Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Endangered List (Case File #33)

The original GROOVE TUBE tapes


Ken Shapiro (producer/director/writer/actor)
Lane Sarasohn (producer/writer)
Chevy Chase (writer/actor)
Richard Allen (writer/actor)
Karen Shapiro (actress)
Myra Epstein (theater design)
Ed Epstein (art director)
Lincoln Harrice
Anthony Loder
Paul Geyer
Susan Chase
Winnifred Mayo
Kathy Allen
Victoria Udovik
Roxanne Loder
Richard Belzer

In July of 1967, former child actor Ken Shapiro and his buddy from Bard College, Lane Sarasohn, opened the Channel One Theatre at 62 East 4th Street (Greenwich Village, N.Y.C.) as a showcase for their outrageous and satirical "underground television" productions (The initial show cost $7,000 including the theater's rental). These shows were shot on video and exhibited on three 21-inch b&w closed-circuit television sets hanging from the theater ceiling. The best skits from their first three 90-minute programs ("First Production," "Second Production," and "Fugue Tube") were compiled to form "The Groove Tube," which premiered as an Off Broadway show in October of 1969. "The Groove Tube" became so popular that a second theater was added in Manhattan (Theater East, located at 211 East 60th Street). The Channel One team took on business partners (including actor Scott Hylands) and were soon franchising their tapes to college campuses and performance spaces across the country. Venues showing "The Groove Tube" and its sequel, "Groove Tube II," were outfitted with couches, oversized pillows and even refrigerators stocked with soft drinks and munchies to simulate the experience of watching TV at home (!).

In 1972, Shapiro and Sarasohn began work on the motion picture version of THE GROOVE TUBE, which was comprised of skits from the Channel One productions. Released in 1974, THE GROOVE TUBE paved the way for Saturday Night Live and KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE and became one of the biggest independent comedies of the 1970s, grossing over $35 million (on a budget of $350,000). The film is available on DVD from Hen's Tooth Video, but the original Channel One videos have probably not been shown publicly in 35 years. It's time for a DVD set packed with extras, including audio commentaries by Shapiro and Sarasohn, interviews with Chevy Chase and Richard Belzer, a visit to the site of the original Channel One Theatre (the building is still standing), press clippings, program reprints and other cool stuff. Write your favorite DVD company and demand they look into this.

In the meantime, for more information on Channel One, check out Lane Sarasohn's Channel One Video Theater webpage.


Booksteve said...

Great post. I've always been fascinated about the whole Channel One thing.

Kris Gilpin said...

yeah, Groove Tube had some laffs in it--& so did the similarily structured Tunnelvision (which had the Firesign Theatre's Phil Proctor in it, too).

& Shapiro went on to write jokes for the Oscars for ages, too.

never heard of Channel 1, tho--sounds intriguing!

"Brown 25," anyone?!...

Temple of Schlock said...

After THE GROOVE TUBE there were a few of these skit comedies released, most of them involving members of comedy troupes like the Ace Trucking Company and The Committee. Shapiro reteamed with Chevy Chase for MODERN PROBLEMS, while Sarasohn was one of the writers of FLICKS.

Scooter GIngold said...

I'd be happy to see this stuff reissued as long as long as it doesn't involve any further scenes of a naked Buzzy Linhart.

Kris Gilpin said...

oh yeah, I remember The Committee, I think their film was A Session With The Committee--some very funny sketches were in it! ;-)

was one of them Howard Hessman?...

Sherri Lewis said...

Ken Shapiro is my uncle. He could do no wrong after this success. My grandfather, who was a very successful business man, invested in getting Ken one of the first camcorders and enabled him to rent a theater in the village, in a basement to show these black and white sketches spoofing commericals and pop culture. My grandfather thought it was ridiculous. Now we can see it was a head of it's time and the forerunner of SNL, including a cast with Chevy Chase!

Robert Plante said...

The Committee scenes are what makes BILLY JACK the least watchable of the 4 BJ flicks.

Anonymous said...

I went to Channel One once back in the late '60s, or early '70s, and saw a hilarious skit that was totally copied on an episode of Seinfeld 30 years later. The only difference was the setting: channel one was set in a movie theater, seinfeld in a commercial airliner.