MeTVs Horror Host Svengoolie Plans Expansion With Nationwide Talent Search (EXCLUSIVE)

“Svengoolie” is growing. The MeTV horror host, whose first primetime special on the classic TV network aired this weekend, is spearheading a nationwide talent search to find fans to appear in “Svengoolie” off-shoots.

The campaign, dubbed “Spawn of Svengoolie,” was announced on October 1 at the conclusion of “Svengoolie Uncrypted,” a one-hour special that followed the character, played by Rich Koz, as he escaped his dungeon and explored the world — and showcased the more than 43 years of the character.

“Svengoolie” has been a local Chicago TV staple for more than four decades; Weigel Broadcasting, which owns MeTV, added the character to its national lineup in 2011. More recently, the network noticed an uptick in viewership on Saturday nights, particularly during the pandemic, as horror fans stayed home to watch “Svengoolie’s” campy and often obscure horror films, and more importantly, Svengoolie’s horror movie facts, trivia and corny dad jokes.

“I always say he’s the number one horror host you’ve never heard of,” said Donna D’Alessandro, exec VP and head of content at Weigel Broadcasting. “The show grew 30% in two years, hitting about a million viewers every Saturday night. That to me was unbelievable statistic. A lot of the coastal cities are learning who Svengoolie is now. But we’re still trying to get him out there. He is a huge asset, loved and beloved. I couldn’t believe the amount of audience that he has, his following. I’d walk by his desk, and I couldn’t believe the amount of fan mail he still gets on a weekly basis.”

Koz began as Svengoolie in 1979, and together with his rubber chicken Kerwyn, had been on and off Chicago TV over the years. But Koz and his character continued to be local sensations, winning eight regional Emmy Awards and being into the Chicago Television Academy’s “Silver Circle” in 2004 for his outstanding contribution to Chicago television.

“I became an overnight success in about 43 years,” Koz quipped. “Believe me, I’ll take it. It’s been pretty amazing and flattering to me to see this. And the fact is, not only have we gotten such a huge audience, but it continues to grow. To be involved in this nationally and to have the show trending in the top topics on Twitter every week, it’s amazing to me. Never when I started did I think, first of all that I’d still be doing it this many years later. And secondly, that it would get to this level. It is it’s very flattering, but it’s also kind of overwhelming to me.”

D’Alessandro, who joined Weigel last year, decided to lean into Svengoolie this Halloween season. MeTV just embarked on what it calls Svengoolie’s Halloween BOOnanza,” a month-long programming stunt that kicked off with “Svengoolie Uncrypted,” and also includes a movie showcase every Saturday night, an all-new season of the Svengoolie companion series “Sventoonie,” Sunday afternoon marathons of spooky episodes of classic TV series, and a horror-themed episode of MeTV’s original series “Collector’s Call.” 

“One of the things that we have to look at is there’s a gem here, how do we how do we grow it? How do we extend it? How do we make sure it goes on for another 43 years?” D’Alessandro said.  “And we started a little bit with this quirky little show called ‘Sventoonie,’ we call it an after-party area after ‘Svengoolie’ on Saturday nights. It’s a little different, a little bit funnier, and it’s a little bit more avant garde. That alone showed us that people want more from this character and from the brands.”

That’s where the “Spawn of Svengoolie” idea came from. In the special, Doug Jones (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) shows up to audition, as if he’s making a tape at home. From there, MeTV has opened the gates for fans to audition to become a part of Svengoolie’s expanded character universe. First up, the Koz and the show will appear at New York Comic-Con for the first time and hold in-person auditions there.

“We always wanted to expand the Svengoolie universe,” Koz said. “Even though young people are going to say, ‘Oh, are you retiring?’ No, I’m not I’m not going anywhere. I’ve always said, as long as I’m enjoying it, and my health is good, I’ll continue doing it. And with the success we’ve had, I’d be a fool to retire at this point. But we thought that we could add some fans who have been influenced by me. I hear about that all the time that there are people who have been influenced by our show on what I do, and we want to bring them into this world.”

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