The local TV and radio legend still gets a thrill from “Nite Owl Theatre”
When Fritz the Nite Owl hosted movies seven nights a week on WBNS-10TV, it was as if he were having conversations in multiple living rooms across the city. Whether it was a mother waking up for a 2 a.m. infant feeding, or a couple on date night, Fritz shared an intimate connection with people through his commentary between scene breaks, bolstered by special effects.
The Emmy-award-winning show ran for 17 years, ending in 1991. When he brought it back to movie theaters in 2010, Fritz was unsure if it would translate without the intimacy.
“I'm just astounded,” Fritz said of the response to “Nite Owl Theatre,” which runs monthly at Grandview Theatre and Drafthouse, the State Theatre in London, Ohio, and Studio 35 Cinema & Drafthouse. The next event, a showing of “Back to the Future,” takes place Saturday, Jan. 26, at the latter venue.
“It really is terrific that a lot of the old viewers are now bringing their kids,” Fritz said. “And then there are younger people who come with no idea what a movie host did in the days before cable.”
Now 84 years old, Fritz works with director/producer Mike McGraner to record segments scripted by a team of writers. But he'll throw in his own ad-libs from time to time. He'll also appear at the showings to sign autographs and talk to the crowd.
“I never thought I'd even meet him [let alone] be in charge of the show,” said McGraner, who grew up watching Fritz's “Friday Night Chiller.” “It's a lot of pressure.”
It's also a lot of fun for McGraner, who is able to give Fritz tips for relating to a younger audience. He fondly recalls shooting a segment for “Robocop.”
“I said, ‘Ask the audience if they're down with OCP,'” McGraner said, referencing a play on the Omni Consumer Products corporation in the movie, and the Naughty by Nature song “O.P.P.” “It got such a laugh.”
“Another time was when we were doing ‘Teenagers from Outer Space,' and in that movie there were no teenagers,” Fritz said. He's updated his joke about expecting to see Frankie and Annette (from 1963's “Beach Party”) to include Hanson and Justin Bieber.
Though Fritz has never broken out of regional stardom, he does draw people from as far as Michigan and Atlanta to his Ohio shows. He's also been able to meet celebrities from Nancy Wilson to Gregory Peck. And for the past two years, he's hosted “Nite Owl Theatre” at the Ohio Theatre, which still gives him a thrill.
“To walk out on that stage and have that light hit you and all of a sudden you hear this applause,” he said. “It's almost like a wave that comes down and washes over you.”
Hear more from Fritz in our Q&A on the blog.