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He's Got His Rabbit Ears Tuned for Clear Reception of TV's Past

An obsessed fan builds an online shrine to the commercials and programs of television's formative years.

October 19, 2000|DAVID COLKER | david.colker@latimes.com

Billy Ingram created an extensive Web site devoted to television. But don't ask him what's on TV tonight.

Ingram's interest in the tube stops at about 1980.

"I'd much rather watch even 'Here's Lucy' (1968-74) than 'Friends,' " said Ingram, 40, speaking from his Web design office in Greensboro, N.C. "As bad as that Lucy show was, it was from a time when TV had real stars. Now, most of the sitcom stars are interchangeable."

His shrine to TV's past, http://www.tvparty.com, contains nearly 2,000 video and audio clips of comedies, dramas, quiz shows, kids' programs, commercials and telethons. "It's what my generation grew up on," he said.

Ingram admits he was more obsessed with the medium than anyone he knew. "I used to juggle the program schedule in my head, convinced I could do a better job of it than the network programmers. I was sure I could predict exactly which shows would be hits.

"I wanted to be a part of that life."

The closest he got was appearing in the studio audience of a local kids' show in Greensboro hosted by a man who called himself "The Old Rebel." "That name probably wouldn't work, today," Ingram said.

A visit to "The Old Rebel" became a regular birthday treat. "I would sit there with a Coca-Cola and a loaf of bread--or whatever came from the sponsor of the show that day--having the time of my life."

He thought acting would be his way into television, but after appearing in several dinner theater productions in college, Ingram decided he didn't want to take on the uncertainty of the actor's life. In 1978 he headed to Los Angeles to try his hand at writing.

Eventually, he got a lucrative job as an artist at a firm that created movie posters. But like many of the good jobs in L.A., it left him little spare time to pursue his dream. "No way I could write after a 14-hour day," Ingram said.

Finally in 1994, Ingram loaded a car with his belongings and headed back to a less hectic life in Greensboro. It was there that he was first introduced to the Web--a medium he thought was perfect for his talents and obsession.

In 1995, he created a site that included an early version of "TV Party." Two years later, with dozens of submissions sent to him by fans of bygone shows, he gave "TV Party" a domain of its own.

As streaming audio and video became more sophisticated, Ingram added clips that had come his way. In the site's "Television's Most Outrageous Commercials" section is a 1955 ad for Dorothy Gray cold cream that shows a model whose face has been finely covered with radioactive dust. A clicking Geiger counter, held to her cheek, proves it.

But one application of the cold cream and her face is so clean, the clicking stops.

"That one was found by a man who had a job transferring a big TV star's programs from film to video," Ingram said. "He made copies of the commercial and sent one to me."

Ingram doesn't go much for the mainstream. A prominent section is devoted to major flops, including "My Mother the Car," "Turn On" and "Supertrain." And perhaps the most heartfelt section is devoted to hosts of local kids' shows, including L.A.'s Sheriff John, Hobo Kelly, Chucko and Beachcomber Bill.

Ingram's TV writing career never panned out, but he said he doesn't care.

"I make a good living off Web design. My writing time is all devoted to 'TV Party.' I'll stay up all night writing about a show, going through things people send to me.

"It's such a joy."

*

Times staff writer David Colker covers personal technology.

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