“TV Party”: Glenn O’Brien’s weekly late 70s public-access punk cocktail party TV show

By on April 7, 2017

We’re reposting this feature post because we just learned that Glenn O’Brien, who Rolling Stone described as — “a Renaissance man who edited for Rolling Stone and Andy Warhol’s Interview,and “a fixture of both New York’s punk and art scenes and hosted the public access show “TV Party” — has died at the age of 70. Read more about O’Brien in his Rolling Stone obit below this original post.

Original post: On December 18, 1978, the premiere episode of a new weekly, hour-long low-budget public access variety show called “TV Party” began airing on Manhattan’s Cable’s Channel D, and for the next four years celebrated New York bon vivant and Interview columnist Glenn O’Brien would host live musical performances and interviews with the Lower East Side’s hoi polloi in a cocktail party-style variety talk show setting. You can get acquainted with the show by taking a look at this this documentary on our Night Flight Plus channel.

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This 2005 documentary — called TV Party but subtitled “The Documentary Which Could Be A Cocktail Party” — was culled from over eighty hours of disintegrating 3/4-inch videotape, and is interspersed with more recent interviews from many of those who appeared on the show. Here’s just a short list of some of the “TV Party” guests during the show’s four-year run between 1979 and 1982:

B-52s, The Clash, David Bowie, David Byrne, artist Chris Burden, George Clinton, Iggy Pop, the Clash’s Mick Jones, James Chance, John Lurie, Klaus Nomi, Kraftwerk, the Screamers, Robert Mapplethorpe, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Nile Rodgers, Kid Creole, and Robert Fripp, who became a regular guest.

Charles Rocket, who after being fired for saying “fuck” over the airwaves live on “Saturday Night Live,” also became a regular guest, often playing heavy metal versions of songs like “Smoke On The Water” and “Wild Thing” on his feed-backing accordion, amplified through a stack of Marshall amps, while accompanied by members of the TV Party Orchestra, led by experimental musician Walter Steding (known as “Doc”), who had been an assistant to Andy Warhol at his Factory.

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Glenn O’Brien (left) with Mick Jones from the Clash on “TV Party” in 1979. Photo by Kate Simon.

At the time, writer/editor/essayist, ETC. Glenn O’Brien had already been freelancing (Rolling Stone, Esquire, Playboy and others) before becoming a music columnist for the New York-based Interview magazine, a job that he was offered to him by Andy Warhol in 1971, after he’d graduated from Columbia University’s film department. His column was called “Glenn O’Brien’s BEAT.”

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He also made his living writing regularly freelance copy for High Times, and for a variety of art magazines and foreign music magazines, and at night, he ventured out to see bands at NYC clubs, and that’s how he ran into Coca Crystal, who he knew from High Times. She invited him to appear on her own public-access show, already airing on Channel D, called “If I Can’t Dance, You Can Keep Your Revolution” (after an Emma Goldman quote).

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Over the next few days, O’Brien discussed the idea of having his own show with his good friend Chris Stein, a guitarist for the band Blondie, who were really starting to hit it big at the time, having recorded their album Parallel Lines over the summer of ’78 (it would later sell more than twenty million copies and spawn their first #1 hit, “Heart of Glass”).

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Stein was also producing bands and artists like Walter Steding, Gun Club, James White and the Blacks, Tav Falco and Panther Burns, and Iggy Pop, artists who might be able to appear on the show, which they both thought could be like Hugh Hefner’sPlayboy After Dark show, but with guests from the downtown NYC-based No-Wave-affiliated film and music and art scenes. Naturally, since Stein’s bandmate and longtime girlfriend Deborah Harry also guested on “TV Party” quite a bit.

“TV Party” began taping live — on early Tuesday mornings at 12:30am — in front of a small studio audience at Jim Chladek’s tiny E.T.C./Metro Access studio, located at 110 East 23rd street in Manhattan. He charged local NYC residents $60 an hour to use his studio and broadcast their own public-access TV shows (it cost $20 more if they wanted a videotape copy).

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From the jump there was a planned emphasis on crude, experimental live editing and a persistently amateurish aesthetic, which wasn’t upset whenever the TV show was plagued by frequent technical malfunctions. The studio had three cameras, but one of them was unreliably out of focus all the time, as well as a bunch of broken-down microphones.

O’Brien assembled his show’s crew from among his friends, all of whom came from various creative backgrounds, including director Amos Poe, the famous New York filmmaker, and when he couldn’t make it, O’Brien turned to Betsy Sussler, his future BOMB magazine editor, or some other friends — including Kirsten Bates and Barbara Egan (his girlfriend ) — to fill in as director. Debbie Harry even directed one episode.

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The cameras were operated at first by Edo Bertoglio, a photographer that O’Brien had collaborated with on many magazine jobs (and later on the film Downtown 81, featuring Jean-Michel Basquiat), but later a rotating collective of friends helped out too, including artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, rapper Fab 5 Freddy, fashion model Lisa Rosen, and filmmakers James Nares and Coleen Fitzgibbon, all of whom would frequently abandon their tech duties on the show to step in front of the camera as either musical performers or interview guests.

During “TV Party”‘s last year, 1982, the show moved over to Channel J, the public access “commercial station,” and began broadcasting in color for the first time, but it was much more expensive and to pay the studio costs, O’Brien began filming some of the episodes at local NYC nightclubs, getting proceeds from the door at clubs like the Mudd Club, Hurrah, Peppermint Loung, and there was even a “Psychedelic Special” episode that was hosted by Danceteria.

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After the show’s run, O’Brien eventually moved on to do a million other things in his career. He co-founded SPIN magazine, and the aforementioned BOMB, became world famous for his globally–syndicated column “The Style Guy,” published in the pages of GQ magazine, and he authored a book called How to Be a Man: A Guide to Style and Behavior For the Modern Gentleman. You can read a more complete bio here.

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UPDATE:

Rolling Stone posted the announcement of O’Brien’s death today (April 7, 2017). Here’s more from their obit:

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Glenn O’Brien, a Renaissance man who edited for Rolling Stone and Andy Warhol’s Interview and hosted the public access show “TV Party,” has died at 70 (photo by Edwin Tse/Redux)

In 1967, Jann Wenner and a small group of rock & roll believers came together in a San Francisco loft with big ideas and little funding to create ‘Rolling Stone’

O’Brien has been battling a serious illness for years, ArtNews reports, with the writer ultimately succumbing to complications from pneumonia, according to his wife Gina Nanni.

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Born in Cleveland, Ohio, and a graduate of Georgetown University, where he edited the school journal, O’Brien became a member of Warhol’s Factory while studying filmmaking at Columbia. In 1970, O’Brien was hired to be an associate editor of Warhol’s Interview.

After four years at that magazine, O’Brien briefly became Rolling Stone‘s New York Bureau Chief in 1972 before landing at High Times in 1976, where he served as that publication’s “Editor-at-large.”

“I believe I was the first magazine editor to hold that title,” O’Brien wrote on his website, noting that he was High Times‘ editor-in-chief “until fear and paranoia caused me to begin working outside the office.”

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O’Brien was also a member of a punk group called Konelrad, which played at venues like CBGBs at the onset of punk; “Glenn O’Brien’s Beat,” a column dedicated to punk music, ran from 1978 to 1990 in Interview.

O’Brien’s journalism works also includes stints at Allure, Details, ArtForm, GQ (as their “style guy”) and Spin, where he was among the magazine’s co-founders in 1985.

“I feel like I have written for every magazine there is,” he wrote on his site.

O’Brien also edited Madonna’s controversial Sex book in 1992 and worked as a creative director for Island Records in the mid Nineties.

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In New York City, O’Brien was also known for his public access show “TV Party,” which aired from 1978 to 1982 and featured guests like Debbie Harry (Blondie’s Chris Stein served O’Brien’s “TV Party” co-host), David Bowie, David Byrne and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

“In 1978 I started a public-access television show in New York along with a few friends,” O’Brien wrote for Vice in 2014.

“It was called ‘TV Party,’ and by the time it ended in 1982 our list of guests included David Bowie, David Byrne, Robert Fripp, the B-52s, Chris Burden, George Clinton, Iggy Pop, Steven Meisel, Mick Jones, James Chance, John Lurie, Klaus Nomi, Kraftwerk, the Screamers, Robert Mapplethorpe, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Nile Rodgers, Kid Creole, the Offs, Alex Chilton, the Brides of Funkenstein, Arthur Russell, David McDermott, and Charles Rocket, just to name a few.”

“The show ran on Channel D and Channel J, and was quite popular with the kids,” O’Brien continued.

“The show never officially ended—Chris got sick and almost died, I got married and decided I needed to make some money, some people went to rehab, some left town, and some died of AIDS, which had just appeared. It seemed like suddenly everything was changing, and it just got to be longer and longer since the last show. We had a good run fucking up television, though. Cursing, getting high, advocating subversion, being party desperados…”

O’Brien also claimed that he is “100 percent certain” that it is his crotch – and not actor Joe Dallesandro – that appears as the underwear model on Warhol’s famed cover for the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers -– when unzipped –- but that remains unconfirmed.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, 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.