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Waiting for ERB



By Tom Soter

I’m sorry we don’t still have the first episode of the EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS DISCUSSION HOUR. If we did, it might help explain how this bizarre series came to be. I know that Tom Sinclair and I created it, that it was born out of our love of the works of fantasist Edgar Rice Burroughs, but beyond that, I don’t know what we were thinking. If we weren’t only 12 years old when we first did it, I’d say we were high.

But maybe we were high: how else to explain a “discussion hour” that that ran for roughly 15 minutes and had very little discussion (unless reading off lists of book titles and giving brief plot synopses passes for informed talk). But I guess the EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS THREE-QUARTERS-OF-AN HOUR LIST AND PLOT SUMMARY SHOW was too unwieldy a title. And what he hell did Paul Mauriat’s “Love Is Blue” theme have to do with ERB? (It’s almost as inappropriate as the jaunty opening for WHERE MONSTERS DWELL, another bizarre show Sinclair and I concocted.)

I would speculate that the show started off as a fairly straightforward attempt to talk about our fondness for the works of Burroughs (which also led to a pretty lousy adaptation of the Pellucidar novels for ACD). The first two episodes of the ERB DISCUSSION HOUR were taped in 1968, when our voices were still falsetto-sounding, and our intentions earnest. When we revived the show two years later, however, our voices had gotten deeper and so had our intentions: we must have seen (at least partially) the absurdity of the concept and turned the series into a parody of afternoon and late-night gabfests on TV. Poking fun at the studied air of informality and bonhomie that talk show hosts Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas had perfected, the last four episodes of the ERB DISCUSSION HOUR are a study in inspired inanity.

Consider: we all played ourselves – I was Tom Soter, the informed host. Tom (“Siny”) Sinclair was my most frequent guest. Christian Doherty was my co-host (on the third episode). But we also played the guests. I portrayed Hedwig Zorb, a star of PLANET OF THE NUNS and was also Sam Rosen, co-star of MUGGER. Siny played Sam’s brother Jack and sound-alike Southerner Marty Phillips of BEC’s HUCK FINN (and also appeared as Joe Bolton/Ron Neilsen, another BEC star). Christian turned up as Ruth Chas, star of PLANET OF THE NUNS and Patrick Johnson, from GUN FOR HENRY. Then there were the cameos by Siny’s “Jack Phelps,” the baritone technician who keeps interrupting the discussions on the last two episodes to make pithy comments (he identifies himself as the series’ cameraman, although why a cameraman would be needed on an audio-only show is never explained).

The format for the hosts and “guests” is simple: we talk to ourselves, seemingly about anything and everything but Burroughs. Ruth Chas talks about her upcoming marriage to Nigel Manger (another fictional actor, played by yours truly on TALES OF MYSTERY). Marty Phillips says things like, “The problem with the world is there aren’t enough southerners in it,” to which guest host Hedwig Zorb replies, “That’s stupid.” Hedwig threatens to leave in middle of the show because the program “nauseates” her. Sinclair is astounded by the high volume of commercial breaks and, over a number of shows, comments on the lack of substance or worthwhile discussion (at the conclusion of the fifth episode he says, “Another show wasted”). At one point, Jack and Sam Rosen talk about their accents; at another, Sam reveals he doesn’t like Marty Phillips (who actually sounds just like his brother – no wonder, too, since both are played by Sinclair).

When the discussion occasionally drifts to Burroughs, it is equally inane: Sinclair goes on a tear about how the movies “exploit” great literary figures like Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes (but backpedals from his principled stand almost immediately when he admits he likes the bumbling Watson figure in the Sherlock Holmes movies, which of course has nothing to do with ERB). The Rosens get their Burroughs titles confused, and the German-accented Hedwig Zorb reveals that her favorite Burroughs book is one featuring a German hero.

It’s all quite ridiculous, with even the hosts commenting on how bad it is. Indeed, how can you take a show seriously that, for its sixth and final episode, offers a “clip” show of greatest moments from previous shows? It is almost Beckett-like in its celebration of the emptiness of life. It is, in fact, an early “reality” show, where the inane becomes profound, where nothing is everything, and where Christian Doherty can say, with an apparent straight face, “We hope this [episode] will be more of a treat for you. Our last two shows have not been the best,” and then, say to an unseen host offering him a drink, “Yes I’ll have some punch, too.”

Listen to:
Lists and Plot Summaries
Episode 2. Taped: 1968.
Guests Robert Smith and Tom Sinclair discuss Back to the Stone Age and Tarzan and the Golden Lion.

I'll Have Some Punch Too
Episode 3. Taped: June 25, 1970
Guests: Tom Sinclair, Hedwig Zorb, Alan Saly, and Ruth Chas. Host: Tom Soter.

Another Show Wasted
Episode 4. Taped: August 24, 1970
Guest host Tom Sinclair welcomes guests Marty Phillips, Hedwig Zorb, and Sam and Jack Rosen.

There Aren't Enough Southerners
Episode 5. Taped: September 5, 1970
Guest host Hedwig Zorbs talks about ERB with Marty Phillips and Jack Rosen.

The Final (Clip) Show
Episode 6. Taped: September 5, 1970.
In the final episode of the series, host Tom Soter talks with Tom Sinclair, and reviews past installments of the talkfest.