In 1978, Glenn O’Brien and Chris Stein rented a dingy Manhattan public access TV studio. They began producing a show called “TV Party” that would air until 1982. Their guests were local artists, musicians and bohemians. There was no script, and the “crew” was not experienced at handling audio or video equipment. Their friend, a little-known artist named Jean-Michel Basquiat occasionally took a turn at the titling console, typing random messages across the screen, as the cameras zoomed, swept, panned, cut quickly back and forth and captured otherwise low-key conversations. In fact, much of the program, in addition to musical performances, consisted of the cast and crew sitting around drinking, smoking joints, and – well – partying. It was a natural evolution of media forms, just as the alt-weeklies (Village Voice, et. al.) were the next logical step for the counter-culture “underground” press. The freaks had officially taken over the airwaves.
Check out this clip, featuring Blondie, Klaus Nomi and others.
Considering the sensation of “reality” television and our thirst for new, voyeuristic experiences, “TV Party” was definitely ahead of its time. The only thing to my knowledge that predates it is William Greaves’ legendary film Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One.
I’ve been thinking a lot about “TV Party” lately. I’ve been thinking that with the advent of social networks and microblogging, the freaks (and geeks, and small businesses) have once again taken over the airwaves. But I also can’t get the layoffs out of my mind. Companies like Richmond, VA-based Media General – which owns the Tampa Tribune, WFLA-TV and TBO.com have gone through massive rounds of layoffs. Their building is now a hulking shell of a place with hundreds of employees, now separated by hundreds of empty desks. That same huge, half-empty building also houses a newspaper, a Web media company and a TV station – three entities that haven’t yet figured out how to effectively share their resources, but that’s another story.
What could your business do if allowed to rent their studio during off-hours, for two hours a week? Hell, getting a bunch of local business owners drunk in the podcasting studio alone would make for some great radio.
I say we storm the sonofabitch tonight and take back the airwaves. I say we show those fools how to use their equipment to make art. I’ll run the titling machine. Who’s with me?