In January 1989, entertainer Ben Hollis and WTTW-Ch. 11 producer Jon Davies created a television show that they called "Wild Chicago." The reason they did this, said Hollis at the time, "was because there was nothing like it on TV."
Indeed. I was the Tribune's television critic then and I wrote, having screened the first two episodes of what was expected to be only a 13-week run, that the program was "altogether unusual and wacky. … The pace of the show defies cataloging. In fact, everything about (it) flies in the face of what we are accustomed to seeing on TV, local or national. … (It is) loaded with potential. In its raw and simple way, it is passionately committed to uncovering Chicago's most interesting, amusing and laughable corners."
It became an immediate hit, one of the most interesting and successful locally produced shows in Chicago television history. Hollis, ebullient and enthusiastic in his pith helmet and khaki clothes, won three local Emmys as host, and then shocked a lot of people when he quit in May 1992, citing the need to recharge his batteries after 400 "WC" segments. There was a well-publicized effort to find a new host — more than 250 people applied for the job — before TV director/stage manager Laura Meagher and comic/actor Will Clinger carried on ably, with producer Harvey Moshman. Meagher left after a couple of years, and Clinger was joined by other hosts for a couple of more seasons.
Hollis went on to do a lot of things, including the "What's It Like To Be You?" stage show, getting married and becoming the father of two children, returning to television as host of "Ben Loves Chicago," and starting Best Man Pictures, which produces wedding videos.
His latest venture brings him back where it all began.
"Chicago needs to be reminded of its nascent wildness," Hollis says.
To facilitate that, Hollis is attempting to release some "great old" "WC" material on DVD and digital download, what he calls "the best of the first two seasons."
He got permission from WTTW to do so and has been seeking funds to do cover costs, money for such things as music rights, editing, artwork and marketing.
"Channel 11 did their share by opening up the archives to me," he says. "The rest is up to us. This is grass-roots action. And none of this dough will go to any super PAC, I promise."
As of Thursday, Hollis has raised $2,400 of the $15,600 he says he needs.
The persuasive pitch, all sorts of information and some great old clips are available at indiegogo.com/wildchicagodvd. The campaign ends Oct. 4, and, ever confident, Hollis plans a celebration that night at 7 p.m. at the Joynt, 650 N. Dearborn St.
Seeing some of the old clips reminded me of what a terrific show this was and how marvelously eclectic, exploring the cultural, entertainment and human diversity of the city by traveling to, among many places, a biker bar, a Jimi Hendrix shrine, the Polka Music Hall of Fame, the Institute of Lie Detection, a psychic, and a carnival.
Hollis posed for the photo above at Al-Mansoor Video, a Devon Avenue shop devoted exclusively to Indian films. It was featured in one of the very first "WC" shows, and the folks who own it were glad to have Hollis back after all these years.
"I think this 'Wild Chicago' stuff needs to be seen and appreciated again," Hollis says. "It really brings back memories, and I believe it reminds us of how special Chicago is as a place that celebrates eccentricity and freedom to do what you want. Maybe we need a little more of that today. Don't you think that 'Wild Chicago' should be in every Chicago Public Library branch across the city? Every school?"
Frankly, I do.Copyright © 2015, RedEye