Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Low-Rent Glory That Was USA Up All Night

This week I got quite a surprise while checking in on Twitter.  It seems that Rhonda Shear is now following me, which was quite a thrill considering that I used to watch her and Gilbert Gottfried practically every week on USA Up All Night.  I hope it's not some computer glitch or something because this is one of the most flattering "follows" I've had.

For those who don't know, Up All Night ran on the USA network back in the late 80s and early 90s in a legendary era when cable was not a fountainhead of daring, original programming.  Characters were not yet welcome, nor was there anything you could call "very funny."  Nope, it was a low-rent district filled with reruns and old movies, and I loved it.

Up All Night was great because it took some of the lowliest garbage and showed it to the viewer in a knowing fashion, with a wink in the case of Rhonda and a derisive laugh in the case of Gilbert Gottfried.  The network was basically admitting "hey, we've got to fill time here and we've got a lot of crap to do it with."  The films were often cheap horror, exploitation flicks, or second tier boob comedies with all the boobs edited out (although I do remember at least one case where the editor didn't quite catch everything), taking away their main redeeming feature, from my point of view.  It was via Up All Night that I learned methods to enjoy trashy entertainment and B-movies, a skill further strengthened when I starting picking up on Mystery Science Theater in my late teens.

I watched Up All Night a LOT because it came on every Friday and Saturday, when I was allowed to stay up late, and because I was not the most socially adept young man.  If I wasn't hanging out in the basement by myself, I would maybe be at a friend's house hanging out in their basement.  Either way, Rhonda and Gilbert were on.  Gilbert tended to be more straight-ahead, mocking the film in his abrasive way, whereas Rhonda played more of a deep game.  I was rewatching some of her promos and host segments, and was struck by how atractive she was, which I am willing to bet was a big reason a lot of viewers tuned in.  I was struck I think because even though I was a hormone addled teenager, I was actually watching her for her humor rather than her looks. (Yes I know this sounds like someone saying "I subscribe to Playboy for the articles," but I'm not fooling.)

Her character in the promos was a kind of a big-haired, big boobed Hollywood bimbo, but it was obvious that Rhonda was having fun and in on the joke.  She taunted men and let the viewer know with a sly smile that she was really much too smart to be taking any of this seriously.  Her famous catchphrase "UP all night" with the first word spoken in a high octave exemplified her campy persona, someone who was playing with the expectations that hetero men had of a woman who looked and talked like her.

Sure it's cool that there are all kinds of networks producing original, high quality television, but in my cultural world I don't just want filet mignon and cabernet, I also need Funyons and Miller High Life sometimes, too.  Today that televisual junk food is mostly reality shows, but give me godawful movies interspersed with funny host bits any day of the week instead.

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