Public-Access Cable: Anyone's A Star

The following article is from the book Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Tunes Into TV.

Back before YouTube, the best way for an average Joe (or a not-so-average Joe) to get an audience was to book some time on a local cable-access channel. Here are some classic cable-access kooks from around the country (all of whom you can still see …on YouTube).

(YouTube link)

Program: Jonathan Bell

Location: Dallas (1992-93)

Details: Public-access cable has had more than a few televangelists -from the mild to the extreme- but none were quite like Jonathan Bell, a makeup artist who dropped everything to start a ministry on public access, reaching out directly to viewers at home, all of whom he thought needed to be "saved." What was unusual about Bell was his approach: He screamed at Satan, and about everything else, constantly. Here's a typical Bell rant (delivered, like everything else, in a constant shriek): "I read my Bible five to six to seven, eight hours a day. Every time I got a chance, my Bible tape is on in the car. Actually, I don't have a car right now, my car got stolen four weeks ago, and the Dallas police hardly do nothing to help me. I can't get my insurance money, either, so right now I'm bussing it."

(YouTube link)

 Program: The Junior Christian Science Bible Lesson Program

Location: Los Angeles (1985-2005)

Details: Once called "the most bizarre children's program ever conceived," this Los-Angeles-based public-access show was just like the title says -a Christian Science children's program. Without any irony or satire, the show addressed topics such as the danger of drugs and UFOs through the use of puppets that were variously described as "deformed," "frightening," and "creepy." Most of them were operated and voiced by David Liebe Hart, a self-described ventriloquist …whose lips were always moving. Amazingly, the show ran for more than twenty years (a favorite of viewers, not just children or religious types, who loved it because it was so bad). Hart went on to become a cast member of the bizarre Cartoon Network sketch show Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!

(YouTube link)

 Program: Let's Paint

Location: Los Angeles (2002-08)

Details: Artist John Kilduff created and hosted this "variety" show. Dressed in a paint-splattered suit, he simultaneously jogged on a treadmill, painted pictures, blended smoothies, and chatted breathlessly with callers.

(YouTube link)

 Program: Mustafio

Location: Queens, New York (1999-present)

Details: Mustafio consists of an image of a disembodied man's face, which stares, unspeakingly, at the viewer. While the head moves (or remains eerily still), it's accompanied by stream-of-consciousness voice-over monologues, read in a vague European accent, along with miscellaneous sounds, such as clanging and moaning. Completely unlike anything else on TV (and fairly unsettling), Mustafio became a cult hit in New York and has even spawned a couple of CD recordings of select monologues.

(YouTube link)

 Program: The Threee Geniuses

Location: Los Angeles (1996-2005)

Details: This was a true anything-goes show that happened in real time, live: The performers would arrive at the studio with no idea what they were going to do and just wing it. The result was what most viewers considered just plain bizarre, with eerie sound effects and music, randomly interspersed images, and psychedelic camera work. The show attracted members of Los Angeles's underground/fringe art community, and one of the most popular performers was Strangelyne, a transvestite bodybuilder with Tourette's syndrome. LA Weekly compared watching it to taking LSD.

(YouTube link)

 Program: The Lone Shark

Location: Bridgeport, Connecticut (1991-2001)

Details: Created and hosted by Jim Sharky and Sean Haffner, The Lone Shark was known for pushing the envelope of what was considered acceptable content for TV broadcasts. One particularly memorable episode was entitled "The Jeffrey Dahmer Children's Show" and featured the disembodied heads of the two hosts sitting inside a refrigerator; at one point, Sharky's head lip-synched to a recording of "Mack the Knife." That episode wasn't the one that pushed The Lone Shark off the air, however, After a ten-year run, the show was finally cancelled after an episode in which the hosts were using a file-sharing web application, as they periodically did, and downloaded and broadcast a brief segment of an extremely graphic porn video. Oops.

(YouTube link)

 Program: Chic-a-Go-Go

Location: Chicago (1996-present)

Details: Calling itself "Chicago's dance show for kids of all ages!" and hosted by Ratso, a puppet rat, this show is G-rated fun. Chic-a-Go-Go follows the same format as Soul Train and American Bandstand, but the dancers range from young children to senior citizens, and all wear their own colorful costumes. It's such an institution that it attracts big-name musical guests such as Question Mark and the Mysterians, Neko Case, and Plain White Ts (lip-synching to their hits, just like they would have on Bandstand).


The article above was reprinted with permission from Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Tunes Into TV. Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts.

If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!

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I hosted a public access cable show for a while. It was a promotional thing for a teen dance club. One of the sponsors was a clothing store catering to teens and tweens, and part of the deal was that I wore their clothes on TV. I was 25 and felt ridiculously old because I was dressed like a 14-year-old, trying to get the proper excitement out of a bunch of 12-year-olds.
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