Thursday, March 8, 2018

Jay Curtis and Disasterpiece Theatre

Fans of Mystery Science Theater 3,000 and Rifftrax may think that they invented the genre, but it was Jay Curtis and Bruce Mueller who had the first TV show based on telling jokes about bad movies while viewing them.


In 1980, the two film editors at XETV Channel 6 created a TV show called Disasterpiece Theatre that was broadcast from Tijuana into San Diego.  They "riffed" on really bad movies long before Mystery Science Theater 3000 premiered in 1988.  

Jay Curtis hosting Disasterpiece Theatre as Sal-U-Lloyd
Jay Curtis hosting Disasterpiece Theatre as Sal-U-Lloyd
The show consisted of host segments and sketches with Sal-U-Lloyd (Curtis), The Other Guy (Mueller), and a variety of special guests; including Whoopie Goldberg, Richard Simmons and Michael Medved. Jokes were delivered during the movies by text overlay and by re-dubbing the audio to include sound effects, comic voices, and jokes. Sal wore a black suit and white Capezio dance shoes and drove an Edsel. A variety of oddball characters were portrayed by Mueller

Theme song written by Frank Trani and the Awesome Brothers.

Disasterpiece Theatre premiered on Friday June 13, 1980 with the film, The Thing That Couldn’t Die. During one of the host segments, Sal fake-interviewed the star of the film, Johnny Cabeza played by Bruce Mueller, whose disembodied head appeared sitting on a chair as Sal talked with him about his film career.  

The following week they screened 18 and Anxious starring Jim Backus and Jackie Coogan. Coogan doesn’t always wear his toupee during the movie and that was an easy place to mine jokes. The guest for the host segments was Bruce Mueller as Pelvis Peacock, the world’s worst Elvis impersonator. 

Sal-U-Lloyd -- Jay Curtis
Sal U Lloyd, host of Disasterpiece Theatre
Disasterpiece Theater showed more than just sci-fi and horror films. They also riffed on several westerns, a Kung Fu flick and the musical Panama Sal. During the host segments, Sal U Lloyd recounted the history of the Lloyd family: Sal and brother Freddy were born Siamese twins joined at the back. Later it turned out this was the result of an accident their mother Celia had with some super glue. Sal remarked that he once swallowed a ship full of ex-lax and polluted the Sea of Japan. Sal then attempted a singing career with the song Key to My Condo that was a spoof of the song Beat Of The Bongo from the movie. 

During Halloween, the classic Dracula was shown -- supposedly at gunpoint. Mueller as Freddy, the show’s producer, pointed a shotgun at Sal off camera til the film began. At the end of the movie, Freddy said they would go back to showing bad movies next week because by then Sal was holding the shotgun. 

Once during the Thanksgiving show, Sal put an apple in Producer Freddy’s mouth and chopped vegetables over him. The most popular movie on Disasterpiece Theatre was Shriek Of The Mutilated. -- so popular it was shown three times

"Sal-U-Lloyd" (Jay Curtis) and "The Other Guy" (Bruce Mueller)
"The Other Guy" (Bruce Mueller) and "Sal-U-Lloyd" (Jay Curtis)
In mid-January 1981, the show was moved to Saturday nights in the hope of improving the ratings. Sal had the Edsel loaded up with potted plants and a totem pole so they could move to the next night. But The Other Guy (Mueller) was missing. It turned out he was tied up in a basement, but managed to free himself and get to the studio in time for the show. 

"Disasterpiece Theatre" was a huge local hit and enjoyed a dedicated following, even beating out Saturday Night Live in the area ratings once, and Sal U. Lloyd became a local celebrity.
Jay Curtis, aka Sal-U-Lloyd on the cover of Tuned-in Magazine
Jay Curtis, aka Sal-U-Lloyd on the cover of Tuned-in Magazine
Sal U. Lloyd often portrayed himself as a big loser who hates his job. In one episode, he explains his position: "I'm sick of television... I wanna be a rock and roll star. I wanna make some money." He is often seen suffering some kind of brain damage after showing a movie. Several times, Lloyd has a run-in with the network producer, George Mucas (obviously a parody of George Lucas), who hates the show.  

In June 81, the show celebrated its one year anniversary much to the dismay of Freddy the Producer, played by Mueller, because he had been trying to get the show off the air. Freddy presented a "Relevation of Degradation" to viewers in the hope this would end the show. He showed clips from past movies Big Boy Rides Again, Alien Factor, The Mole People, Spiderwoman Strikes Back, Revenge Of The Creature, and Trog. Skits from previous shows included, Harry Johnson’s Lite Beer, Shock-O-Matic, Racket Squad, French Connection, 3-Popeye Doyle meets Popeye the Sailor and the Eddie Haskell Show. 

Sal U Lloyd

The following week Jay Curtis went on vacation and a rerun of Monster Zero was shown. The movie House of Horrors was previewed for the next week. Several days later Curtis returned from vacation and found out that in his absence the station executives had cancelled the program. It was replaced by a show called Creature Feature that screened horror flicks without a host or commentary.

Disasterpiece Theater always played the song, Goodnight Sweetheart as Sal drove the Edsel out of the studio at the end of the show. And like the Edsel, Disasterpiece Theatre was ahead of its time, pulled from the market too soon and is now considered a classic.

Additional Disasterpiece Theatre Videos:

Sadly, very little video survives from Disasterpiece Theatre because the budget was so low that the producers had to reuse the video tape by taping over previous episodes. And the video that does survive is very poor quality, because in those days the show was taped off the air and onto VHS. By the time the tapes were digitized they were in bad shape. But for fans of the show, these few clips bring back some great memories.

The Worst of Disasterpiece Theatre #1 

The Worst of Disasterpiece Theatre #2 

The Lion Tamer - Disasterpiece Theatre

Gary Cocker Tribute - Disasterpiece Theatre

Sal reads fan mail - Disasterpiece Theatre

Godzilla fights Anguirus - Disasterpiece Theatre 

Mecha Sal U. Lloyd Disasterpiece Theatre 

Richard Simmons on Disasterpiece Theatre 

Disasterpiece Theatre Preview 

Visit the "Sal-U-Lloyd" YouTube channel here 

Needless to say, if anyone has any old tapes of the show you'd be doing fans a solid by uploading them to YouTube.

Disasterpiece Theatre Theme Song

Well, have you seen any good movies lately?
Well, you're not gonna see one tonite.
I hope you're in the mood for something really lousy.
'Cause if you are just hold on tight.
Well, our boy Sal U. Lloyd is gonna take you on down.
to where the silver screen gets covered with slime.
So come on in, you're just in time for a disaster.
This is Disasterpiece Theater.
This is really gonna be a disaster.
This is Disasterpiece Theater.
Say, you probably never saw anything this bad, boy, in your life.
This is Disasterpiece Theater.
I mean this is really, really rotten. Whoa!
This is Disasterpiece Theater.
Who writes this junk anyway?
This is Disasterpiece Theater.
Oh! Pass the popcorn.
This is Disasterpiece Theater.
Oh! Argh!
This is Disasterpiece Theater.
This stuff oughta be against the law!
This is Disasterpiece Theater.

Disasterpiece Theatre Fans 

Disasterpiece Theater poster made by a fan
Disasterpiece Theatre poster made by a fan

To say I was a "fan" would be an understatement. I really loved the show. I bought the T-shirt and even got an autograph from Sal U Lloyd shortly after the show ended.

Me wearing a Disasterpiece Theater T-shirt in the early 80s
Wearing an "official" Disasterpiece Theater T-shirt in the early 80s

Autograph of Jay Curtis as Sal U Lloyd
Autograph of Jay Curtis as Sal U Lloyd

Jay Curtis Bio

Jay Curtis was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, April 03, 1950. He attended Montclair State University in New Jersey, studying English and later New York University where he studied film. In 1976, he relocated to San Diego where he began working at XETV.

Young Jay Curtis
Young Jay Curtis
After his show ended, Curtis became member services manager for BPME (Promax/BPA) and hosted its video magazine program.

Jay Curtis after Disasterpiece Theater
Jay Curtis after Disasterpiece Theatre
In the early '90s, Curtis came to CBS as its in-house on-air brand manager. Working with the late Ron Scalera in marketing, the network rose to become No. 1 in viewership.

Known as "The Creative Lifeguard" for his talent at coaxing creativity out of people, Curtis also did work for NBC, Fox, the NCAA, the NFL and several other major production houses. He also directed stars David Letterman, Bob Newhart, Dick Van Dyke, Dan Rather, George Clooney, Ray Romano, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Cheech Marin.

Jay Curtis was diagnosed with ALS in 2015. While coping with the disease, he produced two books of poetry, In and Out of Dreaming and Flaws in the Road. On January 26th 2018, Curtis' son, J.T. Curtis announced that Jay Curtis, aged 67 years old, had passed away. 

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