Be forewarned: This'll be a pretty long article, and my personal memories are going to factor heavily into it. This subject is near and dear to my heart, and I wrote and discarded numerous drafts of this article before coming up with one I was satisfied with. Even if you can't relate to everything I write about, I at least hope you enjoy it.
Being a Northeast Ohioan isn't always glamorous. The job market isn't great right now, the winters can suck, Cleveland is the punchline of so many jokes, Akron has made Forbes' Most Miserable Cities list at least once, the Cleveland Browns break my heart time and time again, and in some areas, as Mick Jagger once so eloquently put it, don't you know the crime rate is going up, up, up, up, UP? (You'll notice that I could have been cliche and mentioned LeBron's leaving us, but damn dude, that's played out.) What I'm saying is that it's easy to feel a little down sometimes, you know?
But, I love my hometown, and there are some things I wouldn't trade no matter how many times the Browns inevitably blow it. I may hate winter, but I love the summer and fall here, Michael Stanley is one of the best rockers you've never heard of, Cleveland has always loves Bruce Springsteen and thus Bruce Springsteen has always loved Cleveland, we've got the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Museum, Drew Carey is everlastingly awesome, and most importantly, dammit, there are just some truly great people living here.
Michael Stanley: Rockin' out.
However, none of that is the subject at hand. Rather, I'm here to talk about our long, long line of horror movie hosts. Now, unless you grew up with them, I know the idea of some guy in a spooky get-up, hosting an awful monster movie and performing cheesy comedy skits can seem a little, well, stupid. But, for many of us, this is how we were introduced to many, many old sci-fi and horror films, even if most of them were grades B, C, or Z. It's not supposed to be high-art, though. It's supposed to be a good way to chill out, sit back with a beer, and watch a goofy old movie.
Starting with Vampira in Los Angeles in 1954, most cities had a local horror host somewhere on their dial throughout the 1960's and 1970's. Even throughout the 1980's and into the early-90's, they could be found, albeit in ever-dwindling numbers. But, as infomercials and/or cheaper alternative programming began taking over and squeezing out locally produced works, the fine art of horror hosting began to fade away. Even some longtime mainstays, such as our own Superhost, fell victim to programming that was supposedly
better, cutting his timeslot more and more until he ended his run in 1989 (after 20 years on the air).
A 1989 promo for WUAB TV-43's Superhost, played by Marty Sullivan. Unfortunately, I don't have a whole lot of Superhost material besides this promo.
Northeast Ohio's stable of horror hosts is especially rich, and just as Cleveland has been deemed the Rock & Roll capital of the world, it could seriously be argued that it's also the horror host capital of the world. One of the great things about NE Ohioans is that they have long, loyal memories. They're reluctant to let something just "go away" if it's meant something to them. Unlike many areas, where a host may last a few years/months/days/minutes/seconds, we've had guys last decades
, people that can still draw a crowd even if they're not currently on-the-air. There's got to be something to that. I came around in 1986, long after these guys were necessities on local stations across the rest of the country, and yet I still managed to grow up with them. I wasn't a fluke, either. The kids in my grade school classes knew who these guys were, too, even if they were never into this sort of thing like I was (and obviously still am). From how I understand it, that just didn't happen in most places, not when you're a kid growing up in the 1990's, at least.
A little backstory: It all began with Ernie Anderson's Ghoulardi. He only ran on WJW TV-8 from 1963 to 1966, but his popularity was enormous and his influence was huge. You still
hear about Ghoulardi. Ghoulardi certainly *looked* the part of horror host, at least at first glance, but he was much hipper, much wilder. What set him apart was that Ernie Anderson just didn't give a damn; He pretty much did whatever he pleased on camera, and this was live
Local celebrities or places he deemed uncool were promptly ripped on, he blew things up with firecrackers, he had his own cache of hip lingo and catchphrases ("Turn Blue!", "Purple Knif!", "Oxnard!"), and he openly told audiences the movies were bad and that they "should just go to bed". All of that may not sound like much nowadays, but back then, that sort of thing just wasn't done on TV.
The famous "Ernie Anderson Interviews Ghoulardi" sketch.
Ghoulardi was a massive success. He drew higher ratings than The Tonight Show locally, and at his peak was not only hosting the Friday night "Shock Theater" program, but also a Saturday matinee show and a weekday kids show. He spoke with an almost "hip Dracula" accent, and played Jazz, Blues, Rock & Roll, or novelty records. He superimposed himself or music/sound effects in the movies. Again, that may sound relatively tame today, but back in 1963/1964, before all the upheavals later in the decade, Ghoulardi was nothing short of revolutionary.
It's hard for me to go into too much detail, because Ernie Anderson left for Hollywood 20 years before I was born, but Ghoulardi's antics are very well documented. Unfortunately, these shows were broadcast live, and consequently there's just not a whole lot of footage that was recorded. Aside from a segment of Joe Bob Briggs' Movie Channel program, Anderson wouldn't be seen as Ghoulardi again (he had huge success doing voiceovers, though. "The Loooooove Boat!" and so on. Hell, I've got a Sega Master System commercial with Anderson providing narration, truly one of TV's shining moments). His son is acclaimed film director Paul Thomas Anderson, of Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood, etc. fame. And the name of Paul Thomas Anderson's production company? The Ghoulardi Film Company.
Ghoulardi had a slew of successors, none quite as popular as him, but most have gathered quite a followng and become legends in their own right. But, my story actually begins with a show that wasn't from my hometown. It all started in 1997 with Mystery Science Theater 3000, the show where a guy and his two robots watch a bad movie and provide their own hilarious running commentary (keep in mind, I'm not sure if I really consider MST3K as a horror host-type show, or not. It does have the basic ingredients, but the end result doesn't really come off the same. However, it did ultimately lead me in the 'right direction' and give me a love for this type of thing, as we'll soon see).
MST3K was a local show out of Minneapolis, MN, which began on an independent station there in 1988, moved to The Comedy Channel (later Comedy Central) in 1989 and gained a national audience, lasting on that network until 1996, and then in 1997 moved to the Sci-Fi Channel for the final three seasons, ending in 1999. For a show that is decidedly "cult", against all odds (i.e., clueless network executives) it lasted 10 national seasons, and has built a massive following.
I had a bizarre fascination with Parts: The Clonus Horror after watching that episode. Sometime afterwards, I began a desperate but ultimately successful quest to obtain the then out-of-print VHS (it's on DVD nowadays). Even today, I actually *like* the film!
At 10/11 years of age, I was already a fan of old horror and sci-fi films, and had discovered some of the cool movies the Sci-Fi Channel would run (this was looooong before all this "SyFy" nonsense). So, it was really the various movies played on MST3K that first attracted me to it. It was only afterwards that I realized "hey this show is funny!
". I had never seen something so hilarious. I was hooked, big time. I became, and remain to this day, a massive fan of the series. It is quite literally a show I've never stopped loving.
Unfortunately, towards the end of Summer '97, my Dad decided cable was too expensive. I of course disagreed, but being 11 years old and with no real source of income, there wasn't much I could do about it. At the time, we could only get Sci-Fi & other higher-end channels with a Time-Warner cable box. We would later get a box-less basic cable package (50+ channels) around '99 or so, and while most of my favorites were included, Sci-Fi wouldn't be added to that until after we had, again, dropped cable, sometime in late-2000. I was able to capture a few MSTs on VHS, and a relative with Sci-Fi helpfully recorded a few episodes at my request, plus Rhino was just beginning to officially release episodes on tape, so I wasn't completely MST-deprived. But still, it just wasn't the same, especially when I was reading online about all the great new episodes airing (it wouldn't be until 2002 that I would be able to regularly watch the series on TV again, when I started walking to a nearby Aunt's house and taping every episode still airing every Saturday morning when I discovered she had Sci-Fi in her basic cable package. MST3K was the only
show I would get up early on Saturday mornings for!).
Needless to say, I needed my MST fix. Thanks to the old TV Guides I refused to discard, I knew the series was being syndicated locally as late as 1996 (as the "Mystery Science Theater Hour") on Akron's ABC affiliate, WAKC TV-23 (fun fact: we also received Cleveland's ABC affiliate. The result? TGIF on two different channels at once! Crazy!
). I had no idea at the time how syndication worked, but I poured over local TV listings, searching desperately for some late night or early morning airing of my favorite show. It became clear, however, that without cable, I just wasn't going to be able to watch my beloved Mystery Science Theater 3000 on a regular basis.
Summer of 1997 wasn't notable just for my continuing obsession with and eventual loss of MST3K, however. While I had fallen in love with old horror and sci-fi films, I had also had a growing faschination with old cinema in general, and there was a local independent station that played a LOT of it:
WAOH TV-29 in Akron & WAX TV-35 in Cleveland went by "The Cat" (C
elevision, get it?), and syndicated a lot of content from the America One network throughout the day, including a LOT of old movies. Comedies, westerns, dramas, silents, sword & sandal imports, and my favorites, sci-fi and horror films; The films could range anywhere from the 1920's to the 1970's, generally. There was a late morning 90 minute movie, an early afternoon 90 minute B-Western, a 2 hour film after that, and another 2 hour film in the evening. My longtime love for Western movies began thanks to those early afternoon B-Westerns.
To this day, I love watching Dobie freakin' Gillis, thanks to those Cat airings.
During the late night hours, they'd usually "pipe in" content from different stations (If I recall correctly, usually programming from AIN, or the American Independent Network), and there was a 50/50 chance they'd play something completely different from what was printed in the local TV listings. I used to set the VCR timer to record various movies throughout the day and night, and many was the time I was excited about some flick they'd have scheduled in the late night hours, only to be saddened come the morning when I discovered they'd shown something else entirely.
The ubiquitous America One logo, seen many times during any given daytime Cat broadcast.
(On a sidenote, have you ever read David Cronenberg's inspiration for Videodrome? As a kid in Canada, late at night his TV could pick up signals from New York, and he would worry he'd see something he wasn't supposed to. I had the same feelings getting up in the middle of the night and turning on The Cat when I couldn't sleep. They never showed anything disturbing, but it was all "where did THIS come from?" sort of stuff, local programming and whatnot originating from who-knows-where.)
Apparently the Kent show replaced the Buckeye show somewhere down the line. The Big Al Show was all about karaoke, and my only real memory of it was a disturbing Elvis impersonator once.
The Cat was a station that introduced me to a lot of great films and TV shows, but it also had a strong local identity. They produced & ran commercials for a lot of local businesses that probably couldn't afford airtime on the bigger local affiliates. They also ran a lot of local programming that could only be seen on their station. All throughout that summer and into the fall, as I was watching the various old movies I loved, I kept seeing a promo for a certain show...
I was familiar with him through promos, and had seen bits and pieces of his show, but it was Halloween '97 that I first really watched one of Ghoulardi's successors, The Son Of Ghoul, played by Keven Scarpino. That first episode for me was a showing of the original Night Of The Living Dead. It was my first time seeing the film, and I instantly loved it, but even more so, I loved The Son Of Ghoul Show. I loved the movies, the music and sound effects, SOG's comedy skits, his interaction with local viewer mail, everything. It was exactly the kind of show I had been looking for, except it wasn't really a replacement. This was no case of "well, it'll have to do". No, SOG was something else entirely. I didn't forget about MST3K, not at all, but I instantly became a huge SOG fan.
Besides the fact that the show was really funny and a source of many, many new-to-me movies, I also loved the fact that it was ours.
I understood the local references, and I could go meet SOG at one of his many local appearances without having to travel very far (which I did). This was something completely different from MST3K. SOG's show (naturally) gave off a Halloween-like, scary vibe. The dungeon set from which he introduced the film and the dark 'eerie' set where he read mail were appropriately creepy.
However, despite SOG's costume (like an undertaker with a phony beard & mustache) and the appearance of his set, SOG generally didn't act especially 'scary', opting more for the hip approach, not unlike Ghoulardi. Also like Ghoulardi, various sound effects, music, and video drop-ins were inserted into the movie, and SOG had his own stable of recurring skits. My favorite was Mr. Banjo, wherein SOG (with a fake country accent) would yell at his green-screened dog for pretty much no reason.
"Dammit boy, SHUT UP!"
SOG had actually begun on a different station, WOAC TV-67, back in June 1986, only a few months after I was born. He ran there until 1995, after which he made the move to WAOH/WAX. I was too young to ever watch him on WOAC, but many of his older bits were replayed regularly during The Cat run. He was actually the replacement for George Cavender's The Cool Ghoul, host of Thriller Theater, which ran, I believe, from 1982 to 1986 (Scarpino had previously worked on Cavender's show). The Cool Ghoul had a following, but he usually isn't associated with the Ghoulardi lineage.
SOG during his very first episode in 1986.
A cool thing about the earlier Cat-years was that a new episode would air Friday night, and then be repeated Saturday night. This was pretty handy, you could preview the show to see if you "liked" the movie or if SOG read some of your mail, and tape accordingly. Speaking of mail, soon after becoming a fan, I realized that I too could write in to the show, and it was an intense couple of weeks, waiting to see if my letter would be read (I ended up sending him multiple letters over the course of a few years). Being 11 years old, I didn't have a whole lot to say, but still, at the time it was a thrill.
The "double airings" were dropped a few years later when SOG began hosting a live game show in the early-2000's, which I unfortunately wasn't able to see as we had dropped cable for the second time and were using rabbit ears to save even more money. This generally wasn't a problem for most of the local channels, but The Cat was so low power that it just wouldn't come in.
A promo for Son Of Ghoul's House Of Fun & Games, a live local call-in game show (unfortunately, this is the only footage I have of SOG's game show).
When I first began watching SOG, I only had a vague understanding of Ghoulardi and his lineage, and so I thought "Son of Ghoul" was simply short for "Son Of Ghoulardi". Not so. It was in the summer of '98 that I learned of The Ghoul, when it was announced that WBNX TV-55 was bringing him back to Cleveland TV.
The Ghoul was played by Ron Sweed. Sweed had a direct link to Ghoualrdi, as he had worked with Ernie Anderson on that show. After a phone call asking Anderson to come back to Cleveland and revive Ghoulardi failed, Sweed was given permission to revive the character on his own, albeit with a slight name change. And thus, in 1971 on the independent WKBF TV-61, The Ghoul debuted. The Ghoul had a more direct resemblance to Ghoulardi. Besides the fake beard and mustache, he also wore the fright wig, sunglasses missing a lense, and lab coat covered with buttons. Furthermore, several of Ghoulardi's popular catchphrases ("Turn Blue!" "Stay Sick!") became The Ghoul's, as well as some of the same music and sound effects. Bad sci-fi and horror movies with various drop-ins were of course run.
However, The Ghoul was no mere Ghoulardi imitator. He quickly established his own identity. Sure, he still blew things up with firecrackers, but while Ghoulardi could be desturctive, he was also hip and edgy. The Ghoul was all that, but he was even more manic and wild, and he could be verrry destructive. Most of his destructive tendencies were aimed at Froggie, a frog doll that harassed The Ghoul and would in turn would be blown up, torched, chopped, fried, or destroyed in any other number of ways.
It's a bit hazy, but I believe The Ghoul ran on WKBF from 1971-1975 before he was cancelled, despite his huge popularity (apparently this was due to parent complaints of his destructive behaviour as well the station's poor fortunes at the time), and then on the revived version of the channel, WCLQ TV-61 from 1982-1985. However, The Ghoul also had success in syndication. He was very popular here, but just as popular in Detroit, and he had varying amounts of success in other markets as well. Even today, The Ghoul and his catchphrases are recognized both here and in Detroit among people that grew up with him.
But it was his run on WBNX that I'm of course most familiar with. It was weird seeing The Ghoul for the first time, because on one hand he was similar to Son Of Ghoul, but on the other, completely different. Both played bad movies with various drop-ins, both performed skits, both kept the Ghoulardi tradition alive, but their demeanors were opposites. SOG was sarcastic and acerbic, The Ghoul was wild and zany. The looks of the two shows were also quite different. SOG's dungeon set-up stood in contrast to The Ghoul's cluttered set plastered with tons of pictures, posters, items sent in by viewers, and various other objects (plus a toilet for The Ghoul's "throne").
Truthfully, when The Ghoul debuted in 1998, it was a little hard for me to warm up to him. I was just so used to SOG and his type of humor. Plus, the production of the show's were just so different. SOG looked very much like the production of an independent station, which, at the time, was how I felt this type of show 'should look' (it didn't help that when The Ghoul premiered, he was playing a lot of his old 1970's & 1980's bits, which looked closer in style to SOG's then-current show). The Ghoul, on the other hand, while not fancy, had lots of computer graphics and titles. Consequently, while I caught the first few episodes, it would be a few months before I watched The Ghoul regularly. But, both hosts had two very different types of humor, and eventually I realized I could enjoy both without somehow being 'disloyal' to the other.
The Ghoul smashing a little toy soldier for pretty much no reason.
I also noticed that both shows would take subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) potshots at each other from time to time. At first, I took it as nothing more than a friendly rivalry sort of thing. However, a few years later I'd learn the truth: The Ghoul and Son Of Ghoul didn't exactly get along. You see, back in the late-80's, 1987 or so, after SOG had been on the air for about a year, Keven Scarpino ended being sued by Ron Sweed. Sweed felt that the SOG character was too similar to The Ghoul, and the show used too many aspects Sweed used, all without permission. This led to a bitter situation that I don't recall being aware of until I was long a fan of both hosts. Eventually, the court ruled in Scarpino's favor, allowing SOG to remain on the air. Looking at the lawsuit, I can see the point of view from both sides, but honestly, I have no real opinion on it one way or the other. All I know is that if it weren't for SOG, I may not have turned into such a fan of horror hosts, so I guess I'm glad it ended the way it did. Like I said, I ended up loving both shows for the unique things both brought to the table.
The Ghoul promoting his own book, "The Ghoul Scrapbook".
The Ghoul's run on WBNX brought forth several promotional items: As seen above, his own book, but also, his very own drink! Actually, two drinks. He had "Turn Blue Ghoul Brew", which was blue root beer that would turn your tongue the appropriate color, and "Froggie Squeezins", a green colored lemon-lime drink. Both were heavily promoted on the show, and you could buy bottles of both at his personal appearances (and I believe you could also purchase cases online), but the drinks were only available regularly at select locations in Northeast Ohio. Luckily, one of those locations was mere minutes away from me, practically right around the corner from my Grandma's house.
The Ghoul with his Turn Blue Ghoul Brew.
The first few years at WBNX were terrific. When The Ghoul debuted in the summer of '98, the show ran 2 1/2 hours, and there were even some early episodes where it could run over that time allotment. I believe that was the running time for the entire first year, maybe even year and a half, and in my opinion that was when The Ghoul was at his best on the network, really firing on all cylinders. He'd pack so much into the shows, that the movies were almost an afterthought. It seemed like much more of an experience, and staying up late Friday nights watching those shows are some of my fondest memories.
One of my favorite bits: The "Sucking An Egg Into A Bottle" segment. Nothing goes right with the trick, and The Ghoul ends up goofing off and ad-libbing throughout the whole thing. One of the funniest moments I've ever seen on any
Around late-1999/early-2000, the show was shortened to a more manageable 2 hours, which took away some of that 'experience' aspect, but the show was still overall great. I never missed it. I didn't realize it at the time, but the shortened timeslot was sort of a bad sign of things to come.
The Ghoul had quite a following, but apparently he wasn't living up to WBNX's expectations, and in the fall of 2000 he was moved from Friday nights at 11:30 PM to Sunday nights at 12:00 AM (technically Monday morning). This was terribly inconvenient for obvious reasons: I had school the next day, and most people had to get up early for work. The great "kick off the weekend" aspect of the show was completely destroyed. The Ghoul voiced his displeasure on the air, and encouraged viewers to call the station about it.
As if that wasn't bad enough, WBNX also almost completely ruined his movie selections. When The Ghoul was on Fridays, he would run horror and sci-fi flicks both obscure and well-known from many different decades. On the very first Sunday show, the movie was Remote, a 1993 direct-to-video comedy. No sound effects, no drop-ins, and The Ghoul's host segments were greatly reduced. It just completely knocked the wind out of my sails, and it never got better. Movies more in The Ghoul's genre still showed up, but they usually didn't have the drop-ins The Ghoul was so famous for (once in awhile, The Ghoul would be allowed to show one of his films "old style", but these occurences were few and far between). WBNX's next "brilliant" idea? Moving the show to 1:00 AM.
An example of The Ghoul's changing timeslots over the years.
The 1:00 AM slot was awful, but not much different than 12:00 AM; I wouldn't be able to watch it at either time. I taped many, many Friday night episodes, but ironically, I ended up with more of these Sunday night airings. See, I was so busy with school and whatnot that I continuously taped the show, but would never be able catch up. The result was that I wound up with TONS of unmarked Ghoul tapes (about a year ago I collected them all and went through them, labeling each episode. It was actually pretty interesting, a lot of the time I had NO idea what had aired, so I was constantly discovering something 'new').
Eventually, at some point in 2002, the show was moved back to Fridays, but it was at some insanely late hour, so I still
couldn't watch it (well, I could
have, if I wanted to sleep in till 2:00 PM). I have at least one of these "Return To Fridays" on tape, but sadly, I fell away from watching & taping The Ghoul altogether at this time; It was just too hard to keep up. The Ghoul ended his run on WBNX in either 2003 or 2004 (I've heard both), and maybe it was a blessing in disguise; Why stay on a network that treats you like that?
Some of The Ghoul's last broadcast TV appearances to date were these 2005 commercials for Norton Furniture.
In retrospect, it's easy to see what WBNX was shooting for: In order to boost ratings, they were probably trying to give The Ghoul the all-around appeal of Big Chuck & Lil' John. If I recall correctly, they already played movies on Sunday nights, so they probably figured "we'll kill two birds with one stone". Or, maybe they were just trying to make the best of the contract, I don't know. But, The Ghoul wasn't Big Chuck & Lil' John. Since he dressed in horror host attire, it sort of tied him to that genre. Big Chuck & Lil' John were horror hosts, but they didn't dress or act 'spooky', giving them a more general appeal, even if their movies were of the horror/sci-fi genre (and when those selections were later changed to a more broad spectrum of movie genres, it didn't hurt the actual show).
Growing up, Big Chuck & Lil' John were always around. If you didn't happen across their show at various times, they were always doing commercials for local businesses or making personal appearances. Of all the Northeast Ohio horror hosts, they were probably the most popular after Ghoulardi.
A bumper from 1976.
In fact, after Ernie Anderson left for California in 1966, WJW needed a replacement. Bob "Hoolihan" Wells and "Big" Chuck Schdowski (who had worked on the Ghoulardi show and had appeared in various skits) were the chosen replacements. And thus, The Hoolihan & Big Chuck Show was born.
Ghoulardi & Big Chuck.
Like Ghoulardi, they showed the same type of horror/sci-fi movies, but unlike Ghoulardi, music/sound effect drop-ins were not usually done (to the best of my knowledge), they didn't dress as horror hosts, the type of humor was less hip and edgy and more broadly comical, even slapstick, and they were widely known for their many skits, which usually ended with a very recognizable "Ha Ha!" laugh as sort of a punctuation to the sketch. They were wildly different from Ghoulardi, despite being direct successors, but still, it worked. Hoolihan left in 1979, and was replaced by a regular on the show, "Lil'" John Rinaldi. The show continued in that format until 2007. Altogether, the show lasted an incredible 41 years!
For many years, WJW TV-8 was a CBS affiliate, but in 1994, it swapped with WOIO TV-19. WJW became a FOX affiliate, WOIO became a CBS affiliate. BC&LJ stayed on WJW of course, but it was soon after that their movie selection turned from the horror and science fiction they were known for and towards an all-around selection of movies (as I mentioned above). It may have weirded longtime viewers out, but having begun watching them after the change, their movie choices never bothered me or conflicted with their show.
The Lil' Flash skit, one of my favorites.
Before Son Of Ghoul (or even Mystery Science Theater 3000, for that matter), I was familiar with Big Chuck & Lil' John. The first time I ever really watched their program was in 1996, as I taped their showing of The Karate Kid. At the time, I didn't quite appreciate them; For me, they were something that boosted the runtime of the movie and wasted precious VHS recording space. It took me a few years to really appreciate their humor (I remember writing into Son Of Ghoul and sort of ragging on Chuck & John before I 'got them'; I feel kinda bad about that now, but I never actively disliked them; It was all just to make SOG laugh).
A promo from 1987.
For the longest time, they had two shows: Their Friday night show (for awhile in the late-90's/early-2000's, it ran opposite The Ghoul), and the Saturday afternoon Couch Potato Theater. I watched the Friday night 'movie show' when I could or when the movie was especially interesting (I may have watched it more after WBNX ruined The Ghoul, I can't remember), but it was Couch Potato Theater that was easier to catch and had more interesting selections. That Saturday afternoon show could feature movies (the aforementioned Karate Kid, for example, and I also taped War Of The Gargantuas, a film I still
think is underrated in the genre), Three Stooges shorts, Charlie Chaplin shorts, The Abbott & Costello Show episodes, or even skits-only shows. It was really Couch Potato Theater that got me to appreciate BC&LJ more, and it's the format I'm most nostalgic about when it comes to them.
A scene from the Couch Potato Theater intro. Cheesy? Maybe. But seeing it meant that you were in for a good Saturday afternoon.
I was able to capture several BC&LJ episodes on VHS that I still treasure to this day. Terror Of Mechagodzilla was, in my opinion, a terrible movie, but if I have to watch it, I wanna watch it with Chuck & John. Godzilla, King Of The Monsters is made all the better with them, and the first time I saw First Blood was on their program. I have no intention of watching Vice Versa nowadays, but if I do, I'll pull out the copy I recorded off BC&LJ back in '98. Looking back, they ran several movies that I recorded, but later taped over (D'oh!), including the original True Grit, and Casino Royale. Although I didn't tape it, their show introduced me to Miracle Mile, a severely underrated film and one of my absolute favorites (I later taped it off of WJW, but unfortunately it wasn't a BC&LJ showing). I'm pretty sure I saw Theatre Of Blood (my favorite Vincent Price movie) on their Saturday afternoon show (I can't imagine WJW running that film outside of BC&LJ) sometime in the mid-2000's.
Introducing The Karate Kid in 1996.
Their Ghoulardi heritage was well-recognized, and one of the coolest things they did was a re-created Ghoulardi show in 2000. BC&LJ introduced the episode, but the rest of the broadcast was vintage Ghoulardi segments and commercials from the era wrapped around The Brain That Wouldn't Die (a Ghoulardi movie if there ever was one). They even did Ghoualrdi-style video & audio drop-ins. I was seriously, seriously stoked for this broadcast, and it did NOT disappoint. BC&LJ sell the official DVD of it on their website, but my original VHS copy with commercials is the one I'll always want to watch.
The promo for the re-created Ghoulardi show.
In 2007, Big Chuck retired, and their final episode, the "End Of An Era" special, was aired several times. If there's one thing I regret never taping, it's that. I always meant to, but somehow it always slipped past me. I have the official DVD, but to me, it's not the same as an original broadcast.
Living in Northeast Ohio in the late-1990's and early-2000's was great if you were into horror movie hosts, as I obviously was. But, it seemed like as the 90's came to a close and the 2000's began, a lot of this stuff that I loved began to disappear. Mystery Science Theater 3000 ended in 1999, WBNX pretty much buried The Ghoul in 2000, hell, even TNT dropped Joe Bob Briggs that same year. Even beyond horror hosts, the channel line-ups began to change. Before, you could catch great old science fiction movies on the Sci-Fi Channel; they all but disappeared as the 00's dawned. Even on TNT and WGN, you could occasionally see Godzilla or other old horror movies in the late-90's; That all seemed to end as the 2000's got underway. More than ever, it seemed like horror hosting and classic old B-movies being played on TV was becoming a thing of the past.BUT WAIT!
In recent years, there's been a resurgence! For something that I thought I'd never be able to watch in any great amount again (outside of my old VHS tapes), there are currently many horror movie hosts on the air, at least there is here in Northeast Ohio. WAOH TV-29 & WAX TV-35 dropped "The Cat'" format in the summer of 2009, and became an affiliate of the Retro Television Network (RTV). As the name implies, they play mostly older TV shows, not unlike TV Land when that channel was still worth watching. But not only that, they also syndicate Wolfman Mac's Chiller Drive-In and Off Beat Cinema, two great shows that run a lot of cool flicks.
Also, MeTV is now syndicating Chicago's Svengoolie nationwide, and he is beyond awesome. Sven is played by Rich Koz, and not only does the show have the rights to Universal's monster movies (yep, Drac, Frank, and The Gill Man! Cool beans!), but Koz has also on numerous occasions shown appreciation for Ghoulardi.
That's all well and good, but what about our guys? Good news...
The "Return Of Big Chuck & Lil' John" promo.
In September 2011, Big Chuck & Lil' John returned to Cleveland TV! Every Saturday morning at 11:00 AM on WJW TV-8, they air a 30 minute show made up entirely of their old skits, with new intros by Chuck & John themselves! It may not be Couch Potato Theater, but it's still pretty awesome.
Big Chuck & Lil' John: 2012.
Also, since the 90's, Chuck & John have hosted Ghoulardifest, an annual convention celebrating all things not only Ghoulardi, but also his successors, and Cleveland TV (and even music) history. I love going every year, it's always a blast.
A promo for Ghoulardifest 2012.
And, last but certainly not least, Son Of Ghoul, the guy really responsible for my horror host fanaticism. Well, he never left the airwaves at all. For a few years there, he was the only one running, until Chuck & John came back. In June of 2011, he celebrated 25 consecutive years on the air, and as of this writing, he's been keeping the tradition alive for 26 years!
There just aren't many horror hosts that can boast that! There's just something about knowing that after all these years, SOG is still on and plugging away.
SOG, during his 25th Anniversary show.
Over the years, I've met The Ghoul, Son Of Ghoul, and Big Chuck & Lil' John numerous times, and they've never been anything but nice. These people will go out of their way to sign autographs, take pictures with you, answer your questions, etc. Not once have I ever seen one of them charge for an autograph or for a picture, and that's something that can't be said about every celebrity, local or otherwise. In the case of Big Chuck & Lil' John, they probably can't go anywhere in Northeast Ohio without being recognized, and yet, they're two of the nicest guys you could ever hope to meet. All of these guys have a knack for treating you as an equal, they'll chat with you about anything, and I've never seen even the slightest prima donna behaviour from any of them. They really do seem to care about the fans.
I suppose you can't ask for more than that.
You can get official merch and more from the official sites of these fine hosts:
Big Chuck & Lil' John: http://www.bigchuckandliljohn.com/
The Ghoul: http://www.theghoul.com/index2.html
Son Of Ghoul: http://www.sonofghoul.net/