The Cult Zone
05/04/1989 at 01:00 AM EDT
Let's see...We have a slew of Star Trek clubs, Dark Shadows clubs, Twilight Zone clubs, Honeymooners clubs, Andy Griffith Show clubs, a Barbara Eden International Fan Club and even a Peter Breck (he was on Big Valley, in case that had slipped your mind) Fan Club. Members regularly hold conventions, swap videos, put out newsletters, run ads in The TV Collector magazine ("Have every Pinky Lee Show, will swap for last episode of The Avengers") and, if their outfit is grand enough, get to meet somebody once connected with the show they adore or even one of the stars. Most numerous are Star Trek worshipers and those in the Royal Association for the Longevity and Preservation of The Honeymooners (RALPH). Trekkies, at least 50,000 strong, convene as often as once a month, read novelizations using Trek characters, subscribe to dozens of bimonthly Trek fanzines, buy and rent the Trek movie videos and, of course, watch Trek reruns and rewatch Trek reruns. Their meetings feature round-the-clock showings of Trek tapes, Trek speeches, Trek panels, dealers' tables heaped with Trek dreck, appearances by Trek stars, a Trek party with prizes for best Trek costume and paintings depicting Trek characters in vivid peril. RALPHites (12,000 at last count) have the Official Honeymooners Treasury, a book that breaks down every one of the 39 original half-hour Honeymooners shows according to plot, subplots and great lines. Followers of Twilight Zone spend hours dissecting such classics as "The Eye of the Beholder" and "Time Enough at Last," and there are not enough hours in the day or night for true devotees of Dark Shadows to ponder the dreaded Barnabas Collins and his thirst for blood and close-ups.
Then there are the lesser sects, with anywhere from a handful to several hundred members. Partisans of Gilligan's Island, Wild, Wild West and Lost in Space have their own fanzines or books. Students of The Prisoner meet in Wales every year and may spend days analyzing the import of one line of dialogue. And there are clubs for lovers of Dr. Who, Perry Mason, Space 1999, The Monkees and Mr. Ed.
Who are these people? They are the culties, that's who, and they are consumed by a passion for Jonathan Frid or Peter Duel or perhaps simply a craving for heroes. Sometimes their adorations are merely highly focused enthusiasms, sometimes they're bizarre and obsessive, but TV culties are only the perfervid leading edge of a wave of nostalgia swooping up men and women who were children in the '60s. That most traditional of motives—money—powers the wave, which began its rise with TV program directors. As kids, while their older sibs stuffed daisies in soldiers' rifles, the youngsters who would grow up to decide what airs on local TV sat and watched The Brady Bunch. There was a time, alas unrecorded, when such a programmer cast his eyes upon the gaping afternoon and late-night slots on his relentless schedule and remembered My Mother the Car and Batman. He remembered watching them the way an earlier generation recalled skating on ponds. He realized he'd like to see them again, then thought there must be others like him. Before you could say "Holy Toledo!" a show had been penciled in. Other ex-'60s kids, adrift in an alien sea of Baretta and Upstairs, Downstairs, flicked on the set one slow afternoon and rediscovered their roots. The shows were cheap to put on, far cheaper than new programs, making nostalgia economically viable. An obsession had been born.
The most popular reruns are sitcoms and sci-fi, which is what kids were mostly allowed to watch in the '60s: Car 54, Where Are You?, Outer Limits, Night Gallery and The Munsters. A show's locale may play a role: A New York club, which started with collectors amassing tapes for their VCRs, seems to want all 8 million stories from Naked City. Scarcity makes the heart grow fonder. Dark Shadows lost the nostalgic masses through too many easily taped reruns and now is seldom aired. That reflects a basic conundrum. Experts expect the old-time boom to wear out soon, as such booms do, and then the country will be left with naught but a yen for the good old days, when nostalgia was in flower.