As a fan of classic television shows, I welcomed the opportunity to interview director CJ Wallis, whose latest documentary is Stu’s Show. Released on May 2 by Upstream Flix, the 95-minute film focuses on the life and career of Stu Shostak, a TV historian and archivist. The documentary carries the same name as Shostak’s actual program, where he interviews actors and creatives about the great television classics and shares little-known stories and footage.
Wallis, who hails from Vancouver, Canada, is a longtime editor and director. His credits include Bb, Last Flowers, and Perfect Bid. We spoke at length about what it was like to capture Shostak’s intriguing career and interviews with close family friends, which included actors Tony Dow (Leave it to Beaver), Michael Cole (The Mod Squad), the late Ed Asner (Mary Tyler Moore), and Butch Patrick (The Munsters).
Interviews and Classic TV Archives
“It’s the best story you could ever want to tell,” said Wallis. “It was a great experience. I didn’t grow up with a lot of these shows, but I obsessed over them while I was here. [Also], to hang out with Ed Asner for a couple years is the best you can get.”
Along with archival footage of the TV historian’s career, Wallis incorporated animation segments into Stu’s Show, partly since B-roll footage wasn’t available. With his Flintstones and Jetsons-inspired drawings, the animation style cleverly reinforces the classic TV theme.
As an archivist, Shostak amassed thousands of prints of classic TV shows on original reels during 40 years of collecting. In the documentary, Wallis follows Shostak through the his house, watching him pull out the prints and other collectable items, including original TV Guides, from shelves and boxes. The director aimed for non-traditional storytelling about this “peripheral” and fascinating person from Hollywood.
“The idea of forcing [Stu] to sit in a chair with three-point movie lighting [and more] would have taken away from this story. The cinematographer and I wanted everything to be beautiful. Scorsese always said to pick emotion or performance over the technical. In this situation, it was best to say, ‘Okay, Stu, go.'”
From Ticket Distributor to Audience Warm-Ups
In his earliest jobs, Shostak handed out tickets for show tapings in LA. He also warmed up the audiences before tapings started. Juggling these jobs through college, he came to the notice of Lucille Ball (I Love Lucy) while he attended one of her Q&A courses in the Los Angeles area.
When I asked Wallis how he would fare as an audience warm-up person, he laughed and recalled his time selling used TVs at an electronics store. Shostak had a unique skill of entertaining every person at tapings in a 200-seat theater with his anecdotes and jokes. That was helpful to avoid boredom during light and equipment adjustments between takes.
Shostak’s Later Years and Archive Sharing
Later, the documentary delves into Shostak’s personal life. That includes his marriage to Jeanine Kasun and their difficulties with the medical industry following her brain aneurism. Wallis was surprised by what he learned about the ordeal in the interviews. “You don’t expect Ed Asner to look you dead in the camera and say that the doctor deserved to die. You tell the story because you love Stu. Meeting these classic TV people who also explain this crazy story is a one-of-a-kind thing. It had to be put on a screen.”
Shostak has put his TV knowledge to good use as host of his program, Stu’s Show, since 2006. “Stu has been doing these four and five-hour podcasts before Kevin Smith, Joe Rogan, or Adam Kruger, who claim they pioneered it,” Wallis said.
Even though many of us don’t have extensive archives, Wallis emphasized that successful podcasting is about being true to yourself and doing the research. “If you’re doing something worthwhile for people, it’ll get magnified.”
Wallis sees a lot of value in revisiting classic TV and films. The classics are vital not only for studying the original techniques, but for rediscovering the joy of watching these shows. “[Some] people won’t know who Ed Asner is, but hopefully they’ll find him funny, see the twinkle in his grumpy eye, and want to watch Mary Tyler Moore episodes. Then they’ll learn about Ted Knight and keep going backwards. Lucille Ball has amazing work in the ’30s and ’40s in film noir and musicals.”
For more information and streaming options, visit the “Stu’s Show Documentary” Facebook page.