A group of goose-stepping Nazis, including one sporting a pink frilly boa, is on the loose in Charlotte. They're trying to brainwash the unsuspecting masses to watch Gilligan's Island and other mindless programming ... or something like that. Oh yeah, and their leader is a watermelon that talks like Arnold Schwarzenegger. But before they can bring their evil plan to fruition, Wonder Woman shows up to save the day. Accompanied by a few of her sidekicks, including a cheerleader, they battle it out with the Nazis in the woods, beating them into submission. Reveling in her victory, Wonder Woman takes a piece of watermelon/deposed Nazi leader, rubs it on her chest and then takes a big, juicy bite. Welcome to a typical episode of Z-Axis, a Charlotte cable access show that broadcasts a bizarre and weird mix of sketches, monologues and videos.
Phil Rutledge, a UNC-Charlotte professor, started the show about 15 years ago. He and a buddy originally started filming odd little video clips for the broadcast at Lupie's Café on Monroe Road. In the mid-1990s, the group moved to the NoDa area and starting filming at Pat's Time For One More, a laid-back neighborhood hangout. At the time, NoDa gallery crawls were just starting to gain momentum, and the streets would come alive with hipsters, artists, drummers and curious onlookers. The bohemian, funky neighborhood was the perfect backdrop for the quirky little cable access show, and soon a regular group of folks was meeting at Pat's every Saturday night, where they'd kick around ideas for different characters and skits. Over the next five years or so, the trio -- along with a revolving line-up of contributors -- wrote, produced and filmed the show, always using NoDa as a backdrop. One of the show's regular characters, "Nick Randberg," essentially a drunken, obnoxious blowhard, would venture into the streets of NoDa armed with a bullhorn and start insulting all the unsuspecting hipsters. Other memorable skits included a Titanic spoof that made use of a canoe and fiddle player instead of a cruise ship and orchestra, and "Godzilla Versus the Spice Girls," in which a girl from the cable access show dressed up like a Spice Girl and hung out in the Blockbuster Amphitheatre parking lot during a Spice Girls concert. Security asked the group to vacate the premises.
But when Pat's closed in 2002 to make way for new development, the merry band of filmmakers had to relocate and started producing the show from an old cotton mill on 36th Street. But that didn't last either, and now Phil produces the show from his home. The program's format has morphed into one in which independent producers submit their work, as opposed to the old days' group projects.
"When we were based out of NoDa, it was like a magnet, and we constantly had stuff coming in," says Rutledge. And now, perhaps the weirdest thing about Z-Axis, especially at a time when just about everyone with a camera is posting footage on sites like YouTube, is the lack of new clips being submitted for the show. Although there are still a handful of long-time contributors, Rutledge says he often has to rely on old footage or outside resources like public domain sites. So, if you'd like to contribute to Z-Axis, Rutledge welcomes all contenders--animation, underground movements, cultural events, music, art, whatever. And remember, because it's Z-Axis, the weirder and more irreverent the better. Contact Z-Axis at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or check out the Web site at: www.zaxistv.com.
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