Creature Feature WQAD TV 8 Moline, Illinois

A Conversation with Bill Flannery, Co-creator of Chuck Acri's Creature Feature WQAD TV 8 Moline, Illinois

Bill Flannery is an independent producer-director, writer, narrator, cameraman, and editor. Most importantly to a generation of fans who grew up in the WQAD TV 8, Moline, Illinois viewing area, he is one of the co-creators of the legendary Acri Creature Feature.

I thought I would contact Don Molander ( Emmit ) and talk with him via phone and record our conversation so that the stories we remembered could be edited into an entertaining potpourri of audio clips.

I got hold of Don by calling him at home. I planned on recording our talk but Don was getting ready for his maiden voyage with his new camper. He agreed to stop and see me here in Nashville on his way to see some relatives who live in Alabama. We went to dinner last Saturday night and spent 4 1/2 hours talking about many things, including the Creature Feature.

He has very recently retired from Channel 8 after working there for 35 years.. ( and only for a short period of that time as Emmit ).

He was a top notch engineer, trouble shooter, and equipment teacher for most of those years at TV 8. Until Don's recent retirement, he was "right hand" man to Rick Serre, the longtime current Chief Engineer at Channel 8.

Don Raymond mentioned Don Molander casually in passing, as a camera man who played the role of "Emmit".

Here is a shot I took of Don Molander while he was here this past weekend.

Let me fill you in on Don Molander.

Don was the guy responsible for designing the entire set that was the original Creature Feature look. Kenny Gibson helped him do a lot of the finishing work.. but it was Don Molander who designed everything and built it from scratch.

I know this because: ( Here are a few more pieces to the story )

The Creature Feature was an idea that I initially started developing at the request of a very good TV 8 salesman named Clay Ratcliff. Clay was, like all of us involved in the Creature Feature, one of the "young" new employees at TV 8.

Clay came to me and said he had Magnavox interested in sponsoring some kind of late night movie presentation if I could come up with some kind of idea. At that time I was directly responsible for creating TV Spots, etc for Dimension Productions, our TV 8 in house production facility. Don Raymond was the other half of Dimension Productions. After about a month of preparation, which included a lot of work by Don Molander building the sets, our shooting of a couple of pilot film bits with Kenny Gibson and Don Molander playing their respective characters, we were all set to present the show idea to the "big wig" from Magnavox who Clay Ratcliff brought to the station. We all got a GOOD energy hit from what we had put together and were eager to show it off. All went well and we thought, well when do we start on the air ? The following Monday Clay Ratcliff came back to me personally to tell me that Magnavox thought it was a clever idea but a little too EXTREME to be connected with Magnavox trying to sell their component stereo equipment. Needless to say, I got a little upset having our efforts rejected.

I carried my upset feelings with me into the studio where I was working with Chuck Acri in helping him make one of his 10 sec commercials which offered a FREE pair of scissors with an Acri siding estimate. His earlier attempts with 10 sec spots produced just enough response where he was trying to improve it to do better response-wise. He was the pitchman on his 10 sec spot.

He overheard me talking to one of the studio cameramen and Don Molander about Magnavox pulling out as the sponsor.

Well, you can figure out the rest. Chuck wanted to see what this "Creature Feature" show was all about. Once he saw it, unlike the Magnavox guy, Chuck "got it". He immediately contacted Bill Snyder, who was the TV 8 Sales Director at the time and said that he wanted to assume full sponsorship of the show. They were surprised to say the least, a client that goes from buying 10 sec spots to sponsoring an entire show.. but happily signed him to a contract and took his money.

From that moment on, we were on a roll, as they say. Chuck put himself on the map commercially by taking a chance on an idea he believed in. Even after I left the show I continued to help Chuck produce several of his commercials. He was always very nice to me on every level. A good guy in my book.

Another forgotten, but powerful reason that the show was a success was due to TWO on air directors who were really GOOD. They were Ron Epstein ( Eppy Barney ) and Ken ( Butch ) Bailey. I would not think of taping our weekly show unless Ron or Ken were calling the shots in the booth. They always got the right shot at the right time which made the "schtick" work that Don and I did in front of the cameras. They would always ask if we were satisfied or would we like to shoot it again. Strangely, there were hardly ever any 2nd takes because they made it look right the first time. By the way.. many times whichever one directed, the other would run camera in the studio. They were GOOD.

Another unsung hero.. a little gal named Patty Edmunds, who, at the time, worked in the traffic dept of TV 8. Patty was always in our Vincent & Emmit bits regularly. I remember shooting a bit with Patty at a Laundromat in Moline where Vincent Chokes her into unconsciousness, loads her into a dryer, borrows a quarter from Emmit, feeds it to the dryer, we then cut to a shot of Emmit watching Patty going around in the dryer like he was watching a TV program. I remember having to shoot the bit over several times because I kept breaking up laughing while I was trying to shoot them. They were GENUINELY funny.. that's when I knew for sure that the "Creature Feature" was something unique.

And.. Don Molander will verify this for you: In all of the original stuff we did the first year or two we usually worked collectively to think up bits on the spot while we were shooting them. The laundromat was an example of that. Patty was about 4' 10" tall and weighed about 90 pounds, which is why we used her.. because she could easily fit herself into the dryer, which was cooked up on the spot.

By the way, our trademark of all the bits through the first year was that the background music in nearly 90% of them was usually an instrumental cut by the "Ventures".

The thing that any of us who were connected with the show were the MOST proud of was that the Creature Feature was pulling audience ratings that for a late night weekend time slot were unheard of. This eventually turned to greed by our sales dept because they insisted that Chuck grant them the right to ADD and sell three additional breaks in the show because there was such a large viewing audience. ( $$$ )

Chuck acquiesced to the sales dept's wishes but I always felt that was a turning point that somewhat dissapated the power and popularity of the show. It was always my idea that ALL breaks should always have Vincent and Emmit connected to them. That's why people faithfully, in droves, waited for the next commercial break, to SEE what they would do next. When the additional breaks came into play, which Vincent & Emmit were NOT in, it just made me feel like we had started to be part of a watered down version. ( I know, us production guys are weird about stuff like that. )

Don Raymond and I started the show and departed the show with only the TWO main characters played by Gibson and Molander. My idea of how to deliver the show in the beginning was nothing more than a reflection of what I watched as a kid, which were old Abbott & Costello movies.. you have TWO characters and EVERYTHING revolves around them. That was how I saw Vincent and Emmit.

Those EXTRA non-character commercial breaks, along with the additional characters they phased in, let some of the air out of the balloon from my perspective. We were forced to take the simplicity out of it. Most of the time real good things happen if you can find a way to keep it simple.. less is more.

I believe when Don Raymond and I moved off the show is when they added to the cast of characters. I did not know the other people who became involved as characters. We were no longer in charge of producing or hosting the show.

One more thing.. I remember the name "Vincent Hedges" being coined when my son, Bill Jr, 5 years old at the time, referred to his mother's cigarettes as Vincent & Hedges. We were in the production office at TV 8 at the time and I remember writing that down.

I went to Kenny Gibson the next day and said how about calling your character Vincent Hedges. Kenny's response was an immediate smile as he said, "cool, I like it". By the way, Ken Gibson was extremely good, and probably as good as anyone I've seen at doing site gags. He had great timing and was always into his character all the way. I was sorry to hear of his recent passing. God Bless Him. ( Don Raymond mentioned theat Kenny's Character's name came about because Kenny smoked Benson and Hedges cigarettes... not true.. when I first started working with Kenny he smoked Pall Mall and Pall Mall Lights.)

He is, unlike the Emmit character he played, a very intelligent and sensitive guy.. which is probably why his character, like Kenny's, was so well received. Molander and Gibson were the core reason for the entire success of the Creature Feature.

You can get my bio from my website: www.flanneryproductions.com It's the link - "Flannery" located to the far right of the header links. Yes, I did my own website. I'm still very much active as a working producer on ALL levels.

One more time.. thanks again guys for your interest in something that was a memorable part of my life many moons ago.

Click here to go to Acri Creature Feature's co-creator Don (Welch) Raymond's page

Click here to go to The House of Jitter's Acri Creature Feature tribute page

Click here to go to Captain Ernie's Showboat

Click here to email me!

Special thanks to Dave Coopman, author of "Someplace Special ... KSTT" for the image scan of the original Channel 8 logo.

01/18/2008 ... I was looking at your site with your cast of characters from Acri Creature Feature. Herb Block was not mentioned as the Wolfgang Schultz character. I would love to see any film footage of Herb on Creature Feature if it exists. He also had an assistant named Dolly on the show.

Thank you! - Susan Devlin

01/18/2008 ... Michael Bara wrote: My uncle Herb Block was the host of Acri Creature Features. His role was as Wolfgang Schultz. I forgot to mention that our family saw one episode of Acri Creature Features in the summer of 1967. Remember at that time the television stations didn't stay on 24/7 as they do now. As a matter of fact, at that time of the night, you only had two choices, one either watched Acri Creature Features or no television at all!!! as that was the only program on in the late night. I remember my uncle describing how he did the intro into the show. He wore a black graduation gown and he stuck his face through a piece of cardboard so all one could see was his face. When the show started they played some creepy music as my uncle started talking in a goofy German accent as the camera panned in on him from a distance. It appeared as if my uncles face was floated in air and he would introduce the movie for that night and yes he did a Schick in between commercial breaks.

01/18/2008 ... Creature Feature Co-Creator Bill Flannery wrote;

'Wolfgang Schultz' was a off and on character we used in the very early days of the Creature Feature.

I use the term off and on character because he was not always available every week due to the fact that the character was played by none other than Herb Block, who was at that time, a member of the WQAD sales staff. Herb was a likeable guy and fun to work with. He did it just for the fun of contributing to the show.

As I recall he was fairly successful as a WQAD salesman. I'm not sure but he may have played the 'Wolfgang Shultz' character on one of the TV-8 kid shows that occurred prior to the Creature Feature as well.