I owe NJN for two things: My first television appearance and my first—well, second, after Marvel Comics—teenage geek love.
The first (all from memory, so who knows if this is even true). I think I was about 8 (which would make it about 1976) when a show it did called “Focus: New Jersey” spent a program documenting one of our zoos. I was there on a school trip and the crew did a brief interview with me. I said “Hi, Mom” to the camera and they used it as the bumper/transition between segements! LOL! My interview was at the end. I remember my little elementary school having to have an assembly to watch it. (Again, this is memory, so who knows?)
The second I’m more sure of, thanks to Wikipedia and youtube. Y’see, NJN was a small network looking for shows that had a fan base so it could get some steady pledges. So in the early 80s, they tried a crazy, British sci-fi show I had never heard of called “Doctor Who.” (Although I do have VERY vague memories of some weird show that could’ve been it being on WWOR-TV Channel 9 in the 1970s, but again, memory. Either way, I will always be grateful for my high school friend Larry Jones for telling me about this program!) It was cheap to buy and there were “Doctor Who” fan clubs in New Jersey that would volunteer during Pledge Night. NJN decided to air “Whovies”—meaning, they put all four parts of a story together, so you could watch the entire four- or five-parter in one night! And I did, even when it took more than two hours to watch a story! I even stayed up later for those OLD “Flash Gordon” serials that always followed!
From the Wikipedia article “Doctor Who in Canada and America” (and youtube):
In the mid 1980s, as more stations began to show the existing 1960s episodes, Lionheart (the program’s American distributor in the 1980s) dispensed with the older Time-Life prints containing the Howard Da Silva narrations. Lionheart also offered stations the choice between the standard 25-minute episodes, or a longer version that some stations termed Whovies. These “omnibus editions”, or, “movie versions” as they were also known, edited multi-part serials into a single, feature-length film, by cutting out the opening and closing credits, as well as the recap of the cliffhanger, between episodes. (Some edits were clumsy, particularly during Davison-era stories that frequently would have scenes interrupted by partial credit sequences, or feature the sudden appearance of the “electronic scream” sound effect that usually accompanied cliffhangers). This was the most common format used for PBS broadcasts of the series in the 1980s and 1990s. The shortest of these, representing two-episode serials, ran approximately 45 minutes. The longest “Whovie” release, a compilation of the 10-episode The War Games serial, ran for an uninterrupted four hours, though it was more often shown in two two-hour segments; the 14-episode The Trial of a Time Lord was, however, broadcast as four parts, divided, as with the novelisations of this story, into the serial’s four major plot lines. This practice carried into the earliest VHS releases in the U.S. and the UK, particularly the first release of The Brain of Morbius which was considerably truncated. It was roundly disliked by many fans and the practice was dropped by the early 1990s.
Conventions, personal appearances of cast members and production staff as well as the national airing on PBS of the 20th anniversary special The Five Doctors two days before the BBC sealed the success of the program in America. In November 1983, on the weekend after the airing of The Five Doctors, four actors who played the Doctor (Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Peter Davison and Tom Baker) and many of those who played the Doctor’s companions over the series’ first two decades on television appeared at a standing-room-only event in Chicago, the start of a Thanksgiving Day weekend celebration that continues annually.
In 1986, BBC Enterprises organised the Doctor Who USA Tour, a two-year travelling exhibition of props and memorabilia from the program, showcased in a 48-foot trailer decorated with alien landscapes from the show, police box entrances, and a mock-up of the TARDIS interior. Many tour stops included guest appearances from cast members.
The statewide PBS chain New Jersey Network was enthusiastic on the series, scheduling pre-1970 serials as well as being the first to broadcast the new season of the program in 1985. NJN staff member Eric Luskin hosted and produced three documentaries on the series, the latter a “behind the scenes” look at the production of the 25th anniversary story Silver Nemesis.
On 22 November 1987, during a broadcast of the serial Horror of Fang Rock on Chicago, Illinois PBS affiliate WTTW-TV an unknown hacker wearing a Max Headroom mask jammed WTTW’s broadcast signal and replaced it with their own audio and video for 88 seconds, concluding with the masked man being hit on his bare butt with a fly swatter. This incident was investigated by the Federal Communications Commission but the culprit’s identity was never determined.
Once the series ceased production in 1989, the number of stations carrying Doctor Who naturally dropped, although the program’s popularity had been waning in the United States for some years. As most stations were in the practice of purchasing the omnibus “movie versions” of the series rather than the fourteen episodes produced annually in its last four years, stations only received four feature-length stories each January.