By BOB WISEHART
Charlotte News Staff Writer
"This is definitely TV humor," said giggling television producer Alan Adler, dressed to the hilt as Mr. Whoops E. Daisy, world-famous light bulb collector. "The basest and lowest common denominator of them all."
Adler was wearing a dilapidated pork-pie hat. His glasses seemed thick as soft-drink bottles.
His seersucker jacket probably was quite dashing in 1961, before it was run over by a truck. It didn't match his dismal brown shirt and tie anyway. Adler was going on the air this way.
This kind of humor is Adler's specialty.
And it is this brand of humor that has propelled WBTV's "Those Were the Years" to the No. 1 spot in the 11:30 p.m.-to-1 a.m. Friday night time slot.
According to WBTV Program Director John Edgerton, "Those Were the Years" pulled a 48 per cent share of the audience during its time period in the November Nielson ratings survey.
By way of comparison, Edgerton said Johnny Carson and "The Tonight Show" had 34 per cent of the audience for the same period.
The year before - in November, 1974, the first rating period after the show went on the air - Edgerton said "Those Were the Years" had only a 26 per cent share.
What happened? How does a live television show that trades heavily in nostalgia - "Flash Gordon" and "Our Miss Brooks" are but two examples - and far-fetched humor climb so high so fast?
"We just like to have fun," said the 27-year-old Adler, a free-lance filmmaker and writer who produces the show.
"We're live, which is most unusual these days," said Adler. "And the combination of nostalgia and our own stabs at comedy is just something people like. I hope."
Later, Adler, who works in rumpled blue jeans and is partial to turtlenecks and Earth Shoes, tried to put "Those Were the Years" in another perspective.
"I guess it's really a kid show for adults," he said.
Adler is just one member of the trio who has responsibility to keep the show running smoothly.
Another is Jim Strader, 25, the pale chain-smoking director whose wire-rimmed glasses keep slipping down his nose.
During air time Strader wears a set of headphones and mans a massive control board with 18 television screens to make sure things happen approximately when and in the way they're supposed to.
Finally there is Mike McKay, who handles most of the on-camera duties, usually without a script. McKay's tall, dark looks and carefully modulated voice are the essence of a television "personality." Unlike Strader and Adler, he has been with the show since its inception.
McKay, at 29 an eight-year veteran with WBTV, said the show was created as a result of WBTV's 25th anniversary almost two years ago.
"We ran a lot of the old shows then," said McKay, during a break from his on-camera duties, but with an eye on a nearby television set. He admits he follows the adventures of Flash Gordon as avidly as any regular viewer.
"We got an incredible response to that," he said. "That got management to thinking."
And the result, said McKay, was "Those Were the Years."
The show was slow in developing, McKay said. "Early, we were more serious than we are now. But even then, although we didn't have a large audience, our viewers were quite loyal and vocal."
The viewers wanted, all three agree, more humor. "I remember getting a letter not long after I joined the show," said Adler. "It said, 'Please put on some comedies. There isn't enough laughter in the world.' "
That, as it turned out, exactly fit Adler's background as a self-confessed nostalgia and "crazy, goofy humor" buff.
Adler began looking for old television series and serials available for his show.
Over the past year, "Those Were the Years" has run episodes of "The Lone Ranger," "The Honeymooners,"
"Have Gun Will Travel," "Our Miss Brooks" and "The Millionaire," among others. The trio also hit upon contests as a way to keep viewers entertained and involved.
The most recent contest involves amateur movies. One is shown each Friday night. A recent offering named "Attack of the Giant Falcon" - featuring a toy bird that looked like a cross between Donald Duck and a penguin as it terrorized a toy city - was a typical entry, said Adler.
At two minutes before 11 p.m. McKay left Adler and Strader in the announcers' lounge and dashed off to the studio for the 11 p.m. newscast. He handles the weather report.
AFTER A brief discussion of the upcoming show Strader and Adler head for the control booth. Tonight, the show would lead with the outraged falcon.
In the booth, Strader whispered into the headphones and only one sided snatches of the conversation could be heard. He smoked furiously and stabbed his cigarettes out in an old Coca-Cola glass with a wide top and a narrow bottom.
The falcon devastated the city. Then McKay flashed on screen, welcomed viewers to "Those Were the Years" and moved directly into a segment of "Have Gun Will Travel." Adler left the control booth to change into his Whoops E. Daisy finery.
Strader worked to get the background lighting just right for the skit. The background was a light bulb stuck in a piece of cardboard that would be projected behind Adler and McKay.
"The magic of television brings you a light bulb stuck in a piece of cardboard," Strader grinned and pushed his glasses higher on his nose. "We spare no expense."
The sounds of "Have Gun Will Travel" faded out, and Adler and McKay were on the air.
The script was basically one pun after another. Some referred to the light bulb collector's appearances on such shows as "Lamp Unto My Feet," "Watts My Line" and "Curse Of The Neanderthal Man."
There were many moans from the crew, which could be heard on the air. That, Adler said later, is alright. Occasionally a crew member waved a large hook as if to pull Adler-Daisy off the air. He gamely fought it off.
DURING THE interview, much of the treasured light bulb collection was dropped to the concrete floor by the fumbling McKay. One bulb did not break the way it was supposed to, but McKay and Adler moved on doggedly with the skit.
The routine ended with the switch to "Flash Gordon." Off the air, Adler kneeling and picking up pieces of broken light bulb, muttered, "I wonder if that appeared humorous.
"Oh well," he said, "we did it."
McKay confided he had ". . . that old sinking feeling" during the skit.
"You never can tell, really, how you're doing," he said. "That's one of the things about live TV. You're stuck.
"You might know halfway through that you're bombing but there's nothing, you can do about it," he said. "Even if you have that feeling you've got to get on with it.
"That's one of the attractions about live TV and about this show. It's not structured except for a continuing thing, like 'Flash Gordon,' people have no idea what they're going to see,"
From "Flash Gordon," McKay sent the show right into an episode of "The Millionaire." While Michael Anthony's velvet voice droned on about the virtues of John Beresford Tipton, McKay started taping promotions for the next "Those Were the Years."
THAT WAS not as easy as it sounds. McKay has no script for this either. The film clip leading into the promotion showed Flash Gordon's girl friend being attacked by a lion. McKay botched one try with an unintentional (and unprintable) bit of sexual double entendre that left him, the crew, Adler and Strader howling.
But finally, it was finished at 1:03, a.m. McKay urged everybody to tune in next week.
Adler and Strader still faced about another hour of work. That, said Strader, is basically a bull session where they analyze what was right and wrong with that night's show and bounce ideas off each other.
"That's about it," said Adler. ""I just try and put on what people would like to see.
"Mostly," he said. "I just like to have fun."
The article appeared in the Thursday, June 29, 1976 issue of The Charlotte News. Clipping provided by Jim Scancarelli.