In the late ’70s, Debbie Harry taught public access viewers how to pogo on NYC’s “TV Party”

By on May 25, 2018

If you’re a big fan of Blondie’s Debbie Harry, like those of us here at Night Flight HQ, then you won’t want to miss her appearances in Danny Vinik‘s TV Party: The Documentary, which features some of the best of Glenn O’Brien’s public access TV show, TV Party.

A snippet of one of Ms. Harry’s appearances on the show — which aired on Manhattan cable access Channel D and Channel J between 1978 and 1982, the show’s final season in color — will be featured in an upcoming “Night Flight Highlights” episode (“Rock Photography & NYC Hip-Hop”) which airs on IFC on Friday nights (check your local listings for time/TV channel location).

If you can’t wait, have a look at the 90-minute documentary over on Night Flight Plus.

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In the documentary, Debbie Harry bounces up and down on a pogo stick, circa 1978, to show viewers how to Pogo (after admitting the UK punk dance wasn’t cool anymore anyway).

She also appears in as a mysterious “special guest,” her identity hidden by a wrestler’s mask (callers phoned in saying she wasn’t fooling anyone).

Of the estimated ninety episodes of the show, Night Flight currently has five of the episodes released on DVD by Brink Vision.

Debbie Harry also appears in “Premiere Episode,” which aired on Manhattan’s Channel D on December 18, 1978.

The other titles include “The Crusades Show,” “The Makeup & Time Show,” “The Heavy Metal Show,” and “The Halloween Show.”

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Ms. Harry and her boyfriend Chris Stein‘s regular appearances on “TV Party” all happened during the very height of Blondie’s mainstream success, circa 1978-1981, when they were enjoying their biggest charting hits with #1 singles like 1979’s “Heart of Glass” and 1981’s “Rapture.”

During one call-in segment, in fact, an anonymous caller bluntly asked them, “Don’t you think Blondie sold out when they did ‘Heart of Glass’?”

Stein shot back, “No, it was a mark in history. It brought black and white music together. We weren’t thinking about selling out, we were thinking about Kraftwerk and Euro-electric music.”

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“Rapture” — with its mentions of DJ Grandmaster Flash and graffiti artist Fab Five Freddy, who helped operate the cameras and was a regular guest on “TV Party” – helped introduce rap culture to the mainstream, and likely helped Freddy get his job hosting “Yo! MTV Raps” in 1988.

TV Party: The Documentary also features Ms. Harry singing Blondie’s 1980 hit “The Tide is High,” their cover of the 1967 reggae tune by the Paragons (she clearly apparently hasn’t memorized the words yet because she’s still reading them off a piece of paper).

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Most of the archival images here, by the way, were taken by Bobby Grossman, the official photographer of “TV Party.”

Read more about Glenn O’Brien’s “TV Party” below.

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On the set of “TV Party” (1979): Glenn O’Brien, Debbie Harry, Tommy Gear and Chris Stein (photo by Edo Bertoglio)

We’ve previously told you about the TV Party: The Documentary, but it seems like a nice time to go over it again.

Its mere existence was the result of a legal mandate which said that New York City’s two cable TV networks could monopolize the TV airwaves as long as they gave the public at large free access to a certain percentage of airtime, set aside for them for “community” programming.

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“TV Party” was hosted by NYC nightclub habitué and freelance writer Glenn O’Brien, who once described himself as ” the Damon Runyan/Walter Winchell/Ed Sullivan of the new wave scene.”

At the time, O’Brien — who’d already written for Rolling Stone, Esquire and Playboy – wrote a regular column, “Glenn O’Brien”s BEAT,” in Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, and occasionally contributed to High Times, and foreign music and art publications.

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O’Brien rented space in Jim Chladek’s tiny Manhattan-based ETC (Experimental Television Center)/Metro Access TV studio, and black & white cameras for $60 an hour (video tape was $20 extra).

Blondie’s guitarist and songwriter Stein — who also produced records by the Gun Club, James White and the Blacks, Tav Falco and Panther Burns, and Iggy Pop — became O’Brien’s co-host.

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Amos Poe (who lensed the 1976 documentary The Blank Generation) was the show’s director, and Walter “Doc” Steding led the band, who began each show with the “TV Party Theme.”

Steding — Andy Warhol’s eccentric painting assistant — regularly opened for Blondie, Suicide and the Dead Boys, playing solo violin.

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The live, hour-long, unscripted episodes were inspired by “Hugh Hefner’s Playboy’s Penthouse” (1959–60), “Playboy after Dark” (1969–70), and late-night network TV talk shows.

Big fan David Lettermen once told his bandleading sidekick Paul Shaffer on air that “‘TV Party’ is the greatest TV show anywhere, ever.”

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Most of the on-camera guests were friends of O’Brien’s and Stein’s from the NYC downtown art and rock club crowd, often helping out the production team.

Guests from the world of art and photography included Robert Mapplethorpe, Steven Meisel, Chris Burden, and Kate Simon.

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Jean-Michael Basquiat — who shared studio space in the Canal Zone with Fab Five Freddy — was a regular guest, and helped operate a camera now and then, and sometimes typed absurdist poetry on the show’s Chyron.

Some of the more famous music luminaries who appeared on “TV Party” include:

David Byrne, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Robert Fripp, Klaus Nomi, Nile Rodgers, P-Funk’s George Clinton, Mick Jones of the Clash, members of Kraftwerk, James Chance, Andy Shernoff of the Dictators, Tomata du Plenty of the Screamers, Kid Creole, John Lurie and Tim Wright of DNA, and Fred Schneider of the B-52’s.

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Watch TV Party: The Documentary, and five of the episodes we’ve collected over on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.