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Rox cable pioneers to celebrate 20th anniversary of locally made program
By Mike Leonard June 3, 2012 331-4368 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Joe Nickell and Bart Everson laugh about it now, like you would after pulling off a magniﬁcent prank or elaborate practical joke. Actually, they laughed about it then, too, even though it did consume an unhealthy portion of their time and energy. Their livers have yet to report back. But from the “who woulda thunk it” department comes the announcement that there will be a 20th anniversary DVD Release Party at the Comedy Attic in early July, celebrating the pioneering Bloomington-based cable access television show “J&B on the Rox” and the years-in-the-making transfer of the 22-episode ﬁrst season from VHS tape to DVD. It’s only partial tongue-in-cheek hyperbole when they write that the show, launched in 1992, was one of the most celebrated cable access shows of all time. It was, at the time, described as “the best TV show in America” by Wired magazine and “the ﬁrst TV show in cyberspace” by Time. There’s also validity in Nickell’s assessment that the early episodes, shot with a single camera on a tripod in the basement of an off-campus rental on Cottage Grove Avenue were bad. “Not bad as in bad-ass. Bad as in awful,” he wrote in a news release. “When we started this it was literally a lark,” Nickell said from Missoula, Mont., last week. “I think part of the original inspiration was to think of something we didn’t think we could possibly pull off — a weekly TV series. Those early episodes were really all about us reaching in the dark through a drunken haze to try to ﬁnd some way to pull off this challenge we set for ourselves.” Episodes still pop up on Community Access Television when requested, but for those unfamiliar: the general format to the show as a “mixed drink cooking show” featuring Bartender J (Nickell) and Editor B (Everson). The “J&B on the Rox” moniker was a tee-hee nod to a certain brand of Scotch on ice and Nickell noted, “naturally, we developed an audience of drinkers and drug-addled slackers.” The show began as low-tech talk show with an obligatory segment showing Nickell mixing some of the most disgusting cocktails ever conceived. After Nickell and Everson decided to get an apartment
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together on North Washington Street that didn’t have space for a set, they took the camera off the tripod and went on location, ramping up the content and quality with more dynamic and relevant themes. Production values got better and better, seemingly with each episode, although even at its peak the program was grainy with uneven sound. It was pure coincidence that the hit movie “Wayne’s World,” came out in 1992 at the same time Nickell and Everson were making their own zany community access television show. “I was pretty tuned out of mainstream popular culture at the time,” Everson recalled. “The only knowledge I had of it was when people said, oh, it’s like ‘Wayne’s World.’ When I ﬁnally got a chance to see the movie I was kind of amazed. It must have been the zeitgeist.” Rox was no “Wayne’s World” but it did present a major challenge for the Monroe County Public Library, the base for community access television. The program continually walked the line when it came to good taste and the community standards referenced in federal broadcast rules and laws. Nickell and Everson both praise Michael White, general manager for community access television, for standing up for their freedom to color outside the lines and encouraging their locally made and locally focused television experimentation. At the same time, occasionally White had to step in and say, “We can’t run this.” And in one episode, which referenced a truly disgusting realm of erotica, Everson (Editor B) pushed back by replacing censored material with a scrolling message that a portion of the show had in fact been censored, and viewers concerned about censorship should contact the powers-that-be. “All of a sudden all these letters came in, demonstrating an audience we didn’t even know we had,” Everson said. “It caused the station to have to evaluate its policies in terms of what is protected by the First Amendment and what is explicitly prohibited under the exceptions outlined by federal law.” No look back on “Rox” would be complete without noting that the second season’s ending episode was called, “Baked,” and it featured the hosts and some friends openly smoking marijuana on the Monroe County Courthouse lawn. Talk about pushing the limits. Twenty years later, Everson lives in New Orleans with his wife, Christy Paxson (XY in the show) and daughter, Persephone. He’s a media artist for Xavier University of Louisiana. Nickell just ended a nine-year run as an arts and entertainment reporter for the Missoulian newspaper in Missoula, Mont. Both are coming back to Bloomington for the July 3 event at the Comedy Attic. Friends and fans of the show are coming in from as far away as San Diego, Berkeley and Seattle. While the peak production schedule for the show was from 1992-95, Nickell and Everson have slowly been adding new episodes via long-distance exchanges since 2001. It’s somehow ﬁtting that the genesis for the program can be traced to an incident in which Everson was busted by IU police for streaking through campus. “In the fall of 1989 I spent the summer hitchhiking around the country,” he explained. “I was in this mode of exploring and would almost call it a spiritual awakening. I felt like people were
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too inhibited and just needed to rise up and shake off their chains and in my naivete I thought anything that would shock people out of their daily routine was all you really needed to do to wake them up.” The streaker was reported and while Everson thought any cop who would respond to such a call would either laugh it off or be fat, unﬁt and unable to apprehend him, a young, athletic police ofﬁcer easily ran him down and took him into custody. Eventually, Everson was ordered to do community service for his crime of public nudity and he was assigned to work in video editing and production at community access television. “The rest, as they say, is history,” he chuckled last week.
Joe Nickell, left, and Bart Everson, shown in a screen grab from the show, were the infamous J&B of “J&B on the Rox,” a groundbreaking show on Bloomington Community Access Television. Courtesy photo Copyright: HeraldTimesOnline.com 2012
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