Friday, April 13, 2007

One last bit about 1987

The Telly

Righteous indignation. Though he had an avuncular presence and spoke carefully and calmly, Lou Guzzo reigned as the king of televised indignation. His two-minute commentaries on KIRO’s local news program generally covered two topics: (1) “If it was good enough for me, then it’s good enough for young people”; and (2) “There ought to be a law.” Tom wrote about his most famous commentary—his condemnation of “teenage punk rockers,” in which he stated that it was time “to put our foot down” on punk rock, and that these teenagers “should try the real world for a change”—a couple of weeks ago. Guzzo maintains a blog now with the subtitle “Whatever [sic] happened to common sense.” That’s “what ever,” Lou, not “whatever.” But I understand how somebody with a mere fifty years’ experience in journalism could make such a dunderheaded mistake.

Slightly less indignant was Ken Schram’s Town Meeting (which apparently aired well into the 90s—who knew?), a Donohue-esque talk show set in a dark KOMO studio that covered local issues. I had been prepared to dismiss this show for its tone and subject matter (e.g., the menace that is naughty public access programming), but in truth, shows such have this have largely vanished, only to be replaced with syndicated reruns and Oprah. For example, Chicago still has a couple of local issue chat shows, but they’ve been shunted off to cable and PBS; if a local network airs a regional show like this, they air it well past my bedtime. The death knell for regional programming hasn’t sounded as loudly in Seattle, I suppose: even though Almost Live and Town Meeting are gone, Northwest Afternoon (KOMO) and Evening (KING) still air. Still, Evening favored puff pieces over substance, and I remember Northwest Afternoon mostly for Cindi Rinehardt’s recaps of soap opera developments. (I’d actually like to add more details about Town Meeting, but even though it aired for more than a decade, I can hardly find anything at all about it online.)

Almost Live. Almost Live began in 1984 as a one-hour Tonight Show-esque talk show hosted by Ross Schafer and featuring perhaps the worst band in talk show history. As I recall it, the topics were almost entirely specific to Seattle, with references to Seattle’s (then predominant) Scandinavian population and to long-gone local TV personalities like JP Patches and Stan Boreson. Schafer achieved national notoriety when he led a half-serious campaign to replace Washington’s state song, “Washington My Home.” Why? Nobody knows it, if they’ve even heard it at all. The replacement candidate? “Louie Louie.” It was actually a pretty funny stunt, and he almost succeeded. In the end, the state government feared hurting the feelings of heirs to the “Washington My Home” legacy and designated “Louie Louie” as the state rock song. Way to kill a good joke, Mr. Congressman.

Local Rocket scribe and bald man John Keister replaced Schafer sometime around 1988, and Almost Live dumped the interview segments and band and halved its length. The 30-minute version of the show aired until 1999. Although Almost Live remained very popular to the end, KING’s parent companies thought that the show’s profits didn’t justify the substantial production costs and finally killed it. A relative of mine described the show as “almost funny,” and he wasn’t really that far off the mark. Still, the show had its moments: the half-earnest campaign to change Washington’s state song to “Louie, Louie,” “High-Fivin’ White Guys,” “Ballard Driving Academy,” etc. “The Lame List” sketches even featured Kim Thayil of Soundgarden and members of local metal band Forced Entry. Schafer also gave Bill Nye the Science Guy his first TV exposure, and Bill Nye rules. Most of those skits came much, much later, however, and although KING’s website has several clips from the show, none date from Schafer’s era.

Bombshelter Videos. No 1987 TV retrospective would be complete without a bit about the awesome Bombshelter Videos, which premiered in November of that year. Bombshelter originally aired on KSTW in the middle of the night. The theme music was Naked Raygun’s fuzzy “Bombshelter.” At the start of each episode, host Bill Bored (Frank Harlan) descended into the bombshelter, which was a small room plastered with concert fliers, spray paint, and fallout shelter signs and littered with all sorts of junk. Early episodes leaned heavily on non-Northwest punk and college rock from that time (e.g., Black Flag, Mojo Nixon, Dead Milkmen, Sister-era Sonic Youth). In fact, it wasn’t until the 12th and 13th episodes that Northwest bands like Popdefect, the Young Fresh Fellows, Room Nine, and the Accoustinauts started appearing regularly. This is not a slight on the show; it ruled regardless of whether Bored showed videos by the Minutemen or the U-Men.

The original Bombshelter aired until 1992. Bored later produced a NorthWest Rock show from 1992 to 1994, as well as trading cards featuring the bands from that era. (I’ll swap your Mudhoney and Tiny Hat Orchestra cards for a mint Kid Sensation card and two Gruntruck cards.) Frank Harlan now works as an emcee, stand-up comic, and host of corporate roasts and team-building events.


Anonymous said...

Great write up! Almost Live was great, I wish that show would come out on DVD already. Bomb Shelter Videos ruled! I can still remember the theme song, "Bomb shelter-Bomb shelter-Bomb shelter-Bomb shelter!!" Thanks for bringing up a great memory and a neato part of Seattle TV history.

Steve said...

Right on! Because of Almost Live, no matter how much Kent and Auburn become cookie-cutter commuter suburbs for Seattle, I will always think of them as mythological backwoods, hick towns. You harken back to a time when Seattle was still provincial and truly local...not that long ago, but it's amazing how much has drastically changed.

Guzzo, Schram, Bombshelter...How about Spud Goodman? And how essential was Fallout Records? Remember when Cellophane Square was a great record store and Ezell's was on the Ave? There was a Dick's in Bellevue, for chrissakes. Anyways. Nice work!

Lamestain HQ said...

Thanks. Indeed, I do remember all of the things you mention, although I never really watched Spud Goodman. The original Cellophane ruled, and I meant to write about Fallout, but it somehow slipped my mind in the end.

El said...

Okay, this blog is so awesome it is almost blowing my mind.

Of course I remember Bomb Shelter video, and Fallout Records. But I forgot about John Keister and Almost Live.

You are taking me down memory lane. Seattle really was a glorious place in the 80s.