Bozo the Clown. Hulton Archive/Getty Images
BY KELLIE FREEZE
Kids have fallen in love with some of TV’s most wonderfully bizarre programming. Here we look at a few retro series that kids loved despite — and perhaps because of — their weirdness.
Many people find clowns freaky, but I have a lifetime love of Bozo the Clown. While Bozo had regional TV shows in several U.S. cities, Bozo was a major part of Chicago television. It was in 1984, while attending a taping of The Bozo Show that I decided I wanted to have a career in television. Six-year-old me was awe-struck by the studio lights, the wonderful stardust exuded by everything showbiz-related and the frenetic energy of the female floor director who had the power to tell Bozo what to do! She was my #SHEro before hashtags were even a thing, and I was hooked.
Apparently, affinity for unusual children’s television ran rampant in Chicago, as the Windy City was also the home for Gigglesnort Hotel, which aired from 1975-78. The show starred Bill Jackson as the desk clerk of an old hotel whose staff and guests were a bizarre assortment of puppets from an earlier Chicago-based kids program, The B.J. and Dirty Dragon Show. The highlight of both series was when Jackson would magically transform the appearance of the clay statue Blob with a few pinches and pokes, and a few simple accessories.
The Electric Company was PBS’ 1970s effort to bridge the literacy gap between suburban and urban kids through animation, grammar, phonics and fun. The ensemble cast included Rita Moreno, Jim Boyd and Morgan Freeman — whose character, Easy Reader, transfixed my older sister while teaching her to read “top to bottom, left to right.” The show rebooted in 2009 with a similar, literacy-based mission, and while it wasn’t as bizarrely hip as the original, it still made kids want to call, “Heyyy, you guuuuys!”
John Burstein’s fictional character Slim Goodbody was originally created to help teach New York schoolchildren about health. Burstein donned a specially made unitard decorated with biologically accurate muscles, bones, tissues and organs to teach bite-sized lessons about the wonders of the human body. After years of appearances on morning news and Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Goodbody received his own PBS series, The Inside Story With Slim Goodbody. Today, Burstein still tours the country and makes appearances as “the Superhero of Health.”
Among Christian TV-watchers, JOT and Davey and Goliath were two of nonsecular TV’s most unusual creations. The animated adventures of JOT the Dot taught simple, Southern Baptist morality lessons, while the creepy Claymation duo of Davey and Goliath presented life lessons, courtesy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Both biblical series had the power to amaze with both prophetic messages and religiously bad animation.
The cheery pipe organ and simple stop-motion animation of BBC’s The Magic Roundabout, adapted from the French series Le Manège Enchanté, looks better suited for a department store’s holiday window display, but Eric Thompson’s sublime voice as the series’ narrator helped the show achieve status as a cult classic in the U.K.
Finally, award-winning children’s television show The Great Space Coaster began its cosmic ride of fantasy in 1981 and flew through the galaxy till 1986. Often, celebrity guest stars popular in the ’80s (such as Mark Hamill of Star Wars, Henry “The Fonz” Winkler and many more) would drop by for jokes, music, dance or even to help settle an argument. The theme song still gets toes tapping, although the show is many shades of confusing: What in the heck is Baxter? Why does the space coaster defy every law of physics known to man? Where can we get Huggles? So. Many. Questions.
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