Last night on Twitter, I earned a few favorites and reTweets when I sent out the one-liner, “At last, my months of following “The Great Space Coaster” on Twitter have paid off: I just won an autographed photo of Gary Gnu.”
Funny thing is, though, I wasn’t joking: I really did get selected to receive a Gary Gnu photo which — unless I very much miss my guess — will bear the signature of puppeteer Jim Martin, who brought Gary to life on the show.
Reminiscing about that live-action kids show in turn got me to thinking about other such shows from my youth which, for the most part, tend to have been forgotten by just about everyone who didn’t experience them when they were originally on the air.
Here, for your reading enjoyment (and possible education) are a few that crossed my mind. Some were on broadcast networks, others were in syndication, but they all clearly left their mark on me in one way or the other, since it’s been at least 30 years since I’ve seen full episodes of most of them. Mind you, that’s not to say that they’d hold up for me now, but I’ll say this much for ’em: every damned one of the theme songs has a hook that’ll stick in your brain for the long haul…except maybe the one that leads off this list, but, damn, even that’s screaming to be sampled by an industrious DJ somewhere.
1. Curiosity Shop (1971-1973)
Chuck Jones, the man behind some of the most memorable Warner Brothers cartoons of all time, brought his unique sensibilities into a live-action setting for this educational program which, at least as far as ABC was concerned, seemed like a perfect opportunity to pull in some of the audience of this new PBS show called “Sesame Street” which was all the rage for the single-digit set. Thanks to Jones’s cartoon connections, he was able to pull such luminaries as Mel Blanc, June Foray, and Don Messick to give voice to the various characters, but there were also actual cartoons incorporated into the show, including animated adaptations of such comic strips as “Dennis the Menace,” “The Wizard of Id,” and “Miss Peach,” and trivia buffs may also be interested to know that the Schoolhouse Rock song “Three Is A Magic Number” made its debut on the show.
2. New Zoo Revue (1972-1977)
It’s rather hard to wrap one’s brain around the fact that there were 196 episodes of this series, which taught life lessons to youngsters through the actions of Henrietta Hippo, Charlie the Owl, and Freddie the Frog. (Are there even 196 lessons to learn about life?) The trio of animals were guided through their trials and tribulations by their human pals, Doug and Emmy Jo, played by real life couple Doug Momary and Emily Peden, with occasional guidance from their mailman, Mr. Dingle, played under old-age makeup by an often-unrecognizable Chuck Woolery.
3. The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine (1974)
Why give the Harlem Globetrotters their own live-action Saturday morning series? Because they were already pop culture icons by that point anyway – this was well after the debut of their Saturday morning cartoon – and kids loved them. Why was the show called “The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine”? Your guess is as good as mine.
4. Big Blue Marble (1974-1983)
In the days before cable, kids’ choices for educational programming beyond “Sesame Street” and “The Electric Company” were pretty limited, but if you were interested in learning about other children your age both in America and elsewhere, “Big Blue Marble” was a great way to expand your knowledge. Some of the segments were done documentary-style, others were dramatizations, but the end result was a lot of new information entering young minds.
5. Uncle Croc’s Block (1975-1976)
You’ll never look at Charles Nelson Reilly the same way again after you watch the film version of his one man show, “The Life of Reilly,” but if you haven’t seen that yet, then you might want to watch some clips from this Filmation series first. A precursor to “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” with just the tiniest hint of what would now be called an Adult Swim sensibility, Reilly plays Uncle Croc, a very grouchy kids TV show host who hates his job and is perpetually annoyed with the incompetence of his co-workers. Trapped somewhere between being ahead of its time and paying homage to shows that the current Saturday morning viewers didn’t know anything about, “Uncle Croc’s Block” started as an hour-long series, was cut to 30 minutes, then got the axe altogether.
6. Hot Fudge (1976-1980)
This syndicated series had some of the creepier-looking puppets seen on kids TV in the ’70s, but it also had some of the grooviest, funkiest tunes. I have no recollection as to whether it was actually funny, but I sure do remember the songs.
7. Animals, Animals, Animals (1976-1982)
While parents were watching Hal Linden play the title character in the ABC sitcom “Barney Miller,” their kids were enjoying the actor’s side job as the host of this nature show, which was part of a small window of children’s programming offered by the network on Sunday mornings.
8. The Skatebirds (1977-1978)
An unabashed attempt by Hanna-Barbera to duplicate the success of “The Banana Splits” almost a decade before while cashing in on the rollerskating craze that was sweeping the nation, “The Skatebirds” followed the format of the earlier series almost to the letter, using the birds to bookend the various other segments of the show, including “Mystery Island,” “Wonder Wheels,” “Three Robonic Stooges,” and the “Clue Club” spin-off, “Woofer and Whimper: Dog Detectives.” Despite its limited competition on Sunday mornings, “The Skatebirds” most decidedly did not prove to be the next “Banana Splits,” departing the airwaves in under a year.
9. Marlo and the Magic Movie Machine (1977-1980)
Probably the most obscure show on the list, this show starred Laurie Faso as the mustachioed Marlo, a computer whiz whose so-called Magical Movie Machine showed him various film clips and even told the occasional joke. Although it was ostensibly in syndication for three years, it only played in my neck of the woods for a year, as I recall, a fate it likely shared in other regions of the country. Still, dig that ‘stache…
10. Kids Are People Too (1978-1982)
My big memory of this show was that the original host left after a year, and I was glad, because I never particularly liked him. As it turned out, Bob McAllister was a noted TV personality, particularly in New York City, having hosted “Wonderama” for the decade immediately prior to joining “Kids Are People Too.” Just goes to show you what I know. Anyway, McAllister apparently didn’t love the fact that the show was catering more toward a teenage audience than the younger crowd, and his departure led to the arrival of Michael Young, who later became a major player in the world of TV production. The best thing about “Kids,” though, were its guests, who were way hipper than any other kid’s show, including everyone from KISS to Patti Smith, Cheap Trick to Blondie.
Tags: Animals Animals Animals, Big Blue Marble, Curiosity Shop, Hot Fudge, Kids Are People Too, Marlo and the Magic Movie Machine, New Zoo Revue, The Great Space Coaster, The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine, The Light from the TV Shows, The Skatebirds, Uncle Croc's Block, Will Harris