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Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party (A TV on DVD Review)

Updated: May 12, 2022

Glenn O'Brien's TV Party

Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party

Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party

Premiere Episode 12/18/78

The Time & Make-Up Show 8/19/79

The Halloween Show 10/31/79 (Brinkfilm/MVD-2006)

The question isn’t this: how much can you endure of artsy New York hipsters who think they are smarter, cooler and more detached than you? The question is this: how do all the Lower East Side struggling artists – who this late seventies’ cable-access show is aimed at – afford cable?

We’ll never know, nor will we care, nor does Glenn O’Brien care if we know or care or not. Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party is a cultish cultural hiccup in that New York minute between the advent of cable TV and MTV, when anything went just to fill the empty, lonely after-hours for a spaced-out audience of hundreds.

O’Brien describes it like this: “it’s the TV show that’s a cocktail party that could be a political party.” There’s a message in there somewhere. In the meantime, as the crude computer graphics instruct us, “CALL NOW FOR A TV PARTY T-SHIRT AND NEWSLETTER.”

We all know how bad cable access television can be, from our own local experiences to the spoofs of them on Saturday Night Live, but this one in particular became a sort of classic. Debbie Harry, who for those five minutes was maybe the biggest pop star in the world, made for a chilly guest (she’s so cold she’s hot) and David Letterman has been known to say that this was one of his favorite TV shows (but was he being serious?). Steven Maisel, not yet the world’s most famous and celebrated photographer, had also made a brief appearance, as a stylist.

It’s George Clinton, of the funkadelic band Parliament, who sums it all up when asked by O’Brien, “what is too funky?”

“Evidently, nothing,” Clinton answers, looking around. This is while Fab Five Freddy, the early rapper, is dressed for Halloween as a dime bag.

O’Brien, a writer who is trying his best to be an enigma, hosts this mess, which is meant to be everything and nothing, deliberate and accidental all at once. Whatever you think of it, O’Brien and his band of merry men will try to make you think you’re wrong. Take it for what it is – and try to watch more than ten minutes of it if you can – there are long, awkward pauses, avant garde music (read: noise), rambling lectures, and a small studio audience made up of the creepy and the kooky. Everyone you would expect, and in black and white. Johnny Carson may have cigarette smoke wafting across his desk, but here, the smoke is of a more medicinal nature.

Most fun, however, is the newly cool idea of taking viewer’s phone calls (example: “you guys make disco look good, ya know that?”).  Feel free to call into the show and tell them how much they suck. In 1979, you didn’t even need to dial an area code.

Everyone here, without much effort, is easily having more fun than you are; it’s the wild side of New York, the anti-suburban dream of your youth; the New York life you want to live until the rent is due. It raises more questions than it answers: are they on to something or are they just on something?

Ronald Sklar

Copyright ©2007  All rights reserved.  Posted: January 15, 2007.

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