I can’t tell you how many Saturday nights I spent watching Joe Bob Briggs host various horror and cult films in the 90’s. He would give trivia on the movies being played, tell jokes and give his classic “Drive-In Totals.” Severed limbs would be tallyed, sex scenes were referred to as “aardvarking” and attacks with a weapon of any kind were called thing like “Axe Fu” and “Highway emergency-kit flare Fu.” Good times. I learned a lot of things I had previously not known about MonsterVision while preparing for this trip down memory lane and you had better believe I’m going to share them with you.
The MonsterVision programming block got its start on TNT as a 1992 Halloween event. I remember seeing the ads at a friend’s house and as someone who didn’t have cable I was so envious of missing out on a monster movie marathon. What I didn’t know was that it wasn’t just a one-off programming stunt. MonsterVision would return for mini-marathons based around a certain theme. It had its own special introduction and was sometimes hosted by Penn and Teller. At other times it was just a movie with a variation of the classic TNT laboratory bumpers shown between breaks. I remember watching Prehistoric Women under this incarnation and being stunned MonsterVision was still around. By 1995, Joe Bob Briggs was occasionally guest hosting and officially became the host of the show in 1996. I suspect the delay was due to his show on The Movie Channel, Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater, not ending until then. His experiences on that program must have given him déjà vu when he signed up with TNT. His TMC gig initially started as him acting as a “guest host” through a series of bumpers in 1986. This was expanded to a full series the following year thanks to all the positive response.
The new host wasn’t the only change to the program. While it had jumped around the schedule in previous years, it was only on Saturday evenings under Joe Bob. Now it was only two movies, with the second being called “Joe Bob’s Last Call.” Sometimes I was able to catch part of the last call, but I never made it to the third movie. The third movie was shown under the 100% Weird banner (which had one been a separate program shown on Fridays), but Joe Bob Briggs did not appear during that portion of the broadcast. I’m sure I’m not the only person who was confused when John Bloom (the actor who plays Joe Bob) appeared under his real name during the “God Stuff” segments on The Daily Show. I even wrote to the official MonsterVision contact email to ask who the hell this “John Bloom” guy was! But I’m getting off topic.
Another change to the program was the kind of films shown. While the films shown from 1992-1994 didn’t usually go past the 1960’s, Briggs hosted a range of films from the 60’s to more modern fare. Lots of films without monsters were shown, be they horror or some other genre of cult film. Naturally this brought a lot of complaints. It even got to the point where Joe Bob Briggs started referencing them on the show! One particular incident which sticks out in my mind was when he said the show wouldn’t be airing next week due to TNT’s upcoming Elvis marathon, noting how people always complained when MonsterVision films didn’t have any monsters so why bother? It was never made clear if Joe Bob Briggs was picking the films or if the Turner bean counters were forcing it because they had to license packages of in order to get one or two films the host actually wanted and wanted their full money’s worth. Given how the show was renamed Joe Bob’s Hollywood Saturday Night in 1999 and Joe Bob was hosting films like Top Gun, I’m inclined to go with the latter. I stopped watching around that point and as a result I missed hearing about Briggs being let go during the summer of 2000. I understand the second film shown under the Joe Bob’s Hollywood Saturday Night days still kept the “MonsterVision” name and MonsterVision went back to to its “movie with lab bumpers” days before being canceled in September 2000. That’s right, they didn’t even let it last for one more Halloween!
The reason for this was probably due to the AOL Time Warner merger. Although it wasn’t officially finalized until early 2001, the merger already meant massive changes for the company. One of which seemed to be minimizing Ted Turner’s role in the company. Although he didn’t leave until 2003, Turner’s influence wasn’t what it used to be. Take what happened to World Championship Wrestling for example. Turner had purchased the company in 1988 and was always willing to support it even when it was losing money. He even told his board of directors WCW was not to be touched when they suggested dropping it to save money in 1992. Why? Because wrestling had been good for his television stations back in the day and he never forgot that. But once the merger started and WCW was losing money again, he was unable to save it from its demise.
I once theorized Ted Turner had a soft spot for horror movies and horror hosts due to the presence of a horror host called “Dead Ernest” during the early days of TBS and the WCW story has only strengthened my belief. I can only theorize what could have happened if the merger never went through, but suspect Joe Bob Briggs and MonsterVision would have stayed around much longer. But given how TNT underwent a transformation similar to the USA Network which focuses on older demographics, I doubt they’ll ever revive the program.
Although Briggs once announced he was going to be the Head of Programming for “The Scream Channel” in 2004 (which was renamed as “HorrorNet” at some point) and rumors of a new MonsterVision-style show spread, nothing has come of it yet. The closet thing to a revival were the DVD commentaries he did for Elite Entertainment and Media Blasters during that time, along with his current live shows. You can learn more about them at his Facebook page and can read transcripts from his MonsterVision days over at his official website. The drive-in will never die!