Laura Wimbels and Zachariah Durr have a lot of reasons to celebrate as The Big Bad B-Movie Show nears its first anniversary on the air.
For one, the show — a campy, horror throwback featuring B-movies, sketches, jokes and guest stars — not only made it a year but was picked up for a second season by Channel 43.
That was no minor feat: Born in 2020 in the midst of quarantines and shutdowns to feed pandemic viewing habits with a healthy dose of nostalgia, it was the station's first foray into non-news, original scripted programming in three decades.
“We asked ourselves, do we show repeats or something creative?” Erik Schrader, the station's general manager, told the New York Times last year. “We went for the creative angle because we believe that advertisers are going to be interested in something locally produced that has an original energy.”
Wimbels and Durr, a producer at the station, had both been longtime fans of the genre and legendary horror fixtures like Ghoulardi and Vampira, who entertained fans in the wee hours of the night.
"My mom told me when I was five years old, I saw Superhost on the WUAB Prize Movie show," Durr told Scene last year. "He was dressed like a Superman with a red nose, and was introducing some rubber-suit monster movie. I turned to my mom and said, 'I want that job.' I never thought it would actually happen."
Debuting last October with 1959's Attack of the Giant Leeches, a rubber-suit monster movie that was filmed in eight days, The Big Bad B-Movie show introduced Leopold and Lenora, two people who've been locked in the movie vault at WUAB for years with only bad B-movies to watch for entertainment, to local audiences on Saturday nights at 8 p.m.
One year later, that audience has grown and The Big Bad B-Movie Show has been renewed and moved to a new 11 p.m. timeslot, a more natural home for the program and one that puts Leopold and Lenora on the air in the same wee hours when their horror icons dazzled audiences.
"When we heard we were going to move to 11 p.m., it was so exciting," Wimbels told Scene. "That's a true horror show timeslot, late-night weekends."
But there's one downside: A small but core segment of their audience won't be able to watch the show any longer.
Durr and Wimbels knew early on that they wanted to engage viewers beyond the screen.
"We wanted to and still want to do an old-school fan club," Wimbels said. "When I was growing up, I loved writing to different little magazines for giveaways or fan clubs for a band I liked. You had fan clubs because social media wasn't around. The thrill of getting a twice-a-year newsletter or a signed headshot in the mail was really exciting."
They didn't immediately have time to do a newsletter but they didn't want to sit on the idea. So they made a short video and posted an address and offered a signed headshot to whoever took the time to write an actual letter and send it in the mail.
Two months later, the letters started arriving, and they didn't stop.
"It was surprising and oddly reaffirming that, yes, people are watching and they're genuinely excited about it," Wimbels said. "I've always wanted to do nothing more than make people happy, and with the show during the pandemic, you ren't sure whether you're being seen or whether it's resonating, but these people are taking the time to write letters thanking you for helping them forget what's going on in the world for an hour or two. That's something that, every time I read a letter, I feel appreciative and grateful for."
And among the letters — from hospital workers sending thanks for taking their minds off the pandemic, from people stuck in their homes, from fans of Ghoulardi who welcomed a rekindling of their childhood with the show — Wimbels began noticing just how many came from prisoners.
"They're limited to local channels, a lot of times," said Wimbels, whose experience with Dr. Meghan Novisky at Cleveland State University during a criminology course she credits with an empathy for what prisoners deal with while being incarcerated. "I remember transcribing audio files from Dr. Novisky's interviews with prisoners who were just released, talking about their time, things they had to go through, situations with guards. It's a very lonely place, and when I realized prisoners were watching our show, that made me very happy to know that something on TV that was a local program was resonating with them versus whatever else they might have to watch on TV on Saturday nights."
The new 11 p.m. timeslot comes after lights out, which means most of them will no longer get to escape to the land of Leopold and Lenora every weekend.
"My biggest feeling when the show started last September was that so many of us were feeling lonely and isolated in so many different ways," Wimbels said. "And that was what I saw as the show's biggest benefit: to reach those who were feeling lonely and isolated and make them smile and forget about everything for an hour or two on Saturday nights. I had no idea it would reach an entire population of people who had been experience loneliness and isolation long before Covid hit."