Local Programming

I loved local programming as a kid, and I still do as an adult! The sloppiness and amateur production values endear it to me, another affirmation that those people on TV are still human, just as we all are.

For me, "local" meant Los Angeles. For most of my growing-up I lived in Burbank, but the programming came from L.A., which, of course, was and is a prime source of television and movie production. (Burbank has come into her own as well: in the Eighties the City Council decided to name a section of the city "Media Center," and considering the area encompasses Disney, NBC, Warner Brothers and more, the name fits.)

I remember the following:

- A Saturday afternoon TV horror movie called "Chiller," featuring an ominous ticking clock. I used to faithfully tune in when monsters were big, c. 1963 - 1965. My friend Jimmy Rutherford watched some Fifties horror flick on Chiller that had a scene with a talking shrunken head, which I always thought was the ne plus ultra in horror. Sure wish I knew what that film was...

The photo at left was taken at the Hollywood Movieland Wax Museum in about 1964, at the height of the monster craze. I loved Frankenstein, and was especially happy to have my photo taken with him at a spot that the museum set up especially for that purpose. You can tell by looking at Dad that he was never bashful in front of a camera. As for myself, I recall trying to look scared. It didn't quite work, did it?

- Saturday evening horror movies hosted by Moona Lisa (late Sixties) and Seymour (early Seventies), an emaciated-looking man who lived behind "...the dankest and slimiest of walls"; he hosted "Fright Night." L.A. horror hosts were always hip and camp, and Moona Lisa and Seymour weren't exceptions. Moona Lisa was a female vampire-sort of character; the immediate predecessor of Elvira (who came along in the early Eighties) and the heir to Vampira (whom my father recalls seeing on TV back in the Fifties). She looks like Xena, Warrior Princess. (More accurately, Lucy Lawless looks like Moona Lisa!)

- "Winchell-Mahoney Time" was an early-to-mid-Sixties afterschool show featuring the ventriloquism of Paul Winchell (the original voice of "Tigger," by the way) - I used to watch this every afternoon mainly to see the Mighty Hercules cartoons. They featured this annoying centaur character named Newt who would mug furiously at the conclusion of each episode. (Click here for a link to a Hercules page that explains everything.)

- Remember Hal Smith, the actor who played Otis the town drunk in the Andy Griffiths Show? Back in the early Sixties he was also Los Angeles' own "Pancake Man," shilling for the local International House of Pancakes restaurants. That signature closing tune he used to sing is seared into my memory: "The Pancake Man/The Pancake Man/Here I am/The Pancake Man/Got to hurry/Time to go/See you on tomorrow's show/With the International House of Pancakes!" I forget what cartoons he played. Astro Boy? No, that was on an afternoon show. The Pancake Man - as befitted pancakes as a breakfast food - came on in the morning before school.

- Of course there was the incredibly stiff but Sixties law-and-order type, Sheriff John, who used to sing the world's dorkiest (but endearing) birthday tune to kids who wrote in: "Put another candle on your birthday cake..." and so on. He used to shill for Maggio carrots.

- I can't forget Hobo Kelly (Sixties) greeting local "mischief-makers," much as I'd like to. I found her and that fake-o Irish dialect kind of annoying.

- There was also "Chuck Jones the Magic Man" (Sixties), whom I thought was the Chuck Jones listed on the credits of the Warner Brothers cartoons. I didn't know they were different until I was an adult. Chuck had really lame magic acts and, I think, Mr. Magoo cartoons which I only watched because there was nothing better on TV.

- For awhile back in 1967 one evening news show - I think it was channel 11's - had a feature they called "Mystery Voice." The gimmick here was that they would cut to a mysterious outline of a face with a question mark superimposed over it, and somebody associated with the channel would do a lame imitation of a celebrity speaking some pretty obvious clues about his or her identity. Viewers were then encouraged to call and win Fabulous Prizes. What was memorable to me about this was the heavy-handed use of the reverb box on the spoken introduction: "I-I-I-I/am-am-am-am/the-the-the-the/mystery-mystery-mystery-mystery/voice-voice-voice-voice!"

- Angela and I used to love those Sherlock Holmes movies with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce (who once bought my father a drink!). Some LA station used to play one of these every Saturday afternoon in the early Seventies. The opening animation sequence was clever: I recall a fat fellow, meant to be a bumbling Watson, falling while holding an umbrella, to the strains of Dukas' "Sorcerer's Apprentice." I also recall seeing them aired every Friday night, which I also looked forward to at the end of a long, weary week at Burbank High.