No question that in the past 5 years or so we’ve entered a new golden age of television. The number of great programs (Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Mad Men, Battlestar, Curb, Peep Show, and yes, even Lost) attests to that. But classic local programming has gone away. I was reminded of that in full the other night when I happened upon a rerun of KOFY’s Dance Party. KOFY was located at channel 20 on the UHF dial in San Francisco and was owned by local millionaire James Gabbert. Channel 20 featured plenty of syndicated reruns, a staple of UHF programming, but also featured some classic, bizarre local programming as well. My favorite was Sunday All Night Movies From The Sleazy Arms. Gabbert created a dive bar on the channel 20 stage, invited local bands to play, had a resident bartender, got a beer company to sponsor the show, and then invited the public to come down to the set and party. During this melee, Gabbert served as host and presented the Sunday night movie (usually a second rate 70s drama featuring Ben Gazzara). The show alternated between the movie and hanging out with the denizens of the Sleazy Arms. It was television programming at it’s finest. It took upwards of 3 hours to get through any movie, with the bar patrons getting more and more wasted as the evening progressed. Here’s a description from the set that I pulled from the I Love This World Blog.
"Before I was allowed into the studios, I had to sign a waver saying that if I got into a drunken car wreck on my way home that it wasn't KOFY's fault. The rest of the evening was a blur. For about an hour, they handed out free beer after free beer. I drank them happily while watching a local asian mummenshanz/comedy group perform. To give you an idea: most of their "skits" involved a skinny guy wearing a giant barrel. I endured this by staring off-camera at the KOFY Kids Club set that was right next to the bar set. I also almost vomited on the fat old tramp in the spandex catsuit that Gabbert had on there every week (Dirty Carol or something?)".
KOFY became the Bay Area’s WB affiliate in 1995 and Gabbert sold KOFY in 1998 and the good times were over. The WB pulled out in 2006 and KOFY is starting to get funky again, re-running some classic KOFY program including Dance Party, a weekly dance show that ran from the mid-80s to the mid-90s. The episode I caught the other night was amazing. It was from 1992 and the people were just delightfully bizarre. They were normal people on tv. They were fat and skinny. Some were balding, some had feathered hair. Some were good looking, some were downright fugly. And clearly they had been told to “dress up.” Not sure what the dress up instructions were, but it looked like there was a run on the Salvation Army. And we’re not talking “Salvation Army-chic.” This was off the rack. Almost like a Salvation Army shopping spree where you had 5 minutes to enter the store, pick your clothes and dress yourself for your tv appearance. While watching the show it was impossible to guess if the show was from 1992 or 1982. It was just off-kilter.
At the end of the day, I guess I’m happy with all the good shows tv has to offer these days, but local personality has all but been eradicated from the tv spectrum. Maybe we should all rent UHF this weekend or watch some SCTV.