Friday, September 5, 2008

Soul Train is about to reach its last stop.

We received this e-mail at work yesterday from an employee of WGN-TV:

Got a call last week from someone at Chicago Reader regarding our final airing of "The Best of Soul Train." The timeslot has changed to 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, September 20.

I'm not the one who called, and I don't know why anyone from the Reader would've called, but it is news, because after September 20 Soul Train may be gone from the air for a long time.

According to Wikipedia (sorry, it's the only source I can find), "The future of
Soul Train," which hasn't produced new episodes since the end of its shorter-than-usual 35th season in the spring of 2006, "was placed in further uncertainty with the announced closing of Tribune Entertainment's syndication division [Tribune Company owns WGN] on December 18, 2007, leaving Don Cornelius Productions to seek a new distributor for the program. DCP then secured a deal with Trifecta Entertainment & Media, which also distributes another former Tribune Entertainment series, American Idol Rewind. In May 2008, the rights to the Soul Train library were purchased by MadVision Entertainment, whose principal partners come from the entertainment and publishing fields. The price and terms of the deal were not disclosed."

Since December of '06 Soul Train has been airing reruns from the '70s and '80s under the name The Best of Soul Train. I first discovered these reruns on WGN last October when Bunny Sigler appeared on my TV screen. It turns out that episode aired again last Saturday, and now I'm a little mad that I didn't check the schedule so I could tape it.

I haven't watched the Soul Train reruns in a few months because more and more episodes from the '80s were being shown, and they just aren't as interesting to me as the '70s installments, mainly because the soul music of the '80s didn't hold a candle to that of the Me Decade. Plus, The Best of Soul Train keeps repeating the same two dozen episodes, making me wonder if the show's staff is very, very selective about what's considered "best" or if they lost most of their assets in a fire a long time ago.

By the '80s Don Cornelius had learned a thing or two about how to start off an interview, which meant fewer mind-boggling but highly entertaining faux pas like "Your new single sounds a lot like the last one" or "You look like you've put on some weight since I last saw you." That second comment was made to Village People producer Jacques Morali, who was French (he died in 1991), so I'm not sure he fully comprehended what the Soul Train host and former Chicago radio personality was saying to him. Too bad he didn't reply in pidgin English, "And I see that you are still, uh, how you say ... socially awkward, yes?"

According to Wikipedia's list of Soul Train episodes, the September 20 rerun will be from December 15, 1984, with Donna Summer and the Staple Singers as the guest performers. After that you'll only be able to hear the sooooooooooul train in the distance until Trifecta Entertainment & Media finds it a new home.


  1. Someone needs to get this stuff on DVD stat, although I imagine the artist clearances will be a tough mountain to climb. Still, I loved the "BEst of..." episodes and hope that they compile that stuff somehow, even if it's only on the Soul Train website.

  2. Is there a "Soul Train" website? I could've sworn I would've run across it. WGN says they can't show any of the episodes on their site now that Tribune Company no longer distributes the show.

  3. Great blog entry! I wrote a book about the show's history, from the Chicago weekday version of 1970 to the nationally syndicated show of 2006. My book A CRITICAL HISTORY OF SOUL TRAIN ON TELEVISION was published back in April, and two months later I was interviewed for an article in CHICAGO READER about the show. The article has not yet appeared, but with the show going off WGN, the article may appear soon (I hope).

  4. If a call was placed from a Reader editor to WGN in the past few weeks about the final airing of "Soul Train," then the article will probably appear soon. I hope I get to copy-edit it, and if not, I look forward to reading it in the paper. And now I'll look for the book, of course. Thanks for writing, CP!