Tag Archives: TV

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.

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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.

So long, Dave

david letterman

It was almost like a sickness.

For a few years in the 1980s, I stayed up every night and watched “Late Night with David Letterman” on NBC. But I didn’t just watch it. I also videotaped it.

And cut out the commercials.

That’s right. I was making my own commercial-free David Letterman video library.

I watched the show from its start just after 12:30 – following the Johnny Carson “Tonight Show” – until it went off an hour later. And, obviously, I loved the show enough to want to preserve it in that manner.

Letterman. Paul. Larry “Bud” Melman. All the rest.

The Alka-Seltzer suit. Dropping things off the tops of buildings. Interrupting other shows, like the bullhorn assault on the “Today” show.

My god, what fun.

Letterman, a fellow Hoosier who I remembered from his time on Indianapolis TV and – kinda – his time on my local radio station, had a masterful grasp of ironic comedy long before others followed. He was funny and absurd and disrespectful and everything anyone would want in a late-night talk show host.

I haven’t watched Dave in a while. The draw of “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” was too great. Well, that and having to get up at 6 a.m. to deal with the demands of real life.

I’ve seen a little more of his show lately, since Dave’s departure was imminent. I wouldn’t have missed Bill Murray last night. And I’ll probably be watching tonight, for the final show.

Dave was ahead of his time and of his time. He was the late-night talk show host we deserved and needed. He ranked right up there with Carson in my book and always will.

So thanks, Dave, and so long.

Not ready for prime time

snl title

I might not watch a whole lot of tonight’s 40th anniversary special for NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” and not just because, as someone else pointed out, the actual anniversary is sometime this fall.

And not just because I’ll be watching “The Walking Dead” and “Talking Dead” during the middle couple of hours of this marathon-length SNL fete. (And don’t even get me started on “The Walking Dead” right now, because I’m not gonna be another of those people who goes on about how the show has become an endless march through an unending storyline with the only mile markers being the death of characters great and not-so-great and I don’t know how much longer i’m gonna watch it … because I’ll keep watching it, almost without question.)

And not because I haven’t been a fan of “SNL” since virtually the beginning. One of my friends had a record album  – an LP, a vinyl disc you played at 33 and a third RPM, for the young folks – of bits from the show’s first season. He would bring it to school and one of our teachers was cool enough to let us listen to some of it on a turntable. We all watched the show every week, but these were the pre-VCR, pre-online days when you couldn’t see it again unless NBC decided to replay it. So we were riveted to the audio soundtrack of the show.

No, I might not watch a lot of tonight’s special because, as I was watching last night’s replay of the very first episode, hosted by George Carlin, from 1975, I was struck by how much of it I remembered so well.

And it struck me: “Saturday Night Live” has been on eternal replay pretty much for the past two decades-plus.

NBC and show creator Lorne Michaels have relentlessly rerun episodes and bits and pieces of episodes over the decades. The show has been cut down to fit hour-long timeslots (and I think half-hour slots as well) and repackaged into so many anniversary shows on NBC and retrospectives on VH1 and elsewhere and so many “Best of Chevy Chase” and “Best of Will Ferrell” specials … sheesh, this material has been run into the ground.

Still, there are bits that I want to still want to see. Anything with that genius Phil Hartman (the unfrozen caveman lawyer skits especially, or his Bill Clinton in McDonald’s), for example. Or Ferrell’s “Get on the bag!” sketches.

But I don’t need to see more Chase, who I can’t believe we ever thought was funny, or even more Aykroyd or Belushi, who indisputably were.

And if I do, I’ll look ’em up online. Or maybe check various shelves and boxes in my house to see: Did I ever buy that old album?

Late to the party: ‘True Detective’ an odd, teasing thriller

true-detective title tree

I don’t do a lot of binge-watching of TV anymore. A few years ago, every summer was a festival of re-watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on the VHS tapes I had made during the previous season. A few other shows were thrown in, but we watched “Buffy” religiously in those days.

In the meantime, life got busier – a child will do that, even in the summer – and binge-watching was mostly limited to trying to catch up on the three episodes of “Fargo” that we missed before the season finale.

Recently, my son has discovered the joys of “Parks and Recreation,” watching the most recent season through On Demand and then watching the first season on DVD. It gave me a whole new appreciation for the series and I might write about that sometime.

More recently, my wife and I decided to try to catch up on a couple of series that we missed. We’ve now purchased, but have not unwrapped, the first season of “Breaking Bad” on DVD. It was a show, like “The Shield,” that I just didn’t make time for as it unfolded each week but I didn’t want to jump into mid-stream. We tried that with “24” and ended up determinedly watching live what was universally acclaimed as the worst season.

So in the past few days we’ve binge-watched “True Detective,” which is a series that we couldn’t see because we don’t have HBO and probably couldn’t have kept up with what with devoting our live-watching time last winter to “The Walking Dead,” “Justified” and a few network series.

So that’s a roundabout way of recounting how I’m just now seeing “True Detective.”

I heard so much about the series when it was airing but managed to avoid hearing how it ended, so that was a bonus for catching up later. Also it’s just eight episodes!

After having seen it, I can say I understand what all the buzz was about. In a couple of ways.

“True Detective,” while very satisfying to watch over the space of a couple of days, no doubt really lent itself to live-watching each week. In this age of Twitter, viewers could revel in each week’s twists and turns. Not to mention the HBO-standard nudity. The plot worked on an episodic basis but flowed pretty well – even with a few time shifts – one episode after another.

And the show’s teasing flirtation with the supernatural – and many references to scarred giants, monsters, demons and dark rituals – fueled speculation that what was starting out as a straight police procedural was turning into something else.

That wasn’t really the case, at least not in that sense. But “True Detective” definitely transcended the typical procedural’s limitations.

true-detective-harrelson-mcconaughey-610x348

if you don’t already know, the series switches back and forth between 2012 and 1995, as two investigators (Michael Potts and Tory Kittles) interview two former Louisiana state police detectives, Rustin Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson).

Cohle, intellectual, anti-social and prone to alienating others, and Hart, publicly amiable but a womanizer with an explosive temper, “catch” a life-changing case when they’re assigned to investigate the body of a young woman found in a remote field. The woman, with antlers attached to her head, her body twisted into a submissive, praying posture and decorated with symbols, is plainly the victim of a ritualistic killer.

As the investigation unfolds, Cohle becomes more and more convinced that the woman was the victim of a serial killer. But where are the other bodies?

As the two probe the case, they become increasingly self-destructive. Cohle deep-sixes his career with his attitude toward higher-ups, including powerful and untouchable figures he thinks might be linked to the killer, and Hart threatens to drink and screw his way out of his marriage (Michelle Monaghan in a role that has more bite and substance than some critics of the series would have us think).

The series’ eight episodes are compelling and engrossing, never more so than the climactic hour and, halfway through the show’s run, an amazing single-take tracking shot as Cohle eludes both bikers and gang members in a botched drug raid on a housing project.

Cohle and Hart are characters who at times seem irredeemable but as metaphysical-speaking Cohle notes at least keep the really bad guys from society’s door.

“True Detective” creator Nic Pizzolatto (aided by director Cary Joji Fukunaga) kept their story short and to the point and left me wanting more. A second season is planned, although Pizzolatto says ti will focus on other characters and another setting.

With any luck, I’ll catch up with it too.

Random observations:

I really thought the ending would be much more dire for our heroes, namely that one of the two would die. I didn’t expect such optimism.

The setting for the climactic encounter with the killer reminded me uncomfortably of the “Home” episode of “The X-Files.” The feeling of queasiness and dread was palpable.

The hairstyles of the leads, reflecting the passage of nearly two decades, were pretty good.

Does every HBO show have at least one nude/sex scene per episode? Somehow I don’t remember Tony Soprano getting laid as much as Woody Harrelson.

It’s starting to realize that one of Harrelson’s nubile conquests was Alexandra Daddario, the female lead from the “Percy Jackson” movies. The actress, 28, has matured. Ahem.

So was there really a point to all the references to “The Yellow King” and old pulp fiction stories?

 

Late to the party: ‘Friday Night Lights’

friday-night-lights

Back before the advent of DVD, I would videotape (remember that?) and watch each episode of a favorite show, like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” or “The X-Files,” and re-watch a whole season during the summer months, especially in preparation for a new season in the fall.

It was kind of the precursor to the TV season binge that’s possible now with DVD, Blu and streaming video.

Since entire seasons of shows became available on disc, I’ve usually bought the ones I’ve already seen and re-watched those. But I recently bought “Friday Night Lights” because I’d heard so much about Peter Berg and Jason Katim’s TV version of Berg’s movie about high school football in Texas and thought I might like it.

And I do.

I’ve just finished the first of five seasons and found myself really enjoying its middle-class, small town soap opera.

If you’re unfamiliar, “Friday Night Lights” is about the town of Dillon, Texas, where Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) has become coach of the high school football team. As the show opens, Taylor finds himself poised to coach young football star Jason (Scott Porter) to a championship season … when an on-field accident leaves Jason paralyzed for life.

Taylor taps second-string QB Matt Saracen (the priceless Zach Gilford), an under-confident but talented player, to lead the team.

The football action punctuates most episodes but the emotional heart of the show is the web of relationships among the characters. We grow to know and care about Tami Taylor (the wonderful Connie Britton), the coach’s wife; their rebellious daughter Julie (Aimee Teegarden), who begins dating Saracen; ballers Smash Williams and Tim Riggins (Gaius Charles and Taylor Kitsch) and their struggling middle-class families; and very different high school girls Lyla (the adorable Minka Kelly) and Tyra (Adrianne Palicki).

The show is filled with realistic characters, for a soap, from Saracen’s aging grandmother to Lyla’s dad, Buddy, the local car dealer and head of the booster club.

“Friday Night Lights,” with its soap opera-ish tone balanced by its documentary-style cinematography, carries the perfect emotional heft. It’s a bit corny in spots, sure, but it’s one of the best depictions of small-town life I’ve seen on TV.