FILM/TV: The Ballad of Dave and Bill and Dave

The (almost) true story of how The Video TapeWorm was lost in these pages for almost 20 years

Episode 2: The Shtick Hits The Fans

David B. King and Bill Raker have been writing the VideoTapeWorm for LEO for almost two decades, but almost none of the current editorial staff or readers knew anything about them. We set out to solve this mystery by inviting David and Bill to the LEO offices. It was, um, eventful, enlightening and too delightfully weird to keep within the walls of the LEO offices. As it was also too much for one issue to contain, here’s more from our first-ever meeting with LEO’s longest-serving authors.

Laura Snyder (managing editor): So you guys weren’t professional writers until LEO founder John Yarmuth knocked Bill Raker out of a tree at Valhalla way back in 1992?
David B. King: Well, Dave Conover had sold some things, and Bill (Raker) wrote technical journals …
Laura: But you weren’t syndicated? You only had your zine, “The Sinister Urge”?
DBK: Syndication came shortly afterwards, in 1995, once Bill hacked into TVData Corp.
Laura: Huh?
DBK: Well, to write our new LEO column, “TV Weak” – a pun on the CJ’s “TV Week” pull-out section – we needed cable-TV schedules weeks in advance. So Bill hacked into this corporate giant called TVData, which sells TV listings and features to newspapers. That’s where the CJ …
Laura: He broke into their computer system?!
DBK: Had to. Those listings were too expensive for us to buy on what LEO paid. While he was dialed-in, he set himself up an internal alias, secure-emailed one of their V.P.s, and sold her on the idea of a cult-movie feature. That’s how we became nationally syndicated authors! We would pick the country’s Worst Movies Of The Day!
Laura: You are kidding me …
(Bill Raker and Aaron Yarmuth enter the room, with coffee.)
Laura (to executive editor Aaron Yarmuth): They WERE syndicated once …
DBK: This was in the heyday of “Ed Wood” and MST3K, and since we could identify the most obscure cult movies on cable, TVData wanted us to attract cult-movie fans to daily papers all across America. Bill sold them on the idea of two daily bits called TVWeak — very similar to the Twin Peeks we do in LEO — a weekly one called “TV, Weakly,” and several others.
Laura: So you picked the titles and they ran their own canned reviews?
(Bill growls.)
DBK: No, no, no! We selected the movies, then wrote our own reviews, just like we do today in The Video TapeWorm! Everything we did was original.
Aaron: But there would have to be hundreds of …
DBK: Thousands of! Once a month Bill would download this huge stream of TV listings … tens-of-thousands of movie titles, plus casts and showtimes on scores of channels. Then we would have to find the worst 100-or-so, write short, comic reviews, plus create about a dozen longer features, and everything had to be back in their hands, ready to ship within 24 hours! Luckily, between the three of us there was rarely a movie that we’d never seen.
Laura: Wow.
Bill (slurping): Built a computer. Windows 3.1.
DBK: And that was an amazing device for its day. It did the downloads, built the database, then made a first-pick on the movies and showtimes, somehow.
Bill: Dave was better.
DBK: Yeah, Conover was the one that made it all work. As fast and clever as the computer was, Dave’s knowledge of movies had no equal. Bill finally made a special screen just for Dave, who would just lose himself in the database for a while and – presto! – he’d have the perfect selection of titles, much better than what the machine had found. Besides, Dave could also give us a titty count …
Laura: Excuse me?!
(Aaron sniggers. Bill’s ballcap dips, hiding his eyes.)
DBK: Sorry, “Adult Content Level.”
Laura: And from this you wrote over a hundred features in 24 hours, every month?
DBK: Oh, it’s worse than that: We constantly had to repeat the process due to “rejects”. Daily newspapers are incredibly conservative, you know. So when we would pick, uh, Doris Wishman’s “Vegas in Space” — imagine cross-dressing Star Wars characters probing everywhere for the planet Clitoris.
DBK: Bottom line: They wanted us to find family-friendly cult movies! We once tried taking a real roughie like “Basket Case”, and made it sound like Shirley Temple Cuddles The Care Bears. Unsuspecting Baptists set their VCRs and went to bed. By the next nightfall mobs of angry villagers have torched their local newspaper office and are eating the editor. Oh! The phone calls … (pauses) … So we had to do a lot of rewrites. Ultimately it was a fool’s errand.
Laura: And you were still writing “TV Weak” each week for LEO? How is that possible?
DBK: It would have been impossible if not for Dave and Bill’s combined talents. Bill even taught the machine to flag movies whose actors came from the cities our features were being marketed in! He was in geek heaven, but poor Dave was not having a good time.
Laura: How so?
DBK: Well, first off, I don’t think he ever forgave Bill for dragging him into all this without asking. He never once complained, and he clearly enjoyed the notoriety, but he was just so overworked – his life had become very busy in so many ways. He had even taken it upon himself to teach me how to write. We all became better friends, but that year was quite an education. We learned what our strengths were …
Bill: … and they learned not to pay hillbilly hackers up front.
(Everyone laughs.)
Aaron (looking at his smartphone): Is Dave Conover part of WonderFest, the model-making/movie expo?
DBK: Yeah, he’s their programming guy. And by that time he had also become manager of Baxter Avenue Theaters, where WonderFest did their movie showings. Plus he was sculpting, writing books, and had just gotten married — their all-night monster-movie reception at the Vogue Theater, built around “Bride Of Frankenstein,” is legendary. Hundreds of people were there. That was The Vogue’s last, best party. We all miss it terribly.
Anyway … We all liked the idea of syndicated writing, but those marathon writing slams and the constant haranguing with editors were killing us all. Dave held in there until the contract was up, but after a year he was ready to move on. TVData was ready for us to move on, too. The cult-movie thing was winding down. We were happy just to do LEO for a while.
Laura: I thought you needed TV scheduling data to write?
DBK: Bill found some place where he could get video-release data for free, so instead of writing funny reviews about cable-TV, we would just write funny reviews about VHS tape.
Laura: So this is when the TapeWorm began?
DBK: Yep, 1996. We were already so popular in LEO that Joe Grove had given us free license to do whatever we wanted. We did some covers and features, including that Halloween we visited the State Medical Examiner’s to watch an autopsy …
Bill: You messed that up, man.
DBK: Yeah, I know — but you should’ve kept your hands to yourself, dude!

Next Time: The boys have a bone to pick with LEO in “Episode Three: She Had Her Mother’s Eyes … Well, She Had Somebody’s Mother’s Eyes!”