Someone recently e-mailed me, "Mugsy why are you writing all these things about the history of the show now?" I'm best known for creating comedy, not compiling events, ad even then from my point of view. I'm sure other's might differ. However I realized there was a history of almost everything on the internet. Also, since first creating my UF sites, I've received a lot of responses from people who remember the show through the years. Some more vividly them me. I am also disappointed with the lack of recognition we get in the industry. Sure, we were never Hallmark Hall Of Fame or Playhouse 90 but I know the show as a whole (and it certainly can be at times) influenced a lot of people and projects. When Floyd would work on movies or big TV shows he'd often tell us later that "so & so was a big fan of the show". The list of these "so & so's" was impressive. Some of you already know of people that fit into this category. Paul Simon, David Bowie, Robert Klein, etc. but there are lots more. I don't now go into that list because they either never appeared on the show, and it would just sound like a lot of name dropping. The most important people who watched the show were the regular fans who stood by and supported us and whose laughs we take pride in creating. So forgive me if at times I tend to ramble and seek to inform. With the Uncle Floyd show our purpose was predominately to entertain, not inform. Even back then before the hundred channels of today, there were all kinds of "educational" and "informative" show that frankly bored us to death. The viewers to the UF show wanted diversion, fun and laughs, and so did the cast. We always built the show around making each other laugh, which is how so many inside jokes got on. But I think that seeing us have such a good time carried over to the fans who may not have exactly known what we meant about certain things but they knew there was a good story somewhere. When Skip starting laughing in that high pitched hysterical voice you knew something was special about that joke and so most of you just joined in the fun.
IT'S A SYNDICATION LIE
OKAY, OKAY, OKAY
I'd like to temporarily say something I usually don't. For one time I'd like to remind some people and inform others of just how innovative we were. (...and when I was a kid we had to walk 10 miles to the station back and forth every day!) I don't do this so you will all think what geniuses we were. I do it because it hardly ever gets said and if this is a history of the show then it should be mentioned once somewhere in the story. When I pick up those "History Of Prime Time TV Show" books and look for the show I never find it. We really should be in them. Sure we were once on a state cable channel but we were also syndicated across the country in 1982-1983. We were on NBC's owned and operated stations in New York, Cleveland, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and San Diego. We also were on the Boston superstation and a few more added to those. It's strange for me sometimes when I see an article about the show and it says "local cable" as if we were the same kind of crap as a town meeting or infomercial on how to make millions putting ads in newspapers.
I also would like to state for the record about all the times we got ripped off. Don't get me wrong. In comedy you often borrow premises and ideas. Steve Allen once said there are only 10 original jokes, all the rest are spin offs of those. That is true and later I'll give you the formula we used to have for punchlines. I also want to say that various people and shows had big influences on us. Ernie Kovacs and Chuck McCann, Bob Clampett and Soupy Sales. Steve Allen's early syndicated talk show where sometimes suddenly all hell would break loose. And my favorite, Andy's Gang with Froggy the gremlin. These great programs and people taught us a lot. But when Pee Wee Herman's HBO special debuted I almost fell off my chair. I counted 35 direct no doubt about it characters he and co writer Phil Hartman lifted. Here's a brief example:
1. Capt Karl (who drew pictures)=Capt Fork
2. Mr Mondo=Hugo
3.Mr Bones (hung on wall of Pee Wee set)
4. Genie in Box=Box Of Wisdom
5. Pee Wee's angry postman=The Nasty Mailman
6. Pee Wee's little friend=Little Willie on Flojo
7. Pee Wee's opening line of "Okay, okay"=Mr. Silly's opening line
You get the idea. Sure there was always a possibility of coincidence when writing comedy but these steals were blatant. Why didn't we sue? Three reasons. "A", it was a different time and you didn't just sue everyone in the world like today. Plus, it would've cost a fortune to get a lawyer. "B", we didn't want to become known to the people in the rest of the world as "the guys who tried to sue Pee Wee". He had lots of money and power behind him and I'm sure some people who had never had the opportunity to see us would've thought, "if they came up with it first then why was Pee Wee the one on HBO?"
Finally "C", we knew we did whatever Pee Wee was doing better. Given a chance to go head to head we would've destroyed him. They had writers and script girls and prop men and floor directors and us...we could turn out a brand new show, night after night, day after day, year after year. We figured he'd burn out quickly... well, you can't win 'em all.
SELLING HOMEMADE BREAD NATIONALLY
It was the best of times and it was the worst of times. It all seemed so normal and logical at the time. It was "Our Time". Here we were, a small bunch of wacky misfits, talented though we were, on the verge of going national. Personally I just didn't give it much thought. I had too many years of being panned and ignored to really believe we were about to make it. That last year of 1981 was the most creative, most fun we ever had. With the help of a talented technical crew we were turning out bit after bit, character after character, sketch after sketch with no one standing over our backs saying "you guys can't do that" or "that's not possible". Everything was possible and everything was okay to ridicule, as long as it was funny. We had no intentions, desires and never did jokes about real taboo subjects like child molestation, or racist put downs or recently dead celebrities that is so common today, even in main stream comedy. Some of our characters were of a specific nationality but it was never a put down of groups of a people, more a throwback to the ethnic theater of the turn of the century. Most of our characters fell into two categories, con men and idiots. And on the Uncle Floyd Show the con men were often outsmarted BY those same idiots. Floyd has often correctly explained the theme of the show as a frustrated host constantly being interrupted by an endless parade of pests. Here's a guy who's not that great as a ventriloquist, playing songs no longer in popular fashion, and acting loud obnoxious, YET somehow someway touching the audience as "regular guys". Floyd remark of, "we're the Little Rascals grown up" is quite apropos. Like the Dead End Kids of the Bowery, we were rude and crude but never lude (unless it was a live stage show). Unlike Howard Stern, we didn't use sexual situations for fodder, our best received gags were often "Slice of Life" situations that often happened to most people watching, just not so exaggerated. And, just like an mix of people you might find yourself stuck in an elevator or doctor's office with, we were all different.
Scott began to show up in almost every Floyd sketch, some as the fall guy (literally), others as the interviewer who never changed his suit jacket, often as tool of the establishment with the long arm of the law (Officer McNanimy) or the health or immigration inspector. Scott's most used skill was for physical comedy as he fell to the floor fighting with an invisible man or was suddenly attacked as Mr Brownjeans by a vicious flea. One of the funniest and most difficult to do (thanks to us) was Anita The Sun Goddess. Sitting on the hidden side of Floyd's piano, Scott would poke this giant yellow cardboard face with a movable mouth and call, "Yoo Hoo, Uncle Floy-oid!". Then he's sing a silly song in a high soprano voice. At least he did until the cast went to work. Hidden from the audience's view was the sight of him being constantly poked with sticks and choking him with smokebomb emissions. Maybe even dropping a pack of lit firecrackers near by. To Buddy's credit he put up with it longer then anyone could be expected to. If we were hard on Scott we were ruthless to Charlie, especially during Gene Shellfish. This time the torment was on camera. Charlie never gave up or threw in the towel, finishing every script he had started. But if any of you ever thought he might've looked a little pissed he probably was. This humor human sacrifice trend started with Prof Glump. Back then we mostly flew paper airplanes at the Prof although I do remember dropping a large empty directly over him without him losing one word of script. Artie has also always accused me of setting fire to him which I don't remember, don't advise and highly doubt (was probably Floyd). Although I once had my lip broken open (which aired, though minus the blood) in On The Spot Racing, I was pretty lucky. Floyd claims to have been poked in the eye by a Christmas tree in a Karl & Son bit. He used to tell us he had the "curse of wood!". Every time a wooden prop was in a bit with him it was bad luck. I don't know how Oogie felt about that. Or his piano.
Footnote from Scott Gordon: "In regards to the Karl and Son Christmas Tree Removal Service, when Floyd came up from under the tree we just blew-up (using a live, in studio explosion called a "squib" -- and a stop-camera technique), he scratched the cornea of his right eye with one of the branches. It was then that Floyd voiced his "curse of wood" to us (which had us all on the floor laughing). No one ever knew that Floyd took the resulting bandages off his injured eye to tape the next week's programs, putting the used bandages back on when he got home. If you look at his right eye under just the right light, you can still see the "scar" of the scratch as a reflected line."
The Artie Delmar character was at the time, and probably in the history of the show, the most popular non-Floyd character ever. Artie was usually on three shows a week. His "walking out" tag became a live show rallying chant. When the person playing Artie Delmar suddenly left the show it was quickly apparent something and someone were missing. The exact circumstances are no longer relevant and not important. I will say it had nothing to do with hiss talent or attitude which has always been 100 percent professional. It was not a happy time for anyone involved. We wondered what effect this would have on the show. Floyd had often theorized that the audience would turn over every three years, some leaving after any kind of a change was apparent, others die hard lifetime fans. Though I'm sure many were disappointed with his departure our growth continued.
I'M MR. ED
In the meantime Ed Kaufman, channel 68's assistant manager, began to hang around with us a lot. I guess he figured that we had a good chance of making it and could benefit from his experience in broadcasting. (hahahahahahahah). He claimed to have started out years ago working with Bob McGalister, an earlier NY TV legend. The same Bob McGalister who would later attack us in print as being harmful for children. We knew that Ed was just trying to latch on but we did need somebody. Our usually meeting with Ed were late night after tapings when we'd all go eat at the Pilgrim Diner in Verona. Ed would be sitting at a booth when we came sipping his coffee and puffing away on one of the 5 packs of cigarettes he must've smoked a day. He's ask us a question and then exclaim, "Christ!" in disbelief at our answers. Ed felt that the cast was not taking anything seriously. Actually we never took him him that way. Ed began to stop by for every taping, usually sleeping in the control room. When awake Ed would often approach us and exclaim, "it's just around the corner (meaning success)", and then ask us for a quarter to buy a bag of potato chips. We always had the last laugh on Ed because anytime he got mad at us or say something (exceptionally) stupid we just do the line on the show. We once taped his telephone answering message and chopped it up and played it over the air. Then we took a boom box and drove down Central Avenue in Newark blaring it out. A viewer even made an Ed Kaufman puppet. We added the cigarette. Christ!
Ed was one of the few executives at channel 68 we ever saw. Floyd would sometimes go in the day and meet with them but the cast just showed up to tape at night. We did know the crew and Charlie, Skip and Netto often went drinking with them after a busy night. Also employed at the station were security guards. One of the reasons they station had brought them in was because of the Lenny Incident. This was a strange occurrence even for the Uncle Floyd show but it is entirely true.
Lenny was a jewish cab driver from the Bronx. A towering fellow who for all his size had a quiet demeanor. I forget how he happened to start hanging out at the station. He must've drove over one night and waited outside the gates for someone to show up. Besides the air-switcher and control room technical we were the only action the station saw at night. Lenny had been coming around for a few weeks being polite to everyone. We were always nice to viewers of the show. One night Lenny started to critique the show and add how if he was the director it would be better. We all laughed until we realized he wasn't kidding.
Floyd had years of experience dealing with all types of audiences and problems from his days with the circus to nights playing for inebriated bar patrons. Floyd, still talking in a friendly voice to a towering rambling "guest", took Lenny aside and tried to quiet him down. Lenny then told Floyd that if he couldn't direct the TV show he was gonna go over Floyd's house and cause trouble. Lenny had gotten Floyd's address from an envelope on the dashboard of Floyd's car. I realized that this was a potentially dangerous situation and called the Newark Police who said they'd send someone over. Twenty minutes later the no one had arrived and situation was getting very sticky. Lenny had reused to leave the building and there had been some kind of mention of a weapon, either knife or a gun. With still no Police car reporting I went out on the corner of the main intersection, Broad and Market Street, and waited until a cop car passed by, flagging them in. The police discovered that though Lenny was threatening, he was not carrying any type of weapon. They escorted him down to jail and held him overnight for a hearing.
The next morning, to Floyd's astonishment, the judge quickly gave Lenny a warning not to bother Floyd again and dismissed the case. Lenny, and other similar though less threatening cases, had showed Floyd that being famous could be a . We never heard from Lenny again. Although the incident had ended safely, a few weeks later while we were taping another week of shows I saw the new security guard on duty in the front lobby staring at the TV set they had. I asked him what he was watching. He said they just had a news bulletin about some rock star getting shot in New York, John Lennon.
Throughout the years the show has produced many fans, 99 percent of them normal nice people who just wanted a good laugh. In the early days of the show Floyd would amaze many fans by asking their name and having him tell them where they lived, and maybe even a recent picture they had on the wall. Floyd had an astounding memory. Often the same 10 or 20 names would come up and they'd often put out their own fan newspapers. Plus we'd sometimes joke about them on the show. Charlie even used the voice of one of these regulars for one of his own on going characters. Years later the actor who had created Artie Delmar used the same voice in one of his characters. Harmless inside jokes.
We usually had a closed set when we taped and when we did have guests they'd watch from the control room, sitting next to Rip Van Kaufman. The original studio in West Orange was very small. They shot it on angles to make it look bigger. It was hot as hell too. When the station moved to Newark the first studio we shot in was gigantic and had great air conditioning. It still didn't have dressing rooms (it really did but on another floor and you didn't wander away too long from the show) and we got dressed right off camera. Another reason we didn't want visitors. Speaking of the studio, here are a few of the many studios we've used over the years and how to spot which one we're in while watching a bit:
SIGN OF THE TIMES
Chan 68 West Orange - Look for yellow walls with blue dividers and a blue carpeted floor. Originally set had piano on left side but was mover to right soon after. Floyd also had a large room divider blind with pictures on it behind the desk in 1977. Also show was done for a time with blue carpeted walls. (1974-80)
Chan 68 Newark - Same yellow walls and blue dividers but white floor. (1980-81)
Chan 68 syndicated - Same white floor but brown wooden set with stairs and door on right and window behind Floyd. (1982-83)
TV3 - Light blue walls with two large shuttered white doors in middle of set and several window shutters behind desk. (1983)
NJN - Same set for most part as syndicated shows but with a checkerboard floor and curtains in center alcove (sometimes). (1983-1986)
CTN Hightstown - Blue walls with pictures over them. (1986)
CTN Woodbridge - Yellow walls, no door, small window shutters behind desk with large "Uncle Floyd Show" rectangle cloth banner in center.. (1987)
CTN OBC in Nutley - Originally same as Woodbridge changing to window behind desk and green door at right by piano. Also wooden flats on floor. (1988-1998)
Cablevision - Bright yellow walls with window behind desk, large picture of Oogie on left, door on right and large "UNCLE FLOYD" sign dead center. (1998-)
SOMEBODY ACTUALLY WRITES THAT STUFF?
Word was out that the show was about to be syndicated. This meant that some group of people were to put up money and attend the annual NATPE (National Association of Television Producers)(Ehh!) convention in Las Vegas where a booth would be set up and the show pitched at independent stations for sale.
We heard that the head syndicator was a man named George Back, who was a big deal in the business and had been a past president of the organization. His company, Producers Showcase, also produced Casey Kasem's Top Twenty show. We couldn't help but be impressed. Maybe now we get somewhere. Channel 68 had never cared much for the show, originally putting it on partly because they needed to show some type of kid's programming for the FCC rules , but mostly because Floyd was buying the time.
Different station managers had been warmer and colder. When Wometco first bought the station they figured the show was for kids and stuck it on at 8am. Later new manager Ken Taichoff saw it's potential and gave it back it's original time slot, even expanding it to an hour. Even after leaving channel 68 Taichoff still helped us by buying the show for the Boston TV station he had moved to. The current management couldn't care less about regular programming. Wometco was more concerned about their Pay Par View subscribers. Still Back was able to make a deal with them to have Wometco put up money now and maybe get a pay per view special later. For a long while all we knew was that the syndicaters were "watching" us and "observing' all without ever introducing themselves to the cast. An early friend of the show was then television /entertainment reporter Tony De Sena. Over the years Tony had given us a lot of nice plugs and mentions and appreciated the show as a fan. He began to submit ideas and scripts to Floyd. Up until then most of the writing on the show was done by Floyd, myself and the actor who protrayed Artie Delmar. Floyd wrote most of the "A" bits (the sketches that appeared coming back from the first commercial). He also wrote anything that he was the predominant character. I wrote all MY music parody songs (Floyd wrote his own stuff like Cowboy Charlie). Artie Delmar wrote anything he was the main character in. Although Floyd wrote some ensemble stuff like Flojo and Billy Bobby Booper, I wrote all the Weird Stories of the Minds, Nick Hassle Pri-Eyes, Old Time Movies (which I also directed), On The Spot Racing scripts and Billionaires. Besides that I wrote and drew all the pictures for Capt Fork and Alfred the Astrologer. Skip's off camera ad libs were always his own.
Around the same time Floyd had met a rising stand up comedian named Mike Rowe who he's seen performing at the Improv night club. Mike started showing up at the tapings on a regular basis eventually getting a contributing writers credits (along with myself) at the end of the show. Tony had mentioned to me as syndication was winding down that he had been submitting material to another show and that interest was expressed. When he told me the show in question was "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" I smirked and wished him luck. Tony was a talented writer but going from The Uncle Floyd Show to the biggest program on TV? Yeah, sure. That had about as much chance of happening as a bunch of wackos from NJ being nationally syndicated. A few years later I heard that Tony had won an Emmy as a member of the Tonight Show writing staff. Since then he's been involved with a number of well known programs and productions, though none involving a rubber chicken or midget skeleton on a stick.
THINK ABOUT IT
One afternoon we got word the big day had come. We were finally going to meet the head syndicator and find out what changes the show would be having. I say that because we made our own rules and did things our own way. There was no other show, since or before, that ever looked like the Uncle Floyd Show. Even Pee Wee could only steal characters, he couldn't imitate the star and strongest part of the show, Floyd. Until this night the syndicaters were these shadowy figures that we'd catch a glimpse of standing in the back of the studio. They wore suits and though we also wore suits in sketches, we were more of a blue collar mentality. Don't trust anyone in a suit. It was the "suits" that had wrecked old time show business. Penny pinching and red lining the greats out of the spotlight. We were worried that maybe the syndicaters might want to make cast changes. That would be okay with us but if they did would we were worried that maybe They couldn't possibly be going to let us continue having fun, even if eventually they'd give in. I remember the story about Happy Days when originally the Fonz character could not wear a leather jacket or even speak If they did that to him what would we be denied?
Well George, dressed in causal clothes, no jacket, sat down in a circle with us and started to tell us what a great show we had. That he knew that we were all talented professionals and how he was about to go to the NATPE convention and make some deals. He gave us all an Uncle Floyd show coffee mug that they'd be handing out in Vegas. He also mentioned a giant poster of the cast that they'd be giving out, although he didn't have any to give us that night. And we each got a brand new Sony Walkman cassette player. Oh, and one more thing. The show was perfect the way it was and there were to be no changes made. No new cast members, no departing cast members, everything status quo. Most of us we're relived and fell hook, line and sinker for Back's pitch. Except for Netto.
Netto's persona on the show has never been portrayed accurately. Far from the burned our drug influenced wildman his characters often are, in truth Netto is a very intelligent and sensitive entertainer who's analytical mind has often spotted important details the rest of us have missed. Still, Netto was not known to speak up a lot at production meetings and the fact most of us very completely silent made his next remarks stand out even more. "So what your telling us," said Netto softly speaking directly to Back, "is that soon we'll all be really big stars...". George's face began to smile figuring Netto was paying him a compliment, but the Netto added, "...and we'll still be making diddley squat." The blood drained from Back's face. He realized that someone had seen through his spiel. He had never mentioned any pay rates or money or even contracts. Netto had hit the nail on the head. Yeah, what about the money?
Here we were on the hottest show in town, an impressive fact when that town happens to New York City. All of us had come together and worked our asses off for a lot of reasons, none of them money. We all loved to entertain and there was a lot of reasons to think we were relatively good at it. Still, we could only look at the time to Floyd for adequate compensation. He wasn't making a mint, working every night in some club and on the weekends playing piano in Wild West City, an old west theme park. But now, we were gonna be all across the country, five nights a week. We knew that a guest on the Tonight Show got $300.00 for an appearance. What were we going to get? (hahahahhahah)
STARTS WITH AN "F"
The rosy picture that Back had painted started to grow darker all the time. Instead of contracts we were given release forms, which we never signed. A release form is usually something a person signs to agree on having their voice or image used in a broadcast production. Typically it's signed by guests or bands that are making a single brief appearance in a series. We had a quick meeting and decided to stand together on this issue making it very difficult for anyone to get fired and replaced. This would only be the start of an ongoing battle. It is amazing that a show that made so may people laugh and feel great could be such a pain in the ass at times to do and continue.
Still, the odds of doing half the things in life I've done without first doing the Uncle Floyd make it all now seem worthwhile to have gone though. I mention them here briefly as a testament to what Floyd and the cast have gone though and kept going. At the time some of had a problem with the way the show was being run. I later realised I would had done no better and maybe worse. When I started my own show in the 90's on a much smaller scale I learned the job a producer really has. Keep the show going no matter what. Anticipate little appreciation, and expect all blame. There is very few times that actions are "the right thing to do" or "the wrong", just a decision that needs to be made quick.
BANNED IN BOSTON
The syndicaters never seem to be able to make up their minds. First they had said "no changes". Then they brought in a special director who had done lots of work for Sesame Street. He was astounded by our lack of production, in his mind. Suddenly everything we did was rehearsed, done over and repeated until he was happy with it. During the shooting for the pilot we must of shot a Larry Bing Phone In Radio sketch 30 times. Even Skip couldn't laugh after a while. Don't get me wrong. I understand TV production and on some shows this wouldn't be questioned at all, but part of the UF Show's charm was it's looseness. Fans liked the alternative to the slick packaged product so common in the 80's. It was around this time I began to suspect the motives of the syndicaters. They must've known that things weren't going well.
Then the editing started. We were still taping all kinds of bits but the syndicator were spending hours endlessly editing each show and taking stuff out because "they" didn't care for it. All my music parodies were gone, all of NETTO's characters and everything Skip did, except his laugh in the background. We wouldn't have minded as much if there had been some kind of standard they were looking for but it was getting obvious that anything Netto, Skip and I did would never air. They objected to my beret in the Polka Show. They said Mrs. Jambalone was too short next to Pisqualie in the Pizza bit. It got so bad I often drank a bottle of Maalox during the tapings. One day we found out that the decision to edit things in or out of the show was being made by the syndicater's secretary. They didn't show up much after that. They used Ed to send their "commandments". The first was to spice the show up. It was now being pitched as a late night adult comedy, which was still pretty tame compared to what's on the networks today. The first main bit that was taped was Floyd's Ken Do crafts and hobbies man. Usually Ken would take some "Play Do" (actually Play Dough) and after inhaling it's intoxicating fumes would attempt to make an ashtray or other small curio. This time Ken was attempted to make a copy of an long slender wooden statue. It should've been a statue of the Greek God Phallos because it was certainly started to take on phallic qualities. Again, I repeat by today's standards it was harmless but back then they used to bleep people when they said "hell" and "damn" on talk shows. But this is what the syndicaters wanted even though they had just made a deal with the Boston super station which planned to show the show twice a day, late at night and 4pm in the afternoon. Guess what episode the syndicaters sent to air first?
Everything was not bad. We got a chance to meet and work with some of the nicest stars in the business. The Smothers Brothers were major names. They had had their own show and frankly didn't need to do ours. Not only were they funny but just as nice. We had told Tommy some of the stuff we were going through and he told us to hang in there. After what he and Dick had gone through with CBS in the 60's it really cheered us up. Chubby Checker was also a nice guy but it was a shock that he was just as nuts as us. He begged Skip to let him wear the top hat and tie and beep the horn. Captain Lou Albano, who had come to us through NRBQ, had us in stitches the moment he walked in the door till he left hours later. I have never met someone with a quicker comedy mind. Paul Simon was one of the biggest names in the music biz. Although Paul was a little more reserved then Lou and Chubby, we certainly appreciated his TV visit which except for an occasional shot on Saturday Night Live was a real rarity.
Two great musical stars that did NOT appear on the show were Flo and Eddie, from the Turtles. They were excellent entertainers and in fact did a sell out show each year at NYC's Bottom Line. Not only musically proficient, they were great comics too. About a year before we went into syndication they had also done a half hour a week show. It was horrible. It had them sitting in a set made up to look like a recording studio of which they could do very little. It had aired on the CBS channel in New York and only lasted a while. It was also produced by Producers Showcase. Things were starting to resemble the plotline of the Zero Mostel movie, The Producers, were tons of cash was pumped into a show that was almost certain to fail. We're we being used to raise money for future projects? I couldn't prove anything and indeed may have been mistaken, but the final crushing blow was yet to come and it wouldn't effect me but rather Floyd.
No one in the cast had a greater respect for old time show biz then Floyd himself. When he was younger he had read everything on the subject. Later, working with with the last burlesque troops, he absorbed all the tricks of the trade. There are plenty of secrets to work an audience though to be honest, you really need talent to make them work. One of Floyd's favorite TV personalities was Joe Franklin. Besides his years as host of the long running interview show, Franklin was an expert on entertainers and great old music. In the spirit of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery Floyd had been doing a take off of Joe as The Joe Frankfutter Show where Franklin's styles and sponsors were warm heartily lampooned. The main targets in the bit were the "guests" who like the real Joe's actual guests were often boring and ridiculous.
Both Floyd and Skip had appeared on Franklin's show in the past where Joe had joked with Floyd about the takeoff. In fact an associate of Franklin who took photos on Joe's TV set had attended the Floyd show before. One night on live TV while Floyd was appearing as a host on the One To One Benefit concert, he was approached by a stranger and handed a paper. It turned out to be a subpoena that Floyd was being sued by Joe Franklin for defamation of character for 25 million dollars. Floyd initially took it as a joke, or more probable publicity stunt but soon found out Franklin wasn't kidding. Floyd soon learned he would had to make numerous appearance in court and needed legal representation. Most of the syndicaters were lawyers themselves but they promptly told Floyd he was on his own adding that it was HIM being sued , not them.
Floyd shelled out thousands till Franklin finally dropped the suit. It was a bad deal any way you looked at it. Being stabbed in the back by your bosses, humiliated by a boyhood hero, bled dry by uncaring legal system and finally being told by the syndicaters that they were not interested in a second season might of finished off lesser performers but Floyd not only hung in but was to achieve even bigger success in the future. The lawsuits continued by Woody Allen, Paco of WKTU, the NY disco station, and others but were quickly dropped. Most people just couldn't understand why it was ending. Mercury Records was just releasing an Uncle Floyd LP full of the show's bits and songs. The ratings on the New York station and the Philly affiliate (the number one and two broadcasting markets) were strong. Most of the live shows, and there was at least one a week, were sold out. Why then were we preparing to tape the final episode? Because that's how the business works. Besides we had gone from a small UHF station to national syndication in a profession that usually chews up and spits out people, programs and plots faster then the life expectancy of a bottle of beer at a ballpark. And the fans hadn't left us, they'd be looking for us to pop up quickly again. Floyd would find a way.
Next, the show moves to public TV with NJN.
NEW JERSEY NETWORK 1983-1986
Between A Rock And
After we had gone out of syndication moral was really low. I would find out years later on a smaller scale with my own program what it means to be the producer. Having a loyal group of people waiting on you to quickly get the show out of it's problems and go on making new ones, but it just wasn't that easy. We would be experiencing a recurring situation that was totally frustrating. The first time this had happened was when the management at channel 68 changed the time of the show from 6 PM to 8 am. Most thought the show was just about dead then. Even if viewers wanted to tape it no one had VCR's at that time. But Floyd had refused to give in. If he had a time slot then he's produced shows. This time we knew there was a giant audience out there who wanted to watch the show but we didn't have a time slot and were unable to convince anyone in any seat of power to put us on. We were all used to the intermittent heckling of a few of the younger viewers. There's a scene in Woody Allen's Stardust Memories at the end of the movie when two guys walk past Woody's character and say, "You suck". We were well accustomed to that form of flattery and we really had not gotten into the star trip that much. In fact, we were more deprecating than any heckler. It was harder to answer the fans constant, "when are you guys coming back?" and "why don't you just go to WOR-TV, or ABC, or…". You get the idea. We could not't just go because that's not how you get a show on TV in the first place. Believe me, TV executives could care less half of the time about ratings, even though they claim to do so. Why do you think so many bad shows get on the air, at least initially. It's really a matter of people making deals over convention dinners that often have more to do with, "you take THIS show and we'll give you a break on THESE others". We also had no big studio pushing us or for that matter any powerful industry people.
THE SARA LEE SYNDROME
If the cast had a hard time answering, "what happened?" to inquiring viewers, imagine what Floyd was going through. Normally Floyd could not walk a block in any town without someone recognizing him. Now everyone would have the same questions, "what happened and when will you be back?" In the eyes of "industry people" we had been a fluke. We also had a problem with demographics. Most shows today are pitched to advertisers depending on the group they appeal to and attract most. Well, we didn't have a particular group. We pulled in anyone who wanted to be entertained. Old people liked Floyd's piano playing. Rock people liked the bands. Little kids liked the puppets. Some people followed the soap opera plot lines. Others the wild and wacky humor. We had cops and kids cops chased, and firemen and water-boys. Even parents and their kids watching TOGETHER! What a scary thought. But there was no ONE predominate section we aimed at. This made us a hard sell to commercial TV. Oh, they'd laugh when we'd show them clips from the shows but they'd say, "hey, I love you guys BUT you don't fit into a category OR you're too wild for major sponsors. You make fun of too many things." This was not the devil may care 90's when oral sex is an okay topic for a joke, or dinner time newscast. It was the 80's. A time when some people actually believed the PTL Club or politicians telling the truth or even safe space shuttle missions. So if people believed in THAT stuff, how difficult could it be to get a popular show back on the air. It must've been one of the hardest times ever for Floyd to go through. Floyd had approached a local Spanish language station about having them air the show. Floyd knew from his radio experience that small ethnic broadcasting outlets often sold non prime time blocks to different groups. The problem here was they wanted way too much, even at the start. It would' ve taken a while for Floyd to go out and string together enough small sponsors to just break even. At this point, Floyd decided to take a step backward, just to keep the boat afloat, and we all got the word we were going to cable, where the original show had started eight years before.
Suburban Cablevision was the largest system in the state and much more into producing it's own in house programs then the other state companies. They had just built a brand new state of the art studio in Avenel and were excited about the prospect of having such a well known program made there. And of course, you HAD to have cable to watch the show, a good incentive for people to hook up and stay hooked up. There was even some talk about syndicated the show to other systems. I'm sure Floyd figured that it sounded like a good deal, for the moment.
The cast, however, had a different perspective. First, the studios were tiny compared to channel 68. It was like doing the show in a closet. Second you had to HAVE Suburban Cable to watch the show, a factor that only one cast member had...me. Third, we constantly kept thinking, What the hell are we doing here along side local sports and public access? What were we going to tell fans we'd meet you wanted to see the show, MOVE? We'd come so far and now we were HERE? Also among the casualties were Netto who could not't fit in to the early morning taping schedule, and Charlie for other reasons. To temporarily fill in for their presence, but if not talent, Floyd hired a female cast member called Eileen Martiwicz.
Blonde and smart as a tack (or chair or rock) her first appearance was as Aunt Strange in the Dull Family, a part she was born for. Unfortunately she had less success with any other roles. Her only other recurring character became the Dancing Girl On Skates in which she'd start to dance on a small platform wearing roller skates. She made quite an impression, mostly with the floor. Floyd also tried out two fans, Derek Tague, the resident historian of the show who knew more facts about the program then the rest of us combined, and Fred Velez, known previously for his appreciation of the Monkees. To quote an often used Floyd statement, "things looked dim".
We still had a huge following for the live stage show, however, and a former cameraman at channel 68 who had gone on to an executive position with the state's public TV network, attended a show at the Club Bene in Sayerville. Jeff Friedman and Floyd worked out a plan to bring the Uncle Floyd Show to New Jersey Network, the state's PBS outlet. Public television in general had never been a ratings magnet. In the past it had been subsidized much like the opera and other fine arts were. But attempts were being made to pull in fringe groups that might support stations who served them. English sitcoms began to pop up including the Monty Python series. No one questioned if the comedy on these shows was sometimes crude or risqué. After all, these shows were being made by the same folks who had brought us Upstairs Downstairs and Masterpiece Theater. NJN had long suffered from the fact it had been in the shadow of two nearby PBS stations, WNET of New York City and WLIW of Long Island, as well as the Philadelphia PBS outlet. The station was less known for it's professional produced nightly news then for it's nightly Pick It lottery drawings. The addition of the Floyd show and two other programs, Dark Shadows a 1960's gothic soap opera and Dr. Who an English sci-fi series, would generate a massive influx of viewers, a hipper persona, and hopefully contributors, now that PBS stations had a declining share of government subsidies. So with the help of Drix Neiman, the state appointed head of the operation, we began production in October of 1983 over the state's four UHF stations which also put us into the neighboring states of New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Connecticut. Now the show again could be seen by anyone, anywhere with or without cable. AND…we didn't have to worry about third party sponsors.
THAT WAS NO LADY, THAT WAS MY WIFE
Major changes were apparent with the first telecast. The show was broadcast twice a night, as a lead in to the Pick It drawing at 7 and the repeated again at 11 as a humorous alternative to the news. Each show opened with Floyd supposedly leaving his house to pick up the cast and take them to the studio. It was a big production and cost a fortune.
We had a giant smoke bomb from Ken's Magic Shop tied to the car's tailpipe. All of the houses were actually homes those of Floyd's wife's relatives with the exception of Netto's location. When we shot the Netto sequence the neighbors were mad because it was the only house on the block that looked like that and they could not't understand why we were using it. Also we were worried about the Skip segment where Floyd was to hit Skip in the face with a pie. What if Floyd missed. How many extra pies would we need to have ready? Our fears turned out to be needless as the first take was great. Gone was Eileen and her skates. In came Weenie, real name Karen, who also was married to show director and co-producer Friedman.
Weenie certainly had more talent then Martiwitz, and in fact had already appeared on the show back in the days of West Orange a few times as Skip's wife, Gladys. She was also Pinky Mole, Roller Derby Queen on the Joe Frankfutter show. Weenie soon began showing promise as the new cast member, not an easy void to fill. The cast really has a "maybe Floyd hired you but you gotta prove yourself to us" attitude when your the new guy. It's like joining a family and we look carefully at "who'll be sleeping with our sister", so to speak. The original cast covets the time in front of the camera as something special, something you should be up to. The last thing in the world we want to see is time that we could be doing something funny given to somebody who wasn't. Weenie passed the test. She could do accents and had plenty of costumes since she'd done various summer stock and diner theater acting work. Weenie would bring a full truckload of characters such as: Miss Topps who not only padded her parts but her top and bottom, Mrs. Bilberg the kindly old Jewish Lady who wore tea bags for earrings, Little Sally the nasty little audience member of the Flojo bit who's doll was a lethal weapon, the obnoxious screaming fan of Rocky Rock'n Roll, Mrs. Rich ("I must say.."), a throwback to the Marx Brother's Margaret Dumount who Weenie must've felt she had a common with, Aunt Hester of the Dull family, and Nasal the maid who was more John Wilkes Booth then Shirley Booth. One particular character, Elaine Silverfish, was a takeoff on folk singer Elaine Silver, who was a frequent NJN guest. But Weenie's time with the show was not all hearts and flowers. If we thought she blew a punch line in a sketch we told her, the same way we'd bust each other. Being a cast member is a lot harder then it looks. Ask the many people who only lasted for a short time.
Also new was the addition of a live studio audience which Friedman felt would support the fact the show had mass appeal to the one place that factor would be of interest to. The cast was not as excited about having spectators. We were used to working before live patrons from the stage show but TV production was a different animal. Not so quickly thrown together. And laughs that a viewer at home might have wouldn't work when they saw the punch line coming off camera in the studio. And the fact that people would bring their babies to the show that would cry constantly in the middle of a bits. Plus even though the same amount of tickets would go out we'd get different sizes of crowds. A large crowd might make the bit seem funnier then it was but a smaller crowd would often make the whole show look off for that episode. After Skip left in the third season, we had no way to control the response. This was especially noticeable on the day we were taping and the space shuttle went down. What a lively group they were when they heard that. For contrast you'd never even knew how sad we really were the night we had to tape after learning John Lennon was shot dead.
RIDICULOUS BUT WRONG
Still the return to a professional broadcast environment and a really talented crew who often went out of their way if needed was a nice feeling. The set we used was the old syndication set which had originally cost $20,000 to build.
Friedman was able to make a deal for it and with some changes, like a platform for the center stage area, it was good as new. A segment to get the audience on camera was invented called Ridiculous But Real in which Floyd would ask trivia questions. The subject matter of the comedy was less broad then in the past. Jeff was worried that another Franklin lawsuit would sink the show faster then the Titanic. Also in the atmosphere of the coming political correctness, a group or politician trying to make points could attack the show. A one of the main writers of the show I tried to fight this notion. I knew that no one on the cast had a bigoted bone in their body. In fact we were just the opposite. The only things we ever put down were the inflated pinnacles of importance that EVERYBODY has and suffers from. Most people worked hard on their jobs and deserved a good laugh every once in a while. One of the most common stories we've heard through the years was the fact that a person was going through a very sad time and came on us by accident. With all the troubles they were having they'd found something on the show that just made them laugh. Maybe the first time in a long time but we did it. Maybe that helped them get through whatever life had dealt them and how much they enjoyed us. There is no higher praise an entertainer can receive then that. What we never told them was that the show and it's laughs also got us through a lot that will never be made public.
THERE'S NO FOOL....
One of the audience members eventually became a semi-regular cast member. Yogi Narada was an old carnival performer who now lived in downtown Newark. Looking like a senior citizen Wild Bill Hickcock with a medallion around his neck, Yogi would often wander into a ensemble sketch paying little attention to the particular punch line the rest of the cast would give. One time when the powers that be decided Floyd should welcome a visiting vice presidential hopeful Geraldine Ferrarah to Newark, Yogi showed up only to have the Secret Service grab him as a suspicious character. Another time Weenie pointed out to me that Yogi, who was wearing on Sandals on his feet that day, had sores covering those lower extremities. He also seemed to have a crush on her that she did not encourage. The most memorable Yogi moment of the series was when Professor Irwin Corey dropped by to perform and walked over to Yogi, picked up his medallion, and began talking into it as if it was Yogi's hearing aid.
Corey wasn't the only star to drop by. Even though local up and coming rock bands were no longer a staple of each broadcast, the Newark studios saw plenty of well known guests. Cyndi Lauper, with her Girls Just Wanna Have Fun video fresh on MTV went crazy over Oogie. Comedian Robert Klein confessed to being a fan for a long time. Davy Jones, though not as warm as Peter Tork was, sang a song. Buster Poingdexter, which was David Johanson's current alter ego, dropped by to perform. Dolly Dawn, famous big band singer from the forties appeared. A high point for me was the day one of the Nicholas Brothers showed up. How many times had I watched them and their fantastic dancing in Hollywood musicals.
Skip and Netto both wound up leaving for different reasons. This time Floyd called up a former cast member and asked him to return. Although he had established himself in a successful career as a writer and production advisor since leaving the channel 68 series he still had those pangs of performing kicking around inside of him like an old fire horse hearing the bell and wanting to again race along to the fire. He brought many new characters to the NJN stint but left Artie Delmar behind, except in name which he used instead of his own in the credits. Artie, Floyd and myself worked as a writing team coming up with and perfecting countless ensemble bits, usually infected with that Uncle Floyd Show twist that fans loved.
The Music Goes Round and Round
Some things were definitely looking good. The was now being shown on the weekends as well in a "best of' series. Floyd had made arrangements to do additional work back at channel 68 which had now acquired an MTV-like format. When Wometco went bankrupt the new owners of the station changed it name to U68 and began playing rock videos 24 hours a day. Back then there were not that many videos. MTV itself was only few years old. Floyd and newsman Bill Roller began doing a light news show with even Oogie dropping by as a correspondent. Skip had begun working with Cousin Brucie on a new station he had purchased. Netto was able to occasionally deal with the daytime tapings and make it to the show. I had moved to Madison and had gotten married, a decision I would soon learn was not the best I ever made. One of the funniest moments I remember at NJN was the day someone in the audience brought their pet snake to the taping. They had it in a bag or box or something, not really out in the open. After the initial warm up we did, most everyone pretty much forgot about it. The taping schedule for the day was five shows, three in the morning and two in the afternoon. Just before the end of the fifth show I snuck over and asked the guy who brought the snake if I could bring him on the set while Floyd was playing the closing song at the piano. Floyd had no idea what I was doing and the tape began to roll. There's along standing rule that when the video tape is recording it's almost never stopped unless there's a technical problem. I walked out behind Floyd in full view of the audience with this giant 10 foot long Boa Constrictor around my neck and while Floyd was playing his song I quickly took the snake off my neck and placed it around Floyd's. He afterwards told the audience in the studio that he really wasn't terrified, it was all acting. Yeah, right.
We've always had a history of practical jokes on the show. Some like Gene Shellfish, Anita the Sun Goddess and Prof. Glump were obvious and on camera. Others like putting hot sauce in food props we were supposed to eat or drink on camera were not so evident, unless you were the one with it in your mouth. Besides spinning the piano around while Floyd was playing, I once set his cue cards on fire, threw countless packs of firecrackers at him, squirted him with every kind of water pistol I could find, sprayed him in a certain area close up with a fire extinguisher and bounced tennis balls off his head from above. They got me back at times when I was the most vulnerable like when I was doing Capt Fork and had to read my script from a book in back on the radio. We also had a tradition of smacking a departing with a dozen or so shaving cream pies. Not real cream because in a studios heat it would quickly sour and stink besides leaving a nasty stain. The worst practical jokes were saved for backstage at the live shows. Things started to shift. The happy crew was showing signs of strain. Skip would leave not under the best of circumstances. U68 would go under and be bought by the Home Shopping Network. Netto was getting on less and less sometimes only having enough time to roll around the floor in a rainbow colored costume at the close of a show. On an annual fundraising special viewers who had contributed to the network were invited to come down and perform. The cast was never even asked to show up. The changing proportions of my anatomy going from normal to balloon float, then emerging as emaciated reflected the inner emotional trauma I was silently going through. Still, we all believed it was just a valley we were going through. Soon we'd start climbing back up to better times. After all, we were the most popular show the network had. It's not like we we're getting fired soon.
WE'LL MEET AGAIN
The fact that we broke the record in raising more money for the NJN fundraisers then any other show in their history seemed impressive but did not save us from being let go in the summer of 1985. Many misconceptions abound about the incident. At that time both political parties were influencing decisions being made at the network more then they probably should have been. A politician from South Jersey felt that comedy did not belong on the state's public TV network. We had done nothing wrong or offended anyone. The only thing was we were the last of a number of programs still on that had been brought on during Drix Neiman's stint as boss. There were some who considered this a drawback, why I'll never know. We certainly didn't offer any comedy slant from any one political angle. More from the average guy (or girl). New Jersey politics can be confusing in the best of times.
It was decided (no one seems to be sure exactly by who) that when our current contract was up our option would not be picked up. That happened to have taken place days after a fundraiser we had again led all other shows in. We were asked not to talk about our leaving the network in the hopes that the situation could be worked out. It wasn't. Who ever wanted us out wasn't fooling. After the fan-club president got wind of the news he decided to go to the press. Under his own orders, not Floyd's or the cast, he began slamming everybody in power he could, even calling up C-SPAN one day as Gov. Kean was appearing as a guest and accusing him of making the decision. Eventually the network offered to return any money that had been pledged to anyone wanting a refund but our chances of ever returning were forever dashed. Everyone at that end had agreed the cancellation had not been the best decision ever made but to acknowledge that would've been even worse.
The last show of the series was an emotional time bomb that never went off due to the professionalism of all involved. When Floyd made the announcement at the end of the show, viewers at home did not know that a jury of political figures sat dead center front row watching his every move, in fear that he's say or do something radical or dangerous. How little they knew of him. The only threat Floyd would ever be was to a world without laughter. Here was an entertainer who's style and heart were a throwback to the grand old days of vaudeville and the commedia del l'ar-te of Italy. His job and that was to make people laugh and forget about their trouble. As I worked Hugo right under camera shot, Floyd played We'll Meet Again, that grand old English ballad of the 40's often sung during times of war to promote moral. One by the one the cast went up dancing next to Floyd and biding a farewell to what might have been. A sad note was that the day after we left NJN every copy of the shows we'd done in the last three was erased, so now except for what I have and some fans were able to save is the only record of existence we were ever there. Was I mad at the time? I'm only human. But I was more hurt then angry that this was a good deal for everyone, the cast, the fans, the fan club president and the network but they blew it. Still, we were professionals and our job was to find our next outlet. When your an entertainer that's what you want to do. That's what you need to do. NJN had some of the best directors, soundmen, camera operators, lightening, video people and finished looks we ever had. When things we're going good it was a really good experience. Even TV3 had a lot going for. We were treated professionally and with respect, a fact that hasn't always been the case. If they ever called us back would I go? Damn right I would. The first thing a prize fighter learns is to roll with the punches and don't hold grudges. Not if you want to be around for twenty-five years. But at this point I wouldn't hold my breath. Like Martin & Lewis sometimes you just can't reunite a winning team. Our cast team, however, was to go on to 13 years of CTN in the next chapter.
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