I’m not certain of the exact date, but I’m guessing it was March 18 or 19, 1997 (or 11th or 12th) when my co-producer and co-host Paul Markoff and I recorded our first episode of NOW PLAYING. Improbably enough the show began with an hour-long edition mostly dedicated to Academy Awards discussion. At the end we provided token Top 10 lists for 1996, although it’s safe to say that neither of us had seen anywhere close to the number of films we view now when taking a year’s best offerings into account.
years later we’re still here and have shot more than 400 episodes.
(The milestone program was shot March 8th. Episode #407 tapes
Wednesday.) Honestly, it’s hard to believe. I didn’t have any formal
training in film appreciation and evaluation when I started. I still
don’t, as far as that goes, although the thousands of movies I’ve seen
in the course of doing this program should compensate for my lack of
academic credentials regarding the art of the cinema. I’d never
produced an episode of television, let alone created a TV show from
whole cloth. The seed for NOW PLAYING began as a friendly discussion
under football bleachers during pre-production down time before a high
school game. Look at what it is now: more than 200 hours of recorded
beginning with what amounted to a special edition episode, one that we
since have split into two annual shows (an Academy Awards preview and
the Best and Worst of the previous year), we settled into a format not
terribly different from what you see now. It goes without saying,
although I’ll state it anyway, that the obvious template and influence
is SISKEL & EBERT.
our first regular 30-minute show we discussed just four films: THE
SAINT, DOUBLE TEAM, INVENTING THE ABBOTTS, and KOLYA (KOLJA). I suspect
I would no longer stand by some, if not all, of the grades I dropped on
those films (THE SAINT: B; DOUBLE TEAM: D+; INVENTING THE ABBOTTS: C-;
KOLYA: A+). I had a lot to learn.
instance, having already talked in length about the films before the
taping, we discovered that we didn’t have as much to say as we might if
we hadn’t already said our pieces off camera. For a few years, we tried
to go onto the set not having talked at all about our reactions to or
grades for the films. At some point we abandoned the idealistic but
ultimately silly notion that talking about the to-be-reviewed movies
prior to taping was detrimental to NOW PLAYING.
the years there have been tweaks to the biweekly program, such as the
inclusion of short commentary pieces on film-related topics, endorsed
video picks set aside at the local library, and the rare news package,
like a report on Cinerama screenings at Dayton’s New Neon Movies, or
interviews with filmmakers who visit Columbus. What started as four
films reviewed per show ballooned to eight (a crazy amount of content
for a half-hour, now that I think about it) and currently stands at five
most of the time.
been lucky enough to work on the show as part of my fulltime job.
(Contrary to what some may believe, the movie review show does not
account for the primary portion of the job.) I know how busy it keeps
me, so I can only imagine how much time it must take out of Paul’s
limited free time. Still, despite seeing more bad films than I’d like
to count and spending more hours than I care to calculate, doing the
show continues to be worth it, even when I’m pressing near the deadline
to finish writing what I must get into the script and TelePrompter. I’m
fortunate to have the freedom to do with NOW PLAYING as I please and
get it into people’s homes through the cable system and, within the last
year couple years, the internet. While Paul and I are responsible for
the show’s content, it couldn’t happen without the students and
co-workers who have manned the crews the four hundred-plus times we’ve
sat down to record another episode.
we shot the first episode I couldn’t have expected NOW PLAYING would
last this long. Will it be in production another fifteen years? Who
knows? Whether or not the show continues for whatever arbitrary amount
of time you want to name, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to
indulge my love for the movies.
to those who let NOW PLAYING get on TV in the first place. Thanks to
those who have helped and continue to assist with recording new shows.
Thanks most of all to my co-host, a great friend who makes doing the