Springs resident, talk show pioneer and author Bill Boggs knows television from both sides of the camera. He was executive producer for The Morton Downey Jr. Show and built a decades-long career interviewing a long list of important, successful people on programs such as WNEW-TV’s Midday Live, Bill Boggs Corner Table on Food Network and My Generation on PBS. Now, at 78 years old, Boggs has twisted all his knowledge and experience together into a new novel satirizing the industry that made him. The Adventures of Spike the Wonder Dog: As Told to Bill Boggs hit shelves (virtual and otherwise) on May 19, bringing big laughs at a time when America desperately needs them.
The novel tells a fictional, contemporary account of his beloved, real-life English bull terrier (think Spuds MacKenzie), Spike, who achieved a level of fame on Boggs’ first regional TV show, Southern Exposure with Bill Boggs, syndicated in the South out of High Point, NC during the early 1970s. “That’s where the book opens,” Boggs points out, explaining how his real life and the lives of his characters, Spike and Bud, intersect. “One day I brought him in, put him on the show and people loved him. He was a natural clown, he would just look at guests, yawn, fall asleep, plus I could get him to do a lot of stunts and stuff—he was pretty malleable,” Boggs says. “The dog became a huge, huge star. People called him ‘Spike the Wonder Dog,’” he adds. “So, for a couple years he was a fixture on the show.”
Unfortunately, Spike died before Boggs got his big break doing Midday Live in New York, and the television star was left to forge ahead alone. “He was run over by a drunk driver. It was just a horrible thing,” Boggs recalls.
Now, more than three decades later, his new book imagines how things would have gone if Spike had lived and they arrived in the entertainment world together—this time starting in the modern age of reality television and social media, instead of what Boggs calls the “pre-Kardashian era.” The result is a hilarious, madcap adventure that pulls no punches in observing human inauthenticity and lampooning the industry he knows so well.
Boggs’ concluded his TV career as a regular contributor to My Generation, a show for the over-50 set on PBS. Soon after it ended in 2012, he dedicated himself to writing, an art form Boggs did well from the beginning. “I started my career as a comedy writer and producer many, many years ago,” he says, also noting that Grosset & Dunlap published his debut novel, At First Sight, all the way back in 1980. That book, along with Boggs’ off-Broadway play, Talk Show Confidential, were optioned for a film about his life, but it was never made. In 2009, he published a self-help book, Got What It Takes?: Successful People Reveal How They Made It to the Top—So You Can, Too!, through HarperCollins.
“I’m in my ’70s now, I’ve been chasing TV jobs all my life. I learned to give this really deep focus to turn my life to writing,” Boggs says, describing how he devoted himself fully to putting his long-percolating ideas and notes for Spike the Wonder Dog onto the page. “I knew how it was going to end. I knew that the dog was going to become famous and become abducted, and essentially have to fight for his own survival. And I knew it was going to be a satire. I wanted to send up the world I’d been working in for 40 years, at least,” he adds, noting the story was always meant to be told from Spike’s perspective.
“I sat down to write the book and I knew it would be narrated by the dog,” Boggs says, recounting the process almost as if he was channeling Spike’s spirit from the great, dog beyond. “As soon as I started writing it, the voice of the central character came through me. It’s as if this crazy, funny dog’s personality transmuted somehow into the written world.”
Whatever happened while Boggs sat writing at his kitchen table, much of it during two summers in Springs, he tapped into something magical, or what Forrest Gump author Winston Groom calls “comedic wizardry” while raving, “Spike is the newest canine literary hero to take on the world with hilarious results.”
“The voice of the dog is what enabled the book to happen,” Boggs says. “I knew I was writing in a voice I had never written in or spoken in, and that is essentially what ignited the two-year process of writing Spike the Wonder Dog as Told to Bill Boggs,” he continues, pointing out why it’s “as told to” and not “told by” Bill Boggs.
The author doesn’t remember exactly when the idea for writing Spike the Wonder Dog hit him, but he believes he’d gotten over Spike’s untimely death long before conceiving the book. “Decades had gone by, but the scar was there of the death. I witnessed it with my own eyes. It was really horrible, but life goes on,” Boggs says, refuting the notion that this was a way to deal with unresolved grief. Instead, he characterizes the idea as a sort of epiphany. “It just ignited, like boom! It just took off. Suddenly every afternoon I was writing and having a great time doing it.”
This fact is clear through every fun-filled page.
The Adventures of Spike the Wonder Dog: as Told to Bill Boggs, with wonderful illustrations by Jacob Below, is available now online retailers and in stores.