Yeah, I know I said I was gonna get to FJA on this one. Hold yer horses.
By the way, that station I mentioned in my last post? WTCG? They later changed their name to WTBS, and became the first cornerstone of the Turner Communications empire. More on them below.
Every Friday night on WTCG 17 out of Atlanta, they’d show old horror flicks. “Friday Night Frights,” 8 o’clock (though it could’ve been 7:30 — I remember it as 8, but I ‘ve come across conflicting info). And I think that they showed a double-bill, so there’d be horror movies at 8 and 10. Or maybe that’s when they’d show Night Gallery. Actually, now that I think about it, I’m pretty positive that this was when they’d show Night Gallery. But *anyway*, I was always guaranteed a horror movie at 8 on Friday night. Mostly Universal and Hammer, if I remember right. At that early age, it was all worthwhile, though. I didn’t really have much of a filter for things like “good” and “bad.” The only criteria I had was that the movie not be boring, and even then, I’d be pretty forgiving. When you’re that young, and you’re being told that the movie you’re watching is going to be a scary one, you have a tendency to be predisposed to believe that.
If memory serves, they did a fairly decent job of grouping the programming back then as well. By that, I mean that I remember seeing all of the movies in the Frankenstein series in a row, all of the Hammer Draculas in sequence, etc. Or maybe I was just able to latch onto the storylines and pick back up when the next movie would show up, and I’m just grouping them in my mind. I have *really* vague memories of the horror host, Dead Ernest, but truth be told, it’s the movies that’ve stuck in my mind the most.
But all that aside, Friday nights were a special time. It wasn’t just that it was the weekend, and that I wouldn’t have school the next day. It was this lingering promise that at a particular time on a particular night, I could see monsters running wild on the screen. It didn’t matter where I was or what I was doing; we could be next door, sitting outside talking to the Crowders, and I knew that if it was just dark enough out, I had to get back to the house to see whatever creature was wreaking havoc on mankind that night. I’d run back to the house, fling open the screen door, dash inside (depending on the year, either to the big TV in the living room or to the little black-and-white portable set on the floor of my bedroom), and tune in.
That kind of thing is lost today. Home video, both rental and sell-through, has given us the ability to see just about anything at any time. The independent stations are either running reruns of recent sitcoms like Seinfeld or The King of Queens, or they’re showing recent movies that everyone’s already seen on video 10 times already. And niche marketing, both in video releases and in cable TV channels, has guaranteed that people can go through life only being exposed to whatever it is that they already know that they like. You like old movies? Head over to Turner Classic Movies, where that’s all they show, and where they’ve been safely corralled so that you won’t stumble across them by accident. Only like action movies? Cinemax has a channel just for you. And all of this has ruined the phenomenon of “event” programming. It used to be that the only way you could see The Wizard of Oz was to wait until Thanksgiving. It was like the anticipation I’d have every Friday night; you knew that certain seasons were in full swing because there was certain programming that would accompany them. Christmastime meant lots of Rankin-Bass specials and Charlie Brown. And you knew that Christmas was over once Rudolf started celebrating his Shiny New Year. But now, you can see Rudolf celebrating whatever holiday whenever you want. You can watch It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street at any given moment on any given day. Convenience is a great thing, but it does tend to rob some things of their significance.
Next time, I swear I’ll try to get to Forrest J. Ackerman.