Monday, June 18, 2012

On the occasion of 400 episodes

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.

Fifteen 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 television.

After 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.  

On 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.

For 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.

Through 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.

I’ve 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.

When 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.  

Thanks 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 show possible.  

No comments:

Post a Comment