Wednesday, August 9, 2017

0043: Cast Your Rice Upon The Waters

I can't remember if the first John Waters movie I saw was "Pink Flamingos" or "Polyester", but I'm pretty sure I've seen all of them, from "The Diane Linkletter Story" to "A Dirty Shame". Nowadays he's mostly writing books and hosting film festivals, but his name has been registering on my radar for years. Turning back the clock ten years, he started 2007 by appearing as a funeral director in an episode of "My Name Is Earl" in January. In February, for Valentine's Day, New Line Records released a compilation of love songs called "A Date With John Waters", a sequel to the popular "A John Waters Christmas"(2004). Both were various artists albums for which Waters wrote liner notes to songs he selected around a holiday theme.

So what to do for March when you're not Irish? Why, star in a new basic cable TV series, of course! Waters had been telling interviewers for years that he loved attending murder trials and only stopped when people started recognizing him and he became concerned about being a distraction in a serious legal proceeding. That's not to say that he lost interest in true crime stories. And the more bizarre the circumstances, the better. So, a series on CourtTV seemed a natural match. After shooting a pilot in 2006, he went to narrate 13 episodes of "'Til Death Do Us Part" in the character of "The Groom Reaper", who was sort of a cross between Rod Serling in "The Twilight Zone" and any of the EC horror hosts.

Each episode would open with the Groom Reaper at a wedding or its reception, speaking directly to the audience. Unlike Serling, however, it was always clear that he was physically there, interacting with the events, even though the other attendants never noticed that he was speaking to an invisible third party.

The bulk of each half hour episode would then consist of actors playing out a dramatized version of an actual, real-life murder case in which one spouse killed the other and was eventually caught. (They had to have been caught, because otherwise we would never have had the story.) Waters didn't write, direct or produce any of the episodes, he only performed in them, which was a departure for him. Most of his performing credits have been cameos, often in his own movies as a gag, or else voice work. After sprinkling some of those voice overs onto choice parts of the story, the episodes would end with the Groom Reaper emerging at the killer's apprehension, arrest or trial for one last wry observation before telling the viewers, "I've got another wedding to go to. I hope it's not yours."

I remember the airings to be oddly spotty, even by basic cable standards. They seemed to skip every third week  and, while many basic cable channels (like TBS or Comedy Central) will run the new episodes of original shows several times during the week (including time slots they expect to be low performing, like midnight to dawn), "'Til Death Do Us Part" had its one airing in primetime. After three months it was gone, with only half of its episodes aired. It also ran in Canada, under the name "Love You To Death", possibly to avoid confusion with the American sitcom also being produced that year, "'Til Death" (with Brad Garrett and Joely Fisher).

By the end of the year, CourtTV had been converted into TruTV, which announced that one of its guiding principles would be that they would use only genuine footage. Even though TDDUP was based on true stories it was technically scripted and shot, complete with (out of necessity) fabricated dialogue just like "Dragnet" or "Naked City" (well, maybe not just like them...). A year later, in mod-2008, it was made available as a 3-DVD set from Navarre (UPC# 787364-818198). Soon after, TruTV's claims about keeping things real proved to be disingenuous as the crime and law enforcement orientation of CourtTV was replaced with skeevy "real footage" programs about repo men, dangerous occupations in remote areas and out of work D-list 'celebrities' (Tonya Harding, Danny Bonaduce, Todd Bridges...) cracking jokes about security camera footage. After five years of failing to knock AMC (or anyone else) out of the Emmys, it switched format to comedy, including scripted shows like "Adam Ruins Everything". However much the network rubs me the wrong way, I can't get too mad at "Adam...", "Talk Show: The Game Show" or some others that have emerged since then. Those shows are at least funny, unlike the network's most aired show recently, "Impractical Jokers". It's scheduled to run 37 half-hour episodes tomorrow alone. That's not a special occasion, it's a typical day. And I would like to point out that seven of the remaining eleven half-hours  are infomercials, which frankly would be preferable to "Impractical Jokers", which is so appallingly cringe-inducing that I can confidently say that I've seen funnier things with Sarah McLachlan singing in the background.
About the promo comic itself, it's a coverless 16 page freebie that I picked up at my regular direct market comics specialty store. Scans of the first three pages are above and page 14 is on the left here. It adapts the first episode from the premiere on March 19, 2007, which aired along with the third episode. The few episodes that aired jumped around the production schedule, which is less harmful in an anthology series like this than it would be in a show with fixed characters. It cuts off half way through that episode, where the commercial break would be. In some episodes viewers were encouraged to text in which spouse they believed would murder the other in the second half. That seemed like a kind of dated approach in 2007, just as multi-platform viewing was becoming the norm.

The comic is also a DC production, whose editors were also working on "Connor Hawke: Dragon's Blood" at the time. Later in the year they would edit promo comics for Batman and Cal Ripken, Jr. (given out at Camden yards) and another for JLA and Con Edison. James Peaty was doing random fill-in issues for various DC titles then. Later he would write "Good Looking Corpse", the next to last story arc in "Supergirl" in 2011 before it was cancelled for New52. Adam Dekraker also hopped around, not only at DC but other publishers. He might be best known for working on the "Smallville" comic and did the "Forerunner" feature in Countdown to Adventure after this. Inker Dan Davis, letterer Pat Brosseau and colorist Guy Major are all DC perennials 

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