The Scene was a mythic Motor City dance show that never knew it was making TV history. They're doing it again.
Published: July 13, 2011
You may have been born here and still live in the city of Detroit. Perhaps you moved here from some other community but consider Detroit your adopted home. Many more of you were raised here, have departed the city limits for whatever reason yet still claim Detroit as your birthright.
Doesn't matter. It could be argued convincingly that you cannot consider yourself a true adult Detroiter if you don't know the answers to the following questions:
• It's six o'clock. What time is it?
• What's the name of this town?
• Are you ready to throw down?
• Can you complete the following phrase? "Sugar is sugar, salt is salt ..."
The appropriate responses, you know, are:
• It's time to rock! ("We rock, rock, rock, we don't stop. ...")
• "YES ...WE ... ARE!"
• "... if you didn't get off, it's not my fault."
This is, of course, the language of The Scene, the mythic, notorious Detroit urban dance show on the old WGPR-TV (Channel 62) that turned Motown into Geektown five days a week from October 1975 to December 1987 — and lives on in perpetuity through the wonder of the Internet. There is one "official" website celebrating the series, at least four fan sites, and ferociously hip-shaking, Afro-waving classic video clips from the show's heyday are easily found on YouTube and Facebook.
They'll also be prominent on large overhead screens Saturday night in Detroit as part of the action at the first Official Scene "Still Doing It" Reunion Party, a rhythm-and-blues revival meeting for former dancers and fans Enchantment, the Detroit-born group that hit America's Top 10 in the '70s with songs like "Gloria" and "It's You That I Need," will perform live, and R&B singer Davina will showcase her new single, "Doin' it."
Nat Morris, the glib, raw-voiced emcee and executive producer of The Scene (he was "Natty Nat" or "Nappy Nat," depending on your level of admiration), says a reunion celebration was a very long time in the making.
"The idea has been around since about 10 years after the show went off the air," says Morris, now 63 and immersed in blissful self-proclaimed retirement. "We looked at it but we didn't get the support, so we moved on. We came back a few years later and looked at it again. But with the advent of Facebook and YouTube and the worldwide explosion of Detroit techno music that we used to dance to on the show, it was like, 'If not now, when?'
"It's something that should be done, just because of the number of people who have asked, 'When? When?' and me saying, 'One day, one day.' I figure like this, I've got to be in the second half of my life. I may even be in the fourth quarter, who knows? That was another motivating factor. We keep seeing people at funerals. Maybe we need to come together one more time for those who are alive and pay respect to the ones who are no longer with us, and do this thing so it's a fun occasion when we come together rather than a sad occasion."
That earnest mission may explain why, in his May 3 open letter to dancers and fans announcing the event, Morris took great pains to clarify that no ulterior motive was involved. "I did put in the letter, 'No, I am not trying to bring the show back and no, I am not trying to revitalize my career at all,'" Morris says. "My aim is to preserve the [show's] legacy. I'm very happy. I was in a very nice comfort zone and jumped back into the skillet, so to speak. My normal morning was wake up, have coffee, not worry about who I gotta call, what I gotta do. I didn't have to worry about any of this four months ago."
To ease his worries, Morris recruited two experienced Detroit promoters to help market the affair — David "Hump the Grinder" Humphries, whose "Hair Wars" competitions have become an international phenomenon, and Butch "Goldfinger" Anderson of Goldfinger Enterprises — and gave former dancers an incentive to make a few dollars off every ticket they sold. It all must have worked: Last week the $15 advance tickets had sold out and new tickets were being printed.
The Scene reunion also will pay tribute to WGPR-TV (now WWJ-TV) and R.J. Watkins, who kept the music playing by producing and hosting The New Dance Show on Channel 62 for eight years after The Scene left the air.
WGPR ("Where God's Presence Radiates") was the first African-American-owned television station in the nation when it signed on Sept. 29, 1975. Purchased by Detroit's International Free and Accepted Modern Masons, the station occupied the same rambling, ramshackle building on East Jefferson that housed its sister FM property. Like the new homeowner who buys his dream house only to realize there's no money left for furnishings, the purchase price of the television license left WGPR with virtually no budget for programming.
The station turned to "brokered" shows, where outside producers paid WGPR a flat fee for its airtime, and programs that were inexpensive to produce. Shaun Robinson, the glamorous Access Hollywood anchor, got her first TV break hosting a Channel 62 talk show called Strictly Speaking. However, next to Arab Voice of Detroit, a weekly variety series benefitting from metro Detroit's massive Arab-American population, the most popular show on the station by far was The Scene, taking its cues from the earlier local success of Robin Seymour's Swingin' Time and its nationally syndicated weekly contemporary, Soul Train.
Dance shows are relatively cheap to stage, dancers provide the visual entertainment, and being in Detroit meant many record labels were delighted to break their new singles and artists on a TV show here. Less than a month after WGPR became a reality, The Scene was on the air. This dance show, however, added a few flourishes uniquely its own.
> Email Jim McFarlin