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In the 1980's, WNYW (formerly WABD and WNEW) Ch. 5 in NYC and WWOR TV Ch. 9 (formerly WOR Ch. 9) in Seacaucus, N. J. aired what would be NYC's last really good kid's TV shows with live hosts/ performers.
'The D. J. Katt Show' debuted on WNYW Ch. 5 on Saturday morning, November 28, 1987. Set against the backdrop of a makeshift clubhouse in an apartment building basement, the show's plot revolved around the mishaps caused by a wisecracking alley cat puppet named D. J. Katt, who created trouble by mouthing off at authority figures in a very nasty way.
Elizabeth Rose played DJ's long suffering comedy assistant. These comedy skits were wraparound reruns of the MGM Harmon/ Issling and Tex Avery movie cartoons. DJ and Elizabeth Rose also read viewers letters.
Unfortunately, Jim Martin (the show's first head puppeteer and puppet-maker) made DJ into such a mean spirited character that the show began to lose ratings and viewers. The Fox TV network, trying to establish itself, couldn't afford to lose any viewers. Martin and Rose were fired and replaced by Craig Marin's Flexatoon Puppets and by Carmen DeLaPaz (who played Jenifer Davis).
Craig turned DJ into a slightly wise cracking but much more friendly character. Craig also created a perfect adversary for DJ, Mr. Midas G. Merkle (the head of The Merkle TV Network... a spoof of the head of the FOX TV network Rupert Murdoch). Craig also had other puppets perform on the show and he played characters in live skits with the puppets (something that Jim Martin could never do).
One of Craig's characters, Track M. Downs the police detective is a homage to Chuck McCann's interpretation of Dick Tracy, one of the funniest characters that Craig Marin ever portrayed.
He also played Brackish Swampwater, a pompous, ego-tripping bumbler of a villain who tried to get rid of DJ with his crazy inventions - but his plans and his inventions would backfire on him. DJ and Jenny would also find time to read viewers mail and do other skits on the show.
My personal favorite was when Mr. Merkle wanted DJ and Jenny do to skits that honored the great movie comedy teams of the past. DJ and Jenny did their own interpretations of Laurel & Hardy as Stannie Fur and Ollie Kat, Abbott & Costello (in a skit that even Bud & Lou would have loved) and the Two Shlumps (a two person spoof of the Three Stooges).
DJ Katt was seen on Saturday mornings on WNYW Channel 5; Craig even created a new theme song for the show and also performed it. To this day, "DJ Katt... That's Me!" is still remembered as a popular kid's show theme song. The series ran until Saturday, December 26, 1987, then moved to Sunday mornings beginning on January 3, 1988, where it remained until Sunday, December 24, 1989.
The heads of the Fox TV Network decided to move the show to a weekday afternoon format and simply have The Flexatoon Puppets introduce cartoons. The show new format began on Monday, December 25, 1989, retitled 'The Fox Five Kids Club'.
DJ and the other Flexatoon Puppets introduced reruns of The Woody Woodpecker Show, The Dick Tracy Show and Alvin & The Chipmunks TV cartoons.
'The Fox Five Kids Club' was the first NYC based kid's TV show to air 'The Super Mario Brothers Show' cartoons which starred the voices and the persons of Capt. Lou Albano as Mario The Plumber and comic / character actor Danny Wells as his brother Lugi. "The Fox Five Kids Club" also screened 'The DC' cartoons weekday afternoons from 1990 until the station execs at Channel 5 closed the doors to the clubhouse for the last time on Friday, March 15, 1991.
On Sunday, February 8, 1988, WWOR TV Ch. 9 in Seacaucus, N. J. revived the comedy/variety kid's TV show format with a new zany host/performer. 'Steampipe Alley' was a 1980's version of 'Wonderama' where kids in the studio audience would play games, become engaged in craftmaking, informational segments and interviews with guest performers and personalities.
There were also comedy skits performed by a zany nightclub and stage comic actor, mimic and singer named Mario Cantone. Cantone played such off the wall characters like Angelo Antonelli, a bragging, loudmouth sewer worker, Julio Bodachaus an obnoxious singer, Pulvinao Proveracci, a pompous opera singer and Major Nanny, a tough, no nonsense caretaker of little kids (the last person who you'd want to care for your kids).
More often than not, the comedic character would be used to lead into one of the games. Senior Proveracci would introduce 'Out Of Gas', a variation of Musical Chairs where kids would try to sit down in chairs before the others could. Except when they sat in the chairs, the chairs would flatulate (they would have whoopie cushions on them).
The last person to get to the chairs and be "Out Of Gas" (not sit on the whoopie cushion) would win a lot of toy prizes. Mario would also introduce a game called Mystery Guest (a kid's version of 'What's my Line'), where a panel of four kids would try to guess the identity of the well known performer or personality via questions - while being blindfolded. Frederick Kohler (of Kate & Alley Fame), the kids who played Westly on ABC TV's Mr. Belvedere, The late Morton Downey, Jr and The Fat Boys were all mystery guests on the show.
Other guests on 'Steampipe Alley' were animal expert Warren Extine, Myram Biloick (from NBC-TV's Blossom Show) and circus animal trainer Gunther Gabbel Williams. The show also had a talent showcase for up and coming kid performers and would also screen The Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry movie cartoons. The show's theme song was written and arranged by prominent songwriter and lyricist Joe Rapposo.
Mario would perform the song at the opening of every show. The show was originally taped at The WWOR TV Studios in Seacacus, N. J. The show moved to the Universal Studios in California before 'Steampipe Alley' returned to WWOR-TV in New Jersey.
It looked like 'Steampipe Alley' would continue into the late 1990's when the station was taken over by Chriscraft TV Inc.
The wife of the new owner of the station was reportedly appalled by Mario's comedy skits and the fact that 'Steampipe Alley' was not educational enough (to this woman's taste). Steampipe Alley went off the air on Sunday, April 18, 1993.
With the cancellation of 'Steampipe Alley, the era of NYC's fun local kid's TV shows came to an end.
"I understand that your site reflects the opinions of many different people about many different shows, and I also understand how frustrating it can be to obtain information about older shows when the stations have no interest in your endeavor. The disparaging and unwarranted comments towards Jim Martin produce nothing but negative impressions about someone who is undeserving of it.
"In the article titled "New York City Kid Show Roundup" written by Kevin Butler, the author states: 'Unfortunately, Jim Martin (the show's first puppeteer and puppet-maker) made DJ into such a mean spirited character that the show began to lose ratings and viewers. The Fox TV network, trying to establish itself, couldn't afford to lose any viewers. Martin and Rose were fired...' While it is true that the writers for the show originally had DJ as a very nasty character, Jim Martin actually endeavored to make the character less nasty by refusing to address his co-host in the degrading manner originally written in the scripts.
"Jim Martin's integrity towards the show resulted in him stepping up to take the role of producer, and in the two years that he worked for the show it earned the New York Broadcaster's Award. When he departed from the show, it was not because he was providing inadequate work, but because the subsequent puppeteer seduced the executive producers into believing he could produce a better show (of course, this latter statement is opinion).
"Another point of contention is when the author states: "Craig also had other puppets perform on the show and he played characters in live skits with the puppets (something that Jim Martin could never do)." In my opinion, this "jab" at Jim Martin is not necessary for the article, unless of course the purpose of the article is to slander Jim Martin and praise Craig Marin. In addition, the statement that this was "something Jim Martin could never do" is entirely false.
"Prior to performing on the DJ Katt show, Jim Martin often performed in person with his puppets, both in live puppet performances and on television series such as the Cap'n Jim Show (local Pittsburgh channel) and the Captain Kangaroo Show. After departing from the DJ Katt show, Jim Martin continued to perform live with puppets on shows such as The Puzzle Place and Sesame Street."
- Sincerely, C. Keller
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"I was wondering if TVparty could do a story on "Steampipe Alley" starring Mario Cantone. It aired on WOR-TV Channel 9 (before UPN took over) on Sundays in the late '80s and was probably the last attempt to do a "traditional" kid show of the type that we baby boomers grew up with...local production, live kid audience, adult host, games and Looney Tunes cartoons.
"I seem to remember that Good Humor ice cream was a sponsor. I used to watch this show just after I graduated from college! I have also seen Mario Cantone as a standup comic on Comedy Central a number of times during the '90s. Thanx and keep up the great work!"
I just found your great site. I wanted to say that I remember the show "Skiddle Alley" very well. I was on the show in August of 1973 and won a 3 speed bike in the dancing contest! I am now almost 40 and have three children of my own. I would love to get my hands on a tape of that show to play for my boys! I think the show was hosted by Major Mudd not Rex Trailer. Let me know if you know of any way to find a copy of the tape. Thanks!
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