10 Weird and Wonderful Public-Access TV Shows

Public-access television refers to free channels that host programming created by members of the public, typically on a first-come, first-serve basis. Before the era of online content through platforms such as YouTube, they often served as the only means for amateur filmmakers to broadcast their creations to the wider public.

Thanks to a lack of regulation or quality control, public access shows have often featured low-budget, controversial, and sometimes outright bizarre shows from people who would likely have otherwise never seen their creative visions realized on television. Here, we will look at ten of the most fascinating such programs.

Related: 10 Dirtiest Kids Shows

10 rAw TiMe

Airing out of Austin, Texas, between the late 1990s and early 2000s, rAw TiMe showcased an eclectic mix of music videos that ranged from Björk to Rammstein. Despite the rAw TiMe proudly proclaiming it was not a “requests” show, a range of hosts would take calls live on air between the videos. The clear standout among these hosts was a goth named Tinarina (aka Tiffy).

During her timeslots, callers regularly subjected Tinarina to an endless stream of catcalls, insults, and abuse. Yet, despite only being a teenager, Tinarina managed each call with a trademark cynical tone, witty responses, and an untouchable composure. Her ability to withstand such hatred, seemingly unscathed, made her a cult hit among fans. However, since leaving the show, Tinarina has chosen to remain out of the spotlight, in a move that feels like the final snub to trolls worldwide.[1]

9 Stairway to Stardom

Stairway to Stardom was a variety talent show that aired out of New York City during the 1980s. Many have described it as the “original American Idol.” And there is no denying that there is a resemblance to early audition sessions on that show in the sense that you are never quite sure what you are going to get.

However, with its basic studio setup, encouraging presenter, and captivatingly unique performances, there is something altogether more mystical to Stairway to Stardom that no modern show could replicate.

The performers on Stairway to Stardom, who ranged from wannabe pop stars to comedians, dancers, and amateur actors, were not always the most talented. But what no one can deny is that they were always passionate. The result was often some unforgettable television.[2]

8 Sister Who Presents

Sister Who is a self-described nun and spiritual educator, and during the 1990s, she hosted a talk show out of Denver, Colorado, about life and spirituality.

With their unique spiraled make-up and outfit, Sister Who’s appearance is undeniably a little frightening at first. However, unlike other public access shows at the time, the program was not designed to be outlandish. Despite the visual theatrics, the presenter made a genuine attempt to connect with the audience.

The presenter still keeps a website where you can find their albums, hiking pictures, and the occasional new episode of the show.[3]

7 The Asylum for Shut-Ins: Video Psychotherapy

The Asylum for Shut-Ins was a public access television show that aired during the late ’80s out of Cleveland, Ohio. Its purpose? To disturb its viewers.

Hosted by a manic sunglasses-sporting ventriloquist dummy known as “The Doctor,” The Asylum for Shut-Ins consisted almost entirely of disturbing clips sourced from horror films, music videos, and a range of other content. But the show’s terror lies not in its material but in the way that material is cut and edited together in a disjointed fashion.

The show was the brainchild of Ted Zbozien, a professional editor still working in the film business today. And the show was essentially a means for him to flex his skills. In any case, The Asylum for Shut-Ins remains an endurance challenge to all but the most hardened horror fans.[4]

6 Mystic Kids Funtime

Mystic Kids Funtime might sound like a children’s show. But do not let the name fool you. Mystic Kids Funtime is closer to a psychedelic trip for the eyes than anything meant for minors.

The show was created by Ross Wilsey, who is the mastermind behind a variety of other puppet-orientated programs. Like many of Wilsey’s other shows, Mystic Kids Funtime is hosted by a puppet—in this case, a quasi-spiritual guide called the “Mystic Guru” or “Holy One.”

Beyond that, the program defies most explanations. But its hallucinatory slow-motion and color-swirling effects, the guru’s bizarre outbursts, and the odd editing choices result in a unique experience.[5]

5 Dinner Dancing with Frank Pacholski

Dinner Dancing with Frank Pacholski was a public-access show that featured the Los Angeles-based Pacholski performing interpretive dance to a ring of confused senior citizens while wearing undies bearing the United States flag. Already, that is a pretty weird setup for a show. But things only get stranger from there.

After serving his bemused guests with salad dressing, Pacholski pours the rest of the dressing over himself. From there, the dancer continues to rub, drench, and dunk himself in various food items while bagpipes play in the background. By the end of the ordeal, Frank is covered head-to-toe in food.

Why did Frank Pacholski create this show? We may never know. But thanks to Los Angeles public access, this actually appeared on television before making its way to the internet.[6]

4 The One Man Show: Spirit of Truth

The One Man Show was a Los Angeles public access show starring the energetic and foul-mouthed preacher Don Vincent (aka Vincent Stewart). Vincent spent much of the show giving profanity-laden and highly aggressive sermons where he described himself as “God” while talking smack to any callers who disagreed with him.

Despite his five-year run, Vincent and The One Man Show seemed destined for obscurity after the program was dropped when he mooned the camera and asked viewers to “look for sin.” However, Vincent’s tirades later found him fame after clips of his show went viral online and attracted attention from Howard Stern and Daniel Tosh.[7]

3 Unwind with the Sweeties

First broadcast in 1991, Unwind with the Sweeties features a man and woman couple known as the “Sweeties” hanging out and performing mundane activities like shopping, sitting around reading magazines, or singing to themselves. But with their unnerving ski mask get-up and unsettling aura, there is nothing mundane about the Sweeties.

The show is nonsensical, surreal, and seemingly random at the best of times. However, it has since garnered a cult following online. For better or worse, little is known about the people behind the program, their intentions, or their motivations. In any case, you will probably struggle to do any unwinding with this duo.[8]

2 The Church of Shooting Yourself

The Church of Shooting Yourself was a weekly half-hour TV series aired on the Manhattan Neighborhood Network in the 1990s. The show starred Rik Little as Rik Arithmetic, a faux-newsman reporting on events in the East Village and the wider world. His mission was to document his sinful behavior and preach his new religion: the Church of Shooting Yourself.

Rik’s religion sounds morbid until you realize the “shooting” here refers to using a camera. According to Rik, while God exists, he is too busy to oversee every little mistake we make as individuals. Therefore, he wants us to take over that responsibility by recording ourselves at all times so we can review everything we do and repent as necessary.

Aside from the odd premise and preaching, Rik also captures some incredible on-the-ground reporting, including scenes of overzealous policing. As a result, the show often switches between being a hard-hitting documentary and a platform for artistically erratic expression. The result blurs the lines between reality and fiction in the most jarring way possible.[9]

1 Let’s Paint TV

Originally airing on Eagle Rock Public Access, Let’s Paint TV centered around its host, John Kilduff, attempting to paint, exercise, and perform a variable third task while taking calls from viewers. Imagine Bob Ross presenting The Joy of Painting while on a treadmill and shaving his beard, and you will get the basic idea.

As you might expect from the premise, things rarely work out well for John. His paintings look like a child’s work, the exercises quickly wind him, and he often gets flustered from all the multitasking. But according to John, that is the whole point of the show, as he noted in an interview with Vice:

“It’s not my job to make a masterpiece and succeed. It’s my job to be there and persevere and experiment and fail and keep going.”

Today, John’s show continues online, where he is still largely ignored by the mainstream media. However, his inspirational message and showmanship struck a chord with many, including comedian Eric Andre, who once described him as an “idol.”[10]

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