Tuscaloosa has a proud and unique history that stretches back hundreds of years and links itself to many physical markers throughout the Druid City.

Any one of these landmarks defines the city in some way. Each seems perfectly placed as a distinguished part of the Tuscaloosa landscape.

But in the middle of great historical lineage, cultural icons, and dominating sports teams, Tuscaloosa has something more complicated and nuanced. It has character. Sometimes that character requires certain characters to bring it into focus.

Every Saturday, at 3 a.m., Tuscaloosans can share a glimpse at some of those characters.

Tuscaloosa Monorail started out as one of many film concepts co-director and producer Frank Thagard had kicked around. In keeping with his style, it was formless at first.

“We knew that a lot of what we’d made before, and what we were interested in, was a little out there,” said Thagard, 25, whose mixed experiences with past productions made the success of Tuscaloosa Monorail matter all the more.

“We wanted something that people could attach to and understand right away, while still being ourselves.”

They’ve accomplished that in spades.

Tuscaloosa Monorail is a late-night variety show with a format similar to American Bandstand but delivered in a surreal and comedic style. While the show principally focuses on featured guests from Tuscaloosa and Alabama, it has had visitors from beyond the Yellowhammer State.

“We often start an interview and realize quickly how this show is gonna go,” said Zach Travis, host of Tuscaloosa Monorail. “Sometimes, you just get the feeling that things are going to be great, and other times not so much.”

Travis, 26, comes off as an injection of pure comedy into the show. He combines elements from wildly different entertainment styles into his unique performance on Tuscaloosa Monorail. He skirts somewhere between the “Straight-man” routine of David Letterman and the absurdity of Zach Galifianakis. But the host is meticulous in preparation.

“So often, Zach will be going over his questions days in advance,” said Robin Rains, executive producer of Tuscaloosa Monorail. “It is not as improvised as people may think. But sometimes we go off a bit.”

It does go off, quite a bit.

Tuscaloosa Monorail’s name comes out of absurdity.

“We thought about something funny that somehow describes Tuscaloosa. Eventually we started coming up with things that sounded ridiculous. The idea of a monorail in Tuscaloosa is itself ridiculous,” said Rains, 27. “We engage that comedy from the start.”

Tuscaloosa Monorail’s segments, written and produced by the staff, most of whom are members of Marvin Video, Monorail’s production company, can be dark and somber or light-hearted and jovial at other times.

“Each show is a collaborative effort,” said Rains. “We may have a basic plan going into a taping, but that get changed as we decide whether or not something is actually funny, too edgy, or strange.”

Tuscaloosa Monorail didn’t become what it is overnight. The show launched in 2013 as a half-hour, subscription-based program available only to Comcast customers. Struggles with lighting, sound, gave the first season a different feel, entirely.

“We were using standard definition cameras, without quality sound capturing. Everything had a graininess to it, which is fine in some situations, but not others,” said Thagard. “The cameras came from a church who didn’t have much use for them.”

In fact, Rains and Thagard used the resulting quality as part of the overall presentation of Tuscaloosa Monorail. The first season is grittier and has a darker feel throughout. These humble beginnings have shaped the current form of the show.

“We transitioned to high definition cameras for the second season and Eat My Beats does our sound now, but we still use those old cameras for effect, occasionally,” said Thagard.

The second season saw Tuscaloosa Monorail change carriers and format, as well. Becoming a 60-minute show airing on CBS-42. The format allows for more depth with guests and more insight into the producers.

“We can afford to do a bit more this time around,” said Travis. “The time extension gives the guests more time to perform their material and us more time to produce content.”

The show maintains a quality of informality throughout while still providing insight into the guests appearing on the show. Interviews are interspersed between musical performances and often are not restricted to the guests and Travis. The film crew can be heard throughout each episode with varying degrees of involvement in the interview itself.

“There aren’t many people doing something like this,” said Rains. “It’s all about Tuscaloosa but with an dedication to artful expression.”

In a recent episode, Tuscaloosa Monorail filmed at the soon-to-be-closed McFarland Mall. The episode featured a faux-news report delivered detrimental to McFarland Mall’s closing. Frank Thagard, depicted a technology developer and disgruntled Tuscaloosan.

“I’m just a guy who loves the mall,” said Thagard in the segment. “It’s just a shame really, because it was such a big building and it was all air conditioned.”

The skit, which is truly a joke about nostalgia, culminates with Thagard displaying a virtual reality program used to give tours of the building through which a user, portrayed by Tuscaloosa Monorail cameraman and contributor Walter Nolan-Schmidt, could relive the heyday of McFarland Mall.

Despite being a trail-blazing program in the area, Tuscaloosa Monorail may be hamstrung by its broadcast time. The producers eventually want more from the show in terms of value and staying power.

“It’s our baby and we would love to see the show become super successful and popular, but we’re focusing on making what we have better, right now,” said Rains. “We would like to see Monorail be an influence on other people who want to break into film or creative production.”

As of now, Tuscaloosa Monorail is the only publicly broadcast, locally produced comedy or entertainment program in the Birmingham region and one of few in the state.

“A lot of it depends on advertising, which can be hard to come by,” said Thagard. “But we want to show that this sort of thing can be done if you’re passionate about it.”

Prospective guests and sponsors are encouraged to contact the producers of Tuscaloosa Monorail at 344-2726 or at

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