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Sunday, February 11, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Spud's World -- Half-Baked? Hot Potatoes? Spud Goodman Has A Show With A Peculiar Sense Of Humor

David Letterman has Paul Shaffer. Johnny has Doc. Arsenio has his posse.

Spud Goodman has Accordion Joe.

Spud, like Letterman and Johnny and Arsenio, hosts his own late-night talk show with its own house band. There, the similarities pretty much end.

``The Spud Goodman Show,'' which originates in Seattle and can be seen weekly on several cable systems in Washington, Oregon and California, is edgy and erratic, like Mike Douglas on dope. It's intentionally annoying. It's cheesy enough to seem more at home in your grocer's dairy case than on television.

Which probably explains why the show has become something of a cult hit since it began in 1985.

There is also the Accordion Joe factor.

He wears a wig that is bigger and blacker and shinier than his vintage Italian Petosa-brand accordion. He dresses in a white silken vest and flared trousers and a pink shirt, all studded with rhinestones and embroidered with musical notes.

His forte is Elvis songs.

He also performs the self-penned ``Spud Goodman Show Theme'' to open the show.

``Everyone is welcome,'' sings Joe, pumping away at his Petosa and recalling Pat Boone more than The King. ``Give us your outcast, give us your dispossessed . . .''

This weekend - barring a freak hair-spray accident - Accordion Joe will introduce the fifth-anniversary edition of ``The Spud Goodman Show with Chick Hunter.'' It is the oldest existing entertainment show on Seattle local-origination and public-access channels.

(The show airs live at 11 p.m. Saturdays on TCI Channel 26 in Seattle and TCI Channel 35 in Tacoma; rebroadcasts also appear at midnight Saturday on Viacom King County Channel 23, and again on Seattle TCI Channel 26 at 4:30 p.m. Sunday and 11 p.m. Friday.)

Which raises many questions. Among them: Will Spud Goodman provide further ammunition for those seeking to regulate cable TV?

And: Would a caring God allow five years of this?

And: Chick Hunter?

Before considering such issues, we will reveal the show's secret for attracting big-name guests as eclectic as former Congressman Mike Lowry, cookie entrepreneur Famous Amos and chesty athlete-kisser Morganna.

The key: ``The vast majority of people who come on,'' confides ``producer emeritus'' Craig Eidsmoe, ``don't know anything about the show.''

A few things you should know about ``The Spud Goodman Show'':

Some of the guests are real. Such as former mayoral candidate Doug Jewett, Seattle Mariners catcher Scott Bradley, a man who collects mummified cats, Channel 7 commentators John Carlson and Walt Crowley, musician Bo Diddley and chili cookoff winner Tarantula Jack.

Some of the guests are fake. Such as the all-relish-diet expert, the human siren, and Stan Stansbury, an ``International Association of Talk Shows'' referee who blows the whistle on egotism, self-indulgence and esoteric conversation.

Then there are the guests who really are what they appear to be, but who only serve to upset the viewer's sense of equilibrium. In this category falls the Perkins pancake house waitress who circulated through the studio taking orders.

And the aging dancer whose go-go had up and went-went, who spent an entire show dancing to conversation instead of music.

The staff calls these ``visual non sequiters.''

Then there are the hosts of the show.

Heeeeeere's Spud Goodman. And Chick Hunter. And Bruce Walkup. And Tim Hoban.

Spud and Bruce look enough alike to be the same person, which they are. Ditto with Chick and Tim. Then again, they have their differences.

Spud is cynical and abrasive and has poor phone manners.

``Is the caller there?'' he might ask on his show.

``Yes,'' the caller will say.

``Super,'' Spud will say, and hang up.

Bruce Walkup, in contrast to his TV persona, is polite and soft-spoken, and observes the traditional rules of phone etiquette.

Then there's Chick. Chick is Spud's guileless sidekick.

Chick once asked Mike Lowry what he thought of that day's University of Washington-Washington State basketball game, in the midst of a discussion about defense spending.

Tim Hoban appears to be much smarter than his talk-show character Chick.

Bruce and Tim are both torn whether to answer questions about their real lives or to talk only about their video alter-egos. This, they say, is because they want to use their TV show to blur the lines between what is real and what is not.

``I want to create a one-hour surreal nightmare,'' says Bruce/

Spud. ``I want this:'' He scratches his head and makes a puzzled expression.

``I don't want to break the wall down. That would totally destroy my credibility.''

This much we will say:

Bruce and Tim are in their mid-30s.

A previous article in the Tacoma newspaper revealed that Bruce works in ``the criminal-justice system.'' To put you at ease while maintaining some mystery, we will add only that he does not carry a gun.

Without getting too specific, Tim works with trains.

An illustration of the interviewing style that makes Spud a distinct alternative to, say, Dick Cavett:

Once he asked B-movie actress Debra Foreman, star of ``Lobster Men From Mars'': ``Would you say it's a film or a movie?''

``The questions are obtuse, to a great extent,'' says Spud. ``I don't want to ask the kind of thing they'd get on `Northwest Afternoon.' ''

At this point some of you may be thinking: ``Wayne's World.''

The recurring ``Saturday Night Live'' sketch by that name is a send-up of low-budget, self-indulgent cable-access talk shows.

In ``Wayne's World,'' adolescent Wayne and his buddy Garth host a show from Wayne's basement. They pull in-jokes on their guests and discuss a wide array of topics.

Coincidence? Most likely.

``Wayne's World,'' which started only last season on ``SNL,'' has managed to turn the attention of a mass audience to a type of program - such as ``The Spud Goodman Show'' - that can be found on local public-access channels across the nation.

Public access, unlike local-origination programming, allows members of the community to produce and air shows on a first-come, first-served system. There are no commercials, and few technical standards. On ``local-o,'' the cable company decides what to air, and may run commercials and demand higher technical quality.

Public access carries many of Spud's and Wayne's kin. In suburban Washington, D.C., for example, a 28-year-old Yellow Cab driver hosts a variety show called ``Larz From Mars.'' His guests include local musicians and celebrities, and people he meets in his cab.

Home Box Office's new cable venture - The Comedy Channel - last month announced plans to mine this rich vein of what might be called ``TV Naive.'' HBO says its proposed ``Public Access Round-Up'' series will showcase ``funny, innovative and bizarre'' material from public-access channels nationwide, which exist in roughly one in four of the country's 8,000 cable systems.

You may wonder how many and what kind of people watch Spud. So do the people who work on the show.

On cable systems that range in latitude from Orange County, Calif., to Bellingham and also include Portland, Eugene and Olympia, Spud is available in several hundred thousand homes. Because the television-ratings services do not track viewership for public-access and local-origination cable channels, though, how many people in those homes actually tune in is anybody's guess.

Spud's guess is: ``Between 3 and 300,000.''

Chick's guess is: ``Twenty-five thousand, three hundred eighteen.''

Lani Edenholm, the show's executive producer and director who's also director of local-origination programming at TCI Seattle, won't even take a stab. But she says the show's single telephone line receives 75 to 125 calls during the hour the show airs live in Seattle and Tacoma, on cable systems that reach about 170,000 homes.

There is, of course, no way to rule out the possibility that it might be the same person calling over and over.

Such a person might resemble Steven Fox. Fox used to be a regular viewer. Now he is the show's ``creative consultant.'' Like the rest of the staff, he works for free.

During the week, Fox programs computers.

Before he worked on the show, he used to call the number for the Spudline, which appears on-screen, and through his phone play a recording of a weather information service. The weather voice would list various U.S. cities followed by their three-digit access codes.

It made no sense. Which, on Spud's show, made perfect sense.

A pair of unpaid testimonials.

John Keister, host of KING-TV's ``Almost Live,'' which recently won an Iris Award - the highest national honor for local programming - in the entertainment category, says: ``Dollar for dollar, `Spud' is without a doubt the best local show in Seattle. I like the feeling that anything can happen. There's always someone calling up trying to say (expletive) on the air.''

Jim Rupp, director of public relations for the Seattle SuperSonics, says: ``As a PR guy, I like it because it seems we can always get a guest on there when we want.''

Two players, an assistant coach, the Sonics' radio color announcer, a TV play-by-play announcer, a community-relations director and the cheerleading squad have appeared.

The ballad of Spud and Chick.

They grew up together in Montana.

They met up again when Chick became janitor at the station in Sparks, Nev., where Spud was hosting a show. Eventually, Chick began reading the weather. Together they moved from station to station, until Medford, Ore.

There, Spud spun an all-Tony Bennett format and was fired.

They decided to try cable TV.

They began in a Tacoma basement with one camera and a dream - to make a show so bad it almost dared people to keep watching.

It evolved from a half-hour program sponsored by a pizzeria and shown on a local-origination cable channel in Tacoma to a 60-minute format on a Seattle public-access channel. About a year ago, the show moved to Seattle TCI's local-origination channel.

Along the way there were brushes with disaster.

Such as the time the set was almost burned down by a hot plate and an untended tin of Jiffy-Pop popcorn. Spud emerged unbaked.

Now, producer Lani Edenholm is trying to create a Northwest regional local-origination cable network that would carry Spud into a million homes. Edenholm hopes to turn the show into a money-making venture, at the same time keeping what she calls its ``edge-of-your-seat, guerrilla television'' quality.

``Fresh stuff can happen,'' says Edenholm, who also produces a music video show and has finished the pilot for a half-hour comedy series starring local comedian Rod Long. She hopes they will find a place on the proposed regional network, too.

``This is for the people who have been doing public access but feel they can't afford to be that altruistic.''

The ballad of Bruce and Tim.

They met in Tacoma in 1982 after Bruce took out an ad to find people interested in starting a comedy group.

The group, ``The Twilight Zone Players,'' performed political satire and topical humor at bars and small theaters around the area. It folded after three years.

Bruce and Tim decided to try cable TV.

They began in a Tacoma basement with one camera and a dream - to make a show so bad it almost dared people to keep watching.

Etc.

A high-falutin' opinion: Why things like ``The Spud Goodman Show'' are good, even if you happen to deem them bad.

``As a culture we receive most of our information from television. Yet access to participating in programming that information is limited to very few people at broadcast stations or network programs,'' says Alex Quinn, general manager of Multnomah Cable Access, part of a small cable system that serves an area east of Portland, and a former board member of the National Federation of Local Cable Programmers.

Public access, says Quinn, ``provides people an outlet for their creative - or political or social - expression.''

In conclusion and by popular demand, a few more words about Accordion Joe:

His family name is Jenkins.

His outfit was sewn by a woman who also made costumes for Elvis (during the Vegas years), Liberace and the band Chicago.

In the late '60s, he appeared on ``The Mike Douglas Show,'' performing while suspended upside-down from a crane.

He repeated the stunt once on a special ``Spud Goodman Show'' telethon by wearing ice skates lashed to a hydraulic lift.

``He was up there for a long time,'' recalls Spud, describing what seems like an apt metaphor for his show. ``When we got him down he ate a whole bottle of aspirin.''

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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