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Monday, September 25, 2017

When New York TV Went Weird


Monsters For Adults Only, Please

I believe more fans sprung off the old horror movies on TV than ever came when they were new. Viewership had to be many times greater just because we had to pay when monsters were new, but now could see them for free. Another thing was films being comparable, or better, than new chillers coming out in the 50's and 60's. King Kong was still cutting edge from FX standpoint forty years after it opened, and no gothic had surpassed the original Frankenstein, even after Hammer Films threw paint on the story. When was it ever so cool to like twenty/thirty year old films? (Our Gang maybe ... but look what's become of them) Kids could even respect their parents for growing up in an era when this stuff came out. I remember an episode of Leave It To Beaver when Ward bonded with his boys for seeing Dracula "four times" during youth, and having a subscription to Weird Tales magazine. It seemed that monsters were an enthusiasm that dad and offspring could share, right from mid-fifties when oldies oozed onto late nights. The Universals wouldn't land until fall 1957, but appetite was keen and channels satisfied it with whatever of the genre could be got. From a broadcasting start, that meant cheapies from Monogram, PRC, or others of independent origin. A lot of Bela Lugosi got into viewer consciousness this way. Preview of waves to come was 1956 release of RKO's library to syndication. They had the Val Lewton thrillers plus a few odd/ends that could be called horror, or at least "weird," so on came WOR's "Weird Theatre" to New York airwaves, making do with what monsters could be had before Universal-Screen Gems let loose the "Shock" package a following year.




We could say on one hand that folks at-home had it made, what with The Body Snatcher plus Isle Of The Dead on primetime, and gratis, but here was rub: Both pics ran four times in succession over a four hour period, a "devilish pleasure" tempered by necessity of cuts, and deep ones, in order to begin and end within 60 minutes. The Body Snatcher was a 77 minute show, while Isle Of The Dead ran 71 minutes. With commercials, as many as WOR could sell and keep their broadcast license, these classics might have been shorn by a fourth, if not more. Still, it was names and freshness of product that beckoned, and what did home sitters care whether all of original content was there? Lifelong fans of Lewton would make discovery on these nights, some celebrating him in books and documentary tribute to come. Television meanwhile became sole avenue for monster sighting, at least monsters of early vintage. The Universal drop was welcome, but in most instance, only one station in a viewing market had them, unless there was package split, like we had in Winston-Salem/Greensboro/High Point, where three channels serviced that area's broadcast reach. Two of those used the "Shock" titles, and fans were quick in coming to know which had which of favorites.


They Could Have Rolled Up and Sent The Original Declaration of Independence and
Not Pleased Me Half So Much As With This Private Peek To Programming


Any Universal horror on TV was precious ore. Whenever one came on, you watched, lest that be last chance. Channel 12 in Winston-Salem had the best of the group, most of Frankensteins, Draculas, Mummies, plus The Black Cat and The Raven. They even played them on Saturday afternoons, often without commercial interruption, such presumed dead time that no sponsor could be interested. I wrote them often for titles and to make programming suggestions. Replies like the March 1966 above put me by way of classified info that trumped even TV Guide for advance notice. High Point's Channel 8 counter-programmed with the "Son Of Shock" package, less titles and the best ones absent, but they did have Bride Of Frankenstein, per ad at left, which made keeping up with the station's "Shock Theatre" on Saturday night an imperative. Following local stations and their horror usage was applied science. We never thought there was enough. Looking back, I recognize bounty of this stuff, which along with what the Liberty had on Saturdays, made each weekend a surfeit of riches. I'd see five or six chiller/sci-fi's on flush days and nights between school out on Friday and return on Monday. A then-equivalent to binge viewing, but frugal beside marathons TCM routinely offers. Given access to latter in the mid-60's, I'd have gone mad by sheer rapture of it.

Thanks to Scott MacQueen for supplying me with all of ads above.

5 Comments:

Blogger Dave K said...

Wow! Never heard of two competing stations in one market splitting 'Shock' and 'Son of Shock.' "Son" still had a few big name Universal titles like BRIDE OF F, HOUSE OF F, HOUSE OF D and others. Was smaller, mostly B stuff but with much less non-horror fill than the original package and was heavily skewed towards Karloff... he was in about half the titles.

We could watch a lot of 50's sci-fi stuff like Universal, Allied Artists and American International in the afternoon or Saturday evenings at 7, but for all the Shock, Son of Shock 30's-40's titles and even the NTA horror package hastily assembled around 1969, 'ya had to stay up to midnight on Saturdays.

9:52 AM  
Blogger phil smoot said...

Over 4 of the 5 Saturday nights in August 1963, WSJS (now WXII) TV Channel 12 in Winston-Salem aired Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolf Man, The Invisible Man. My first time seeing these films.

On the premiere week of new TV station WGHP Channel 8 in High Point, they aired on Oct 18, 1963, "House of Frankenstein" as their first Shock Theater showing. The next Friday they aired "Bride of Frankenstein" -- The order of the films in the series did not matter:
It was simply great for a 12 year old boy to be able to have some access to them.

11:23 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Thanks a lot for these dates and titles, Phil. I missed the 1963 runs due to its being a year ahead of my discovery of, and dedication to, classic horrors, which, of course, persists to this day. I well remember Channel 8 signing on that week of October 18, 1963. It was a tremendous event to have a brand new station, even if North Wilkesboro couldn't pull in a clearest signal. Were you able to pick up WBTV in Charlotte? They had Horror Theatre with Dr. Evil, latter the dean of chiller hosts. And here's a kick: Brick Davis ran into Dr. Evil himself at a Food Lion super market a mere few weeks ago! Wish I had been there.

6:01 AM  
Blogger phil smoot said...

Yes, here in Asheboro NC in the 1960s, I spent a lot of time twisting the outdoor antenna to bring in WBTV Channel 3 in order to receive a watchable signal for Dr. Evil on Horror Theater.
Usually, local Greensboro NC station WFMY Channel 2 would go off the air earlier than Channel 3 in Charlotte, and the second half of Horror Theater would always get a better signal once Channel 2 had signed off.

First met Phil Morris aka Dr Evil in the mid 1970s at his old costume and magic shop, and he did a trick where it looked like he put a large needle through his arm.
Never thought that shop would morph into the biggest online costume supplier in the world (as it is said to be).
In 1980, I was working camera for a movie that Morris spent a day or two advising for the magic stuff -- "Carnival Magic" movie shot @ Earl Owensby's place in Shelby NC and at a rented carnival in SC.

The only time that I was ever disappointed in Horror Theater was one week they (including Dr Evil) advertised showing "Bride of Frankenstein". I stayed up as it was going to be the first time that I had ever seen the film. Well, turned out they lied -- They showed Ed Wood's "Bride of the Monster" -- You should have heard my screams!

12:08 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Hey Phil --- We could bring in Channel 2, not well, but adequate. Their weekday afternoon movies were of occasional interest --- the Hammer HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, IT! TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE, some other UA's. But they never had a dedicated horror series like Channel 8, or frequent monster forays like Channel 12, latter at least reliable, even into later years, for its annual Halloween Spooktacular, which went from 1969 to 1974, per fantastic original ads gathered by Carroll W. Hall at his "Piedmont Nostalgia" site:

http://piedmonttriadnostalgia.blogspot.com/search/label/Spooktacular

I did visit Philip Morris at Morris Costumes in 1980, and had a great time. What a treat it was to finally meet Dr. Evil.

2:04 PM  

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