Tuesday, March 06, 2007
DYNAMIC DUOS PART 15: COOKIN' CHEAP . . . FOR WHO LAID THE RAIL. It was a staple of Blue Ridge Public Television for 22 years. Sometime in the early-to-mid-90's, WYBE Public TV started airing the show around these parts. It was a cooking show AND a comedy show. The hosts were two good ole boys from Virginia whose Southern colloquiallisms and down home good humour COMPELLED you to love 'em. And two less compatible people can hardly be imagined -- at least on paper. Laban Johnson was a large, jolly gentle giant who would seem right at home sippin' juleps on his front porch while Larry Bly was an urbane advertising executive running his own company as well as a successful DJ who could rattle off his dry witticisms and biting commentary for who laid the rail! The city slicker and the country bumpkin, you might be tempted to think, but they were much more than that. Genuine friends in real life, Mr. Bly & Mr, Johnson (they even SOUND like a vaudeville comedy team) were totally themselves in front of the camera; no false affectations or hoity-toity airs. AND no high-class culinary arts on THIS show. The recipes they cooked were always new to them; sent in by their viewers. Laban & Larry never knew whether the food they were whipping up would be good or lousy. They joy of the show was that they would TELL you whether it was good or lousy. The show was also taped live -- in REAL time -- with all the mishaps and food disasters that entails. For several seasons, the opening credits would rerun a shot of Larry opening a bag of rice -- or flour or something (!) -- resulting in the bag bursting and rice flying all over the kitchen. There were NO edits and NO second chances. On one occasion, Larry was making caramel popcorn balls for a kids party-themed episode. By the end of the half hour, he had a bowl full of damp popcorn which would NOT form into balls -- and trust me, Larry tried . . . burning his hands on the hot caramel while both men giggled like ninnies. Another occasion found Laban making an apple sauce cake and wondering why the batter was stirring like concrete. The off-camera voice of Doris Ford, the boys' personal assistant on the show, chimed in with: "Did you put the apple sauce in?" Of course he had -- oh wait, no he hadn't -- there sat the apple sauce on the counter. So Laban & Larry proceeded to claw the batter out of the bundt pan and try again. Isn't that how we ALL cook in real life?!? Many episodes consisted of the boys simply opening can after can with NO apologies; that's how the recipe SAID to make it and by gum that's how they were gonna do it. The two boys proudly insisted the show was a comedy and should be viewed as such. All the grumpy letters they received complaining that "all they knew how to do was open cans" were laughed off as missing the point. Whenever the "kitchen witch" flew down (literally on a piece of fishing line) with that episode's recipes, hijinx could be expected. AND whenever the Cook Sisters were called in to dispense some homey wisdom, the viewer SURELY could guess that this was a comedy show: old Sister Cook and Tootsie Cook were Laban and Larry in (very bad) drag! Cookin' Cheap was ultimately there to test your sense of humour; if you didn't "get" the show . . . you simply didn't HAVE any! The overweight Mr. Johnson struggled for quite a few years with health problems ranging from his heart to diabetes (all that down home cookin' with lard, butter, bacon and cool whip can really get you in the end!). The end for Laban Johnson came in 1999. Gamely, Larry tried to continue on with Laban's friend Doug Patterson (who was TWICE the size of Laban!!!) but the magic was obviously gone. After a short time, Cookin' Cheap was cancelled and that, as they say, is that. One time, baby! However, for those of us who loved watching the show (HIYA CHEEKIES!!!), we will never forget those two lovable knuckleheads. Shamefully, I don't think ANYONE is showing reruns of the show anymore. And that's terrible. Luckily, for those of us who taped "the greatest of plenty" episodes, we can still watch them whenever we want. And I want. Click here to read Larry Bly's column about Cookin' Cheap becoming a subject of academic study!?! Seriously.