Discover Ray Bradbury & Kurt Vonnegut’s 1990s TV Shows: The Ray Bradbury Theater and Welcome to the Monkey House

There has always been good tele­vi­sion. Even Kurt Von­negut, wit­ti­est of cur­mud­geons, had to agree in 1991 when he was inter­viewed in The Cable Guide for his own con­tri­bu­tion to the medi­um, an adap­ta­tion of his book of sto­ries, Wel­come to the Mon­key House on Show­time. Von­negut did not like tele­vi­sion, and com­pared it to thalido­mide. “We don’t know what the side effects are until it’s too late.” He could only go up from there, and did, prais­ing, Cheers, M*A*S*H, and Hill Street Blues, and then say­ing, “I’d rather have writ­ten Cheers than any­thing I’ve writ­ten.”

I nev­er know exact­ly when to take Von­negut seri­ous­ly. He also calls TV everybody’s “rot­ten teacher” and says “I’m sor­ry tele­vi­sion exists,” but he had long been a TV writer in its “so-called gold­en days,” as John Goudas put it in a Los Ange­les Times inter­view with Von­negut in 1993, when his sev­en-episode run of Kurt Vonnegut’s Mon­key House, host­ed by him­self, would soon come to a close. Von­negut found him­self very pleased by the results, remark­ing of his sto­ries that “TV can do them very well,” and espe­cial­ly prais­ing “More State­ly Man­sions,” above, star­ring an irre­press­ible Made­line Kahn, whom he called “a superb actress.”

Anoth­er very direct, wit­ty spec­u­la­tive writer in the same year’s issue of The Cable Guide, Ray Brad­bury, appeared with Von­negut as part of two “duel­ing, short fea­tures,” notes Nick Greene at Men­tal Floss,
“under the aus­pices of pro­mot­ing the authors’ upcom­ing cable spe­cials,” Mon­key House and The Ray Brad­bury The­ater. Brad­bury was also an old media hand, hav­ing writ­ten for radio in the 50s, and see­ing adap­ta­tions of his sto­ries made since that decade, includ­ing one on Alfred Hitchcock’s Alfred Hitch­cock Presents. Like Hitch­cock, when it came time for his own show, The Ray Brad­bury The­ater in 1985, Brad­bury intro­duced the episodes and became a pub­lic face for thou­sands of view­ers.

He also wrote each episode, all 65 of them, from 1985–86 on HBO and 1988–92 on USA. In his Cable Guide inter­view, Brad­bury calls tele­vi­sion, “most­ly trash,” then adds, “I’m full of trash… I’ve watched thou­sands of hours of TV. I’ve seen every movie ever made… everything’s the same.” What did he like to watch? Nova, unsur­pris­ing­ly, and CNN, which he called “the most rev­o­lu­tion­ary thing in years.” In his inter­view (which you can read in a high res­o­lu­tion scan at Men­tal Floss), Brad­bury cred­its tele­vi­sion for “a lot of what hap­pened in Europe”—referring to the fall of Com­mu­nism, as well as Tianan­men Square, and the Gulf War. “Final­ly, the mes­sage got through,” he says, “and peo­ple revolt­ed… CNN,” he con­clud­ed, “is very pow­er­ful tele­vi­sion.” If he could see us now. See Bradbury’s very first episode of The Ray Brad­bury The­ater, “Mar­i­onettes” from 1985, just above. And pur­chase the com­plete TV series online.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Kurt Von­negut Read Slaugh­ter­house-Five, Cat’s Cra­dle & Oth­er Nov­els

Hear Kurt Von­negut Vis­it the After­life & Inter­view Dead His­tor­i­cal Fig­ures: Isaac New­ton, Adolf Hitler, Eugene Debs & More (Audio, 1998)

Ray Brad­bury Gives 12 Pieces of Writ­ing Advice to Young Authors (2001)

How Ray Brad­bury Wrote the Script for John Huston’s Moby Dick (1956)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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