December 26, 2004

Chicago TV: It's a Good Thing

Although there isn't a lot to Chicago that would pull me back (the weather, general rudeness, and political chicanery notwithstanding), I have to admit that I like visiting Chicago strictly for the television choices. Yes, bigger city does equal more channels, but there's always been a strong creative spirit in local programming.

St. Louis...OK, maybe Pete Parisi....but Wild Chicago did it earlier and better. We've had two excellent Bozos, the genius of Ray Rayner, Frazier Thomas, and Bill Jackson (creator of the Dirty Dragon, as well as other memorable characters). Luckily, thanks to a bit of insomnia on Christmas night, I was able to revisit two of my faves.

The first, as always, was Svengoolie - for 25 years, Rich Koz has been making clever, slapsticky humor, making fun of bad horror movies. (And, of course, even if it wasn't nominally a horror flick, there's enough in the movie that was shown to suggest it....Bruno Kirby: scary guy). Other towns may have horror hosts...but it takes skill to pull off what Svengoolie does: take bad movies, mix them liberally with sound effects, song parodies, and a Kovacs-ian wit, and create two hours of late night television anyone can enjoy. (And, of course, Sven put Berwyn on the map thanks to a snarky sound bite). Given that Mr. Koz, sans makeup, hosts "Stooge-A-Palooza" (two hours of the Three Stooges) before Sven, that means he is personally responsible for four to five hours of television. In my opinion, someone needs to give this guy a medal...or, at the very least, a set of Ginsu knives.

Coming of age in Chicago during the late '80s/early '90s meant being on the "ground floor" of the Chicago scene - Smashing Pumpkins, Urge Overkill, Liz Phair, that lot. (Never mind that the Effigies and Naked Raygun had created a whole punk scene that, given my lack of taste in high school, totally escaped me). Thank God for Jerry Bryant, who looks like Jerry Garcia, sounds like Gerry Todd from SCTV, and for 16 years has dared played "alternative" videos, like "Everyone wants to live forever" by the Flaming Lips, "The Kids are Insane" by Urge Overkill, and "Condoms Are a Girl's Best Friend" on JBTV - starting on access and making his way to UHF. This night was his annual partnership show with MADD, playing alternative videos (i.e, music that might get played on college radio, WXRT, and which makes going to indie record shops an excellent pleasure).

You know, I have written about Chicago television it too much to ask some pioneering spirit in St. Louis to save us from typical network fare, cable access and bad religious programming? (Hey, either you can get the broadcast rights to these shows....or hire me. I'll work very cheap. Honest).

All in all, the best Christmas present a guy could get, other than Nicole Sullivan in a frisky mood.

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