So, um, when you made “Don’t Touch That Dial,” did you ever dream it would be an opening act for a feature film about Mr. Rogers? Because it was.
It started as a video experiment, an idea inspired by the late Ric Sternberg‘s great video short, “TV Dinner,” a play on video and American culture. Working night shift at the Brown Schools’ Ranch, I dragged an ACTV camera and a couple of video decks into the small conference room of our brand-new dorm. I spent all night moving cameras and shooting the short clips that I could assemble into the final piece. Later, my roommate, Blaze and his bandmate, Jacob, added the audio and “Don’t Touch That Dial!” sprang to life.
Finalist for Best Short in 1983 Hometown USA Festival
Almost immediately, it started to take on a life of its own. At just two minutes, it worked great as a filler clip between longer programs, so it quickly saw heavy rotation on ACTV. It got me recognition, first locally, with folks coming up to me (especially at work), saying, “I saw you on TV last night” and bursting out laughing. It was a pleasant sort of not-quite-fame.
Then the clip made the finals for short video in the Hometown U.S.A. access video festival. That year, ACTV had something like 14 finalists, so we touted that accomplishment proudly, boosting my notoriety further. It also boosted my reputation within the ACTV family of producers and staff, and the next thing I knew, I found myself asked to run as producer representative to the Board of Directors — and winning. That led to a harrowing tale of access leadership and controversies that I’m not going to go into here.
Time passed. I stopped making ACTV videos, and memory of the little tidbit of absurdity faded with the years.
When YouTube came along later, I pounced on the opportunity to post some of my older videos. Even videos with less than stellar production values (most of mine were shot in poorly lit settings) were acceptable on the tiny YouTube screen. Of course, “Don’t Touch That Dial!” found a new home on YouTube.
And there it stayed, garnering few views — still fewer than 500 after 12 years on the web.
Then, last week, a couple of friends from high school went to an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema to see the movie, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” Of course, they went early enough to catch the pre-show the Alamo always puts together for each show based on the theme of the movie. For a movie about a TV series, they of course tapped old TV-related videos — and there was “Don’t Touch That Dial!” up on the Big Screen, warming up the crowd for Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers.
As my friend, Robert put it, “So, um, when you made Don’t Touch That Dial, did you ever dream it would be an opening act for a feature film about Mr. Rogers? Because it was.”
At long last — fame!