Background: This oddball little proposal is something I actually pitched at my last TV job. At the time, we were trying to figure out some way to distinguish our pathetically low-rated schedule of movies airing in the wee hours on the weekends, where they were practically un-sellable commercially speaking, or else the movies would be dropped in favor of Home Shopping or, that old standby favorite, color bars or static. In desperation, I wrote this proposal and actually pitched it, including a mock-up picture of Burchuss on the virtual set that I designed for the show.)
Many, or perhaps none, of you will recognize Burchuss as the star of Jump Cut City, and he also made some very brief cameo appearances in some of the commercials I made at KPBI and KFDF; in a promo for The Huddle, our sports talk show, Burchuss jumped up at the end with a bunch of his fiddygibber pals and yelled “HUDDLE!” (a la the Sega commercials running around that time). This project would have elevated Burchuss from cable access to real live broadcast material, unquestionably the first fiddygibber ever to do so.
Needless to say, this project was actually considered for production…for roughly two or three seconds until management’s synapses started to fire again. I’m sure it would have had a small but loyal audience among attorneys for Best Brains, Inc., though.
The following is a pitch – yes, a real live serious pitch – for a concept that could give our Saturday overnight movies some real identity.
Admittedly, the concept is very similar to Mystery Science Theater 3000, a Comedy Central show in which a human host and two wisecracking “robot” puppets sit in the corner of the screen and make fun of an entire 2-hour movie. But I decided to simplify and pull back from that concept for a number of reasons.
One of the big reasons to get away from the “MST3K” concept would be to avoid having to pay clearances for satirizing a copyrighted film. “MST3K” takes old movies and turns them into a part of a TV show. My idea is to do some silly host segments, but to incorporate them into the existing structure of the local avails. Instead of framing the movie with host segments, the host segments fall naturally into the breaks. Ideally, host segments would take up no more than a quarter of the local avails in a single movie – we do still like this concept about making money, after all – and would be pre-taped and built onto the movie master prior to air.
Hosts In Space
The concept of the host segments is simple and stupid. An Earthling has been captured by an alien creature known only as Burchuss the Fiddygibber. Burchuss is a small, orange, furry and inoffensive-looking beast with a thundering, almost godlike voice. Burchuss intends to subvert major governments, instill anarchy into the public mindset, and thus take over the world. To this end, he has kidnapped our host in an effort to interrogate him about Earth’s defenses and weaknesses.
But our host is no dummy. He knows what his captor is up to, so he suggests that Burchuss should simply tune in to a nearby television station and monitor a late night movie or two, and assimilate the movies’ accurate portrayals of life on Earth. He figures that after a couple of movies, Burchuss will get it into his furry little skull that Earth is not a world that should be on anybody’s “A” list. But Burchuss gets hooked on Hollywood and expects his prisoner to explain movie after movie after movie to him.
Burchuss will gradually begin adopting various slang terms he hears in the movies and will clumsily – and usually quite incorrectly – try to incorporate them into his weekly conversations with our human host.
Here’s the funny twist that makes this concept radically different from “MST3K.” At no point would we ever interrupt the movie. At no point would we ever actively ridicule or satirize the movie. Never, ever will we come right out and say “Hey, this movie sucks,” because we don’t want to make the viewer feel like he’s just wasted two hours of his life just to see the host segments. This also keeps us clear of any violations of copyright – we’re simply doing a few funny things in between the movie segments. Our host is trying to feed Burchuss misinformation about life on Earth, and so he’ll try to convince his captor that everything in the movies is the honest-to-God truth. For instance, after seeing a musical, he’ll tell Burchuss that everyday people do indeed break into song at the drop of a hat, thus making the Earth a very annoying and noisy planet to conquer.
As time wears on, viewer feedback can even be incorporated into the program, either by setting up an e-mail address for the show or encouraging viewers to send letters to the show, care of the station’s PO box. Not only would this allow us to guage viewer response to the show, but could even provide fuel for more fun.
Logistics in Space
How much will this cost us? Almost nothing. Burchuss we already have – he’s made brief cameo appearances in a couple of promos already. Burchuss is the furry creature who used to pop up at the end of the Huddle promo with his fellow stuffed animals singing “Huddle! Huddle! Huddle!”
Well, okay, let’s talk about our host. What happens if he’s busy whenever we shoot our host segments? Well…we’ll just have to hope it doesn’t happen. But in the inevitable event that it does, Burchuss will have to carry the show, or perhaps kidnap another victim. In all likelihood, however, the best approach would be to mention our host and note that he has told Burchuss to watch out for this important lesson about earthlings in this movie. (This would also be a great time to fall back on viewer feedback.)
What kind of a set are we talking about? Well, when production’s chromakey abilities are back on track, we can just fake the whole set with a background graphic. It doesn’t get much cheaper than that. Of course, we wouldn’t be able to move the camera around, zoom in, or do anything of that nature, but when our heroes consist of a bewildered host and a stuffed animal, I doubt anyone will notice. We can sell the rest of the “laboratory” ambience with a tape loop of weird sound effects that I can assemble from my vast library of weirdness. One possibility: the background graphic could be the interior of Burchuss the Fiddygibber’s laboratory or spaceship, looking out high above Fort Smith at night.
How long will it take us to shoot all the segments for a movie? Probably not very long. Maybe one hour for both Saturday overnight movies (2:00am and 4:00am). It probably wouldn’t pay to give the Sunday overnight movies this treatment because they’ll be airing at a time when people are in bed resting up for work the next morning. Since the segments are going to be funny, a little additional time for crack-ups is to be expected. Once they’re on tape and time out correctly, all we have to do is build the segments onto the movie tape itself and the show is ready to hit the air.
The length and distribution of the host segments would depend on the length and distribution of the breaks. If we had time and had the formats for the movies well in advance, we could shoot host segments for more than one or two movies at a time.
One of the few drawbacks here will be the fact that doing these segments will be a year-round task (unless we get a movie package with several runs on each movie, which would occasionally allow us to go into “reruns”), which is why I bring up the possibility of shooting multiple host segments in one session whenever possible. This gives us breathing room so we can attack the next movie fresh without getting burned out from writing host segments week after week.
Another possible alternative to the tedium of shooting endless segments would be for the program to appear on alternating weekends, though the resulting schedule inconsistency of that approach would present its own problems.
And if we do wind up getting some sort of cult following? We might get some sponsors. And Burchuss the Fiddygibber would be happy to say something like “Using my human captive as a business front to raise funds for my conquest of the planet Earth, I have secured the financial backing of Billy Bob’s Car Wash for tonight’s movie. Thank you. Very much.” A very roundabout way of saying that Billy Bob’s Car Wash is tonight’s sponsor. Sponsorships should probably be fairly cheap!
Promos would scattered sparingly throughout other late-night/overnight fare, and could be very simple character pieces with our host or Burchuss explaining who they are and what they’re doing in the commercial breaks on Saturday night.
Perhaps one good way to do an annual promotion for the show would be to have three or four movies, starting earlier than 2:00am if the air schedule permitted, a “marathon” session to run on New Years’ Eve, or perhaps Halloween, two holidays that would best fit in with the sense of general insanity about the thing. In fact, a New Years’ Eve premiere wouldn’t be a bad kickoff for the program.