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They're back

J&B return 'Rox' to the box

By Mike Leonard,
Herald-Times Columnist
January 29, 2004

They earned high praise and national attention, and they were criticized and denounced in their own home town.

"J & B on the Rox" — later shortened to just "Rox" — delighted and infuriated viewers of the Community Access Television Service when they were putting out an episode a week at times from 1994 to '96.

Now, after an eight-year hiatus, they're back, with three new episodes to be spread over the next three weeks and a regular Friday night slate of reruns, beginning this Friday at 11 p.m. on CATS.

This is despite the fact that J, Joe Nickel, now lives in Missoula, Mont., and B, Bart Everson, resides in New Orleans. One of the new three new episodes to be aired in the coming weeks focuses on just that, Everson explained. "How do you make a television show on a shoestring when you're on opposite sides of the country?" he asked.

The answer is that it's not easy, because J and B are both married, gainfully employed and not able to spend 40 hours a week planning, shooting and editing new episodes as they did when they were twentysomethings.

The short explanation is that they shot some footage together in New Orleans and shot other segments in their current locations and edited them into "Rox" episodes that have the same look and feel as the ones produced in 1994, '95 and '96.

Some background on "Rox" is no doubt necessary.

It all began, really, when Everson was arrested for running naked through the Indiana University campus in September, 1989. He was inspired, he recalled this week, to do something to shake people up and show them they could break out of their preconceived notions of how to behave or express themselves.

Community service, a consequence of the arrest, put Everson to work in the Monroe County Public Library and, specifically, in what was then called Bloomington Community Access Television. "I was really impressed at learning how people could just go to the library and check out cameras and things and anyone could make a TV show," Everson said.

Soon, Everson, Nickel and an expanding cast of friends began creating and broadcasting one of the most innovative low-tech shows anywhere in the United States. It resembled, as a concept, the "Wayne's World" skits on "Saturday Night Live." Except it was real and actually in production before either Everson or Nickel ever heard of "Wayne's World," a fictional creation about two guys making a popular show for community access television.

"Rox" programs typically captured the characters in various locations, pursuing questions both large and small, and occasionally pushing the boundaries of good taste and censorship. One of the most famous, "J&B Get Baked," showed them actually smoking a joint on the Monroe County Courthouse lawn and doing it with a certain bravado.

An account in this newspaper was picked up by the Associated Press and eventually found its way to "The Howard Stern Show," giving "Rox" national exposure. Wired magazine hailed "Rox" as "Wired" and MTV as "Tired." In another article, the magazine called "Rox" the "best TV show in America."

"That's probably the nicest thing that anyone's ever written about us," Everson said. "But then, I later came to learn that Wired is known for its hyperbolic flights of fancy."

Wired is not alone in praise of the longtime Bloomington-based show, however. "I have at least four episodes of 'Rox' that I think are better than some of the best television I've seen," IU telecommunications professor Thom Gillespie said this week. "If you look at Jerry Springer or reality TV or various things to come along, they ("Rox") were so far ahead of the wave, they had already washed up on shore when the wave was still a few miles out."

Both Wired and Time magazine recognized "Rox" as the first television program ever carried on the Internet, for example.

Gillespie had Everson as a student long after "Rox" went into its lengthy hiatus. The head of the Master's in Immersive Mediated Environment (MIME) program, Gillespie said, "Bart is like the prototype of a highly creative person using technology. To this day, I still tell my students about this guy in my first year of running the program who thought he could change the world by running naked through campus."

Everson now works as a multi-media artist in the Center for the Advancement of Teaching at Xavier University in New Orleans. Nickel wrote for several technology-related magazines and publications before the technology bust. He now owns a tile-setting business in Missoula and recently began writing again and working with his old friend on new "Rox" episodes.

"I always thought we'd do this show until we were too old to function," Everson said. "And that I'd live in Bloomington the rest of my life."

Those things clearly didn't happen, but thanks to local sponsor Paul Smedberg, a video producer and unabashed fan, "Rox" is back on community access television. "We used to do a new episode a week, and now we're on pace to crank out a new one every six months," Everson said.

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