A History & Overview

Dead Head TV was a wildly popular, nationally viewed half hour television newsmagazine made by deadheads for deadheads. The show made its debut in April of 1988 on Viacom Channel 25 in San Francisco, where it was initially produced once a month and distributed nationally to cable systems, free of charge, for airing on their local community access channels. The Dead Head TV network continued to expand its reach for the duration of the two years that it was produced, constantly adding new stations in different cities around the country. At its peak, it was carried by approximately 32 cable systems in 14 states and seen regularly in over 150 cities, with a potential viewing audience of more than 3 million. While some systems aired the show only once a month, most systems aired the show once or twice a week.

Bring the Tour Home

Dead Head TV was an independent production with no affiliation to the Grateful Dead or Grateful Dead Productions. The show was an experiment dedicated to fostering community spirit while improving the content and quality of alternative television programming. We tried to create a show that projects and celebrates the vibrant energy and sense of community that has evolved at Grateful Dead concerts over the years. Contrary to a once popular belief, the members of this "community" are more than just the '60's "flower child" and hippie stereotypes of old; many are white collar professionals who mingle with tie-dye artists, jewelry makers, students, families, even grandparents! as they follow the band from town to town in search of the ultimate expression of "joie de vivre". What these seemingly different people have always had in common is a profound appreciation of the Dead's music, and as band member Bob Weir once put it, "an advanced sense of adventure."

Dead Head TV was, in many respects, a "travelogue" that chronicled this diverse group of individuals over a brief but significant period in the subculture's recent history. The show captured the "sense of adventure" by following the Grateful Dead and their loyal fans as they toured around the country, recreating the sights and sounds of the tour scene for deadheads right in their own living rooms! This allowed a greater number of fans to stay in touch with what was going on with their favorite band.

A Labor of Love

Dead Head TV was the original creation of San Francisco video producers Scott Wiseman and Kathleen Watkins. Recognizing deadheads' passion for roaming the country in pursuit of the band, and the colorful atmosphere of joy they create, the producers, who themselves are devoted fans, wanted to develop a show that would reflect the creative energy of the music and the unbridled enthusiasm of people at the shows. At the same time, they wanted to visually document this unusual phenomenon, before it became extinct.

"When Kathy and I met at a Grateful Dead show, we were both working on individual video projects." says producer Scott Wiseman. "We decided to combine our love of video with our love for the Deadhead scene."

Roll Your Own TV

Deadheads from around the country would take their video cameras to the sites of Grateful Dead concerts where fans traditionally gather before the show. These "field reporters" recorded the colorful scenes found outside almost every Grateful Dead show and sent the video to the Dead Head TV studio in San Francisco. The producers then worked with volunteers to fashion newsmagazine segments out of the raw footage. Other interview and feature segments were produced locally.

"Volunteers were the life-blood of the show," says producer Kathleen Watkins, "Some volunteers were video professionals, but most of our volunteers were just deadheads who really liked the idea of spreading the positive energy from Dead shows through the medium of television."

A Window Into the Deadhead Subculture

The show consisted of regular segments like The Tour Report which presented an overview of recent tours; Dead Head Profiles, which featured interviews with Deadheads from around the world; and The Dead News, which provided viewers with the latest information about the band, including planned tours, benefit shows, special events, recording projects and noteworthy appearances in the mainstream media.

Dead Head TV also featured interviews with key members of the Grateful Dead family, including lyricists Robert Hunter and John Barlow; and sound wizard Dan Healy; as well as other musicians and artists who are part of the history and ongoing evolution of the San Francisco music scene. Stories ran the gamut from a walking tour of the historic Haight Ashbury and an essay on gambling themes in Grateful Dead songs to important non-musical issues affecting the deadhead scene.

To address some of these issues, Dead Head TV also occasionally presented, in their entirety, videos produced by organizations such as Greenpeace and Amnesty International.

Copyright 1990 Watkins/Wiseman All Rights Reserved