Monday, September 30, 2013

WPIX Saturday Movie Marathon

It is amazing to think how television has changed in the last twenty years or so: the growth of premium channels having original content (can you believe The Sopranos was only the second original drama on HBO?), the spread of quality programs on basic cable (the best generally on FX), and the proliferation of "netlettes."  Where once there were the big three of ABC, CBS, and NBC, now we have the big four (including Fox), as well the CW (itself a hybrid of the now-defunct UPN and WB), and marginally MyNetworkTV (though the Wikipedia page for MNTV explains that it is no longer a network). 

We used to change cable channels with this.
Dial things back twenty years ago (for the younger members in our audience, a dial was a circular tuning device used to change television channels before there were remotes).  In the New York metro area, there were three network stations (channels 2, 4, and 7 for the big three) and a whopping three independent stations (channels 5, 9, and 11).  As a boy of 11 or 12, first starting to see things in the world in a brand new way (ladyfolk I mean, though an appreciation for violence counts too), there was but one destination on the dial/button box/VCR worth sulking away into your room for back-to-back movie badness:  WPIX Channel 11 and it's Saturday Movie Marathons. 

To be clear, this wasn't really lascivious material that they showed.  But when you're of the right age, and the (porn)wold is pre-internet, a Channel 11 movie was the way to go.  The movies tended to be pretty awful.

I vaguely remember one that was either Conan the Barbarian or one of many ripoffs.  The key moment was when a woman clad in a fir bikini was attacked in what probably was a rock quarry.  There was swordplay and many baddies died, but in the end a net was thrown over her and off she went.

Another movie that I do absolutely remember seeing was The Legend of Billie Jean.  I saw that movie from start to finish, seeing how ordinary kids in an ordinary town (hey, like me!) can find themselves up against cruel and evil adults.  Billie Jean ends up cutting her hair and becomes an outlaw symbol of what happens when you push a kid too far, man! 

It was inspiring, monumental, and indeed legendary--at least, at that age, the drivilish crap felt that way.  Billie Jean does get point, though, for being a source pre-Simpsons employment for Yeardley Smith, to whose name I won't attach a link, because you know who she is.  She played a young character, perhaps a few years older than my own tender age at the time.  After some moment of violence directed towards the kids in a car, everyone is checked for injuries.  All appear fine from whatever had ailed them (gunfire, perhaps?), but then Yeardley discovers blood!  In a moment played for both knowing comedy and coming-of-age, the erstwhile girlish Billie Jean (now inspiring outlaw lady) explains that Yeardley's character has now started... the menses.

As you can see, Channel 11 revealed the mysteries of the universe to me.  Strictly speaking, WPIX Channel 11 doesn't exist anymore: the 1980s and early 1990s saw its ratings fall to 6th (of 6) in New York City, and the slide was compounded by the rise of WYNC becoming Fox 5 once that network launched, as well as the departure of the Yankees to basic cable.  That made "Channel 11" ready for a change, and when the WB netlette launched, gone was Channel 11, replaced by WB 11; more recently, it's become CW 11.  I suppose they show better fare since becoming the New York flagship for those little networks that could, and I suppose too that crappy movies are a-plenty between all the basic and pay cable options.

But still... I miss the safe, secure knowledge that on a Saturday such as this, with cold rain falling from a gray sky, I could have, in my boyhood, turned on Channel 11 to see Death Wish 4 (sans the violent parts and language) followed by Far From Home and the promise of seeing Drew Barrymore in a bikini.

No comments:

Post a Comment