.

    Anyway, my two cents.

  2. Well, Halloween seemed a natural; but we weren't thrilled with the execution or the viewer support. So we shied away from seasonal stuff because it didn't seem to work for us.

    Remember, this was a part-time gig; we invested a good deal of time in making the show, but we had Other Stuff going on as well. It was pretty much polishing the first draft more than searching endlessly for le mot juste.

    Everything generally started from our response to the movie. We had another crisis in late winter, which story I'm saving, that set things back for a couple of weeks; when that crisis was resolved, everything became a lot more free-associative.

    We didn't think of the humor as "political"; 20+ years of living in close proximity to Mark Russell and The Capitol Steps has pretty much taken the poo out of political humor for me (funny Hill interns, spare me). It was really more Emperor's New Clothes stuff. I never for the life of me figured out why a Certain Prominent Real Estate Developer managed to get the fawning press that he did when it seemed obvious that the financing et. al. was perhaps less than responsible; so the blurring of reality between teevee and reality in the show mirrored the blurring of the self-referential fanboy monster movie stuff and the running commentary on life in six square blocks of downtown Lexington. I think we were more interested in how much we could deconstruct the expectations.

    Besides, the free-associating with then-reality was a lot more fun to write and perform. And we figured, if it was fun to produce then it was fun to watch. Of course, we assumed that; as far as MT was concerned, we were deep in our little show bubble, disconnected with the rest of WLEX and most of our secondary circles of friends, so we weren't getting much objective feedback.