It came from BERWYN!
Calling all stations! Clear the airlanes, clear all airlanes for the big broadcast!
— Opening line for Son of Svengoolie and Svengoolie
Svengoolie is the eponymous Horror Host
of a long-running
series in Chicago
, where he shows movies (often, but not always, Horror Films). During commercial breaks he'll crack jokes, tell some history of the film being screened, sing songs, do sketches, etc. A popular feature is "SvenSurround," where he enhances the original audio track of the film with sound effects and dubbed in dialogue.
The character has gone through many incarnations throughout its run, starting in 1970 on Chicago's WFLD as a part of Screaming Yellow Theater
, where the character was played by Jerry G. Bishop, and a key writer was Rich Koz. When a controlling stake in WFLD was bought out by Kaiser Broadcasting, SYT
was cancelled and was replaced by a Horror Host
from their Cleveland station; it barely lasted a year in Chicago. It was resurrected in 1979 after Field Communications took over Kaiser, with Koz portraying "Son of Svengoolie" in a show of the same name. Said show was cancelled when Fox bought out WFLD in 1986, but returned as simply Svengoolie
(with Bishop's blessing) on stations in Chicago and Milwaukee in 1995 and has been running since.
On April 2nd, 2011 Svengoolie went national when the MeTV
network expanded out of Chicago
and became a full-fledged nationwide network. Find out more here.
Compare with Mystery Science Theater 3000
and Off Beat Cinema
Svengoolie provides examples of:
- And I'm the Queen of Sheba: when Mark Hamill emailed Sven saying he's a fan, Sven's reaction was "Sure, and I'm Frasier."
- Art Evolution:
- Bishop started out with a plain white coffin lying on a table, which would be signed by the episode's special guest if there was one, before painting it to become the more ornate one with his face on it. (The coffin-signing tradition was succeeded by a guest book.)
- Bishop's coffin became Koz's coffin when he took over the show in 1979; about a year into the run he repainted it with his own face. In 2014, after almost 45 years with the same coffin, it was finally replaced. The original is now located in Chicago's Museum of Broadcast Communications.
- The Artifact: Durwood the puppet looks just like Bishop's Svengoolie. When Koz took over with a different make-up design, Durwood retained his resemblance to the original and continues to today.
- Audience Participation: Faked with using audio clips from various programs, most commonly Warner Brothers cartoons, mixed with stock audio created by Bishop and Koz. The preexisting material gets rotated out as pop culture marches on, but you can still here the same "ow ow OW" stock audio from the '70s in a lot of sketches.
- Author Avatar: Koz's run as Sven depicts Koz himself as the show's "head writer" whenever the show gets introspective about its past or wins an award of some sort. Despite his humble and pleasant demeanor, Sven views Koz as an attention monger trying to take credit for Sven's hard work. However, the show makes no quibble with the fact that Bishop and his Sven are the same person, with Koz!Sven frequently referring to Jerry G. Bishop as his predecessor—even as Bishop himself fervently denies it.
- Award Show: Parodied in 1983 with The Worst of Svengoolie, which highlighted the worst elements of the various films that had been shown over the years.
- Book Ends: Son of Svengoolie, bizarrely, begins and ends with a Take That to failed sitcom Hello, Larry: Jerry G. Bishop, introducing the first episode, sarcastically quips that "many fondly remember Svengoolie providing the same classic entertainment as such time-honored shows as Hello, Larry"; and the "Cancelled" song in the finale claims the show's been cancelled "like McLean Stevenson".
- Each episode of the modern Svengoolie opens and ends with Svengoolie being pelted with rubber chickens due to bad jokes.
- Butt Monkey: Sven is frequently the butt of jokes: Doug constantly complains about working for him, Kerwyn the rubber chicken takes constant potshots during the mail segments, and Tombstone seems pathologically incapable of referring to Sven by name (usually opting to call him "dummy" instead.) However, whenever "head writer" Rich Koz turns up, Sven makes him the butt of all the jokes instead, and constantly accuses him of trying to steal credit for the show's success.
- Call Back: Across three decades, as Sven reacts to the airing of The Birds in HD with a reference to his disastrous airing of Revenge of the Creature...
Sven: This isn't in 3-D, is it? Because I've had trouble with that...
- Couch Gag: Bishop's goodnight poem.
- Corpsing: Bishop thought every third line was hilarious, and it showed.
- Deadpan Snarker: When Doug speaks up, it's generally to get a joke in at Sven's expense.
- Disappeared Dad: Bishop!Sven disappeared under mysterious circumstances, leaving only a cloud of rumors.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Son of Svengoolie kept the old sign-on phrase and theme song from the original run for a bit, before adding "clear the airwaves" and the Son's Theme.
- The Faceless:
- Fourth Wall Mail Slot
- Gag Dub: SvenSurround.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: In-Universe. Svengoolie devotes one host segment a week to pointing out the actors' other roles.
- Hollywood Tone-Deaf: Part of the shtick in the weekly Song Parody is that Sven doesn't have the greatest singing voice, but still gives it his best.
- I Got a Rock: Spoofed in a classic sketch where Sven went trick-or-treating but all he got was a paper cutout of a middle eastern country. That's right: He got Iraq.
- Incredibly Lame Pun: Most of the jokes on the program, but most reliably at the end of the film's intro, where it inevitably results in him being pelted with rubber chickens.
- Inherently Funny Word: Berwyn.
- Lame Pun Reaction: Rubber Chicken Pelting!
- Legacy Character: The current Svengoolie started as the Son of Svengoolie; the original Svengoolie (played by Jerry G. Bishop) aired from 1970-1973 on Screaming Yellow Theater. Son of Svengoolie ran 1979-1986. When SoS returned to regular broadcasting in 1995 he received the blessing of the original to just be called "Svengoolie."
- Limited Wardrobe: Bishop!Sven's headband, sunglasses, red shirt and striped pants; Koz!Sven's black top hat, green neckerchief and black suit; Doug's fedora, sunglasses and blue collared shirt.
- Long Runners: Screaming Yellow Theater ran from 1970-1973, Koz's first show ran 1979-1986; his current show started in 1995. That's 27 years on the air, and 42 years overall.
- Mad Libs Catch Phrase: "The time has come for scary things, like monsters, ghosts and vampire wings..." from the Bishop era. Each week, the next line would be changed to reflect that week's guest or film.
- Milestone Celebration: Son of Svengoolie has the the 300th Episode Retrospective, the 1997-on series got one in the form of the 100th Show Medley.
- MST: SvenSurround. Extra bonus points for being an acknowledged inspiration for Mystery Science Theater 3000 itself.
- Oddly Named Sequel 2: Electric Boogaloo: Yes, Son of Svengoolie came before Svengoolie, and both title characters are the same person.
- Once an Episode: Every episode ends with a Bugs Bunny audio clip: "So long, screwy! See you in St. Louie!", followed by "We're the Boys of Chorus" from the Looney Tunes short "What's Up, Doc?".
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Very much so over the years, with regards to Sven being Transylvianian, and how. It's pretty much gone straight into Not Even Bothering with the Accent, he'll start a segment with it or enunciate a word in it here or there but that's all.
- Sven tends to put more effort into it if the movie that week is a Dracula film.
- Parody Commercial: Too many examples to count—Svengoolie's Jr. Grave Robber Kit, Vampire Carpets, Death perfume...
- Passing the Torch: In the first episode of Son of Svengoolie, when the Son pop's out of Bishop's coffin on the old Screaming Yellow Theater set while Bishop, out of character, provides Opening Narration.
Good evening. I'm Jerry G. Bishop, and this is the famed split-level dungeon studio where many years ago, the legendary Svengoola—Svengoolie first entered television prominence many years ago....What if there was the same situation as in the past with Son of Frankenstein
, Son of Dracula
, Sanford and Son
? Could their exist—somewhere, somehow—a Son of Svengoolie
Son of Svengoolie: Hey, dad, can I borrow the keys to the hearse tonight?
- Produce Pelting: In a Running Gag, whenever Sven makes a particularly bad joke, he gets pelted with rubber chickens. He's taken to carrying a chicken shield for self-defense.
- Pun Based Name: Named for Svengali from Trilby (and the subsequent reuse of the name as "a person who with evil intent manipulates another into doing what is desired") along with Ghoul, a common horror trope in its own right.
- Raiders of the Lost Parody: A very short scene from "Indiana Bones and the Last Beer Frame" starring Tombstone; he runs away from a giant bowling ball.
- Real Song Theme Tune: Screaming Yellow Theater used Link Wray's "Rumble". Son of Svengoolie used Billy Joel's "You May Be Right" as an ending theme.
- Running Gag/Phrase Catcher: "BER-WYN?" whenever a city name, or a word that sounds similar is mentioned. Berwyn is a suburb of Chicago where they have an annual mushroom parade. Used as a gag similar to Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In's "beautiful downtown Burbank." That and So S used to regularly take credit for burning down the Berwyn Theater (again). Said theater was in sad disrepair in the early 80's and had multiple fires.
- Sven getting rubber chickens thrown at him for making bad jokes.
- When coming back from commercial, Sven will address the audience before returning to the movie, and always asks a question that is immediately "answered" by the characters in the movie.
- Secret Word: Whenever a character in the movie says "Larry", "Curly", or "Moe", the movie will briefly be interrupted by a clip from The Three Stooges.
- Shout-Out: Rich Koz did not hide the fact that he was a huge Doctor Who fan during the classic series' run, and sometimes worked Who-related jokes into his comedy sketches. His other fandoms make themselves known via the stock audio he chooses to interact with: if it's not something recorded during the Bishop era, it's likely ripped from the Three Stooges, the Marx Brothers, or Warner Bros. cartoons.
- Sincerest Form of Flattery: Some of the creators of Mystery Science Theater 3000 were fans of the show, and reportedly got the idea for their movie riffing from SvenSurround. This led to occasional viewers writing in to complain that Sven was ripping off MST3K, but Koz himself says he was flattered.
- Song Parody: Once an Episode, usually changing the lyrics to reference that night's movie.
- Special Effects Evolution: Tombstone's is superimposed onto the screen much more gracefully today than he was in the old days, appearing much more solid and his mouth lipsynchs almost fluidly.
- In his earliest days, Tombstone had a cigar in his mouth. He lost the cigar after it was found to practically disappear in the chromakeying process.
- The intro sequence got a budget boost in the mid 2000s.
- Special Guest: Very frequent during the Bishop days. Koz managed to swing a few as well during his initial run, his second run dispensed of them almost entirely.
- Take That: Svengoolie's response to his cancellation...in music form.
- Back in the Son of Svengoolie days you couldn't get through a month without at least one cheap shot at Alan Thicke.
- 10-Minute Retirement: Doug Graves takes one of these in this musical bit from 1984. With no context, it can't be determined whether this was a one-off sketch or an episode-long plot, but considering that Doug's still around almost thirty years later it clearly didn't last long.
- Three-Dimensional Episode: when SoS broadcast Revenge of the Creature in 1983. The effect didn't work well.
- What the Hell Is That Accent?: While Koz does a more typical Transylvanian one, Bishop's for a long time could only be described as "familiar" and was later described by him as a cross between Transylvanian and Yiddish.
- Vocal Range Exceeded: Regularly used when musical director Doug Graves arranges songs for Sven to sing, just a bit higher than Sven can sing.
- You Gotta Have Green Hair: Jerry Bishop's Svengoolie.