Svengoolie to spread his humor (and horror) from coast to coast
Wait till Berwyn hears about this: Svengoolie is going national.
Thirty-two years after Rich Koz first donned the curly wig, top hat and tuxedo on his way to becoming a venerable symbol of Chicago television, the weekly horror-movie series he hosts will be seen across the country. “Now, if there’s a nationwide surge in the sale of rubber chickens, we’ll know why,” Koz quipped.
Starting this weekend, Svengoolie will air from 9 to 11pm Saturdays on the Me-TV Network, the new national offshoot of the classic television channel, operated by Chicago-based Weigel Broadcasting and distributed by MGM Television. It’s the first migration of a locally produced series to the network since it was launched December 15.
More than just an outlet for some great (and some not so great) Hollywood spine-tinglers, Svengoolie is a showcase for the 59-year-old Koz, whom the late John Callaway dubbed “the longtime Chicago master of postmodern vaudeville.” In addition to commenting on the movies, Koz serves up clever song parodies, witty riffs on pop culture and current events, groan-inducing puns, and, of course, those ever-present rubber chickens.
While the show also will continue to air locally on Weigel’s WCIU-Channel 26/The U (moving to a new time — at noon Saturdays), the Me-TV Network pickup is an exciting coup for Koz and his far-flung legion of fans.
“Thanks to the Internet and email, I’ve been hearing for years from former Chicagoans, asking how they might be able to see the show where they are, and from people who are fans of the genre who had read or heard about me, and hoped there was a way they could watch — and now they can!” he said. “Plus, it’s great to be a part of Me-TV — one of the proudest achievements of our company.”
The fact that Weigel rescued Svengoolie from almost certain oblivion in 1994 and practically turned the character into the living logo for a whole television station is a credit to Neal Sabin (pictured left), the visionary executive vice president of Weigel and the creative genius behind the company's smartly formatted and sharply promoted local channels (The U, The U Too, Me-TV, Me-Too) and national program services (THIStv and Me-TV Network). (Who else even comes close to doing promos like this one? Or this one?)
“Part of it is Me-TV is designed to be a classic television experience — the best shows from various genres and decades of television,” Sabin explained. “Throughout much of the history of TV, there were classic horror-movie hosts, and luckily, Svengoolie survived the purge of corporate mandates of the ’80s and ’90s and beyond. We feel he’ll fit well in the Me-TV format.”
To help Svengoolie get off to a strong start nationally, Sabin has acquired the rights to what he calls many of the "best horror movies ever made” — the original Universal classics from the ’30 and ’40s, including The Bride of Frankenstein, The Mummy, Dracula, and The Invisible Man. Most have been out of broadcast syndication for decades. “We didn’t want to do this without great movies to go along with it,” he said. “This is not public-domain junk that he’s going to be wrapped around.”
The move to a national platform also opens a multitude of marketing and merchandising opportunities for the fledgling network. “There are lots of promotions and ideas we’ve had that advertisers like, but say they'd prefer to do on a national level, not on just one station,” Sabin said. “By putting him on our network, we think we’ll be able to do more in terms of getting support for the show.”
Sabin is confident that Svengoolie's local appeal will translate to a national audience. But he admits that newcomers might need a little help getting up to speed. So Sven has taped a promo in which he explains one of his longest-running gags — his supposed obsession with Berwyn (or, as he pronounces it, "BERRRwyn”), the western suburb he mentions at the drop of a hat because it's, well, funny.
Hey, Berwyn, are you still laughing?
(A personal note: I’ll be away for a few days on spring break. See you back here next week.)