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Series / Svengoolie

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It came from BERWYN!
The following proscribed is transgrammed.
— Opening line for Screaming Yellow Theater and Son of Svengoolie between 1970-1980

Calling all stations! Clear the airlanes, clear all airlanes for the big broadcast!
— Opening line for Son of Svengoolie from 1980 onwards 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 on New Year’s Eve 1994 and has been running since.

On April 2nd, 2011 Svengoolie went national when the MeTV network expanded out of Chicago and Milwaukee and became a full-fledged nationwide network. Find out more here.

A Spin-Off series, Sventoonie, premiered in 2022. It stars Toony from Toon In With Me, now in Sven attire, accompanied by buddies Blob E. Blob and zombie video store clerk Trevor Ground; unlike its parent program, it only recaps movies instead of showing them in full. Svengoolie himself makes brief cameos in most episodes. For tropes pertaining to that series, go to its show page.

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."
  • Animated Credits Opening: The opening is done in CG animation, while the show itself is live action. The recurring segment "Sven on the Road" also has a brief animated intro.
  • 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' coffin when he took over the show in 1979; about a year into the run he repainted it with his own face. In 2013, 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 hear 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.
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: The 6/11/16 airing of Pillow of Death had "Dy Pillow", a parody of "My Pillow", an on-and-off sponsor on the show.
  • Bland-Name Product: Svenard's, Vampire Carpets, etc.
  • 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. Also, each episode begins with Sven exiting his upright coffin, and the episode ends with him returning to the coffin.
  • Borrowed Catchphrase: Occasionally, Kerwyn will say "Hit the theme for us, (name)" instead of Sven.
  • Butt-Monkey: Sven is frequently the butt of jokes: Doug constantly complains about working for him, Boddy Sorrell (Sven’s coffin) has a habit of calling him “Rob”, and uses Bait-and-Switch punchlines, 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...
  • Catchphrase: When showing some fan submissions: "Hit the theme for us, Chas," referring to audio engineer Chas Alling. Became "Hit the theme for us, Credo" after Alling stepped down as audio engineer and was replaced by Chris DeQuick and Michael Manuszak.
  • Celebrity Cameo: Sven occasionally interviews celebrity guests on the show, usually actors from horror or Sci Fi movies. The crowning achievement though has to be the song "Svengoolie Stomp," written and performed by Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon, which featured a video with a whole line-up of celebrity fans who just wanted the fun of showing up in a Svengoolie video and stomping on some rubber chickens. (From the credits: Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Jim Cornette, David Dastmalchian, Lou Ferrigno, Gilbert Gottfried, Dana Gould, John C. McGinley, Amy Hersey, Bill Kurtis, Larry Thomas, Penn & Teller.)
  • Content Warnings: Sven will discreetly warn viewers before scenes that may be upsetting to some viewers.
  • Cool Shades: Doug always wears them. Always.
  • Couch Gag: Bishop's goodnight poem in SYT, and the person at the door during the Koz era.
  • Credits Gag: Each episode has one, below the copyright logo and is a pun relating to the movie in question. One example, after the episode which featured the 1972 made-for-TV film Gargoyles:
    "Remember they work hard to guard our rooftops, so don't take a gargoyle for granite!"
  • Crossover: Not long after MeTV launched Toon In With Me in 2021, its host Bill and his puppet co-host Toony the Tuna have appeared on the show, and vice versa, with Toony especially becoming a Sitcom Arch-Nemesis of sorts to Kerwyn.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Doug ends up having to host the August 24, 1985 episode - where the featured film was The Evil of Frankenstein - because Sven has been barred from appearing on television for a week by then-President Ronald Reagan for making fun of Nancy Reagan's acting on the previous show. At the beginning of the show, Sven calls in from Reagan's Rancho del Cielo in Santa Barbara, California, having been flown there to make sure he stays off of TV, telling Doug that the President has been making him chop wood multiple times a day.
  • 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.
  • Double Take: In the commercial promoting Svengoolie's website, Sven closes with, "You can use your mouse!", and holds up a rubber mouse. He looks at it, then does a double take when he notices what he's holding.
  • 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 earliest WCIU episodes used a MIDI version of the Son's Theme and a very basic set (consisting of a black drape with Sven's coffin in front of it).
  • Elaborate Underground Base: The June 2020 episodes have seen Sven hosting the show from his secret Sven Cave instead of the usual coffin set. The Real Life reason for this temporary setting change, obviously, is due to the stay-at-home precautionary orders amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The Faceless:
  • Fan Convention: An occasional segment ("Sven on the Road") involves Sven going to various fan conventions where he meets up with celebrities and/or fans.
  • Feghoot: The unseen person at the door at the end of every episode delivers one of these.
  • Fourth-Wall Mail Slot
  • Gag Dub: SvenSurround.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Due to many of the movies shown on the show being older, the word "gay" is often used in the non-homosexual context. In one instance of this, Sven briefly appeared superimposed on the screen with a surprised face.
  • Hollywood Tone-Deaf: Averted. Sven sings with his own voice in the weekly Song Parody; he's just not always on key. He's savvy enough to make it part of the shtick.
  • Hurricane of Puns: In addition to the lame puns that Bookend the show, some segments will have Sven, Tombstone, Doug, and/or Kerwyn rattle of a bunch of them at once. The writing team love them some puns.
  • 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.
  • Instrumental Theme Tune: Screaming Yellow Theatre's "Rumble", as well as Rich Koz's "Son's Theme".
  • Lame Pun Reaction: Rubber Chicken Pelting!
  • Lampshade Hanging: More than once, Sven or another character has referenced the formula for the show, such as a joke leading back into the movie, or the fact that someone always rings the doorbell before Sven ends the show.
  • Large-Ham Announcer: During the Son of era, this was filled by WFLD station announcer Jim Barton, who would often tell his own corny jokes, much to Sven's chagrin. Barton would also happily voice his affection for Chicago female TV news reporters, particularly Deborah Norville, who was working at Chicago's O&Onote  NBC station, WMAQ, at the time. He also appeared on camera every now and then.
  • 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 1994 he received the blessing of the original to just be called "Svengoolie."
  • Lighter and Softer: Ever since the show went national in 2011, the choice of films has mostly stuck to vintage horror movies, as opposed to modern horror movies. Obviously, horror movies back then weren't as gory, invoking this trope.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Bishop!Sven's headband, sunglasses, red shirt and striped pants; Koz!Sven's black top hat, green neckerchief (replaced with a red turtleneck in the WCIU run and eventually a red dress shirt from 2007 on) 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 1994. All three runs have gone for almost a combined 40 years as of 2022.
  • 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.
  • Mood Whiplash: Unavoidable; the (usually) serious films are interrupted by Sven or Kerwyn delivering a punchline, often at the film's expense.
  • MST: SvenSurround. Extra bonus points for being an acknowledged inspiration for Mystery Science Theater 3000 itself.
    • Very occasionally, Sven will insert audio clips into a film for a bit of comedy; in one film, The Monolith Monsters, a mailbox with the name "Simpson" was shown, leading to an audio clip of Homer saying, "D'oh!"
      • According to Sven himself (at a 40th anniversary celebration in 2019), the practice was toned down from earlier years after a deal was reached with Universal to play their horror classics on a set schedule. Apparently, one of their stipulations was that the show was to not "Svensurround" their movies.
  • Not Available in Stores: The Svengoolie T-shirts and hoodies.
  • 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 Transylvanian, 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.
    • Inverted in the first episode of Son of Svengoolie as Bishop briefly reverts to a Transylvanian accent when saying the name "Svengoolie."
  • Our Ghouls Are Creepier: Sven may be a ghoul, but the extent of his creepiness is mostly living in a coffin inside a haunted house and making frighteningly bad puns.
  • Overly-Long Gag: The Emergency Bored-Casting System Test is a solid one minute of a low-frequency tone, a sound effect of someone snoring and pictures of various boring pictures (including some from SoS itself).
  • Padding: Invoked; in one episode, Sven began an installment of Pictionary, saying that he does it when the movie is short.
  • Parody Commercial: Too many examples to count—Svengoolie's Jr. Grave Robber Kit, Vampire Carpets, Death Perfume...
    • Bishop's Sven would often plug "S.T.D. Enterprises" in his commercials, standing for "Sham", "Trickery", and something relating to the product that starts with the letter D ("Dehydration", "Distributor caps", etc.).
  • 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.
    Bishop: Good evening. I'm Jerry G. Bishop, and this is the famed split-level dungeon studio where many years ago, the legendary Svengoola—Svengoolie burst into television prominence....What if there was the same situation as in the past with the Son of Frankenstein, the Son of Dracula, Sanford and Son? Could there exist—somewhere, somehow—the Son of Svengoolie?
    Son of Svengoolie: Hey, dad, can I borrow the keys to the hearse tonight?
  • The Piano Player: Doug Graves, who plays the music during the Song Parody.
  • 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.
  • Product Placement: Starting in 2015, Sven has been plugging Little Caesar's before commercial breaks.
  • Public Service Announcement: Kerwyn delivered CDC guidelines about sanitation for a few weeks during the early part of the COVID pandemic, such as social distancing, washing your hands, and not touching your face.
  • 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.
    • Also the original Screaming Yellow Theater, named after Screaming Yellow Zonkers.
    • Not to mention Svengoolie's keyboardist Doug Graves, of "Doug and the Graves-tones".
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: The "Svengoolie T-Shirt" bumper makes sure to emphasize: '"NO. PERSONAL. CHECKS!"
  • 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.
  • Running Gag:
    • "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 "beautiful downtown Burbank." That and SoS 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.
    • Whenever Sven starts to sing or an in-movie song ends , you'll hear Slappy Squirrel from Animaniacs yelling, "Ahhh, ENOUGH WITH THE SINGING, ALREADY!!!"
    • And whenever food is mentioned, you'll hear Pete Puma from the 1952 Looney Tunes short, Rabbit's Kin, licking his lips... "MMM-mmm-MMM-yum-yum-SLURRRRP!!!"
    • In the cast rundown segments, Sven almost always mentions that an actor in the film was also in an episode of Perry Masonnote . And as of late, especially if the cast of a movie has numerous Perry Mason alumni, he or the background sound effects will feign being sick and tired of having to mention that so-and-so was in... you guessed it... sigh... Perry Mason.
  • 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. It doesn't have to be these names, either; in "Jungle Woman", a character says "Take the stand", which prompts a clip from the ''Three Stooges' short "Disorder in the Court".
    • In one episode, a character's name was Homer; when the name was first uttered, an audio clip of Homer Simpson saying "D'oh!" played.
  • Self-Deprecation: Svengoolie re-showed Revenge of the Creature in 2007, and made a few cracks about his infamous 3-D showing of the movie.
    Svengoolie: I'm still getting complaints, so this time, I'm going to present this movie in terrifying... 2-D!
    [Later, during the Song Parody of Shut Up and Drive]
    Svengoolie: I'm glad this isn't in 3-D, D, D!
  • Shave And A Haircut: The Judge Jerry sketch features a part where Jerry bangs his gavel but hears a second bang afterwards. After testing a couple more times with the same results, he knocks the first five notes of "Shave and a Haircut". After a pause, the last two bangs are heard.
    • Sometimes, it is also as a common jingle after the last door joke in many episodes... "Rap-ta-ta-TAP-TAP...Yoo-hoo!"
  • 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, not to mention throw in the sound of the TARDIS every now and then. The crowning moment of this has to be getting Third Doctor Jon Pertwee onto the show for a cameo (he happened to be doing a convention in Chicago at the time). 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.
  • Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Following the premiere of Toon In With Me in 2021, Kerwyn has developed an ongoing rivalry with Toony the Tuna. It originated on the other show, where Toony got miffed about Kerwyn beating him for a "Mascot of the Year" award. In crossover appearances on both shows, the two are quick to trade insults and try to upstage one another, much to the annoyance of Sven and Bill the Cartoon Curator.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Whenever Doug and Sven are on at the same time. Special mention goes to "I Want a New Doug", where they both spend the entire song insulting each other to the tune of I Want a New Drug.
    • And then there's the almost-constant squabbles between Toony and Kerwyn...
  • 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 1998.
  • 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. The MeTV era (especially 2014-onwards) has seen a return of frequent guest appearances; if they're not at conventions that Sven goes to, they appear on the set itself.
  • Spin-Off: Sventoonie, a spin-off of both Svengoolie and Toon In With Me, featuring Toony in Sven attire. Unlike Svengoolie, this is only a half-hour long and instead of showing a full movie, Toony recaps it in humorous fashion. The rest of the episode contains various skits about the movie, similar to Svengoolie but a bit edgier in the humor.
  • Synchro-Vox: Occasionally used in the skits.
  • Take That!:
    • Svengoolie's response to his 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.
  • Truncated Theme Tune: Depending on how long the featured movie is, the intro may be a shorter version which opens with the camera traveling through the doors. This version is used for every episode from 2017 onward.
  • Un-person: In Sven's 150th Episode music video "Stop Calling Him the Son" note  Sven mentions giving thanks to "that broad on the bench," referring to Judge Judy which also aired on WCIU at the time. In a later edition of the video, after Judy had moved to the local CBS affiliate and was replaced on WCIU by Judge Mills Lane, a clip of Lane is inserted with the text "NOT ANYMORE!" superimposed. Still later versions of the song have Judy's clips replaced by a clip of Judge Marilyn Milian of The People's Court.
  • Vocal Evolution: Koz' Sven originally had a heavy Transylvanian accent. Since the WCIU run began, it was gradually downplayed, and by 2007, was limited to Sven occasionally rolling his "R"s.
  • Vocal Range Exceeded: Regularly used when musical director Doug Graves arranges songs for Sven to sing, just a bit higher than Sven can sing.
  • 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.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: One of the door jokes had a man visiting the doctor, who informed him he was terminal. The man asked how much time he had left, and the doctor says "Ten." The man asks, "Ten what?" The doctor replies, "Nine, eight, seven..."