The PRB Variety Hour Interview
I daydreamed about having a TV talk show in my basement, but I couldn’t escape the obvious creep factor in trying to lure guests to my basement for a “TV show.” Also, I could never get organized enough to make it happen. I have been able to experience hosting an in-home talk show vicariously through Jeff Dodge. He cobbled together his cameras and a rudimentary switcher to broadcast his own show live on his birthday. Ever since he’s been airing the show once a month.
Jeff is a man of many talents. He is a sound engineer, musician, movie director, video producer and now TV talk show host. Although he has yet to break out the solid move of playing the piano while interviewing a guest, pioneered by original Tonight Show host Steve Allen, the thing to know is he could. Jeff combines show host duties with those of band leader (double scale anyone?) for the show’s house band, The Peasant Revolution Band. Dodge plays guitar with them for a few numbers each show.
As someone who helps produce the show and directs the live broadcast, I get a front row seat to the action. My involvement with the show might explain how I got access to Jeff for an interview.
The Portland Orbit: My first question which is, I’m just asking, what is the PRB variety hour?
Jeff Dodge: The Peasant Revolution Band Variety Hour is…well first off it was a concept mostly because we were looking around for venues to get a regular gig booked at, after twenty, twenty-five years of being in this town and off and on playing music and finding that it’s still kind of the same old thing, what have you done for me lately, I decided why don’t we do a TV show as a regular gig. That’s one way to have it. We’ll just throw it in my office and shoot it and go live once a month and so far it’s been working great. A once a month gig, it’s the only time I’ve really had that on a consistent basis and it’s actually a lot more work than I was thinking it was. So I’m kind of glad we don’t have any other shows. (Laughs)
The Portland Orbit: What are some of your inspirations for the show?
Jeff Dodge: It’s shaped by a lot of what Zach Galafancous “Between Two Ferns” does. Recent inspiration has been Eric Andre. Our friend Jason Lamb turned me on to the Eric Andre Show, and I think he’s doing some amazing stuff. I think another part of the concept was kind of like the Sonny and Cher Variety Hour I got kind of more turned on to and Steve Allen. I sent a clip to you recently where he does this interview with Jack Kerouac where they’re kind of chatting, and (Steve Allen) is plinking along on the piano and all of a sudden (Kerouac) starts reading and they bust into this whole jazz thing. It’s just great. The band kicks in. I think Steve Allen used to do that a lot just sort of, (goes into Steve Allen impersonation) “okay, we’re having a casual conversation and okay you bore me I’m just going to start plinking along here.” You know it turns into a song. That’s a good idea that I’m trying to bring in with this show.
The Portland Orbit: Oh yeah, that’s, yeah, I mentioned that already in the blog post. (Laughs) That has to happen. So that kind of feeds into my next question. It’s really like what are the inspirations that you get from past talk show hosts and other performers?
Jeff Dodge: Well, I guess I have to say one of the big breakthroughs for me—the past couple of years really, I got into the Andy Kaufman story quite a bit when I realized he was a lot bigger than what Jim Carrey portrayed him as in that movie. I really didn’t like that movie. I had a bad taste for him. I started seeing what he did and what he did on talk shows and really actually at the height of his reign had wonderful relationships with people like Mike Douglas and even Dinah Shore and of course David Letterman and him were great friends. So I think that’s a lot of inspiration that’s been coming as I watch this guy sort of peek around the edges of these establishment shows that are historic, really, and sort of see the nuances for parody. Gary Shandling was another master of the kind of parody I really enjoy.
The Portland Orbit: And what do you like about being able to produce a talk show from your house?
Jeff Dodge: It also doubles as my work office. I’m in there doing video editing and doing all sorts of things of that nature anyway. It’s kind of great that it’s in my home office. I just have to switch gears and everything is not that far away. It gets me to try to semi-clean things up once a month so that’s good and yeah, it’s a short walk to the studio. It seems a pretty central place for the band and guests to meet. It’s just enough space. It’s a little cozy. Cozier makes it, you have to have a bit more focused because of that.
The Portland Orbit: I think the other aspect of that question that’s missing really is what do you like about the technical aspects that allow you to broadcast from your home?
Jeff Dodge: My inspirations for this are podcasting in general like what you’ve been doing. I was seeing all sorts of things happening in this election cycle where the Internet is full of basically pirated TV stations, people just kind of breaking loose and doing their own videocast whether it’s through Facebook or YouTube and multiple generations and multiple countries and groups and yeah, it’s just wonderful. It’s like TV is getting put in the hands of the people. There’s just a huge variety of it. I think the fact that all this software is coming through these media platforms is creating a lot of opportunity that wasn’t there even a couple of years ago. So I’m taking advantage of that and then the hardware aspect of it is I’m using standard def cameras, any camera, running everything through an analog processing thing it’s not much different from what the TV stations use, it’s all 720p for them anyway even though they get all this fancy HD stuff to work with. We’re still all watching low resolution so I’m taking it all and sending in down the pipeline, doing it all on the cheap and easy. It’s free and all the software platforms are allowing for that so it’s great. It’s a wonderful time to bring those two together.
The Portland Orbit: Very good, okay, I love that. That’s a good ending there. (Laughter.)
Jeff Dodge: I could go for hours.
* * * * *
Jeff generally broadcasts on the last Tuesday of the month. He jokingly referred to the next show’s air date as October 32nd but he’s actually hitting the “internetwaves” on Tuesday, November 1st at 9pm PST. For more information see: http://trenchdigger.us/prb-variety-hour-show.html
UPDATE: The show now airs on the last Monday of every month.
P.S. Not to go unmentioned are the contributions of drummer Rich Reece and bassist Steve Cebula who make up the rhythm section of The Peasant Revolution Band. During the show they offer commentary and make quips. Reece plays more of an Ed McMahon role while Steve is more in the Tommie Newsome territory. To understand that reference you would probably need to have had parents who nodded off to the Johnny Carson show on many a night in the 70’s.
P.P.S. Right after I turned off the recorder, Jeff threw out a nod to SCTV (Second City TV) as an influence. The Canadian show starred the likes of John Candy, Rick Moranis, Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin among others. It also ran fake commercials, which I didn’t remember. Here’s one I created for the Peasant Revolution Band Variety Hour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pub-zD0hR5U
There Ain’t Bleep on TV Tonight
The Portland TV scene has exploded. It’s essentially free, random, stupid, alien if you weren’t alive in the ’70’s or ’80’s, but its existence can’t be denied especially if you’re too broke for cable or if you are uninitiated in the ways of Apple TV, Roku or other forms of streaming. This television landscape can be discovered with an antenna, and it’s a nostalgia blast smorgasbord overload of programming that will be at your channel surfing finger tips.
Anyone remember the digital conversion? This happened a few years back. The end result was analog TV sets became obsolete for reception without a converter box. This is one reason old TV sets continue to be abandoned on street corners at an alarming rate. Digital tuners in current television sets pick up digital signals with antennae. Our local channels have added sub channels. KATU, channel 2, has become 2.1 and spawned two sub channels, 2.2 and 2.3. Many subchannels carry networks pumping out old TV shows and movies. There are now more opportunities than ever for you to spend your invisible TV dollars.
Other channels to rot your brain include shopping channels, Spanish language stations, (learn telenovela Spanish!) religious channels, although I’m distraught because I can’t get Hope TV (channel 36.3) or maybe I’m dying to know what I’m missing. Then there’s the often weird and low-budget Channel 17 out of Salem featuring appearances by an under dressed weatherman.
Yes, I can get nostalgic, but I don’t often have the time or attention span for an old 70’s show like The Rookies. Who does? I did experience the warm fuzzies from seeing the closing credits of Welcome Back, Kotter. I was looking at a kid wearing a winter coat riding a unicycle as the theme song played when nostalgic feelings being with my family flooded over me and brought me back to those days when I was either procrastinating doing my homework or waiting for the next show to come on.
But who under the age of 30 or 40 or even 50 finds much relevance in seeing Telly Savalas playing Kojak. I do think his “who loves you baby” is one of the greatest catch phrases ever written, but the uninitiated would have to be wondering how this guy got a television show.
This is TV worth watching at least for the sake of checking it out. There’s little financial investment other than the price you pay for a decent antenna which should equal the cost of a month’s worth of cable. Then cast your eye on the freak out reflected by the shows we watched in the 70’s: Sleestaks on Land of the Lost, a TV show about Kung Fu known as Kung Fu, and potentially politically incorrect portrayals of Native Americans. All of this TV watching has raised a question: What the hell is a Sweathog?
Another caveat is that free TV isn’t really free, not when you have to sit through some of the worst infomercial style commercials imaginable–and lot’s of them. There don’t seem to be any ads of the mildly entertaining football game variety. It’s a trade-off that might have you pondering whether a show or especially a movie is worth watching while enduring constant and endless commercial breaks. It does inspire more channel surfing. There were a few times, during my recent recovery from a bike mishap, that I made an effort to try to find something on one of these many channels. I was left uninspired. The pilot for the never produced Horshack show was the lone exception.
A Selected Portland, OR area TV lineup:
2.2 ME TV Nostalgia abounds! Lucy, Gunsmoke, Hogan’s Heroes. Ask your grandparents about how there was once was a comedy on TV about American POWs in a German prison camp.
2.3 Comet This channel features Sci-Fi, B-movies, cool promos and Mesothelioma commercials. It’s the place you are most likely going to catch Godzilla movies.
6.2 Get TV They seem to be into the 80’s shows and classic movies.
6.3 Decades flaunts it’s nostalgia proudly airing documentaries about decades past and comedy shows in black and white.
8.2 Justice TV As the name implies, this station is heavy on shows about police work.
8.3 Estrella TV This is the home to my favorite pink haired clown who does double duty as a talk show host.
10.3 OPB Want to listen to the radio on TV? You can do that here.
12.2 COZI TV Get cozy and watch some of your favorite shows like Murder, She Wrote and the Six Million Dollar Man.
12.3 LAFF TV When you need a laugh or you want to catch a Drew Carey Show rerun.
17.1 KWVT This station originates from Salem. It’s got a public access feel but mostly it runs YouToo America shows.
22.1 ION Catch reruns of syndicated police dramas of the NUMB3RS variety.
22.2 qubo It’s kids stuff.
22.3 IONlife This is about as close as you can get to HGTV type programming without paying for cable.
22.4-22.6 Shopping Channels If you dare buy things off of TV then there are three stations pumping out merchandise for you.
27.1 retro TV A mixed bag here, but you can find Lucy and Dr. Who on this channel.
KNMT-TV (various channels) Local religious programming
32.2 ANT TV It’s a reference to TV antennas not bugs. You’ll find sitcoms and Carson reruns here.
32.3 This TV Catch movies, mostly from the 90’s it seems, on this channel.
36.3 Hope TV Nothing but a sad, black screen of despair.
46.1 KGWZ I’m not sure what’s going on here but when I tuned it was a static shot the Portland city skyline.
47.3 Grit TV Real manly programming is featured here. There’s plenty of cops and cowboys.
49.2 Escape Another station devoted to airing detective, investigator and Dateline type shows.
Year in Review
There’s nothing like the end of the year to inspire a blogger to throw in the towel. It’s been a tough year, a challenging one too, but it also has me more optimistic about what I can do next year. A few projects that hung over my head much of the year were completed and a couple of others are so close that I may be soon done with those as well. The cycle can start up next year with new projects to start, abandon, complete etc… and of course this blog will occupy my time. Looking back over the year’s posts, I see I’ve documented some of what I experienced and it strikes me that my orbit seems a bit constricted now, revolving around the rain and a small, grungy slice of life that I tried to paint an image of in a Kerouac parody in my now infamous Turkey post. The backlog of subject matter that I plan to bring to life next year includes the Portland shoe art scene, my continued decal/sticker obsession and it looks like I’ll finally be able to write about art cars. I will also will be looking to utilize the skills of one of the world’s greatest copy editors I happen to live with. I might get a handle on my typo epidemic. With all that going on, I can only leave you with a couple of updates:
It was probably 2014 when I wrote about the loss of the Perry Mason show on regular TV. For 48 years he held down a time slot in Portland until our local Fox affiliate axed him. You can now catch Perry Mason on ME TV. It’s on channel 2.3. I’m not sure exactly when TV channels started including a decimal point but it’s as good a reason as any to trade your cable cable for a set of rabbit ears. Digital TV offers great reception and great picture quality. Our local stations have sub channels that feature networks of nostalgia blasting old TV shows and movies you can catch while channel surfing. Nothing breaks the monotony of a lazy Sunday better than hearing the phrase “psychological thriller starting!” If your schedule coordinates you can watch Perry at 9am or 11:30pm on weekdays.
Hold on…about to…confess.
Crap! I can’t believe Perry got me to say that.
Another World for Fabric World
When I first addressed the sad, demise of Fabric World, I was happy, at least some readers were attracted to that post. Fabric World remains a lost world to me, but I got a sense of the place from people who had shopped there and responded to my writing. I snapped a photo late one afternoon when I noticed rumbles of activity going on with the old store front. We’re talking serious rumbles–what exactly is happening when half the walls need to be chopped out? A recent trip down Lombard revealed enlarged posters on the wooden barriers exclaiming “New Re-Development” so it’s clear to see that Fabric World has left the building. It’s hard to know what type of business will fit that space. It’s difficult, too, sometimes, to stop the car, park it and investigate what the giant signs are squawking about to clue us all in but in the middle of Christmas mania I did just that. See what you make of this sign.
More will be revealed in the new year but it amazed me that 30 seconds into my annual Christmas trip to Powell’s Bookstore I witnessed two major infractions. The driver of a pick up truck at a stop light opened his door and dumped some fast food trash into the middle of the street. Then two fancy/expensive cars failed to use their turn signals. It reminded me that pollution makes both Indians and bloggers cry. It also leads me to believe I’ll be crankier than ever in the next year. The folks below sure have a way of calming me down and making me happy so I’ll leave with their image, along with some sweet peppermints.
Happy Holidays to each and everyone of you! See you on the other side in 2016.
They seem sad, dejected and lonely sitting on a curb, waiting and hoping to be picked up, carried off and brought back to life by being plugged in and surrounded by a family who happens to love watching sitcoms together. Television sets appear life-like to me because they talk. This explains that melancholy I feel seeing an abandoned TV. Sure the words televisions say are actually the crap they broadcast but they can take the vision of one world and bring it into another one. That’s not to say you can have a real conversation with a TV.
Recently we wanted to watch, or maybe I wanted to watch, a preseason football game while working on our kitchen renovation. My wife, Ronna, suggested I hook up the old set in the basement. I hauled it up, attached the antennae and watched the snowy image on the screen before a hazy memory became clear. The heavy-ass set needed a digital converter box. I flashed back to that murky time when the digital transition was going to be happening and it was all over the television being explained and hyped. I’d forgotten. The old analog set was not going to pick up a signal. I tried to explain this but ended up committing to that day’s work out of lifting and carrying the old set down to the basement. There’s been at least one reason not to ditch it on the curb, besides the heartbreak, VHS tapes and old DVDs still look great on that set. So on that rare occasion when it’s necessary it will be there serve its duty as a monitor.
But it was the digital conversion that wasn’t that long ago that has created a nation of semi-obsolete televisions. You can still find a converter box. The new ones may cost 40 to 50 dollars, but you could probably get one cheaper, like you can find everything, online. It’s seems sketchy because you’ll be watching a digital image on an analog set. I’m sure these digital converter boxes work fine but why make the investment in old school technology when you can get a new, slim, sleek model for cheap. So out go the old sets often with a reminder note that explains that they work great or that the set is free. I’m especially fond of the giant televisions, wide-screen, state of the art in their day, that seem to take up a city block and would have to be moved by a crane. They make it easy to see how far technology has progressed.
I had an eye out for old TVs years ago when I had a plan to make a music video about a guy watching a music video on a mountain of television sets. I suppose the logistics of carting televisions around and hoarding them in the basement killed my inspiration. When I worked in a group home and one of the televisions broke, I made my one and only curbside TV grab. I got the set back only to realize the electrical cord had been cut. I had to drop it off at Far West Recycling Inc.
Sad, abused, orphaned, to say the least, it’s a difficult question on how to deal with the street TV dilemma. I wonder why there has never been an eye water inducing public service announcement for television junkies to weep over. With a sappy soundtrack the narration could surely describe the plight of the homeless sets waiting for new life in an art project or crying out for a digital conversion to broadcast the late show of a bygone era one last time.
Power to the Perry!
After 48 years The Perry Mason Show is off the air in Portland, OR. A mild controversy erupted two years ago, the first time Perry Mason was replaced from its noon slot on KPTV (Fox-12). It returned to an 8am broadcast time on KPDX-TV channel 49, I’m assuming after enough of an uproar. With little fanfare, Queen Latifah replaced Perry Mason in September. Any diehard Perry fan settling in to watch the show had to be disappointed. My wife, Ronna, and I started watching and enjoyed it. The characters all seemed to smoke like chimmneys and it was fun to see Perry Mason in black and white, along with investigator Paul Drake and the faithful secretary Della, chasing down some goofball in the 50’s and 60’s Los Angeles who thought he or she could get away with murder. We watched together when I had Monday mornings off. My wife’s work schedule allowed her to watch it every weekday morning.
The official story from Andy Delaporte, the vice president and general manager of KPTV/KPDX, is that the ratings were too low to keep airing the show. This is understandable but it occurred to me that the show was never promoted. A quick and funny promo could have easily been made to alert people to this gem of a show and could possibly have built an audience. And why does it always have to be about money? What about the public service of entertaining, what’s safe to assume, an elderly audience. I understand an hour of TV, five times a week, is too much to give away, but I cannot recall seeing any advertising during the show targeted to the audience. No Henry Winkler or Fred Thompson schilling for reverse mortgage programs, no medicare insurance, no Colonial Penn funeral insurance with or without Alex Trebek, no Teva (adult depends), no Consumer Cellular and no mysterious medication ads of any kind that I remember. I mostly recollect seeing commercials for career colleges and promos for Fox 12 news broadcasts. Anyone in the area who had been watching the show for 48 years was probably not considering career college.
My first thoughts were that I was going to have to fight the power to get Perry back on the air. I thought of boycotts, listing all the advertisers on the station and its affiliates, and then marching into a retirement community, up in arms, saying we can get Perry back. Working six days a week these days, I don’t want to spend my one day off protesting and I boycott most things anyway by being broke. I will get around to contacting Me-TV which is a subchannel of KATU-TV that may someday air Perry Mason in the Portland area. I found out through the Perry Mason page on Facebook that the show airs on Me-TV in Florida. Perry Mason also airs on the Hallmark Movie Channel but I’m not going back to cable. Some of these other options involve investing in one of those DVR contraptions, something that me and all my geriatric compatriots may not be willing to do.
The biggest disappointment is losing another unique Portland experience. If only I’d watched the show sooner, I could have seen all 275 episodes. Now I can only wish I was watching Perry Mason brainstorming in a haze of cigarette smoke, at 8am on a Monday morning, like the good old days.
Because they can say it better: