(KGET) — Rich Koz has been entertaining audiences – both on a local and national level – for more than four decades through his work as the macabre TV host of “Svengoolie.” The long-running program began in the Chicago area but for the past 10 years has been airing across the country as it airs at 8 p.m. Saturdays on “MeTV.
“Svengoolie” has become a fixture on Saturday nights – particularly during the pandemic as those staying at home looked for original programming. Koz provides a comic commentary as the host of movies so old you can almost see the dust on them. Past offerings have included “Abbott and Costello Go to Mars,” “Dr. Phibes,” “Attack of the Puppet People,” “Island of Lost Souls” and “It Happened at the World’s Fair.”
His connection started with the character before he ever put on the makeup. The role of Svengoolie was originally played by Jerry G. Bishop from 1970-1973. Koz was a college student at Northwestern University with a passion to be in radio when he started sending Bishop suggestions for things that could be said on the air.
He never imagined that he would still be slipping into the makeup (a process that’s gotten a lot quicker over the years) to host the show this long.
“Back then I was just a fan of Jerry G. Bishop. I loved his work on radio as well as TV,” Koz says. “It was just part of me being a fan just sending him material and ideas. The thrill at the time was hearing him mention my name.”
Koz wasn’t think about getting a job with the show. He was a fan of the horror and science fiction movie genres but what intrigued him the most was the entertainment part of the program. He liked that the show was a way to do comedy and be part of the broadcast world.
Eventually Koz got a job working on the show. When Bishop decided to move on, he passed the makeup on to Koz. He’s not certain how many shows he has hosted but it is in the neighborhood of 2,000 episodes. He’s featured some films several times but he always updates his material for each telecast.
“We are doing new stuff all the time but it helps when it is a film we have run in the past because I have a little more familiarity with it,” Koz says.
Any help with writing material for the show is important as Koz comes up with the all the jokes, gags and puns on his own. He does get help from Doug Scharf with the music.
One film has really become a major fan favorite. The May 1 film, “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” starring Don Knotts has become an annual tradition because it draws such a large viewing audience.
“You have to attribute the popularity of ‘The Ghost and Mr. Chicken’ to Don Knotts more than anything else. But, it’s also a fun movie and has some good scary parts,” Koz says. “Another film that is very popular is ‘Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.’ We get so many requests for that.”
One of the reason viewers have developed favorites is that they watch because there has been a consistency to the show over the decades. The production looks like it is being done in a basement (or dungeon) with no fancy lighting or graphic elements. The closest thing to an update is the simultaneous use of Twitter with the hashtag #svengoolie that allows viewers the chance to comment on the show.
Koz is happy he has been allowed to continue doing the show that same way because he believes there is no reason to try to fix a product that is already working so well. He wants the show to look like the kind of movie showcase that was a staple of so many local television stations in the past. That creates a nostalgia for the viewer and a perfect match for MeTV with its retro programming schedule.
Koz is thrilled there are certain movies the fans want to see repeatedly. On the other hand, there are certain movies that he would be happy never seeing again. Top of that list is the film “The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T” that was written by Dr. Seuss. That film got major negative reaction from viewers.
Whether it is work on a film that has been presented in the past or a new film to suffer the comic wrath of Svengoolie (a term that comes from the combination of Svengali and goolie) the process is the same. It starts with Koz screening the film and taking detailed notes. He decides if and where the film needs to be cut to fit the two-hour time slot. Before the pandemic, Koz would go into the studio to record the show after all of the material has been written. Because of quarantine, he has been filming the show at his home.
As for how long he would like to continue his work as Svengoolie, Koz laughs at the question of whether he wants to die with his makeup on.
“I know I have the readymade coffin but that would not be the best thing to happen,” Koz says. “Right now I joke that it took me 40 years to become an overnight success. We are doing so well nationally and it is so gratifying that I am still having a good time with it.”