Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Night Owl Drive-In

When I first started as movie host of Surreal Cinema on Channel 22, I did not play it safe. The TV Boss told me that the name of the series made it possible to show a wide variety of movies, as long as they were weird, and more importantly, in the public domain. I wanted to expand the show beyond the usual horror and sci-fi offerings to include exploitation stuff, hot rod movies, biker flicks, etc.

However, as I sometimes have a tendency to do, I pushed the envelope too far, too fast. The straw that broke the camel's back was when I programmed a double bill of Roger Corman's Swamp Women and Volker Schlondorff's A Degree of Murder a/k/a Mord und Totschlag .

Swamp Women is a heist-gone-wrong story with a twist: the criminals are all tough-talking dames. Besides the priceless dialogue and bayou scenery, there are also several catfights. The second half of the double bill, A Degree of Murder, is best known for its score, the only official solo recordings of the Rolling Stones' Brian Jones. The film stars his then-girlfriend Anita Pallenberg as Marie, a girl with a problem: she has shot and killed her lover, and now she must somehow get rid of his body. She enlists the help of two layabouts, Gunther and Fritz, to help with the corpse disposal. A meandering road trip ensues, during which she sleeps with both men. They ditch the body at a quarry, return home to Munich, and go their separate ways. End of movie.

On Monday, the TV Boss read me the riot act. He told me that our station was family-oriented television for good Christians, not "smut and catfights." Surreal Cinema was supposed to be limited to horror, science fiction, and fantasy, he said, directly contradicting what he'd told me when I started. Oh well. My bad.

He then promised me that I could do another film series that would run after 11 p.m., where I could play all of the non-Surreal movies I wanted, provided there was no smut, that is. Catfights were OK, I guess.

We had made a deal with Florida-based filmmaker William Grefé to air several of his films, and had already taped a couple of hours of interviews with him. Unfortunately, given the new ground rules, only three of his movies qualified for Surreal Cinema, while the others, like Impulse, starring William Shatner as a leisure-suit-wearin' ladykiller, and Racing Fever, a drama about powerboat racing, were clearly outside of the new parameters.

And so I created Night Owl Drive-In, and started making plans to open up the host segments by shooting them at the Playtime Drive-In near Jacksonville, and wrote parts for a couple of supporting characters, Snack Bar Girl and the Mad Projectionist. Not exactly King Lear, but it was mine, and if we could syndicate it, I'd have a piece of the action.

Perhaps that's why it never got off the ground. In any case, the TV Boss got involved in other projects, such as becoming executive producer of a cable access conspiracy theory show that he found online.

Anyhoo, there is already a show on Speedvision called the Lost Drive-In, with cool graphics and Bruce Dern as its host, but all their movies have to be somehow automotive in nature. Turner Classic Movies has TCM Underground, originally hosted by Rob Zombie, who was, by all accounts, a total prick to work with. Now it's airing without a host - cult movies and exploitation flicks are not exactly Robert Osborne's cup of tea - but there's a gig I would love to have. I could hit that sucker out of the park.

More likely, I'll end up in some other market, as a segment producer or reporter, and probably not as a movie host. But you never know. Night Owl Drive-In could be coming soon to a televison set near you.


Todd Lucas said...

You ought to see if you can sell the idea to the Little Rock, AR based RTN Network. Not sure how many markets they're in but they have a St. Louis affiliate, for example. In fact, the St. Louis station carries a similar movie program out of Buffalo on Saturday nights, that's repeated on Sunday. I think it's called Off-Beat Cinema.

Not sure whether that show is part of the network or not but something like Night Owl Drive-In would seem to fit well with RTN's programming that includes lots of old 60's era reruns, like Get Smart, Hawaii 5-0 and Mission: Impossible.


JM Dobies said...

Thanks, man. I'm on it!