Dr. San Guinary, a character invented to host the horror-movie show “Creature Feature” back in 1971, has been resurrected from the dead and is back on local television — KPTM's digital channel 42.2 on Sundays at 9 p.m.
The man playing him, Chris Palmer, hopes it's the start of a resurgence in popularity for both the once-popular character and locally produced television.
Palmer lived in Bellevue in the 1970s. Like a lot of kids in town, he watched “Creature Feature” every Saturday night on KMTV. He loved Dr. San Guinary, a guy in a blood-smeared white lab coat with a green-painted face and an unruly shock of red hair. San Guinary's humorous skits introduced mostly awful horror movies.
In its heyday, “Creature Feature” captured 52 percent of those tuned in to Omaha-area television during its time slot. Its guests included prominent local figures like Mayor Gene Leahy.
John Jones, who played Dr. San Guinary on TV for 11 years, regularly appeared at charity events across the city, drawing fans like Palmer.
But the arrival of “Saturday Night Live” at 10:30 p.m. on Saturdays bumped Dr. San Guinary to midnight and shrank “Creature Feature's” audience. The show was canceled in 1982.
Jones, a longtime KMTV producer, kept up local charity appearances as San Guinary — especially for the Muscular Dystrophy Association — until he died of cancer in October 1988.
In 2009, Palmer decided to put together a book about Jones and Dr. San Guinary. As he interviewed Jones' sons, fans and co-workers, he kept hearing the same thing.
“They'd say, 'Hey, you kinda look like John. Ever considered putting on the makeup?' I did some soul searching, talked to the family and decided it was a good idea. It's a piece of our childhoods we can resurrect, unlike Peony Park or the Indian Hills Theatre (both since razed).”
What began as role-playing at charitable events — coordinating a blood drive, boosting a clothing drive for a homeless shelter or raising funds to fight muscular dystrophy — grew to include Palmer's Dr. San Guinary hosting a monthly horror-movie gig at a local theater, starting in early 2011.
Palmer said those live shows were test runs for cast and crew to prepare for a return to television.
He met the show's manager, Amanda Shannon, through her San Guinary Facebook page that drew 6,000 followers. She, too, was a childhood fan. Fredd Gorham, another partner in the resurgence, put up a website, drsanguinary.com, posting photos and video clips to keep the character alive.
Palmer used his skills as an advertising graphic designer to round up local advertisers for the TV show. Shannon runs a foam-sculpting business to create theatrical props and scenery, so she was a natural partner in the venture.
Palmer not only sells the ads but films them for most of the show's advertisers. The group uses money from advertising to rent production space in Crossroads Mall, where the Dr. San Guinary skits are now filmed, and to buy the time slot on KPTM. The show airs on Cox Cable Channel 120 or 107, depending on the package you have, and can be picked up over the air with a digital antenna.
“People are saying it's great to have a tradition back that they can sit with their kids and watch,” Palmer said.
Much as Jones did, Palmer brings charity guests on the show to promote fundraising events. He writes most of the San Guinary skits. All the show staffers, including Shannon and Palmer, are unpaid volunteers.
Because “Creature Feature” can afford only an hourlong TV slot at this point, the movies they show are low-budget horror shorts that were filmed in the area — most from Omaha, Des Moines or Kansas City. Palmer hopes to eventually run full-length movies in a longer time slot.
He also hopes TV stations will be motivated to generate more local programming, which he says died out with the advent of cable television.
“It's easier and cheaper for local TV to show a rerun of some cop show than to put forth the effort,” he said. But he fondly recalls the flavor of local shows — bowling, fishing, wrestling, cooking and more — from his youth.
“Dr. San Guinary is Omaha's Mickey Mouse,” Palmer said. “I've had big shoes to fill, but the shoes fit. We get a lot of compliments on how we've maintained the integrity of the character people remember.”
A few props, a chair, a set flat and some child-size coffins on the new show are originals from the 1970s.
Shannon and Palmer sell a DVD of the original “Creature Feature” skits from 1971-77. Plans are in the works for a second DVD with skits from the later years. T-shirts and other merchandise are also for sale online at drsanguinary.org, which includes a list of planned live events and information on the TV show.
The book, which Palmer envisions as a coffee-table picture book, remains a work in progress. He vows that any profits will go to charity, which was a prime motivator for John Jones, the original Dr. San Guinary.
“We're super-excited,” said John's son Josh, whose San Guinary's Barber Shop near 61st and L Streets is full of memorabilia from the original show. “The family loves what Chris is doing, and we could not be happier. I think my dad would love the direction it's going in. It's just been a blast seeing what they do. We trust them to run with it.”
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