Richard P. Rubinstein never met a monster he didn't like.
That includes vampires, dragons, a two-headed man, a monster that lost all his body parts and went around trying to reclaim them from their present owners - and even a monster shaped like a bed.All of these and more have been featured on "Monsters," the syndicated half-hour fantasy TV show produced by Rubinstein and his company, Laurel Entertainment.
"Monsters," which is syndicated in 130 cities that make up 90 percent of the television market (and is shown locally at 10:30 p.m. Saturdays on KSTU, Ch. 13), is an anthology series that features a monster of the week.
The approach is not total horror - the title and credits are introduced by a cozy family seated around their TV set, flipping through the channels to find a favorite show. Look closer - all members of the family are monsters, and when they finally settle on a program, it is "Monsters," where they can watch humans get in trouble.
"A good monster is a mixture of fun and scare," Rubinstein said in an interview. "We differentiate what we are doing from `Friday the 13th' and the `Nightmare on Elm Street' kinds of series.
"We are dealing with fantasy as opposed to realism. There are no psychotic killers running around killing 16-year-old camp counselors on our show. We are of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale school, of the school of things that go bump in the night, rather than what has been characterized as slice and dice."
"Monsters" was a by-product of a previous Rubinstein-Laurel syndicated series, the well-received "Tales of the Darkside," which went to 90 original episodes and still is being syndicated widely.
"We felt we were not being perceived of or appreciated for our special effects capacities," Rubinstein said. "We received a fair amount of notice, particularly for our emphasis on story and acting.
"Yet as a company, for our theatrical motion pictures such as `Creepshow' as well as in `Tales,' we had done a lot of very, very good makeup and special effects."
He said by special effects he meant makeup and variations thereof, not explosions and fireworks.
"We decided to put together a reel of all our makeup effects that we'd done as a company, just to show our capacity," he said. "When we looked at it, we thought, this is not a bad idea for an ongoing series."
Rubinstein took a presentation reel to the Tribune Entertainment Co., which had been one of Laurel's partners on "Darkside," and "Monsters" was born.
Laurel hired Oscar and Emmy-award winning makeup artist Dick Smith ("Amadeus" and "Mark Twain Tonight") as a special makeup effects consultant, then hired new talent to work under his supervision.
"By network standards, we were able to bring in half-hours at a considerably lower budget - about $200,000, compared to $350,000-$400,000 for a network half-hour," he said.
"We also sometimes can do a little horse-trading to achieve monsters of a higher calibre - we trade the chance to direct, for instance, in exchange for makeup special effects. That brings us monsters at less cost."
Rubinstein said all the business arrangements had been made last year when the Writers Guild strike stalled matters for several months. "Monsters" went into production when the strike ended on Aug. 8, and the show began airing Oct. 22.
"The series came about because we were proud of our makeup special effects, but that doesn't mean we lost sight of our story capacity. We mix a monster every week with a good story with a twist, and I think we have successfully married the two. Our ratings are strong and we expect to begin production of the second year's shows in June," Rubinstein said.
"The demographics are interesting. More than half our audience is women and two-thirds of the audience consists of men and women, 18-49.
"We relate our stories with a more classic perspective on the genre than shows aimed at a younger audience, giving people a scare in a fun way. You can suspend disbelief more easily if you know in the back of your mind that it's not real, which is very different from following a psychotic killer through the middle of the night."
Rubinstein said for him the monster genre "is an acquired taste," but now, "I haven't met a monster I didn't like."
He was a young man with an master's degree in business administration from Columbia University who also was interested in films when, in 1973, he met George Romero, the director of "Night of the Living Dead."
He and Romero went into partnership, and after three years of making one-hour TV sports biographies, they earned enough money to begin producing films in the horror genre.
Rubinstein also counts among his friends master horror novelist Stephen King, whose "Pet Sematary" he has made into a theatrical film to be released later this month. It is the first King novel to be adapted into a motion picture by King himself, and stars Dale Kidkiff, Fred Gwynne and Denise Crosby.
Asked to pick his favorite monster, Rubinstein declined, saying:
"That's like asking a parent to choose between his kids."