Category Archives: TV

And it’s gone: 3490 Bluff Road

3490 tower

I’m startled that, after I finally made a pilgrimage to 3490 Bluff Road, it’s now gone.

A few weeks back in this spot, I talked about visiting 3490 Bluff Road this fall. The address, on Indianapolis’ south side, was for decades the studio of WTTV 4, the independent TV station that was the home of Dick the Bruiser and other wrestlers, kids’ show hosts Cowboy Bob and Janie and late-night horror host Sammy Terry.

I just got around to going to see the station building, which hadn’t been used in a decade and had been for sale for several years … and now it’s gone.

3490 addy sign

The Indianapolis Star reported recently that 3490 Bluff Road was demolished.

It’s no more.

I’m glad I got a chance to check it out before it was gone.

Finding iconic 3490 Bluff Road

3490 bluff road slide

I made a pilgrimage the other week.

While in Indianapolis with my family, we found ourselves on Bluff Road on the city’s south side.

Bluff Road didn’t mean anything to them, of course. My wife didn’t grow up in Indiana and my son is too young to remember the address.

For those of us who do remember, we know the address from our childhood: 3490 Bluff Road.

For a couple of generations of Central Indiana residents who paid attention to the “fine print” of television broadcasting, 3490 Bluff Road was, for decades, the Indianapolis home of WTTV Channel 4.

Nowadays, WTTV is CBS 4. For a year or so, it’s had a network affiliation and big-league status after decades as Indy’s premier independent station.

For decades beginning in 1957, WTTV broadcast from 3490 Bluff Road. The address was uttered on the air countless times and included in title cards that were broadcast.

Although I’ve been to a couple of Indy TV stations, I’d never been to the home of WTTV 4.

I thought about it a lot, though. During the station’s heyday, in the 1960s and 1970s and 1980s, it was easy for my imagination to populate the station with its biggest on-air personalities.

wttv stars

Kids show hosts Janie and Cowboy Bob. Sports broadcaster Chuck Marlowe. Station owner Sarkes Tarzian, whose name my young mind turned into Circus Tarzan.

And the dean of midwest TV horror hosts: Sammy Terry.

sammy terry color

Sammy Terry – embodied by Bob Carter from around 1962 until his death in 2013, now played in personal appearances by his son, Mark – was perhaps the best known of WTTV’s on-air personalities.

But 3490 Bluff Road was an iconic address. So I had to seek it out.

3490 tower

It’s not easy to find, the little building that is the focus of so many memories. Sure, there’s still a TV tower, but no sign, no historical marker, to designate the station that WTTV used until the 2000s.

3490 addy sign

There are a few indicators, to be sure. I walked all around the building until I found this one.

3490 door

And there’s this forlorn remembrance of the station’s years as a WB affiliate beginning in 1998.

3490 boarded up

Overall, there’s not much left there, not much to see considering all those years the station babysat, entertained and terrified us.

According to real estate websites, the main station building is only about 19,000 square feet and made of concrete block. One website lists the total value of the building and surrounding acres of land as $276,000.

We know that’s not the case, of course.

3490 Bluff Road is priceless.

RIP Yvonne Craig

  
Sad news. 

Yvonne Craig has passed away after a two-year battle with cancer. She was 78.

Craig was a bright and bubbly actress who broke out in the 1960s with roles in movies and TV series like “Star Trek.” 

To me, she’ll always be Barbara Gordon, who slipped into a cape and cowl and became Batgirl on the 1960s “Batman” series.

She’s already missed.

Harlan Ellison and ‘The Glass Teat’

harlan ellison

Who is Harlan Ellison?

It’s a question that, after a quick search, I discover I’ve never answered on this blog before. And I feel kind of bad about that.

Ellison, now 81 years old, is one of the most influential writers in science fiction. That’s something that would piss Ellison off to hear, because he’s always fought against being limited, against being pigeonholed, in what was once a “ghetto” of science fiction.

Before I get to one of my favorite examples of Ellison’s other writing, let me give you his science fiction credentials:

Ellison is the author of more than 1,700 stories, books, screenplays, comic books and the like. He’s won every award of any importance in the world of speculative fiction.

Although he maintained his work was butchered, Ellison is in some circles best known for “City on the Edge of Forever,” the “Star Trek” episode in which Kirk and Spock go back in time to find McCoy, who has – in a drug-induced haze – gone back in time and changed history.

Ellison wrote great television including episodes of the “Outer Limits” anthology TV series – “Demon with a Glass Hand” and “Soldier” – that were such an influence on James Cameron’s “Terminator” that, post-theatrical release, an acknowledgement of Ellison’s work was added to the credits of Cameron’s movie.

TheGlassTeat

Ellison wrote some great fiction but I wanted to note one of a few volumes of non-fiction that he wrote, “The Glass Teat.”

Re-reading “The Glass Teat” now is a time machine not unlike those that Ellison wrote about for “Outer Limits.” How much of a place and time is “The Glass Teat,” a collection of columns Ellison wrote for the The Los Angeles Free Press in the late 1960s and 1970?

Well, suffice it to say that the collection ends with a showdown between Ellison and Ohio school administrators while the spirt of Spiro Agnew hangs overhead like a buzzard.

If you also ask, “Who is Spiro Agnew?” then I’m not sure why you’ve read this far.

And yes, Ellison’s three-part column (four really) about the stir caused when Ellison spoke to Ohio (he’s from Ohio, despite decades in California) high school students and not only spoke his mind but uttered a few colorful words and phrases didn’t have a lot to do with TV. I’ll get to that in a minute.

This was late 1969, after all, and the country was a different place: Vietnam was raging, our leaders were either Nixon and Agnew or they had been assassinated, and a young generation was trying to break away from their parents’ world. Before your time? Check out any recent “Mad Men” episode for frame of reference.

Although Ellison wrote what was more than marginally a TV column, he really wrote about whatever intrigued or infuriated him that week. Sometimes that was TV, which was a very different medium back then, and how it squandered its potential. Sometimes it was current events or politics.

Ellison wrote enough columns to fill this book and a sequel, “The Other Glass Teat,” and I highly recommend both of them.

The players might seem of another time – they are – and Ellison’s trademark acerbic wit/outrage might seem foreign to readers who are today accustomed to writers who not only don’t wear their hearts on their sleeves but cover up their hearts for mass consumption.

But Ellison doesn’t care. He has always done his thing and “The Glass Teat” documents just that.

RIP “Night Stalker” creator Jeff Rice

jeff rice night stalker

I’m kind of heartbroken right now.

Earlier today I saw a random tweet about the passing of Jeff Rice.

If you ask, “Who is Jeff Rice?” you’ll either not give a damn about his death or – hopefully – you will care after I lay a little information on you.

Jeff Rice, who died in Las Vegas on July 1 at age 71, was a talented writer who peaked way before he should have and struggled – and failed – to reach the same height of success again.

You see, Jeff Rice created Carl Kolchak and “The Night Stalker.”

If that rings a bell, and it should, you might remember that “The Night Stalker,” a TV movie from “Dark Shadows” creator Dan Curtis and starring Darren McGavin as Kolchak, aired on ABC on Jan. 11, 1972.

The movie – what might now be called a procedural, as Las Vegas newspaper reporter Kolchak tracks a serial killer in Vegas and ruffles the feathers of cops, politicians and his boss at the paper – was one of the most successful TV movies of all time, with 54 percent of TVs in use and 33 percent of all TV homes tuned in the night it aired.

That’s in part due to the funny, action-filled script by “I Am Legend” and “Twilight Zone” screenwriter Richard Matheson and Kolchak’s way of staying one step ahead of everyone else – and rubbing their noses in it. (I’m betting he influenced almost as many would-be newspaper reporters, like me, as did Woodward and Bernstein.)

But “The Night Stalker” also did as well as it did, I believe, because Vegas serial killer Janos Skorzeny was a vampire.

I’ve written in this space before about my love for the movie – and my great fondness for the follow-up movie “The Night Strangler” and the “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” TV series that aired from September 1974 to March 1975.

As writer Mark Dawidziak noted in his book “The Night Stalker Companion” and his online obituary for Rice, the author’s work and the adaptations of it were enormously influential.

Not just on “The X-Files,” which captured the spirit of the movies and TV series and even paid tribute to Kolchak, but also a host of series that, like Rice’s work, brought “creatures of the night” out of the Victorian era and shook off their gothic trappings to introduce them to the modern world, like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and pretty much every recent movie or series that used “The Night Stalker”‘s mix of horror, humor, sarcasm, pessimism and, ultimately, bravery.

There had been little like “The Night Stalker” before but there was plenty to come.

As Dawidziak notes, however, Rice’s story was in many ways as dark as his story “The Kolchak Papers,” which eventually saw paperback publication as “The Night Stalker” in December 1973.

night stalker books

(The book cover photos that accompany this post I took today of my copies of Rice’s books. I’ve had them since they were published. They’re terrific.)

Dawidziak notes that Rice – himself a Las Vegas Sun reporter in the 1960s, and nobody’s pushover – based his fantastic yarn on his own experiences in Vegas, running up against corrupt politicians and criminals. Rice didn’t encounter any vampires, as far as we know, but anyone who remembers the movie knows that the most dangerous antagonists in the movie aren’t the age-old vampire but the forces of politics and the law, who lower the boom on Kolchak just as he triumphs.

As Dawidziak tells it, Rice’s downfall came after the “Kolchak” series was approved. It seems like somebody neglected to get the rights to the characters from Rice. The author asked for a piece of the action and, when the studio thumbed its nose at him, threatened to sue.

Rice was barred from the the production of the series and felt like his career was greatly diminished.

Rice never caught the huge break that his talent deserved.

And as Las Vegas Review-Journal writer John L. Smith reported, Rice lived out a “troubled” life until his death a little more than month ago.

I’ve seen “The Night Stalker” countless times and I’ve read Rice’s books several times. From the first page, Rice grips the reader with his portrait of Cheryl Ann Hughes, a casino worker in one of Las Vegas’ darker sidewalks on the wrong night.

A series of bullet points – a style best appreciated by those of us in the newspaper business – sums up Hughes in less than a page. Then this:

“Cheryl Ann Hughes: a girl with less than fifteen minutes to live.”

If you seek out and read Rice’s book – and you should – you’ll realize how much the TV movie owes to Rice not just because of characters and plot but also tone and voice. You can hear McGavin’s voice as you read Rice’s story.

I was 12 and a horror film fanatic when I first saw “The Night Stalker.” I greedily sought out more of this world, snapping up Rice’s novels when I found them and watching the sequel movie and series.

After hearing the news about Jeff Rice today, I’ll be stepping back into Kolchak’s world again soon.

Classic: ‘Shock’ theater ad for TV

shock theater ad

For those of us who grew up Monster Kids in the Monster World, this marked the epicenter of that world.

Shock – also known as Shock Theater.

I saw this ad bouncing around the internet recently and wanted to share it here. Regular readers of this blog know I’ve written a lot about Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and what an influence it had on a couple of generations of kids. FM came decades after the movies it celebrated – including the classic Universal monster films – so the 1960s monster craze might have seemed unlikely.

Except for Shock.

In October 1957, Columbia Pictures’ TV subsidiary, Screen Gems, released a package of 52 horror films – including the classic Universal horror films like “Frankenstein” and “Dracula” – to TV.

The Shock package was a huge hit. Usually airing late at night – as was the case, a few years later, with host Sammy Terry on WTTV Channel 4 in Indianapolis – but sometimes airing at other times, Shock popularized the old Universal pictures once more.

Everything that followed came because of this. Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, horror hosts, the wave of monster toys, cartoons, comics and novelties that began in the 1960s and continued for decades.

Long live Shock.