23 February 2011

prisoner of gravity


TVOntario announced today "the launch of its new digital Public Archive, a free online resource that unlocks four decades of made-at-TVO educational programming that stands the test of time." What caught my attention was the following:

TVO’s Public Archive features beloved TVO programs that have defined TVO over the years. It launches with over 375 programs and segments that would take more than five days to watch. The site includes episodes of ... Prisoners of Gravity... New content will be added to the Public Archive regularly.

PRISONERS OF GRAVITY! Or -- as fans of the show affectionately refer to it as -- POG!

POG originally aired from 1989-1994 and featured interviews with science fiction, fantasy and horror authors and comix professionals. The episodes were structured topically and hosted by Canadian comedian/writer/producer Rick Green, most familiar to American PBS viewers as "Bill" on THE RED GREEN SHOW. It was a wonderfully quirky series; think Brian Lamb's BOOKNOTES meets Space Ghost's COAST TO COAST. ... come again? Well, as POG historian Rachelle "TedDog" Shelkey says at her POG fansite SIGNAL LOSS, "Prisoners of Gravity is a rather difficult series to explain":

What made Prisoners of Gravity different from your average talk show was it also incorporated a quirky fictional wraparound to explain the settings and the hosts. These aren't normal television episodes we're watching, but pirate broadcasts. Our main host, Commander Rick (Rick Green), was frightened by the state of the world and decided to flee Earth by attaching a rocket engine on to the roof of his car. His idea works, surprisingly enough, until he crashes into the side of a secret telecommunications satellite, Reality 1. Starting in season two, the cast expands slightly. Rick is joined on the satellite [by his] not-quite-faithful sidekick Nan-Cy, a sentient computer who either helps or hinders broadcasts depending on her mood. The two pirate broadcasters override the signal of the nature show "Second Nature" in order to air their show "Prisoners of Gravity," much to the annoyance of Second Nature's host Enrico Gruen (also Rick Green). This plot sounds more than a little silly, but works surprisingly well onscreen.

It got this prisoner of gravity's attention. In the early '90s, Wisconsin Public Television aired and re-aired a package of ten POG episodes Friday nights at 10 PM for about six months. A car-less teenager from rural Central Wisconsin, the show enabled me the opportunity to become familiar with the personalities behind the books I loved. Harlan Ellison. Neil Gaiman. Frank Miller. And many more. It introduced me to the works of John Callahan and Dan Piraro, among others, and served as a library visit suggestions' list for years to come. It was a virtual sci-fi/comix convention panel discussion every week. Subjects such as censorship, racism and environmentalism, to name just a few, were highlighted. POG demonstrated that the speculative fiction genres and the comix medium could be serious venues for serious topics.

POG also reminds me of a different era in fandom. In the days before the modern internet made it easy to connect to fellow fans and to aquire "lost" treasures, one had to work at it. During the years following POG's WPT airing, I'd occasionally re-watch the handful of episodes that I had recorded on VHS tape, and I'd wonder... Where can I get the episodes I missed? Are there more episodes than those I saw? What's the story behind this show's story? The answers rested with fellow fan, Canadian "TedDog" Shelkey who operated a POG fanclub and fandub service out of her apartment with the "help" of university equipment. ("Fandub," short for "fan dubbing"; media sharing between fans via audio and video cassette swaps.) I found out that there were over 100 episodes(!), and she found out about the specifics of the PBS run; she had some of the episodes I missed and many more that I had never seen, and I had a few that she still needed. I mailed her my tape of episodes and a blank VHS cassette, and a month later she returned them. But this time the blank tape featured twelve POG episodes -- a tape I still have and watch.**

Old-school fandubs may be dead, but the future is now. TVO currently has 25 episodes of POG officially available for viewing. With about 137 episodes produced, hopefully we'll see more added soon. A wealth of additional clips can be found unofficially (with affection) at Shelkey's YouTube channel.

This is Commander Cass -- signing off.

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* Art by Ty Templeton.

** Special shout-out to my ROBOTECH brother, Christopher "Fer" Goodnough who I met through his fandub service back in the day.