of Our Exciting Movie!
Shock Theatre on the BIG 8!
The first time
Bill Bowman played the role of the Bowman Body was on Monday, June 22, 1970 when
he hosted the classic 1935 Universal horror film, The Raven,
staring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi at
11:30 pm. The station had recently acquired the famous Shock!
and Son of Shock! packages licensed through Screen Gems for television
broadcast across the country and featured a total of 72 horror, suspense
and science-fiction movies.
package had played before in Richmond . . . in fact, channel 12 (then
known as WRVA) had its own hosted version of Shock Theater from 1958
through 1961, beginning just a
few months after the package was initially released. (To learn more
about that show, and it's hosts, Ghoulda and Hazel Witch, please see
www.virginiacreepersmovie.com). However, it had been a
decade since then and Bowman's presentation of the movies was a beacon for
a new generation of "monsterkids."
The show was originally done as a
week long "Shock Film Festival" (as seen in the Richmond Times Dispatch ad
from June 22, 1970). The event was a hit, even though
Bill unintentionally lit his cape on fire at one point. It was all ad lib, but full of campy, corny humor that
set the audience at ease and established the tone for the show to come. Though
he had never intended to work in front of the camera, this twist of fate
brought out talents people still revere today.
"BY POPULAR DEMAND":
The response was so great that the
station decided to hold more "horror film festivals" and two more times that
summer and once in the following November, The Bowman Body filled the small
screen. The real turning point seems to
have been the week of September 7-11 when the show was catching on with
college audiences. At this point that Bill
Bowman remembers making a general appeal to his audience: “If you like
what you see, write the station because otherwise I will be selling hot dogs
on Virginia Beach.”
The response was tremendous,
especially among college students who were enjoying the Bowman Body in both
unadulterated and ahem . . . enhanced . . . forms. Letters came in by
the hundreds and one petition came in from the College of William and Mary
with over 400 signatures on it.
WEEKLY TRIPS INTO TERROR:
long would Richmond have to wait for weekly "trips into terror"?
Newspaper records indicate that Shock Theatre hit the Richmond market on a
weekly basis on Friday night, February 19, 1971 with a showing of The
Mummy's Tomb. Shock Theatre with Bill Bowman remained on Friday nights for
nearly two years and according to Reed Wolliver, station artist and
assistant on the show, the Bowman Body was beating out Johnny Carson with
slightly more than a 50 percent share . . . meaning over half the households
watching TV at 11:30 in the Richmond area were tuned in to THE BIG 8!