Not Ready for Prime time

The Bobby Jack Pack Show lurks in the shadows of cable access, threatening its creator with low-rent success

It's 5 a.m. on a Wednesday. Bobby Jack Pack opens his eighth can of Dr Pepper and slips it into a mint-green coozie.

It's still a few hours before Bobby--who keeps the hours of a B-movie vampire--will go to sleep. And today, Kelly Higgins, his writing partner, has shown up to help work on the script for the next Bobby Jack Pack Show before going to work as a book binder for a graphics design company.

The two sit in mismatched thrift-store chairs at a Formica table in what Bobby has designated as the kitchen of the cavernous warehouse where he lives with his girlfriend. It's one of two air-conditioned rooms walled out from the 10,000-square-foot space. "Kitchen" is only a state of mind in this room, which has no stove, no microwave, and not a box, a can, or a bag of food anywhere--just a battered white refrigerator that holds a nearly empty 12-pack of Dr Pepper, and a few beers. The room's most important appliance is a 20-inch color television in the corner that's playing what Bobby calls "chop-chop"--snippets of '60s movies, television shows, and cartoons that he has edited together. It provides the ambience for these frenetic writing sessions.

For Bobby and Higgins, a slice of Get Smart or a bit from Felix the Cat is food for the soul--inspiration for their campy, quirky half-hour comedy program, The Bobby Jack Pack Show, that can be found--usually--on local cable access Channel 27A, Saturday nights at 10 or 10:30.

"We base everything on B-movies and cheese," Bobby explains.
Indeed, the appeal of the wildly paced Bobby Jack Pack Show is nearly impossible to explain through the printed word. In a sketch called "Tweet Tweet You're Dead," in which four people are surrounded in a house by "flesh-eating, blood-sucking pigeons," a detective peeks out from under a fern and says to the foursome, "Fiddle-dee-dee. The name's Crack Corn. Jimmy Crack Corn."

"I don't care," says a guy who was just pigeon-attacked.
In another sketch, a Mafioso enforcer knocks on a door.
"Who sent you?" says the guy who opens the door.
"Heckle and Jeckle," says the thug.

"Those talking magpies?" the guy replies, his voice trembling with fear. "This is serious."

Awful? Who's to say when a wince or a groan is precisely what you're after? To Bobby, puns are fun, and bad is always better. Accuse the show of being amateurish or say that the actors sound like they're reading from cue cards, and it's high praise to Bobby.

With a loving eye for the bad, Bobby and Higgins have a motto: "Make it worse." And they do: lip movements carefully kept out of sync with dialogue; disorienting close-ups, jump cuts, and obvious gulfs of continuity, such as when a woman wielding an oversized razor blade in a suicide-attempt scene is slender in one shot, nine months' pregnant in the next, and then finds out that she's really not pregnant at all; gratuitous screaming and running from monsters; and anything that mocks mainstream television.

(An announcer's voice with footage of sexy women on phones): "Women talking live! Women talking to other women live! Talking about what women talk about to other women!"

Woman one: "Are you sure you want to take the pumps back?"
Woman two: "Yeah, I'm going to take them back."
Woman one: "You sure?"

(A scene showing a Tom Selleck look-alike directing "some really stupid television program," says Higgins):

Two men with plaid hunting hats are on camera. The first one says, "You know what I saw? Two or three doe."

"See any bucks?" says the other guy.
"Yeah, I saw about 50 bucks."
He stops. "This is too corny," he says.

Says Director "Selleck": "I know it's not funny, and you know it's not funny, but we'll slap a laugh track on this and nobody will know it's not funny."

With a Monty Python-esque pace and the goofiness of Laugh-In, and following a cardinal rule to break all the rules, even its own, The Bobby Jack Pack Show last year won a Dallas Community Television Crystal Award--an Emmy of local cable TV. And it's gaining notice as one of the most original concepts on television--perhaps too original.

"The show is terribly funny and wildly inventive," says Ed Yeager, a co-producer on the NBC-TV comedy The Naked Truth and a former writer for Roseanne. Yeager, a friend of one of the actors on the show, pitched the show to Roseanne and her producers, but they didn't get it.

Still, Yeager believes that there's an audience, albeit a narrow one, for The Bobby Jack Pack Show. "It's ready for late-night television," he says.

The cast members call Bobby Jack Pack "The Bobby" and Higgins "The Anti-Bobby."

Bobby, 38, is contemplative, shy, and reveals little until he looks up from beneath his mane of wavy, thick gray hair that falls far beyond his shoulders. He seems as gentle as a well-worn stuffed bear, all warm smiles and soft laughs--though he admits he's prone to frequent bad moods and sullen grumpiness. Even though he's rarely on camera, preferring to direct, he named the show after himself, he says, because "it had a nice ring to it." And it does. Bobby Jack Pack Jr., by the way, is his real name.

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