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What the heck was that? Pop-culture stumbled upon moments

By Bert Ehrmann

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Fort Wayne Reader


I used to love channel surfing. I was the kid who went through the TV listings each Sunday in the newspaper and circled every program I wanted to see that week. And in the pre-DVR era this meant that sometimes I'd have to stay up late in order to see Night of the Living Dead or get up early to watch The Mighty Orbots Saturday morning cartoon.

But when there wasn't anything on I specifically wanted to watch I'd randomly surf the dial looking for anything interesting. Most of the time this was a bust, but sometimes I'd stumble upon some interesting TV series or movie that I'd never heard of before that I'd end up loving to this day.

One of my favorite series is Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I'm a huge fan of the HHGG books, love the audio/radio series and didn't absolutely hate the 2005 feature film. However, my love of all things HHGG can be traced back to a chance viewing of the HHGG TV series (1981) back in the mid-1980s on our local PBS station. I only happened to catch this showing because I had to stay up late one Friday or Saturday night and since there didn't used to be much on TV past 10 P.M. I found myself turning to PBS looking for anything to pass the time.

To be honest, I remember very little of the episode I originally saw. But HHGG's off-beat humor mixed with cheep special effects mixed with absolutely brilliant animated sequences I was hooked and instantly fell in love with the show. I became such a fan that I would buy HHGG first on VHS and eventually DVD.

One of my fondest memories growing up was spending Friday and Saturday nights camped out on in the living room and watching late-night TV with my brother. Saturday nights we'd usually watch Doctor Who and every Friday night we'd watch horror movies that would air weekly on one of the local TV stations. For some reason back in the mid-1980s schlocky horror movies were making somewhat of a comeback, and horror hosts from nationally syndicated Elvira to Sammy Terry (RIP) out of Indy were there to introduce the movies. To put it mildly most of these movies that were shown late nights were CRAP, but one of them has stuck with me over the years.

The Last Man on Earth (1964) was the first film adaptation of the I Am Legend story. Here, Vincent Price plays Robert Morgan who is, well, the last man on the Earth after everyone else is turned into vampires after a weird plague sweeps the planet. I remember that I only ever saw the movie once or twice on network TV, but it piqued my interest. A planet overrun with vampires - I needed more! It wasn't until years later after I read the original Legend novel that I made the connection.

In our modern world of on-screen TV guides, websites, blogs, Facebook and IMDB, I still sometimes stumble upon shows. The most recent of these is with the UK TV series The Office when it first started airing here in the US on BBC America. I honestly have no idea why I turned over to BBC America that day, it's not like title The Office screamed "watch me" back when I saw it in '03. The episode, "Training," was already halfway over and was at the bit where David Brent (Ricky Gervais) strums on his guitar in a staff meeting singing his song “Free Love Freeway.” I couldn’t decide whether I was watching the most brilliant comedy on TV or if it was some reality show that had spun off the rails. Regardless, I was hooked on The Office from that moment on.

I remember that the next airing of The Office wasn't until the following week and having to bide my time until then by surfing websites to learn more about I had just seen.

This randomness of all this has always fascinated me. Would I be interested in the same things today if there was something else to watch and I hadn't been surfing the dial and stumbled upon these programs? I wonder what I've all missed? Everything listed above is available on DVD and The Office and Last Man on Earth are available for free streaming online. Visit me online at DangerousUniverse.com.

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