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Why I Left Burning Man -- and Why I'm Returning


"That's a Wrap!"—Rappin' with Bob Baxter

by Deuce of Clubs

(First published in Planet Magazine, 18jul1995)

 

"What's Next, Bob speakin!"

"This is Planet Magazine calling. We're going to do an issue about TV—"

"I've heard of them."

"Planet Magazine?"

"Nah. TVs. [Laughs]

"Always the kidder, eh Bob?"

"Sorry, guy. I open my mouth and stuff just comes out."

So began my conversation with Bob Baxter, self-styled "King of Public Access." What's Next with Bob Baxter is probably Arizona's most notorious public access cable show. Though his shows are now more likely to feature motorcycles and hot rods, it wasn't long ago that they routinely featured lingerie, tattoos, and naked women. Sometimes all three together. When you tuned in to Bob's show, you could be pretty sure you'd see something goofy.

Asked to describe the show, Baxter says, "What you see is what you get—I'm me. I don't know if that comes across, but that's actually how I am."

Baxter came to Arizona from New York by way of Houston, and has been here about ten years. For about half that time he's been producing his TV show.

"I'd always been wanting to be on television, be in the movies, kind of...act," he says, "ever since—gee, probably since I was a kid, since the first time I saw television. I kind of let life pass me by. I lived a biker lifestyle for so many years, it just didn't fit in." The idea to do his own show came to Bob the same way it has to many other cable show producers. "One day I was scanning the channels and I saw this show, and it mentioned to call this number if you're interested, I did, and buh-buh-buh- booom, the rest is history."

"History" may be stretching it, but Baxter does rank as something of an underground Phoenix celebrity, and is constantly recognized in public. Sometimes for fun he'll pretend he's not Bob Baxter; sometimes he'll claim to have used a body double during his body piercing show, when he had one of his nipples pierced. "You can see the wind go out of their sails," he says. "'Cos to some people—I don't mean to sound braggadocious—but to some people, I'm kinda their hero, like." Usually he'll open his shirt to show them that they've been nailed—and so has his nipple. "I'm a kidder, guy! I'm a kidder!" he says. It's one of his favorite lines.

The response to What's Next with Bob Baxter has been much stronger than that typically garnered by public access shows, most of which are lucky to get even a handful of phone calls or postcards. Baxter receives calls in response to every show, especially those that are more "risque," as he terms it. He claims his first lingerie fashion show, which aired several times, generated 300-400 phone calls.

However, Baxter's "risque" shows are "fewer and fewer now," he says, "because of the new `no nudity' law that's in effect since August of '94." Dimension Cable (now Cox Cable), mainly in response to What's Next and a growing number of shows promoting "family nudism," requested that the city change their operating contract to allow them to refuse to broadcast shows containing nudity. The city approved their request and the ban on nudity took effect thirty days later.

Baxter didn't hear about the decision until well into the thirty days, but before the ban went into effect he had just enough time to shoot and broadcast—twice—his final hurrah: a startlingly graphic show shot live at the Miss Nude America contest in Southern California. If you happened to witness this episode, you probably still can't believe it was actually broadcast.

"I had it planned [already]," Baxter says, "but I wasn't sure in my mind how much I was going to show." The impending ban decided the question for him. "I had it figured out that I could get there, shoot the show, edit the show, and air it once or twice [before the ban]. I figured, I came in with a bang, I'm going out with a bang." So to speak.

Baxter, a neurosurgeon by day (actually, a landscape electrician—"I'm a kidder, guy! I'm a kidder!"), downplays the T&A angle. If you want to make him happy, compliment something other than the pretty girls. "Hell, you can do a show with T&A and they'll like your show, too," he says.

Besides the T&A, one thing everyone remembers about What's Next is Baxter's habit of closing every segment with the tag line "That's a wrap," and pointing the microphone back towards the camera. That bit of business originated in Baxter's first show, presumably as a way of indicating where to cut scenes during editing. His cameraman thought it was funny and convinced Baxter to leave the line in. "So I just continued doing it," he says, and it quickly became something of a trademark. "I guess it is, because a lot of people I see [say], `Hey Bob— that's a wrap!'"

Ever since that first lingerie show (which Baxter says prompted Insight Cable to shut down their studio for five months), he has used his own video equipment to tape his show. Recently he received a donation from Oscar, a local bike shop owner, to buy some new video equipment. Baxter prefers shooting on location, and likes being independent of the cable company's equipment and studios. In fact, it's been rumored that Baxter isn't even a cable television subscriber. "That was true," he admits, somewhat sheepishly. "I just recently got it."

Since the nudity ban, the content of What's Next With Bob Baxter has leaned heavily on motorcycles, a circumstance that may be losing Baxter some viewers. Friends of mine, when they heard I was going to interview Bob Baxter, would say, "Ask him if he has any shows planned that aren't about motorcyles!"

"That's a fair question, and I have to say I do get asked [that] often," Baxter admits. "I can appreciate that kind of remark. I know that bikes aren't for everybody. It's just that I'm thirty-some years into bikin'—I've done it for so long and it's such a big part of me that every time I turn around and wanna do something else, there's another event that somebody would like for me to shoot. And most of the bike events I do are either fundraisers, or something for charity, benefits of some sort, you know? So it's hard for me to say no."

Which brings us to the obvious Bob Baxter question: What's next? Baxter says he has in mind a few different show ideas, such as a comedy showcase and something he refers to as "a not nude— but lewd—show." ("No hints about that one," he says.)

Asked for a final comment, Baxter supplies, without a moment's thought, just the closing I was looking for:

"That's a wrap!"

© Deuce of Clubs


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