That freewheeling atmosphere is largely gone now. Shows, especially kids' shows, are carefully pored over for anything offensive, valuable lessons are shoehorned in, and gone, gone are the days where violence and slapstick could be seen in its unedited form. So when I hear of a show that throws back to the good old days, all or nothing days, the Kukla Fran and Ollie days, I'm happy to hear about it.
Which is why for the last couple of days, I've been getting emails from a wolfman, apologizing for not catching up with me.
|Wolfman Mac and his enhancement talent, |
He was happy to agree to an interview, but has been so busy with appointments, appearances, and business meetings that went late into the night we only got to meet up today. The show started as Nightmare Sinema on cable access, got a spot on a local station in Detroit, and just got a national syndication through Retro TV last November, a deal that came just in time.
"It was last October that we got our national syndication," recalls Mac. "I had been contacting RetroTV and a couple other networks for months and months. And I was at one of my advertisers, and it was one of those days where there was NO money coming in. Halloween was coming up, we had no merchandise, we had nothing. And I remember saying, 'I think I've brought this about as far as I can bring it.' And no lie, twenty minutes later I get the call from Retro TV saying 'All right, I'm gonna put your show into 80 million homes, get me some programming immediately. Bye!' Alright, well I guess we're gonna keep this going!'
Getting that national deal wasn't exactly the road to fame and fortune, however. His income comes solely through the ad dollars he can sell for the show. So while he was hustling the show himself when it was local, now he's doing the same thing on a larger scale.
"It's definitely been a labor of love. There was a point over last winter where I was wrapping my tennis shoes in duct tape to keep the snow out. I had to sleep in my studio, because it's carpeted, and it's the only area that's closed in. The building doesn't have any heat, and I had a couple of space heaters, and I slept on couch cushions for months until we had some advertising sold, get back out and get my own place. There was a time, not too long ago that I was homeless, doing this, past the point where a lot of people would say "Give up". I went days, days not eating. And my people would show up at the studio and there would be no sign that I was living there. They'd get there and I'd throw open the doors, "Hey c'mon in, NOTHING's going on!" This has definitely been a struggle, by all means, but we're so close. We're about five, six months away before we're at a position where I can finally compensate myself properly, my cast and crew... But right now, I manage, two times a week, for about sixty episodes, round up thirty to forty volunteers to come in and do a TV show."
He's made a few enemies in the mean time...people he's never even met. "There are people who hate what I'm doing, who want to keep the show off the air, JUST because I keep the show family-friendly. Those people speak out against me, do YouTube videos about me, say that I've got a kiddie show. They don't like that I'm this kind of horror host.
"One of the very few successful horror hosts out there is Elvira. I talked to Cassie (Cassandra Petersen back in April, and she told me there were some plans to be bringing her back. And that's fine. We have a very different show, we have a situation comedy; Seinfeld meets the Munsters. I just went to a convention a few months ago. There's 150 horror hosts in this country. And the only ones doing what we're doing are Elvira and me. The only difference is she has the million-dollar sponsors. When the camera goes off, she gets to be Cassie Peterson again; I gotta get on the phone and sell advertising."
If you watch the show, you'll see the grinning visage of J.R. "Bob" Dobbs, High epopt of the Church of the Sub-Genius. But while Mac loves the organization, he defines himself as "spiritual but not religious". He is an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church, however, and is legally able to officiate at weddings, something he's done for a couple of years now. He'll be performing a mass ceremony this Halloween, his second annual. But it's a more personal philosophy that's kept him going in this quest to make his dream a reality.
"Before The Secret and laws of Attraction became the chic thing to do, the hot book to read, these were principles I knew as a kid and a teenager, bringing things into my life that I'd work on and focus towards. It's very much how the television came to be. And while there's not any money on the table right now, and I drive a $200 cargo van, I believe with all my heart that this show is about to become successful.
"A lot of people talk about 'When I lose the weight...when the kids get to that age...when the house is paid off' Those times never come, and there's never a good time to do it. And that's been my whole thing this whole time. Even lying in the dark, shivering, knowing that I'm doing something good. And I get cards from kids, drawing pictures of me, and we just keep going. And I know it's gonna pay off, I know it's gonna happen. All the hard work is there."
It is indeed.
Wolfman Mac's Chiller Drive-In runs Saturday nights at 10PM on the Retro TV digital television network. Check their website to see if there's a local station in your area, and check with your local cable channel to get them to pick it up.