“Beans and Cornbread had a fight… Beans knocked Cornbread out of sight!”
All Elite Wrestling (AEW), the main competitor to WWE and preferred wrestling brand of yours truly, announced on January 5th, 2022, the company would be moving its flagship show from TNT to TBS. AEW Dynamite will bring wrestling back to TBS, which fans of the NWA/WCW days know is historically significant. To celebrate this move, they posted the below image on their official Instagram page, paying homage to the glory days of TBS in the early to mid-90s.
The caption on the image sparked a long-lost memory of mine. “Gotta imagine Dinner & A Movie would follow up #AEWDynamite, right?”
Man, I spent many a Friday night watching that program, and I had completely forgotten its existence.
Dinner & a Movie wasn’t the first television program to combine a full-length feature movie with comedic scripted interludes wrapped around either side of the commercial breaks. Nor was it the only one of its kind on television during the 90s, but it is likely the one my generation remembers most fondly. It’s undoubtedly the one I watched most.
Growing up, I found myself right in the middle of the high school political minefield. I was a Varsity athlete and had many friends that were jocks and popular kids. I also had many friends that were the loners, nerds, and part of the unpopular crowd. I didn’t get invited to many places, and those I did get invited to, I often didn’t go because I’d usually rather be at home on the computer or watching television. I spent many Friday nights watching tv and chatting on AIM, perfectly happy.
The Superstation, or TBS, was always one of my favorite channels growing up. TBS was often the first channel I’d search for when the lineup would change on our cable box, and it seemed like it did pretty often back in the early days. I’d then update it on the list of channels Dad had Scotch-taped to the back of the remote control (yes, remotes used to be that big you could do such a thing.) We’d use the list to flip to the correct station number without having to guess. This was also before the channel name was displayed on the TV screen (a horrific thought, I know), so if you didn’t know the number, you’d have to rely on the logo on the bottom corner of the screen. Back then, it wasn’t always on-screen like it is these days.
When we first got cable, TBS was where my Dad, Brother, and I would always watch “The Andy Griffith Show” together. We’d laugh at Andy and Barney and the loveable town-drunk Otis after dinner right before being sent to bed. On Saturday nights, TBS is where I’d always watch pro wrestling… at 6:05PM, of course.
As I grew, it was also where I could watch syndicated reruns of classic sitcoms like Gilligans Island or The Brady Bunch. I could find “comfort food” sitcoms like Saved by the Bell or Everybody Loves Raymond to watch or just have on as background noise at nearly any hour of the day. These days, at work when I’m spending one of my many nights in a hotel room, I can pretty much guarantee the channel lineup includes TBS. I can always find Seinfeld or Friends for some other mindless viewing on the channel.
When I was in the 6th grade, TBS started something new on Fridays that introduced me to many old and (relatively) new movies. There are several big movies that I’ve only ever seen through this program. The comedic interactions of the hosts helped shape the way my naive adolescent brain thought adults hung out together or how dinner-date conversations go.
I spent some time googling, and there isn’t as much coverage on the internet as I thought. So, I thought it’d be a good reason to look back and honor TBS’ classic dinner date of the 90s: “Dinner & a Movie.”
As I mentioned before, Dinner & a Movie was hardly the first or only, movie hosting television program. Typically, this type of show hosts horror flicks, especially the late-night B-level “schlock” horror films. Shows like “Up All Night” with Rhonda Shear, “Elvira’s Movie Macabre,” or Joe Bob Brigg’s “Monstervision” come to mind when I think of these types of film hosting programs. Mystery Science Theater 3000 seems to fit this category, but in my opinion, it probably belongs in its own category.
Dinner & a Movie stands out from the pack as it’s one of the handfuls of its kind that wrapped itself around several big Hollywood blockbusters and broad appeal films. It’s technically classified as an “American cooking and entertainment television program,” but I don’t think those labels quite describe the movie. No matter what you call it, it’s a fun way to introduce a new audience to new movies.
Like many cable networks, TBS had a vast library of movies. In fact, when Ted Turner created the Superstation, it famously purchased the rights to the 2,200 films in the MGM film library made before May of 1986. Movies like “Gone with the Wind,” “Casablanca,” and a host of others became part of the regular rotation in the early days of TBS. The details to this sound like an idea for a future article, but what better way to access this vast library of media, which continued to grow through the Turner/Time Warner merger in the 90s, than to create a fun show for the young adult audience to tune into as “date-night” material?
It was a wonderful take on the casual Friday evening dinner date. The show combined a cooking lesson, a popular movie, and the witty commentary of two appealing, friendly cohosts. Why go to Blockbuster and rent a movie when they can play one for you, teach you to cook, and make you laugh all at once? The hosts’ interaction as they cooked and commented on the movie was so enjoyable that you forgot you just spent 3 hours watching an hour-and-a-half-long, heavily edited movie.
Paul Gilmartin, a standup comic, hosted the show throughout its 16-year run, alongside three different female hosts. He was first partnered with the most memorable cohost, Annabelle Gurwitch, from 1995 to 2002. When Annabelle left the show, she was replaced by Lisa Kushell until her departure in 2005. Janet Varney then took the reigns and closed the show with Gilmartin in 2011.
The show was also hosted by chef Claud Mann, a four-star chef who created the recipes and gave substantial culinary guidance two the two comedic hosts. The two other hosts did the actual cooking, though, to add the humor of two non-chefs screwing up in the kitchen. A cookbook was published in 2003 to moderate success.
Gilmartin and Gurwitch (and the subsequent hosts) would cook a meal that somehow ties into the film. Chef Mann would create simple, easy-to-replicate at-home recipes with fun kitschy names. For example, the “Diamonds are Forever” dish was titled Bon Bons… James Bon Bons. 80s comedy “War of the Roses” featured some Kathleen Turnovers. A personal favorite food pun was Tony Manero’s Mozzarella Marinara on the “Saturday Night Fever” episode.
The show frequently had guests stop by, whether they were personal friends of the hosts or other celebrities promoting their latest work. Jon Cryer once appeared and helped cook “Pretty in Pink salmon fillets” and provided commentary on the movie in which he starred.
Gilmartin once said, “The worse the movie, the more fun we have.” I was able to watch several great goofball movies like “Fletch,” “Bill and Ted,” or “Spaceballs” through Dinner & a Movie. On the other hand, I was able to first see classics like “Breakfast Club,” “Rocky,” and “Grease” through the eyes of Paul and Annabelle.
The theme song to the show, “Beans and Cornbread,” by Louis Jordan, is so synonymous with Dinner & a Movie that a simple web search shows countless posts to social media of fans reminiscing and still singing along. Click on the video below and listen; I guarantee you’ll be transported back to a Friday night in the 90s. Even if you didn’t watch the show, it was a significant part of every commercial or promo spot for the show.
While Annabelle Gurwitch is on record of saying the “hang out” atmosphere is genuine, behind the scenes, she and Paul didn’t get along so well. Based on their onscreen banter, many fans often thought they were married. While they are both married, it’s to other people. Behind the scenes, bickering got so bad that at one point, the show’s producers and TBS sent the two to counseling. Annabelle left the show shortly after that, although the two claim they are good friends today.
As a lifelong pro wrestling fan, I’d be remiss if I forgot to mention the fairly memorable tie-in between Dinner & a Movie and the Turner-owned World Championship Wrestling. By the summer of 1997, wrestling was at an all-time peak in popularity. Turner and its new business partner Time-Warner decreed that “corporate synergies” must be promoted on WCW’s weekly programming. Eventually, you’d see wrestlers wearing t-shirts that featured Warner Brothers “Looney Tunes” characters, Macho Man appearing on Cartoon Network’s “Space Ghost,” and even having the nWo crash the Cable Ace Awards. Eventually, this led to an appearance by the Dinner & a Movie cast at the August 1997 “Clash of the Champions” television special, which also happened to be the last “Clash” in WCW history.
A mock set was created in the arena, and Paul and Chef Claud appeared as “longtime personal friends” of legendary announcer Gene Okerlund. Wearing nWo t-shirts, they had several food items like “Macho’s Nachos” and a giant nWo cake (complete with sparklers.) In the middle of his rivalry with “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Diamond Dallas Page appeared, destroyed the set, and even gave Paul Gilmartin a Diamond Cutter! Gilmartin has since claimed his glasses broke, and he severely injured his hand during the performance but is still pleased to have participated in the event.
If you’ll click over to the Video Drive-In section, I’ll be posting some video links to the WCW appearances, along with several other Dinner & a Movie clips.
When Annabelle left the show in 2002, my interest began to wane. I graduated high school and entered college, and life was just busy. The interaction between the new hosts wasn’t quite the same, and there were several attempts to “spruce” up the show to make up for it. All that said, there were many terrific moments over the years on Dinner & a Movie. The culinary portion may have become a backdrop to the cast’s shenanigans, but it was always entertaining and interesting for non-foodies like myself. Some dishes looked interesting and downright delicious, while others looked plain awful.
The weekly movie was always meant to be the star of the show. However, it was quickly upstaged as we peeked through the window to watch the hosts hang out, cook some food, and watch a movie. Their chemistry made these short segments that surrounded commercial breaks so unique, entertaining, and memorable.