This is my long, meandering tribute to WPIX.
In the various iterations of my childhood bedroom, there was always a television but never a cable box. I quickly learned that most broadcast TV networks were only good for Saturday cartoons and weeknight sitcoms.
WPIX — aka “Channel 11” — filled every other gap. It was what I watched when I got home from school, and through the deadest parts of the weekend, and during my latest waking hours. It was my default channel. The mutant soundtrack of my private life. Always there, always on.
Until 1994, WPIX was a smallish, independent TV station, but one that aired — in the New York area, at least — on broadcast television. Even as a kid, I recognized that it wasn’t on the same level as ABC, NBC or CBS. In many ways, it felt like the mom-and-pop version of a TV station. Like something George Newman would’ve thrown together if he were a little more serious.
I loved it so damn much.
WPIX billed itself as “New York’s movie station,” but that was only half of the story. From sitcom reruns to weekday cartoons to special spookfests, WPIX shaped more of my passions than I’ve ever given it credit for.
It took months to gather the materials for this tribute. Only after raiding dozens of old VHS tapes could I confidently make WPIX’s case. Given that a comparative few of you have ever even heard of WPIX, I can’t say that it was a smart use of resources.
Whatever. I don’t care. This one’s just for me.
Below are seven reasons why WPIX was the best.
1) WPIX was THE station to watch after school.
It had stiff competition from Fox, but during the years that mattered most to someone my age, WPIX was what you watched when you got home from school. From 3-5 PM, every single weekday.
Around here, WPIX was the station that ran TMNT on weekdays — complete with those weird bumpers that were voiced by some ungodly combination of Krang and Bebop. Perhaps even more importantly, WPIX was where you settled in for The Disney Afternoon.
Despite TMNT’s run on Saturday mornings, kids like me never considered it a “Saturday” cartoon. Instead, it was our reward for getting through another riotously bad day at school. My obsession with the Ninja Turtles never would’ve taken root without those weekday airings.
And The Disney Afternoon? Forget it. Two straight hours of cartoons, beginning at 3 and ending at 5. It was the perfect procrastinational tool.
(For the record, I was most fond of the original Disney Afternoon lineup, which consisted of Gummi Bears, DuckTales, Rescue Rangers and TaleSpin. I accepted Darkwing Duck well enough, but never forgave Goof Troop for knocking Scrooge McDuck into retirement.)
2) Those spooky promos.
WPIX ran plenty of horror movies, and virtually all of them had custom promo spots. Since WPIX was less conservative than the bigger networks, those promos could be downright frightening.
Watch that spot for Salem’s Lot, and then compare it to what CBS aired years earlier. The WPIX version is disturbing even by today’s standards, and keep in mind, you might’ve seen that promo during completely saccharine afternoon sitcoms.
Since horror had such a home on WPIX, commercial breaks were always games of roulette. I was easily spooked as a kid, and you just never knew when something like that Salem’s Lot promo was gonna rise up and bite you.
If that sounds like me complaining, I’m not! In retrospect, I see that those promos added an air of excitement to all of WPIX’s programming. Even during a goddamned Happy Days rerun, you were never safe.
As I’ve said before, you’re never bored when you’re scared.
3) WPIX made me a horror fan.
Even if some of the promos scared me, watching horror movies was a natural byproduct of watching WPIX. In fact, the first horror movies I ever saw on purpose were on WPIX.
That was largely thanks to their horror marathons and “stunts.” Some would last a weekend, others might go for a whole week, and still others — like Shocktober — could eat up an entire month. You couldn’t avoid them, and after seeing the awesome promos for the zillionth time, you stopped wanting to.
You’ve probably heard me gush about Shocktober before. During October of 1991 and again in ‘92, WPIX spent the Halloween season running horror movies on an almost-nightly basis — everything from Elvira: Mistress of the Dark to The Wraith to Deadly Friend.
I still remember watching Dream Warriors during Shocktober, and feeling like I’d just discovered a new theme park. Horror was fun! (And hell, those TV edits — free of the worst gore — made it easy for a rookie like me to dip his toe.)
4) Movies anytime, movies everywhere.
WPIX had a huge movie library, and they slugged those fuckers in all over the place. Piranha II, Saturday at 2? Sure, why not?
Most of the movies had long since completed their exclusive runs on cable networks. They weren’t “new” by anyone’s measure. WPIX occasionally scored broadcast television premieres, but it was usually with the sorts of movies that bigger networks wouldn’t have wanted.
It was a major contributor to what would become one of my lifelong credos. I’ve been running “nostalgia websites” for the better part of twenty years, but for me, nostalgia is the secondary point. It’s not that I think things are good because they’re old, it’s that I don’t like to let good things die simply because they’re old.
I think I learned that from WPIX. Channel 11 may not have been much of a creator, but it was one hell of a curator. With all of those great promos masterfully voiced by the late Doug Paul, WPIX could make ten-year-old movies seem as fresh and cool as ever. WPIX didn’t “dust off” — it propped up.
5) Sitcom crash courses.
If you’re younger than me and have ever wondered why people my age seem to have encyclopedic knowledge on an impossibly huge number of sitcoms, it’s because of stations like WPIX.
WPIX spent 3-4 hours on sitcoms every weeknight, and sometimes even more during the weekend. Most of those sitcoms were long out of production, but others — like, say, Growing Pains — were still in the midst of their prime time runs on bigger networks.
There was a huge difference between watching Growing Pains once a week on ABC and watching it ten times a week on WPIX. The latter was binge-watching before binge-watching was a thing. I don’t know if I’ve ever considered myself a genuine fan of The Hogan Family, but I could tell you literally every teensy weird thing about that show.
6) Late nights with WPIX.
I was a night owl, and my bedroom was my sanctuary. As a kid who could only stomach talk shows on special occasions, WPIX was the only broadcast station that aired reasonably watchable things during the late hours.
WPIX’s late night lineups changed many times over the years, but some of the more prominently-featured shows were Cheers, The Honeymooners and Tales from the Darkside. At various points in WPIX’s existence, each of them had the 11:30 PM weekday time slot, effectively acting as the “last call” for anyone needing a distraction.
I always did.
Because I usually saw Cheers just before hours of nothingness, I view it differently than most. For me, that was a sad show. A signal that the night was over. It only now hits me that the Cheers ending theme wasn’t nearly as depressing as I’ve long considered it to be.
The Honeymooners was already ancient even back then, and I can’t imagine that many same-aged kids were fellow viewers. Hey, it was either Ralph Kramden or a thirty-minute commercial for Cathy’s Snackmaster. Most of the time, Ralph won.
Naturally, Tales from the Darkside was my favorite of WPIX’s “final” shows. It made sleep an attractive prospect, because what kid wanted to sneak around a dark, lifeless house after watching that? It was a safe sedative for the sugar-rushed.
7) WPIX made even the worst weekends bearable.
I was a lonely kid, and the weekends could be rough. Even the thickest stack of comics to bag and board couldn’t keep me from thinking that I should be out there, somewhere, doing things with actual people.
WPIX was a surrogate friend, and I never appreciated my buddy more than I did on Saturday afternoons. As good as the big networks were on weeknights, they could be absolutely wretched during the weekend.
On WPIX, a random Saturday might’ve been stuffed with eight syndicated shows. I savored them all. They made noise when I needed noise most. Television brings a vague sense of camaraderie, and knowing that there were other people watching Captain Picard at the same time made me feel so much less alone.
I could go on, but this is already over 1500 words and I don’t want to melt your brain.
WPIX became affiliated with Warner Bros. Television in 1994, and was eventually rebranded as The WB 11. It wasn’t the same station that I’d grown up with, but it wouldn’t have mattered if it was. By the later part of the ‘90s, I finally had places to be and people to see. WPIX lasted for exactly as long as I needed it to.
In my spaciest moments, that seems like too much of a coincidence to be one.