SHOCK THEATRE 1970-1976
WXEX, Channel 8, Petersburg, VA
In 1962, Bill Bowman came to WXEX TV 8 (now WRIC) as a director, seeking to avoid the ice and snow of Pennsylvania. In 1970, the station aquired the Screen Gems "Shock Theater" film package and management decided the films needed a host.
Bill Bowman's first appearance as the Bowman Body was Monday, June 22, 1970, hosting a week long "film festival" of universal horrors. The event was a hit, even though Bill unintentionally lit his cape on fire at one point. It was all ad lib, but full of campy, corny humor that set the audience at ease and established the tone for the show to come and he appeared for three more "festivals" that summer.
The show was exceedingly popular and as the September 11, 1970 screening of Werewolf of London came to a close, Bowman casually mentioned that if fans liked what they saw, they should write the station because otherwise, he'd be "selling hot dogs down on Virginia Beach." Hundreds of letters flooded in, including one from a fraternity at William and Mary with more than 400 signatures. By popular demand, he returned for a Halloween special and another week in November before finding a permanent slot on Fridays starting in February, 1971.
Except for a short hiatus to help establish Charlottesville's first TV station, WVIR in 1973, the Bowman Body was on the air in the Richmond market until September, 1976, when Bill Bowman left the station. From 1971-73, it was on Friday nights, and at one point, held a 54% share of the ratings, beating Johnny Carson. From May 1973-January 1976, it was on "every Saturday night" to quote the theme song, before returning to Fridays in the final year.
During that time, the Bowman Body became a local phenomenon. The show was popular in nearly every demographic segment and Bill was in high demand for public appearances, especially at promotional events and colleges where he was something of a cult hero. In the freewheeling spirit of the early 1970s, a wacky, unpredictable show offered the release audiences were looking for and turned a one-off character into a local icon.
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COBWEB THEATRE 1977-1978
WVIR 29, Charlottesville VA
The Bowman Body's last show on WXEX was September 10, 1976. The Universal movie package had run out and while some AIP and public domain titles were available, the show had fewer available choices. With some degree of irony, perhaps, the final film on the BIG 8 was I Bury the Living.
About the same time, Bill Bowman took advantage of a few new opportunities and started working with a local production company frequently broadcasting live events. But it didn't take long before the Bowman Body returned . . . this time on Charlottesville's WVIR-29.
As fate would have it, not long after Bowman left WXEX, Charlottesville's popular afternoon horror movie show, Slime Theatre, went off the air when it's second host, Dr. Sludge (Pat Bauley), left for a new job. WVIR still had rights to their horror movie package and, as mentioned above, station manager, Harold Wright, knew Bill Bowman well from their experience in 1973 establishing Charlottesville's first TV station and the two cooked up a new version of Bowman's show for the Charlottesville market.
A new set and coffin was constructed and the first show aired in autumn of 1977, approximately one year after it the Bowman Body left WXEX. Since Bill was still living and working in the Richmond/Petersburg area, he arranged to come up one Saturday each month and they would shoot four shows at a time.
However, since Bill was still in demand for public appearances across central Virginia (and in fact, was still doing Popkins Furniture commercials in character) the coffin frequently traveled the road from one event to another. On one particular day, Bill and Harold were transporting it in the back of a production van when the vehicle broke down. With no other option, they decided to walk to the nearest gas station, wondering what would happen if a state trooper got curious and found the TV truck with a coffin stashed inside.
Cobweb Theatre stayed on WVIR, an NBC affiliate, for two years, airing from 6 pm - 8 pm on Saturday evenings--a strange time, but it was the best option. While the original time period for Slime Theatre had been late Saturday night, that changed when NBC started running Saturday Night Live. On Fridays, the network ran The Tonight Show followed by Wolfman Jack's Midnight Special program on WVIR. In other words, the traditional spots for a horror movie show were already occupied by immensely popular offerings, so Cobweb Theatre fell into the best available two hour slot.
But, there was one important advantage of this time period . . . kids were able to watch without any bedtime conflicts. This made The Bowman Body a big hit with youngsters and Charlottesville area public appearances soon began as well.
In 1978, the station did not renew its horror package. Ratings were great in the fall and winter, but when warm weather rolled around, it was hard to keep any audience for that time period and continuing to produce the show became impractical.
BUT . . . it was not the end of Cobweb Theatre just yet.
Excited fan of Cobweb Theatre, Eric Williams of Charlottesville, meets his idol at a local appliance store.
"Creative MIke" Moore, pushy producer and president of the non-existent Bowman Body Fan Club inserts himself into the show subtly.
The Richmond Times Dispatch ad that started it all.
From around the state, viewers wondered where the Bowman Body disappeared to . . .
COBWEB THEATRE 1978-1979
Syndication with "Creative Mike" Moore
In 1978, Bill Bowman was working with Tony Sposa at his Broadcast Academy of Richmond and Usstone productions, where he met Mike Moore, a man now famous for his incarnation of Sleazy P. Martini, GWAR manager and for founding one of the first mail order VHS businesses in the US catering to cult movie fans.
Moore had been a fan of the show and was keen to keep it going. He worked out an arrangement where he could produce it using Usstone studios but syndicate it under his own company name. Being the early days of cable TV for most people, it was hard to sell the package but a few places did pick it up and the Bowman Body hosted a least a year of public domain horror films with Moore as producer and sometimes a character. Bill recalls the show was very funny under Moore's direction, but it never quite caught on the way the two had hoped.
All that remains of the show is its wacky demo reel which features "Creative Mike" Moore as an overzealous promoter of the Bowman Body Fan Club who forces one unwitting "fan" to join and later conscripts him to appear on the show.
Coming soon . . .
The Strange Case of Monsterpiece Theater 1982 . . . 198?
WNVC 56 Fairfax, VA
Cobweb Theatre introduced a new character, "The Mummy," played by Tom Blalock, station artist, camera operator, and accidental actor. It also inspired a short lived newspaper comic from Keith Van Allen and Ed Vance.