JJ Ulm and Fritz the Night Owl Saturday at Studio 35
Through the late 70s and the entirety of the 80s, WBNS-TV here in Columbus was the home of Fritz the Nite Owl and his Nite Owl Theatre. Wearing big owl-winged glasses, Fritz Peerenboom bookended movies with clever segments that used simple green-screen effects to insert him into scenes where he could give commentary on the night’s feature. Fritz won 5 Emmy Awards for his show and was even inducted, in 2012, into the Horror Host Hall of Fame. Here in Columbus he became an icon. The Nite Owl Theatre’s TV run ended in 1991, but thanks to the work of some longtime Fritz fans it returns to Studio 35 once a month for a healthy dose of 80s nostalgia. And the new Night Owl Theatre is firmly planted in the 80s. When the new cinematic version of the show began at the Grandview Theatre in 2010 they were restricted to public domain movies, and while that meant they could show classics such as Night of the Living Dead and the House on Haunted Hill, it also limited them to older fare. With the move to Studio 35 they were able to screen nearly anything. November’s movie was Back to the Future, and Peerenboom arrived at Studio 35 in a vintage Delorean provided by the Free Press. Upcoming films include The Goonies, Tron and the just-announced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. One movie that won’t be showing anytime soon, though, is Star Wars. Show runner Mike McGraner learned that Lucasfilms is still holding tight to that one, but he’s hoping for a chance to shoot segments for it just in case. It’s thanks to fans such as McGraner that the show was resurrected. He watched the original Nite Owl Theatre until it was canceled when he was 11 years old, and that experience stayed with him. At first he simply wanted to create a documentary about Fritz, but after tracking down the former host – who had gone on to host a radio jazz show – they realized that Fritz’s scandal-free life just didn’t have a hook. When a station format change pushed Fritz off the air, the former host agreed, if a little reluctantly, to join McGraner in trying to bring Nite Owl Theatre back to Columbus. Fritz was concerned that the theater format would lack the intimacy of a late-night TV show. But along with writers Mark A. Miller and Vidas Barzdukas and visual effects creator Ryan Blazso, McGraner brings the small screen feel to the big screen. The “Channel Z” mock TV logo that starts each feature is an homage to the old HBO intro, and each movie is interspersed with vintage commercials. Back to the Future included commercials for the Nintendo tie-in games for that movie and its sequels as well as a few of the many commercials Michael J. Fox did for Diet Pepsi. And since it’s at Studio 35, there’s beer and pizza available to round out that late-night movie experience. Fritz the Nite Owl will be returning to Studio 35 on December 14th for holiday classic Gremlins. Tickets are $5 at the door and, as always, the show starts at 11:30PM.

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