Jerry Harrell has portrayed Doctor Maximillian Madblood since the first episode aired on November 4, 1975. At the time of the program's creation, Jerry was the Assistant Production Manager at WAVY-TV in Portsmouth. A native of Morristown, Tennessee, Jerry moved to Hampton Roads in 1974. He was Creative Director at WAVY until 1982, when he left to form his own company, Harrell Productions. As a producer, writer and director, Jerry has been nominated for a total of five CableACE Awards for documentary production, and has twice won ADDY Awards for commercial production. Jerry is currently the Senior TV Video Producer in charge of Academic Television Services at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.
Q: How did the idea for Dr. Madblood and the show come about ?
I moved to the Norfolk market in the fall of 1974 to become the assistant production manager at WAVY-TV. I had been working in Richmond for three years, hosting a daily live children's program (talk about working without a net) and was surprised there were no local entertainment shows in this market. (And there still aren't. Except for one.) The station was already running a late night horror film on Saturday nights, so I asked the station manager to consider letting Mark Young (who was the break announcer at the time) and me put together a one shot Halloween special to air in the fall of 1975. He agreed and we wrote and produced the program that September.
I knew I did not want to do another vampire out of the casket type of show, and we considered doing it as Jekyll and Hyde, with Jekyll being a normal guy and Hyde being a smarmy game show host. We worked on that idea for awhile, but it became too much of a one-joke idea, so the mad scientist from Pungo and his faithful little lab assistant developed from that. Young Frankenstein, released that year, was a big influence.
Q: Did you ever imagine the show would last this long?
I never though it would get past the pilot! We built a trivia question into the Halloween special, and asked viewers to call in during the program. There were more than a hundred responses, which we took to the manager the following Monday morning. The show became a regular series a few weeks later, and ran for seven years on WAVY. Then we did two seasons on the local PBS affiliate, which syndicated it to 17 public television stations all over Virginia. After that we did a couple of Halloween specials and returned to series on WTVZ in 1989.
Q: What kind of things inspired you and aided in creating Max Madblood as a character? The look? The attitude?
Ernie Kovacs. Bob and Ray. Monty Python. Mel Brooks.
Q: How did the reoccurring characters on the show come about?
When Mark Young left the show during the first season to become the WAVY weatherman, I carried on with just Brain for awhile, and then started playing with the idea of this bizarre little neighborhood out in the wilds of Pungo and thought about who should populate it. We started doing regular characters after Mike Arlo came aboard in the summer of 1976. Mike began doing Count Lacudra, and Donna Edwards was his girlfriend, The Princess Lygia. Then we added Betsy Von Basketcase, portrayed by Sheree Bernardi, who read the news on Mike's radio show on FM-99. And it grew from there.
Q: Has anyone ever been Injured by Mike Arlo's moustache? Hehehe
You'll have to ask Mike about that one.
Q: Why Pungo, VA as the setting for Madblood Manor?
Originally I was going to set the show in the fictional suburb of Shadowood, but when I found out there was a town called Pungo, I changed my mind. The Pungo Swamp does not exist, of course, but we added it anyway, for the creatures it could produce, and because I have always been a fan of Walt Kelly's Pogo.
Q: Who else helps create the show and it's stories?
We have a dedicated group of producers and crew who direct and produce and edit the shows. Carter Perry came to us as an officer in the original Madblood fan club, and went on to become a producer/director/editor/monster (Ernie). Craig T. Adams and his wife Debra Burrell are professional puppeteers who joined the show when we produced The Umpire Strikes Back in 1980, and now serve as producer and continuity director, as well as playing a number of characters on the show. Craig is the voice of Brain and often plays Madblood's Uncle Felonious. He has also written a number of episodes. Jon Doughtie is the production manager at WTVZ who helped bring the show to that station and he directs and produces many of the shows.
Q: Are you a big horror/sci-fi fan? What films do you hold in high regard personally?
I grew up reading Ray Bradbury and Robert A. Heinlien. Horror and SF have always had a special place in my heart. I love all the old Universal classics. The first movie that scared the crap out of me was Invaders from Mars. The second was Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The last movie that scared the crap out of me was The Exorcist. The first movie that inspired a real sense of wonder in me was Forbidden Planet.
Q: How's the show on Fox 33 working out? Any chance or being on more than once a month?
That's WB 33 these days. Doubtful that the program will ever go back to a weekly timeslot. Not because the interest is not there, but the movies are simply not available. When we did the show on WAVY in the 70's, we had five film packages just for our program, including all the Universal and Hammer titles. All of those films are owned by the cable networks now, Ted Turner and AMC. So we don't have access to enough movies to be on more often than we are. And television has changed a lot since we started. Commercial breaks are much longer than they used to be, and you can only go away from the movie for so long and expect people to keep watching.
Q: Any other hosts out there that you've enjoyed watching or working with over the years?
In our early days, we traded appearances with Bill Bowman (The Bowman Body) in the Richmond market. We had Al Lewis (Grandpa Munster) on our show. I've enjoyed seeing footage of a lot of the legends over the years, Ghoulardi, Svengari, Zacherley, Chilly Billy, Vampira and of course Elvira. There are a lot of others I have heard great stories about. A dear and brilliant lady named Elena Watson wrote a wonderful book in 1991 called "Television Horror Movie Hosts," published by McFarland, that is filled with great stories about these gentlemen and ladies. And I still enjoy the MST re-runs on the Sci-Fi Channel.
Q: Do you feel there's a big interest in scare films in this area? I've always felt Hampton Roads was more of a sci-fi town myself. Do you here from many fans of the show?
I would agree that SF is very popular here. I do indeed hear from fans. Since Gary Eckstein began our award-winning Madblood website, madblood.net (I can brag on it because Gary does all the work and the outstanding design) we get e-mails from lots of former viewers from all over the country who watched the show when they were stationed here with the Navy, or attending college.
Q: How do the movies get chosen for the show? Does the network have certain titles you can work with?
When we were on WAVY, I had control of the films and selected them from the several packages the station owned. These days we gratefully accept whatever the program director at WB33 can come up with.
Q: What has been the most popular episode of Dr. Madblood so far?
I don't know. I stopped keeping track of the ratings a long time ago.
Q: Is there any chance or way for fans to get past episodes? Have you ever considered selling them?
There is an ongoing discussion about that within the ranks. Jon Doughtie recently began transferring our oldest surviving episodes from the seventies over to digital tape and we may yet get around to creating some "Best Of" (or should I say "Worst Of"?) tapes. I have resisted this for a long time because I felt the program doesn't work when taken out of context, that is, without a movie surrounding it. But there IS an ongoing discussion.
Q: How many folks does it take to get the show rolling each month?
Regular cast: Mike, Craig, Penny, and me. One wacko director/producer, two tireless camera operators, one ace audio dude, one continuity goddess, one set goddess. How many is that?
Q: Do you always stick closely to the script? Hehehe
We always stick absolutely to the script, never changing a word, phrase, or comma. Hehehe.
Q: How has the show changed through each decade or has it?
For the first couple of seasons (75-76), we floundered around trying all kinds of things, attempting to find a formula. Then I surrounded myself with a bunch of talented people, and we began doing sketch comedy, blackouts, and movie spoofs (77-82). During the time we were on public television (82-84), we inserted ourselves into the movies and commented on them much more directly, years before MST. When we moved to WTVZ (89-now) we became a more traditional sitcom, with ongoing characters and situations. (Did I really say traditional? Oh my.) I have no idea what we will mutate into next.
Q: What else do you do besides JFH Productions?
These days I am the Video Production Manager at Old Dominion University, producing international teleconferences, presentations and educational programs.
Q: What's the worst episode you remember?
I don't remember.
Q: Anything else you'd like to touch on? Plug the show? Ask for $$?
Just to say thanks to all of the viewers who have watched us over the years and taken the time to get in touch and share stories of enjoying our particular brand of silliness. I think silliness is very important, especially in the middle of a long dark night.