The Absolute Worster (or Bester?) in Public Access Television

President Gerald Ford summed up the utopian theme of what public access television should be: educational; cultural; innovative; excellence. Unfortunately (or fortunately if you happen to have the same sense of humor that I do), those terms don’t always apply to the oddities that pop up on public access TV.

With the return of John C. Reilly to Adult Swim tonight for season 3 of Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule, we revisit the dregs of public access television to bring you the worster (or bester) shows that the everyday citizen has to offer.

First up: Goth Talk is apparently a real thing…

Gothic Access Television

I have nothing against goth counterculture. In fact, there were some early days in high school where I may have worn some skull-print T-shirts, painted my fingernails black, and read a ton of Edgar Allan Poe while listening to old Depeche Mode and Sisters of Mercy. I thought I was just doing my own thing but, looking back, it may have been the inevitable end of crushing on your goth babysitter: eventually you get old enough to try to nab a goth babysitter yourself.

However, I never went as far as being goth on public access television, and reading awful, generic poetry about pain and death. And if I had, I wouldn’t have done it in a T-shirt depicting The Osbournes. Goths aren’t fans of reality television, you dingus.

The “Let’s Get Salmonella” Cooking Show

I’ve always felt that cooking shows featuring a season-long contest were missing something. All of the chefs, even the ones that are cut in the first few episodes of the show, are at least adept at putting something edible and, for the most part, appetizing out to the standard food consumer. What these shows are missing is Merrill Howard Kalin.

Merrill Howard Kalin is apparently a mentally disabled chef who had at least one episode on public access television in Palatine, Illinois. I use the word “chef” in the loosest definition possible, as in “person who handles food ingredients.” Now, I know why you think we’re making fun of this video, because you’re a terrible person, but because the rest of us aren’t, let’s be clear: this is awful because it could kill you. While his dishes are fine, Merrill’s food safety technique is not. He goes straight from handling raw chicken to peeling apart lettuce, and uses the same cutting board for both. Did you order salmonella? Because it’s on the menu. And the chef’s hands.

It’s great that Merrill Kalin has a show. That’s exactly what public access is for. But at some point someone should have gone over his itinerary and pointed out that fingers covered in chicken juices should never peel lettuce — if not for the viewers, then certainly so that he doesn’t make himself a dinner at home and get sick to his stomach.

As bad as this food prep is, safety-wise, I’m pretty sure Dr. Steve Brule would be worse. After all, the latter once amputated his finger trying to carve a pumpkin.

The Original David Liebe Hart

You may remember David Liebe Hart from such Emmy-maligned television shows such as Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and Check It Out! With Dr. Steve Brule, but he didn’t start out as such a stellar entertainer.

David Liebe Hart was once the creator of The Junior Christian Science Bible Lesson Program, a Los Angeles-based public access television program that used creepy puppets, psychedelic green-screen production, music, and a large, dancing woman to teach kids about Christianity.

Hart’s inability to spell the names of musicians, screw up potential cues during filming, and put viewers in that emotion between humorous entertainment and nightmarish fear may very well have been the inspiration for Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim, and John C. Reilly in their satirical perception of public access television that we have all come to mock.

Let’s Paint…Again!

I know what you’re thinking: “Hey dingus, you already covered John Kilduff and his Let’s Paint show!” True, but the mystery of whether John Kilduff’s public access shows are meant to be honest or ironic is still up for debate. Kilduff has even begun to do live, streaming shows on YouTube, some in which he only paints, not even while jogging on a treadmill.

I found this clip where Kilduff stretches himself out in his multi-tasking mayhem by running, painting, playing chess, cooking fried egg sandwiches, mistaking Bobby Fischer for Eddie Fischer, and even taking phone calls while his sidekick, Bernard, can barely answer the phone. If this isn’t the epitome of public access television, I don’t know what is.

More American Idol Rejects

John Daker may be the king of horrible public access music programs, but there are plenty of other acts that can give him a run for the title.

One of these acts is Henrietta and Merna singing “Go Tell It On the Mountain” on what seems to be the Christmas episode for a Christian show. You can tell it’s a Christmas show by how the host says so. No need for any Christmas decorations or Christmas-y images on the blue-screen, no sir!

While the show did its best to drown out Henrietta and Merna’s horrible, repeated singing of only 2 lines of “Go Tell It On the Mountain” by turning up the karaoke machine, you can still tell that this show wasn’t bringing in the same talent as American Idol. At least, the talent of American Idol that made it past the hilarious “Worst Of” episodes.


Patrick Emmel once fell asleep on his couch watching a public access television station, and still wakes up with night terrors because of it. You can see some of his work at www.theineptowl.com or heckle him on Twitter @Patrick_AE.

Haven’t had enough? Check out Part 1 of our public access analysis and how you can make a movie or tv show like Tim and Eric.

More from The Man Behind Patrick Emmel
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