Saturday, April 15, 2006

"What Was That Show?" - A TV Detective Tale

From time to time I get comments or emails asking for help in tracking down information on TV shows. It's not exactly my field but I love doing it. It reminds me of the years I spent sneezing in the library stacks while getting my history degree, trying to find the books with the right arguments for the paper I was writing. So this time around I got a comment from Mechie who wanted to know about a particular TV show. Well I'll let Mechie explain:

Help me, Mr Television! Think early 70's Canadian Saturday morning children's programing. Two girls (long blond and in pigtails named susan and one dark haired kinda snarky one) and two boys. They sang, danced, variety show kinda thing and each week they did a segment on viewer's fathers or mothers and what they did for a living. Sound familiar? I can't find any reference to it. Thanks

The whole thing sounds vaguely familiar but I'm not sure that the show I'm thinking about is the same show Mechie is thinking about. The show I have in mind is Drop-In but it was a weekday show which initially ran three and then four days a week on CBC between 1970 and 1974. That's just the first problem we have with this series being the one that Mechie was thinking of. The usual cast of the show was two guys and two girls - the guys were usually Rex Hagon and Pat Rose while the girls were Susan Conway and either Linda Griffin or Susan Anderson (although I swear I remember Trudy Young being on the show). Hagon and Conway had been part of the original cast of the 1960s series The Forest Rangers. Conway was a dark haired girl Griffin was a blonde, and I'm pretty sure Anderson was as well. The trouble is that a big part of the show description - the singing, dancing, variety part - doesn't fit the show as I remember it.

Now here's where things get tough. Assuming that Mechie is right about it being a Saturday morning show I Googled Canadian children's TV series and didn't get much. There does exist a very good site maintained by the film department at Queens University in Kingston. It is a pretty complete database of CBC shows made between 1952 and 1982. It is searchable but if you don't know what you're looking for it isn't easy. I finally entered "Saturday" as a keyword. This produced 66 results of which most were afternoon or evening shows. I did look at morning and afternoon shows and found Children's Cinema hosted by Bob Homme, "The Friendly Giant", broadcast between 1970 and 1974, which fit the time frame but not the description. There was also something called Peanuts and Popcorn, broadcast between 1975 and 1979. The description of that show doesn't sound promising either: "The CBC moved into children's programming on Saturday mornings with a ninety minute package of films. The program included a cartoon, a serial, and a one hour film. The Canadian component was an animated series called The Undersea Adventures of Captain Nemo. It told the story of Captain Mark Nemo and his young assistants, Christine and Robbie, in their nuclear powered submarine, the Nautilus. The cartoon was produced by Rainbow Animation Ltd. of Toronto. The whole series was coordinated by Nada Harcourt (1975-77) and Suzanne Garland (1977-78)."

Now here is the really frustrating part. There is no similar database available for CTV or any of the private networks and the very little written material about Canadian TV shows is at best extremely spotty. And of course, if the show were produced by a local station, well the simple fact is that there's virtually no way to get an answer for that. I can remember local shows that aired on the local station here in Saskatoon on Saturdays. In fact I made my TV debut and swan song in an episode of one of them, the Children's Film Committee which was actually a partnership between the TV station and the Public Library's Children's Department to show films made from famous children's books, like Tom Sawyer - they had kids, like me, from the local elementary schools read book reports related to the movie being shown. But by the 1970s most private stations were just picking up packages of cartoons from the American networks or - more often - older material.

As a last resort I checked out one of my old TV Guides from the 1970s - 1972 to be exact. This, I admit was a long shot for several reasons. The only issues I still have are the Fall Preview issues, but stations tended to be on their summer schedules when the Fall Preview issues came out. Does it make a difference - yes. Just as an example CFQC in Saskatoon apparently didn't turn on the transmitter until 10:30 on a summer Saturday morning. Moreover the main part of the Guide - the part showing all the new shows and listing new Saturday kids' shows in the Fall Preview - was still being printed in the United States and would be until 1977. There was a "Canadian Preview" in the listings section but it has limited information. However the evidence from that 1972 TV Guide holds a great deal of information. All of the CTV stations in the "Manitoba-Saskatchewan Edition" were showing American cartoons on Saturday morning, but the "Canadian Preview" lists two Saturday kids shows to debut that year on CTV (but that didn't necessarily mean that every station showed them): The Waterville Gang, "animated underwater adventures for small fry", and Puppet People, "another kiddies show, this one with hand puppets and a couple of different youngsters appearing in each episode." Puppet People may be a possibility - it ran from 1973-1975 and featured ventriloquist Jerry Layne and two puppets created specially for the show. According to Wikipedia "Puppet People combined pre-taped comedy sketches featuring a cast of full size figures. These sketches were played into a game show featuring children answering questions based on the sketches." I don't think it's the show Mechie's looking for, but except for the weekday show Drop-In, which I suppose some stations might have shown on Saturdays, it's the only on that sounds even vaguely close.

If this were an American show I have no doubt that I could have found far more information than this far more easily. The history of Canadian made programming, particularly on the private networks is not consistently or effectively chronicled, either online or in print. As for local programming at any hour, well it exists mainly in anecdotal form. I hope this was of some help, but I don't think it was.

Feel free to keep asking about shows though, I enjoy the detective work!


Anonymous said...

I am looking for the name of a tv show that was on within the last 10 years. It was about a man that travelled all over the world (not sure if he was a time traveller) and had an older gentleman chasing after him and had a woman also after him who I think was in love with him. It was not a sci fi, not a time period show, it was modern and if i remember correctly they would refer back to his family and childhood. I do not remember any names, i just saw a commercial with the woman that was in the show and it reminded me of that show and for the life of me and all my facebook friends It is driving me nuts and will until i find out the name of the show. The woman had dark brown hair, straight cut, great body, nice looking and did smoke in the show. ( iknow not a lot of info) but I am hoping that you wil know.... :-)
You can email me at yogis1@hotmail if you can help me out.

Nathan Elke, Saskatoon said...

Hello...I'm fairly sure that the show asked about was the CTV show "Kidstuff". I remember it fondly and agree that the dark haired girl seemed snarky. :)

One of the boys' names was Doug and I want to say...Charles? It was a fun show; at one point they stood in front of a large "map" of canada with a cowboy in the west (Johnny Shinook) and a ship builder (Big Joe Muphra (sp?)) and they'd sing a song surrounding funny Canadian historical re-enactments.

Mary Young, Fredericton, NB said...

The show was called KidStuff and it aired on the CTV network. The kids were: Kathy (blonde with long pigtails); Doug (lighter haired boy); Suzin (shorter girl with long black hair down her back); Harold (dark haired boy). They sang in vocal harmony and did some skits. They had a young teenage boy guest called Mr. Magic who did magic tricks. There was a blonde lady who would say "Do you want some tea?". There was a segment where they sang "My mom, My dad" which introduced a viewer narrating what his or her dad did for a living. Interspersed throughout the hourly show would be jokes sent in from viewers across Canada.