Monday, August 6, 2012

Obsure TV Shows

Going to the movies is a common pastime in most, if not all, of the world's developed countries.  How many people, after all, haven't gone out to the local cinema with family or friends on a Friday night to catch the most recent blockbuster?  This form of outing has been commonplace for quite some time now.  According to Wikipedia, "the first public exhibition of projected motion pictures in America was shown at Koster and Bial's Music Hall in New York City on the 23rd of April 1896."  Even before the technology needed to capture moving images on film, people would attend plays and dances, which like the movies of today, would usually follow a script or rehearsed choreographed scenes.
     However, today's topic focuses on another form of family entertainment: the television program.  Like plays can be thought of as the predecessor of feature length films, the pastime of the whole family gathering in one room to enjoy a sometimes fictional story for the purpose of entertainment and spending time with one another has been around long before we had actual television sets.  Before the TV, there was the radio, and families, particularly children, would look forward to watching their favorite programs.  As time passed and technology advanced, some of these old radio programs were gradually lost when the TV set was invented.  Some survived the transition so well, their names are still generally recognized in modern times (examples include the Lone Ranger and Abbott and Costello)but many others faded into obscurity.
      Sadly, the same pattern continues to today, with some TV shows disappearing from the air and never being heard from again.  And that is the main purpose of today's installment.  What follows is a list of some TV programs I remember from my childhood that have apparently been forgotten.  With any luck, you too shall remember these programs yourself.

1.    Today’s Special- I guarantee anyone who has seen this show will never look at store mannequins the same way again.  In this show, every night, after closing time at some department store, which was based on the now closed Simpson's from Toronto, display designer Jodie would take a particular mannequin upstairs to the children’s department.  Upon saying the magic words, "hocus pocus alimagocus,” the mannequin’s hat, which was apparently magic, would bring the mannequin to life.  Joining Jodie and the mannequin, whose name was Jeff, were Sam Crenshaw, the security guard, and Muffy Mouse, both of which were portrayed by puppets.  At first, this show was pretty basic, with each episode focusing on simple things such as costumes.  But as the show progressed, we got into more complex themes, such as sacrificing one thing for another.  In fact, there was one episode that even featured alcoholism.  (Show's run-span: September 1982 to July 1987)
2.      Maple Town- Next time you go to the toy store, look for those toys called Calico Critters.  Yeah, cute little things, aren’t they?  Well, did you know that these guys are actually a practical rip-off of a toy that existed in my childhood?  And just to impress on how popular this toy line was, it actually had a TV show.  Have you heard of a Calico Critters TV show?  I didn’t think so.  I am talking about Maple Town, a very early Anime that took place in a fictional world of anamorphic animals.  The show focused on the adventures of Patty Rabbit and her best friend, Bobby Bear, with each episode being introduced by a live-action actress dubbed Miss Maple, who discussed the main theme of the day’s episode.  And before you think that this was just one of those cutesy everyday-dilemma-gets-solved type of shows.. well, you're half-right.  There was also an actual bad guy in this show by the name of Wild Wolf. (Show's run-span: January 1986 to January 1987, with a sequel show running up until December 1987.)
 Dink the Little Dinosaur/ Denver the Last Dinosaur- Also around this time period, there were two shows that starred dinosaurs.  These were Dink the Little Dinosaur and Denver the Last Dinosaur.  While the titles of these two shows may sound similar, they were complete opposites.  In Dink, we were treaded to the everyday adventures of a group on young dinosaurs who live in Green Meadow; Dink the Apatosaurus, Amber the Corythosaurus, Scat the Compsognathus, Shyler the Edaphosaurus and Flapper the Pteranodon.  The five dinos were advised and looked after by their wise old mentor, Crusty the Testudo atlas.  While I know that description makes this show appear to be a blatant rip-off of the Don Bluth film, Land Before Time, I have no memory of thinking that as a kid.  A particularly positive note is that during the second season, each episode included a short segment that told kids about a certain dinosaur species.  Denver, on the other hand, I pretty much refused to watch as a child, and looking at the intro on YouTube today, I think I understand why.  Not only did this show take place in modern times, since Denver’s hanging around with a group of human teenagers, but the show’s intro actually shows Denver playing an electric guitar.  I know how, even today, there’s a lot of scientific debate on how dinosaurs lived, but even with suspended belief, I don’t see the logic behind dinosaurs playing in a rock band, especially when the intro keeps showing dinosaurs acting like actual dinosaurs.  Overall, I think they would have been better off making Denver a dragon.  After all, he looked more like a dragon than any recognizable dinosaur that I know of. (Dink's run-time:September 1989 to September 1991) (Denver's run-time April 1988 to 1990)
4.      Dinosaucers- Ah, another show about dinosaurs.  As the show intro told us, four kids met a group of dinosaurs from space, and were given magic rings (Captain Planet ripoff, maybe?) Anyhoo, these rings gave their bearers superpowers, such as enhanced speed or the ability to jump great distances.  With these rings, the four teens became the Secret Scouts and joined forces with their alien dinosaur friends, known as the Dinosaucers, in the classic battle of good-vs-evil against the Tyrannos, led by Genghis Rex. In fact, there were even plans to introduce a toy line from this show.  However, these plans were scrapped when the show was canceled after only one season.  So, why was this show canceled anyway?  I mean, it was a show that combined dinosaurs and aliens, two themes that I always saw as a big seller to the younger demographic.  Generally speaking, I would have thought this show would have been a huge hit. (Show's run-time: September 1987 to December 1987)
5.      Wuzzles- Looking back, I can’t help but think that the brains behind this show might have been on something.  The Wuzzles were these bizarre mixes between two different animals.  For example, one of the main characters was Bumblelion, who was half lion and half bumble bee.  If that wasn’t weird enough, we also got a hippo/rabbit combo, a moose/seal combo and an elephant/kangaroo combo, among others.  The Wuzzles spend each day living as typical a life as you might imagine these odd mutant creatures could have, all while trying to outsmart Crock, a Wuzzle who is half crocodile and half dinosaur.  One thing I still wonder about to this day, however, is why all the Wuzzles had wings.  I could understand with Bumblelion and Butterbear, since they were half bee or half butterfly.  But what about the other Wuzzles?  Take Rhinokey, for instance. He was part rhino and part monkey.  So why was he given wings?  It made no sense to me then, and it makes no sense to me now. (Show's run-time: September 1985 to December 1985)
6.     Under the Umbrella Tree- This show was once a favorite of mine, as indicated by the fact that my friends and I used to act this show out.  Basically, a woman named Holly, who lived in the suburbs of Ottawa, Ontario, is the sole guardian of three animals, Jacob the Blue Jay, Gloria the gopher and Iggy the Iguana.  All three animals, which were portrayed by puppets, take up residence in the umbrella tree mentioned in the show’s title, which grows inside Holly’s living room.  To my knowledge, we’re never told why Holly has to take care of the three animal puppets, but I guess it might make sense that this Holly person took the umbrella tree from the wild and planted it in her living room, only then discovering that Jacob, Gloria and Iggy were living in the tree.  Sorta like that famous scene in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, when they discover the squirrel inside the Christmas tree.  Anyway, getting back to this show, each episode had a main theme, ranging from sports and exercise to the holidays, with various life lessons thrown in. For example, I remember one episode in particular, which featured Jacob, Gloria and Iggy needing to get their booster shots, and how they each came up with ways to overcome their fears tied getting their shots.  (Show's run time: September 1986 to June 1993)
7.      The World of David the Gnome – Another old favorite of mine, this show, which was based on the children’s books written by Dutch author, Wil Huygen.  It was about a species of tiny human-like creatures called gnomes.  The main gnome featured in the show was called David, and he spends most of his life living in the forest, trying to thwart the natural enemies of gnome-kind, the trolls, with the aid of his wife Lisa and his fox friend, Swift.  And there aren’t enough words to describe how much I loved Swift, the fastest fox in the forest, who often allowed David to ride about on his back.  What made this character particularly memorable to me was that Swift, unlike some other animal characters in kid shows these days, didn’t talk. Sure, he did laugh and smile, and do all that other stuff that showed he was intelligent enough to understand David, but apart from that, he didn't do anything you wouldn't expect an actual fox to do.  However, I feel I should warn you in case you’re lucky enough to find this show somewhere.  I have recently found out that the final episode of this show did have a bittersweet ending, so it might be handy to have a box of Kleenex within reach before watching the series finale. (Show's run time: Premiered 1985)
8.      The Raccoons- This is another weird show that I once watched.  It was about a trio of raccoons, Ralph, his wife Melissa, and their live-in friend, Bert, who all live in western Canada, learning lessons of teamwork, friendship, cooperation.  In a nutshell, this was one of those environmental shows, but I don’t think it was as in-your-face about it as Captain Planet was. The show’s main antagonist was Cyril Sneer, a greedy cigar-smoking pink aardvark businessman with a trio of henchmen pigs.  Yes, that’s right; this show featured a pink aardvark.  However, I don’t think I ever realized as a kid that was what Cyril was supposed to be.  What makes it even stranger was that this show was supposed to take place in Canada.  To my knowledge, aardvarks only live in Africa, which is a completely different continent.  Other characters in this show were Cyril’s son, Cedric, and Cedric’s girlfriend Sophia, who were both friends of the raccoons, as well as a sheepdog called Schaeffer and Broo the sheepdog puppy.  I gotta give this show credit for actually showing growth in the characters.  Quite a few shows for children have almost no continuality between episodes.  But in this show, you see the characters growing and changing.  For example, the antagonist Cyril starts off as destructive capitalist, but slowly changes into a likable character who is environmentally responsible. (Show's run time: 1985 to 1992)
9.      Adventures of the Little Koala- Oh, this show!  Like Mapletown, this was a very early Anime focusing on anamorphic animals. Main characters included Roobear the koala and girlfriend, Betty, Floppy and Mimi, the twin rabbits, and even a penguin named Pamie.  And I can honestly say that out of all these shows, this is the one that really stuck with me.  Even when I haven’t seen or thought much about it in years, the instant I saw the intro again on YouTube, I was amazed how much I remembered.  Also, even though this was an apparently cute show with cuddly little animals running around, they actually dealt with some rather serious subject matter.  For example, there was one episode when Pamie Penguin is teased because of her big stomach, and as a result, she becomes anorexic.  Tell me, in this modern world of cartoon censorship to the extreme, how many children’s shows have the guts to do something like that? Granted, Pamie recovers from her eating disorder unrealistically quickly. but what do you expect from a 15 minute story? (Show's run-time: October 1984 to March 1985)
10. And here, we have the third early Anime featured on today’s list. This one was about a young girl named Sandy, whose grandfather had gone missing some 38 years ago in the middle of a shipwreck.  In the pilot episode, the authorities have managed to recover a package that her grandfather had been traveling with, and it is given to Sandy.  Inside is a stuffed koala bear.  When Sandy rubs noses with the koala, the toy comes to life, introducing himself as Blinky.  As we later learn, Blinky had been placed into a state of suspended animation, known as ‘Magic Sleepy Time’ and only an Eskimo kiss, also known as a Noozle, can revive him.  Soon after Blinky is revived, his sister Pinky appears out of thin air, insisting that she and Blinky return to their homewold, an alternate dimension known as KoalaWalla Land.  However, because of Blinky’s refusal, they don’t actually go until halfway through the series, having various adventures in the real world instead.  Once they do finally go to KoalaWalla Land, Sandy has to disguise herself by wearing a Koala mask, since all humans are immediately jailed for entering this parallel world.  From that point on, this TV series eventually develops a rather elaborate plotline that seems to be quite rare amongst other children’s programming.  For that reason, I have to recommend you to watch this series if you ever get the chance (Show's run-time July 1984 to December 1984, with reruns airing up until 1987)
11.  You and Me Kid- Well, I would be lying if I said this show was particularly memorable, but it’s on the list because of the one part I did find memorable: the show’s intro, which, for some reason, I’m always reminded of whenever I come across those cool colored shadow screens.  To get a glimpse of it, just swing by YouTube and look up ‘You and Me Kid Opening Credits.’ Apparently, it was designed by Disney in an attempt to help adults build interactive skills with their toddler children.  This program gained a grand total of 130 thirty-minute-long episodes during its run.  While there are four VHS tapes that were released, they are now quite hard to find.  As for the actual point of this show, while I don’t know if it was successful, I have to give them an ‘A’ for effort.  (Show's run-time: April 1983 to 1986)
12.  Mousercise- Here’s another show from Disney that was designed to be beneficial.  Unfortunately, there’s not much information about it that survived.  The premise was an exercise program for kids, starring Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy.  However, we rarely got to see those familiar faces.  They would pop up randomly throughout the show, but for the most part, all we got was this enthusiastic woman named Kellyn Plasschaert (who sadly passed away in 2009), with occasional segments called ‘Do you Know?’ which gave children safety tips, such as the rules of water safety (Show's run-time: Premiered 1983).
13.  Mouseterpiece Theater- As the title suggests, this was a parody of the PBS program Masterpiece Theater, with children as the target audience.  Each program featured classic Disney cartoons, with host George Plimpton giving viewers background information on the shorts, as well as adding commentary.   Like You and Me, Kid, however, all I can really remember of this show is the song that played in the opening, which was expectedly extremely similar to that of Masterpiece Theater (Mid 1980s, with reuns going into the 1990s)
14.  Elephant Show-This show featured the everyday adventures of Sharon, Lois & Bram, who were a Canadian singing trio.  Joining them was an unspeaking elephant that was portrayed by Paula Gallivan in an elephant costume. This unusual group was always joined each episode by a group of children for some unknown reason.  This show, seeing as how it starred a singing trio, was very musical, with each episode featuring a concert sequence, along with a main problem Sharon, Lois, Bram and Elephant would help the children solve, ranging from parents vaccinating their children against mumps and rubella to UNICEF.  However, the episode I remember the most is the sleepover episode, where one of the kids and Elephant decide they want to stay up all night.  The most memorable bit about this show was the fact that each episode closed with them singing the Skinnamarink Song. (Show's run-time: 1984 to 1988)
15.  Doctor Snuggles- You ever have one of those shows that you watch as a kid, and even though you don’t forget it, you can never remember the show’s purpose or even the name of the show?  All you can remember of that show is one scene, and that one scene isn’t enough to help you track it down years later?  Well, for me, that show was Doctor Snuggles, and part of the reason why I couldn’t track this one down was because I was living under the delusion that this was some kind of animated version of Doctor Doolittle.  All I could remember was this one bizarre scene when they found a crying baby octopus in a tree.  In actuality, Doctor Snuggles was about an inventor who lived in a psychedelic world with his friends, including Miss Nettles the housekeeper.  His arch nemesis, Professor Emerald, is a crazed magician, and, get this, Doctor Snuggles’ main form of transportation is a pogo stick that doubles as an umbrella. I think I don't need to come out and say that this show was obviously a weird one. (Show's run time: October 1979 to 1980)
16.  Welcome to Pooh Corner- With the new movie that was released in July 2011, I see Winnie the Pooh is making his comeback.  Of all our childhood icons, I don’t think any one of them is more recognizable than this honey-loving bear.  However, when I was a kid, Pooh Bear appeared in a non-animated medium.  Welcome to Pooh Corner featured actual actors in costumes, like the ones you can see prancing around in Disney parks.  The start of every episode featured this old man played by Laurie Main, who I think was supposed to be an elderly Christopher Robin or something.  He would be the one to introduce the story in each episode. (Show's run-time: April 1983 to 1986)
17.  Dumbo’s Circus- Who doesn’t remember Dumbo, the flying elephant?  Well, in this show, the only connection to that heartwarming Disney movie is Dumbo.  No one else is there, not even Timothy Mouse.  Instead we get Lionel the lion, Fair Dinkum the Koala, Barnaby Bowser the dog, Q.T. the Orangutan, Lilli the cat and Sebastian, a purple alley cat.  That’s right, a purple alley cat.  As if that wasn’t odd enough, the circus in Dumbo’s Circus are run by these animals!  Dinkim’s the ringmaster, Lilli’s on the tightrope, etc.  Now, I have no idea how this show made sense.  Who would let their children go to a circus that’s entirely run by talking animals, with little to no humans overseeing things?  Thankfully, this show was aimed at kids, and since when do little kids put that much thought into their TV programs?  I know I never did at that age.(Show's run-time: May 1995 to 1996)
18.  The Littl' Bits- I had almost completely forgotten this show, but it still comes back to me every now and again, particularly when I listen to the My Fair Lady soundtrack, on account of the song With a Little Bit of Luck reminding me so strongly of this show’s opening song.  For those of you who don’t know, this was a show produced in Japan which focused on a race of these elf-like creatures called pixies.  They live in a place called Foothill Forest, and the show follows around five pixie children as they interact with forest animals and deal with a bunch of problems.  Once again, I can’t tell you much more than that, which probably means I wasn’t an avid watcher of it, but the wikapedia article explains enough.  Just take a gander at some of these names: Lillbit, Willibit, Snagglebit, and Teenybit.  Very creative naming choice, huh? (Show's run-time: 1991 to 1995 for the original American run; reaired on Cartoon Network from 1993 to 1997)
19.  Brain Games- Ah, Brain Games.  What could be said about this show?  Not much actually, because I don’t remember it lasting that long.  Anyway, Brain Games always presented you with a puzzle that, while you watched it being solved, you had to guess at the answer.  For example: Which animal does nothing special for winter? Weasel, Rabbit, or Bird?  Or which animal lives longest? Human, Parrot, Hippo, or Giraffe?  There were other games, too, such as one when a doodle would be drawn on screen and you had to guess what was being drawn before the doodle was completed.  What I remember most about this show?  The ending.  After each episode, you were treated to this voice that announced “Braingames is now over.”  As the voice said this, it would be constantly breaking, as if the show ending was the saddest thing ever.( Show's run-time: November 1983 to December 1985)
20.  Mother Goose’s Stories-This was a very cozy show, made by the iconic Jim Henson.  Each episode started with Mother Goose’s three unnamed children, who were having some sort of issue.  Mother Goose would then step in and tell them one of her stories, which always seemed to solve the goslings’ problem.  As one would expect from a Jim Henson creation, this show combined live actors and puppets to tell such stories as Humpty Dumpty, Jack and Jill, and the one I remember the most, Baa Baa Black Sheep.  I really liked this show because it always took those nursery rhymes that only take less than a minute to say and turned them into an actual story that lasted about half an hour. (Show's run-time: Premiered August 1990)
21. The Littles- Based on the book series, this show was about the adventures of these strange creatures who lived in the walls.  They looked like very small humans, except with pointed ears and rodent-like tails.  The Littles were a full family group, with the parents, Frank and Helen, the two children, Tom and Lucy, Grandpa Little and Cousin Dinky.  I will admit that it’s been years since I even looked at the books, but in the TV show, the Littles are good friends with a human boy named Henry Bigg.  (Oh, the Littles and the Biggs.  Clever.)  Henry, out of friendship for the tiny people who live in the wall of his house, keeps their existence a secret from everyone else, including his parents.  I also distinctly remember the Littles keeping a pet mouse in the TV show, but don’t quote me on that.  Even though this was a TV show, what I most remember is the movie, called Here Come the Littles, which basically showed how Henry first befriended the Littles.  In the movie, Henry Bigg’s Uncle Augustus takes custody of the boy when his parents go missing in Africa during an archaeological trip. Tom and Lucy Little accidentally are brought along in Henry’s suitcase, leaving Grandpa Little and Cousin Dinky to journey after them in order to rescue them.  Once at the uncle’s mansion, Tom, Lucy, Gradpa and Dinky soon find evidence that Uncle Augustus had forged the documents that named him Henry’s guardian, and that Uncle Augustus also has plans to tear down Henry’s home and build a shopping center in its place.  Thus, the Littles and Henry must work together to stop the evil uncle’s plans.  (Show's run-time: September 1983 to November 1985)
22.  Girl from Tomorrow- I had a very hard time tracking down information about this show, because I had forgotten it actually was a show.  I had thought it was actually a full-length movie.  In actuality, it was indeed a 12 episode long TV series produced by a company called Film Austrailia.  The story begins in the year 3000, with the human race in a Utopian state.  However, half a millennia ago, in the year 2500, there was a catastrophic event of some kind that nearly destroyed the whole world, and mankind is still trying to rebuild the earth after this event.  A scientist called Tulista uses a time traveling device known as the Time Capsule to investigate the causes of this catastrophic event.  However, Silverthorn, a criminal from the year 2500, manages to capture Tulista’s young student, Alana, and escapes with her into the year 1990.  It is here that Alana escapes from Silverthorn and befriends a teenage girl named Jenny shortly afterward.  From what I gather from the Wikipedia article about the show, the rest of the show involved Alana and Jenny working to find a way to help Alana return to her own time, with culture shock hijinks abounding.  One scene that I do remember quite vividly involves Alana mistaking a microwave with an invention from her time that cleans clothes.  It turns out this series also had a sequel series, The Girl from Tomorrow Part II: Tomorrow's End, which aired in 1993, but I don’t think I ever saw it. (Show's run time: Premiered in 1990)
23.  The Legend of White Fang- I can't remember much about this show, just that it existed.  I remember was animated, even though I’m pretty sure each episode began and ended in live action, and that it basically involved White Fang and this little girl who he befriended.  Unfortunately, I can’t tell you more than that.  And the Wikipedia description doesn’t tell me much more than that, simply stating that the main premise was: “12-year-old Wendy and wolf-husky mix White Fang share many adventures in Alaska's rugged Klondike territory. Brave Wendy manages to befriend the wild loner, and together, she and White Fang explore the wilderness, where they encounter wolf packs, gold thieves, American Indians, otter poachers, and treacherous avalanches.”  At first, I thought it would be impossible to be able to see this again, since the only episode of it I found on YouTube was clearly not in English.  However I have seen that there is a DVD release, which is available on Amazon for about $14. (Show's run-time: 1992 to 1994)
24. Kids Incorporated- I remember being really into this show, and it became a routine of mine to sit in front of this TV to watch it after I got back from school, munching on a Little Debbie snack cake.  It revolved around a group of teens who somehow were able to form a rock group that would regularly appear at an establishment called The P*lace (originally called The Palace until the first 'a' in the sign burned out and was never replaced), which, in the show's universe, had once featured performances by big name singers such as Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra.  As you might imagine, due to the cast consisting of teenagers, there were a lot of predictable themes in this show, ranging from schoolyard crushes and peer pressure and going up into darker territories such as child abuse. Of course, it was also a musical-based show, and not only did the characters perform on stage at The P*lace at the conclusion of each episode, it was not uncommon for someone to randomly break into song. Oh, and I suppose it should be mentioned that at one point, this show starred a young Jennifer Love Hewitt, then credited as Love Hewitt.  (Show's run-time 1983 to 1993)
25. Adventures in Wonderland- Produced and aired by Disney, this was a live action program that featured Alice's every day adventures in her personal world of Wonderland. In this version of the classic tale, first brought to life by Lewis Carroll, Alice is able to travel to and from Wonderland through a magic mirror located in her bedroom.  In each episode, Alice would arrive home from school and vent to her pet cat, Dinah, about some sort of problem she was having, either with her younger brother, a friend or a teacher.  After complaining about the problem, she would head off to Wonderland, where the inhabitants would be facing a similar crisis.  By the end of the episode, Alice would have her own problem figured out.  On the whole, this show was entertaining and educational at the same time. (In fact, this is the show that taught me how to spell arithmetic.)  Some of the topics dealt with over the course of the show's run were also quite mature.  For example, in the episode that first introduced The Walrus, a recurring minor character in the show, the majority of the other Wonderland characters immediately ostracized him due to their prejudices against walruses .  There was also one notable episode in which Wonderland holds an election to choose who would rule Wonderland: the Queen or the White Rabbit.  For this episode, the viewers could even call a toll-free number to cast their own votes in the election.  However, there were some things that confused me about this show even back then.  For example, the Queen of Hearts featured in this show was generally a good person who was actually nice to Alice.  A complete 180 from the Queen that appeared in the animated movie from 1951, which was the version I was most familiar with.  Also, I must mention that I also loved the Cheshire Cat in this show.  While he isn't as awesome as the one that appeared in the recent film of 2010 (really, how many creatures can you name that can successfully be creepy and cute at the same time?) I still loved this version of the smiling feline. (Show's run-time: 1991 to 1995)

And there's my list of Obscure TV shows. If anyone wishes to post their own memories about these shows or can remember a show that didn't make the list, please do so in the comment section below.  hopefully by working together on this, we can make sure the TV shows of our childhood are never cast off and forgotten.