There are markers in our lives that we remember more often than not with fondness. Memories of the entertainment world make for some strong pull-backs later in life. Popular music, films, and, especially, television programs are penciled into a mnemonic diary, allowing us to get all warm and fuzzy years or decades later when someone at a dinner party states with gleeful nostalgia: "I never missed The Six Million Dollar Man. Eight O'clock on Sunday nights was my special time."
programs we watch in our youth and childhood are with us forever,
whether we like it or not. ("Gilligan's Island? Never heard of
it. I don't know what you're talking about.") However, what
often happens is that when we later dip our toes into those same
waters, we find the sensation less pleasing or satisfying than what
our memories of the experience suggested. Times change and time
moves, all but destroying sentimentality in their paths.
programs are exempted, of course. For me, one of these survivors is a
short-lived live-to-air production by the name of The All Night
Show, which ran from September of 1980 to August of 1981 on
originating station CFMT (“MTV”, or "Multilingual
Television"), UHF channel 47. Having sampled some bits recently
– bits are all that survive – I was more than surprised at how
reputable my memories of the show were.
the Security Guard was the host of TANS. The premise was that the
station's dependable night-shift security staff of one had the run of
the station in the wee hours, the all hours, of the night. The guard
with video-switching abilities would run episodes of old television
series' like The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone (they
were just 15 years old then), industrial films from some years
past, Betty Boop cartoons, old movie trailers, and independent
shorts. Having time to kill between the programmed materials, Chuck
joked around with the off-screen, never to be seen, Ryerson the
Cameraman, and with him staged gags or bits that U.S. late night host
David Letterman would popularize coast-to-coast in the following
years. There was one bit I remember where the guys trekked from the
studio proper to the building's roof. From there they aimed the
television camera at a phone booth that was on the opposite side of
the street below. Guess what they did....
reality, Chuck was played by Toronto-based actor, writer, and
comedian Chas Lawther. Although reserved in real life (in the
interviews I've seen him in), Lawther was having the time of his life
while in front of the TANS camera. In his sporty but standard duty
uniform and white sneakers, Chuck now bears some resemblance to
Pee-Wee Herman. No doubt his slightly lanky build furnishes some of
the visual similarities, but, unlike Pee-Wee, Chuck is an adult while
still exhibiting some child-like mannerisms and enthusiasms.
Watching TANS today convinces me that this way of playing the
character was the right one. After all, don't we like it when someone
looks as though they are enjoying themselves? The byproduct is we,
the viewers, enjoy ourselves.
he would be asked, usually through a letter he read on camera, to say
hi to someone such as a faithful viewer. To oblige he would stand,
take on a professional security guard pose, point, and yell “hey,
you”. Chuck's always welcomed call of "hey, you!" quickly
became the signature piece, for both the character and the show.
of characters, the guest stars of Paul Del Stud and Fran the Nurse
were always a special treat. You never knew when one of them was
going to show up to visit with friend Chuck. Fran seemed to be
forever knitting and Paul was perpetually shooting off his mouth
about 'this is how it is'. Great stuff for a teenage viewer.
was the tone of a typical evening with the dynamic security guard and
his all night show. Unfortunately, it all came to a crashing halt
after one season. The show we slowly but surely discovered and grew
quickly to love deeply was canned by the suits at "Chuck's"
station, CFMT-MTV. I remember an interview with one of the head
honchos soon after he cut the strings. He spoke words of finality I
shall never forget: "This station has to start thinking about
making money." From a financial standpoint the decision made
some sense, perhaps. The fact is that even though we saw only Chuck,
and heard only Ryerson, there was a crew in the control room and
I do understand these words, the
order in which they are assembled, and what they mean – they are
straight to the point, without subtext, and are non elusive or
evasive -- but I also understand that when you have a 'hit' like TANS,
it can end up paying dividends to the producing company. In fact,
media ratings systems at the time pointed out that Chuck was bringing
'em in. The problem for CFMT was that franchise companies, like Pizza Pizza, weren't sure they wanted to
buy late-late night advertising slots. For the duration of the show's
existence there were lots of commercials for small businesses, which
are great and valued customers but they don't pay the big dollars. The All Night Show needed a little more time to build a strong advertising base, stocked
with at least one big customer. “Chuck's” solid viewership
numbers certainly would have allowed the station's sales department to charge
commensurate ad rates, but it was not to be.
continued to promote the show after the cuts, but without Chuck at
the switcher it was not the same. It could not be saved with a line
of 'Hey, don't fret, you can still watch your favourite oldies on
CFMT's The All Night Show!'. Like many Chuck fans, I tuned into the
new version and saw the opening title card; an old series or short
came on; I pressed the 'off' button.
dedicated viewers loved the show's original format. It was a major
part of its appeal. It was live!
it still lives.
Note: A much "electronically simplified" version of the above piece premiered in Toronto-based writer Greg Woods's print publication The Eclectic Screening Room, issue 21.
Greg's blog: The Eclectic Screening Room