America's midnight cult classic is going prime time.
Too outrageous for the masses, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" has made camp for nearly two decades in a cultural wilderness, kept alive by thousands of fanatics who turn each performance into a costume party.
Now it's television's chance. On Monday night, the Fox network will air the movie for the first time (at 8 p.m., Channels 11 and 6), introducing viewers to the zany off-stage, fan participation that catapulted this seemingly insignificant 1975 release into a phenomenon. Fox will alternate between the action on screen and shots of audience members doing their own version with the film in the background.
" 'Rocky Horror' is breaking ground again," said Lou Adler, the film's executive producer, who served as a consultant for the Fox project. "It's the right thing for 'Rocky Horror.' I never imagined it could happen on television."
Neither could Sal Piro, longtime president of the movie's 50,000-member international fan club, who feared anything on the small screen would be a heavily edited skeleton of the original cut.
Yet Piro, who also consulted Fox, said the final product is pure enough for the most rabid "Rocky Horror" lovers. About 4 1/2 minutes have been deleted--obscenities and some nudity.
"I had a hard time picking out what was cut," said Piro, who has seen the original more than 1,500 times. "It was five seconds here, five seconds there."
The movie tells the story of a nerdy couple (played by Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon) who experience car trouble and stumble into a castle of weirdos, including a lipstick-wearing bisexual named Frank N. Furter (Tim Curry). The Fox special will be introduced by rock star Meat Loaf, who had a small role in the film.
What clinched full approval from Adler and Piro was Fox's willingness to make the evening a theatrical event, not just a movie. Piro helped with the gathering of nearly 500 fan club members from across the nation to participate in the off-screen dramatization, which was shot last Saturday at the Tower Theatre in downtown Los Angeles.
Piro was there in the beginning, at the Waverly Theater in Manhattan in early 1976, when he and his friends suddenly began to imitate the action. Soon, audiences across America were attending special midnight screenings in full regalia--party hats, fishnet stockings, rubber gloves. Each item and characterization evolved as a response to a scene in the film. Many of the same fans came night after night. One generation followed another. "Rocky Horror" has grossed more than $175 million worldwide.
In fact, Adler contends, it was the presence of the movie's original die-hards in key executive positions that helped make the television event possible.
"Before, when I met with people, I was the only one with ideas about how to do this," Adler said. "But at Fox, they had great thoughts to start out with. The people who make decisions are aware of 'Rocky Horror.' They were there."
That includes Tracy Dolgin, the network's executive vice president of marketing. He saw the movie every two weeks as an undergraduate at Cornell University during the late 1970s. Dolgin said the choice centered on how much fan participation to include.
"You could make it more participatory," he said, "by showing people when to throw rice or squirt water, but you would lose too many people who wouldn't be able to follow things. And if you simply showed the movie, you wouldn't get the special theatrical experience. We looked for a balance."
Fox will show audience members using the familiar dozen prop gags, such as noisemakers, toilet paper, toast, lighters and rice. Dolgin acknowledged that most viewers will not understand when to use a certain prop, but he hopes that they will figure things out by the second showing next Saturday, the night before Halloween (from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.).
"Be open-minded about it," Piro advised first-time viewers. "It might make a little mess in the house, but you'll have a good time."
Adler, Piro and others involved with the television premiere anticipate next week's showings will enhance the movie's popularity.
"If people don't know about 'Rocky Horror' now, then they're just stupid," Piro said.