Today we’d like to introduce you to Stu Shostak.
Stu, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I was always interested in television from the time I was about 9 or 10 years old. I knew as a kid that tickets to television show tapings were always free and as soon as I got my driver’s license in 1972, I started going to as many TV show tapings as I could attend. Some, like “All in the Family”, and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” were hard to get into. But game shows like “The Joker’s Wild” and “Truth or Consequences” usually had seats available at the last minute. That’s how I got started – going to tapings and observing everything I could about how they were done – the cameras, the lighting, the audio, the stage crews, and especially the on camera talent. Dennis James, Bob Barker, Monty Hall, and Tom Kennedy were heroes to me. After a while, the people who worked at the studios started to notice and remember me – this 16-year-old big mouth kid from the valley that wanted a career in the media. At age 18, a gentleman by the name of Robby Robertson gave me my first job. Robby was the audience booker for most of the shows I had been attending at Metromedia Square in Hollywood and he needed an assistant to hand out tickets to tourists so he could get a rest and work more from his office. So off I went to Universal Studios, the Chinese Theater, Farmer’s Market – anywhere I could find tourists and give them free tickets to fill the shows.
In 1975, Norman Lear moved all of his sitcoms – “All in the Family”, “Maude”, “The Jeffersons”, etc. from CBS Television City to Metromedia and all of a sudden, my job of handing out tickets to game shows turned into handing out tickets to the biggest and best sitcoms on television. Robby had left Metromedia by this point and I applied to continue the work I was doing for Robby with the new head of Guest Relations there – Donna Valenzuela-Martin. She not only hired me but offered me a little more money and more hours than Robby had been giving me. It was hard to leave Robby, but the opportunity to work on Norman Lear’s sitcoms was far more enticing to me than working on game shows. This was a lucky break for me. One of the things that impressed me while attending tapings as a teen was watching the audience warm-up – the pre-tapings of each show where someone from the program would come out, tell jokes and get the audience riled up so they would respond properly once the show began recording. I marveled at how the legendary Johnny Olson warmed up the audiences at all the Goodson-Todman game shows. Johnny was a master at making the audiences feel welcome and at home. Norman Lear himself did the warm-ups for many of his shows and he was extraordinary too. These gentlemen were the two major influences on my career decision.
At first, I was interested in sitcom writing, and maybe some acting, but after watching Olson and Lear work their magic, I was convinced I could do the same thing. It took about six years, but my big break came when the warm-up guy for “Diff’rent Strokes” was late one morning when they were about to tape. I was Page Supervisor for the studio by this point and I had made it clear to the producers that if the opportunity arose, I would love to do audience warm-ups. Usually that job went to one of the writers on the show – it was an inside thing – but by 1982, the shows were hiring more and more outsiders – usually up and coming standup comics – to do them. John Maxwell Anderson was the producer who gave me my first break doing warm-ups. In a last minute attempt to get the show started, he told me to go out there and just “do it” since the regular warm-up guy had not arrived. Well, with no prep except for the years I had observed others, I went out there and “did it”. I was a nervous wreck, but whatever I did impressed the other producers so much that the following season, I was given my own show – “Silver Spoons”, and I was the warm-up guy on that show for two years. That led to pretty steady work on a lot of sitcoms and talk shows – “The Jeffersons”, “Amen”, “Mama’s Family”, and a lot of others – for about 20 years.
I was always a television historian. The industry fascinated me, particularly its early days, and I started collecting films from the early days of television. I have an extensive television film archive that dates back to 1947 and includes all the shows from that era – “Howdy Doody”, “Texaco Star Theater with Milton Berle”, “Dragnet”, “I Love Lucy”, “The Jackie Gleason Show”, etc. all the way up to the early 1970s. I have supplied film footage in the past for a slew of documentaries and have also provided clips for several award shows, including the annual Emmy presentation, Entertainment Tonight”, and HBO’s “Comic Relief”.
Lucille Ball was and still is my favorite actress. While working on an “I Love Lucy” documentary for a TV directing class I was taking at CSUN in 1979, I learned that Lucy was going to teach a class herself there for a full semester. I enrolled in that class, showed she and her husband Gary Morton my documentary, and soon became her official Archivist until she passed away in 1989. I was in charge of her entire film vault – I inventoried all the films and elements she had, maintained them for her, and also transferred many of her films to video format so she could view them on her VCR instead of having to dig out her 16mm projector. What a treasure trove I found in that vault!
As part of my love for classic television, I took a good chunk of my personal TV archives and began a home video business right around the time I was taking Lucy’s class at CSUN and working at Metromedia Square. Shokus Video is the company name and it offered public domain classic TV programs from the 1950s on VHS and Betamax (and later DVD) to the home video market. So between all of these endeavors – audience warm-ups, collecting TV shows and offering the copyright-free shows for sale, and working for Lucille Ball, I made a pretty good living for many years.
In 2006, I took all of what I had accomplished so far – my love and knowledge for classic television, my years of performing before live studio audiences, and the contacts both in front of and behind the cameras I had and started hosting my own Internet talk show – “Stu’s Show…talking to the people who made television history both in front of and behind the cameras”. It started out as a weekly audio broadcast but in early 2017, I made the big move to Internet television – video streaming. So many people were used to listening to the show all those years that I kept the audio feed after the cutover. You can watch us now or if you prefer, continue to listen to us. Today, after over 500 broadcasts, guests have included Dick Van Dyke, Ed Asner Jonathan Winters, Shelley Berman, Bob Barker, Monty Hall, Carl Reiner, Julie Newmar, Bonnie Franklin, Alan Young, Dick Van Patten, Pat Harrington, Shirley Jones, and the list goes on and on. Many of those I have interviewed are no longer with us, and I’m a privileged to have these extended conversations with them speaking about their lives and careers in their own words.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I’ve had my share of frustration and rejection along the way. Sometimes my style of audience warm-up was not what certain producers wanted. Sometimes I didn’t get jobs for that reason as well. One time I was let go from talk show pilot because the producers wanted me to get the audience to swear at the guests when it was time for the questions. They wanted me to give them some examples…but there were high school kids and their teachers in the audience. This was during the 1990s when the yelling/screaming era of Springer and Geraldo was just beginning. I was told they would bleep out the cuss words anyway since they couldn’t be uttered on broadcast television. I didn’t understand what the point of it was and told them that I had never worked blue up to that point and wasn’t going to start, especially in front of a bunch of teenagers. So they let me finish the day and then fired me. There have been other missed opportunities working as a warm-up comic, and I’m happy to say those are really the only bumps and sags I’ve had in my professional career. Working for Lucille Ball was mostly stress-free and a joy, and of course, running my own business was very successful until online streaming came about…and like they say, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Hence the Internet talk show.
Please tell us about Stu’s Show.Com.
Both my video business when it was profitable and my current Internet TV show have always given the public something unique. In a home video marketplace filled mostly with feature films and cartoons, I gave the viewers classic TV – RARE classic TV that they couldn’t purchase anywhere else. As far as my talk show, I continue to give the public in depth discussions with wonderful people that worked or are still working in the television industry. They get a minimum of two hours with me to talk about their lives and careers – something all the other talk shows on TV and online do not provide. My viewers and listeners often tell me my shows make them feel like they are sitting right there with us, and that’s what I want them to experience. Plus, they have the added bonus of watching or listening to us LIVE as it’s happening, and that’s a dying breed in this day and age of recording in advance and DVR’ing something to watch later. Many of the guests who appear do not often appear on other talk shows either, so there’s that exclusivity as well.
If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
Boy, that’s a tough question. I’ve been at all of this now nearly 40 years, and I love what I do. I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to roll with the times and have always invented a way to stay relevant. I will admit it’s been tough since the days of DVD and video sales have dried up.
In the early days of my audience warm-up career, I was devastated when things didn’t go my way for whatever reason. I’d have to say if I had to do it all again, I would force myself to learn to deal with rejection and depression better and not take things so personally. That was my biggest downfall – not being able to bounce back right away after a negative encounter. I learned though that when things in one area of my career fell, if I put my strength and energy toward another aspect of it…my video business during the 80s, 90s, and early part of this century (that sounds funny, doesn’t it), that usually perked me up and made me feel better. When the video business started drying up around 2010, I was older and bit wiser. I started that with two Betamax’s in 1979 (talk about doing something from the ground up) and I honestly thought it would go on forever. When it didn’t, I was angrier than depressed, but I dealt with it quicker than I did the warm-up disappointments, and that was because once again, I put my positive vibes toward my talk show and that helped. So I guess the moral to the story is to stay busy with many different aspects of a career so that if one falters, another will take its place.
- Website: http://www.stusshow.com/
- Phone: (818) 538-9965
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org