Every generation has a slate of local kids TV shows that seem to transcend the medium, and not always in a good way. Back in the day, Toronto unleashed an avalanche of utterly loopy kids programs onto an unsuspecting public, the effects of which probably still keep a fair amount of psychiatrists busy today.
These are the nuttiest, most brilliantly insane slabs of Toronto TV culture that equally inspired and shocked a generation of kids.
This TVOntario series attained a massive cult following in the United States thanks to its appearance on Nickelodeon. Mannequin Jeff magically comes to life after hours at the downtown Simpson's department store and experiences the joys and sorrows of life along with his friends Jody, Muffy and security guard Sam Crenshaw.
There are many unforgettable moments, including episodes about alcoholism, death and jealously and musical guests as varied as Bruce Cockburn and Oscar Peterson. Criminally unavailable on home video or online, other than fuzzy off-air recordings.
Canada's first colour cartoon series in 1967 was animated and dubbed in Toronto, but looked cheap as chips even with a purported budget of almost $2 million. It's best remembered for its head-ache inducing psychedelic intro, and the cuckoo episode "Dementia 5" about trans-dimensional demons who later turn up in an episode of Spider-Man.
Sharon, Lois and Bram were like the original Wiggles - folk singing grown-ups whose music was strangely irresistible to youngsters. Their TV show mixed live concert footage with life lesson parables starring an Elephant costume who spoke only in Tuba bursts.
Extremely spooky edu-tainment screened in classrooms to teach Grade 5's writing and grammar in the 1980s, this TVOntario Sci-Fi serial mostly played like a Toronto set episode of Doctor Who, with an evil alien warlord (floating silver head Duneedon), time travel back to the War of 1812, and sentient monitors and type-writers.
The giallo-esq overtones in the opening episode alone elevate this creepshow to the upper pantheon of classic WTF Canadian television. It was created and written by Clive Endersby (who also novelized the series), a veteran of other classic TVO fare such as Today's Special and Dear Aunt Agnes.
After running for what felt like an eternity, "wholesome" memories of the Toronto-shot Just Like Mom game show consisted mostly of announcer Dave Devall, shots of Camp Onondaga, and kids baking cookies. That is until someone uploaded a supercut of host Fergie Oliver's creepy behaviour and the whole thing took on a sinister vibe.
Well-intentioned religious kid's show unmercifully teased in the 1970s and 80s for its overt zeal and hokey sing-alongs. Featuring a revolving group of kid hosts (including a young Marci Ien, better known now as co-host of Canada AM) and some poorly made puppets who focused on life lessons through the prism of Christianity.
Serene TV magic featured the baritone voiced Bob Homme telling stories and playing music with his puppet friends Jerome the Giraffe and Rusty the Rooster in a castle way up in the sky. Running 15 minutes per episode, featuring a conversational tone, freestyle jazz sessions, and a silver haired host, this type of show is now unimaginable.
Frankly bonkers sketch comedy show for kids featuring man-of-a-thousand faces Billy Van as multiple gruesome characters inhabiting the titular House, alongside Vincent Price, Fishka Rais and Guy Big (supposedly the inspiration for the Austin Power's Mini-Me character).
Although shot in the Hammer, this was Toronto man Billy Van's playhouse; his menagerie of monstrous types included Grizelda, The Librarian, Bwana Clyde Batty, Dr. Pet Vet, The Wolfman, and The Oracle. Even after 4 decades this unique and brilliantly demented series still defies sense, genre or even definition.
Like some lost character from a Paul Thomas Anderson film, Uncle Bobby remains as mysterious today as he was back in the 1960s when he started daily at CFTO in Toronto.
Portrayed by ex-pat Bobby Ash, Uncle Bobby had strange wisdom to impart upon kids ("Be good, but not so very, very good that someone comes up to you and asks what have you been up to?") and also a Pied Piper like ability to inspire and lead them.
Based upon the popular BBC kid's show Play School, Polka Dot Door is now best remembered for its monosyllabic mascot Polkaroo. The series rain daily from 1971 until 1993 on TVOntario, during which time the male host always managed to step away and miss Polkaroo due to the creature's affinity with the female hosts.
Other notable characters included the long suffering toys (Humpty, Dumpty, Marigold and Bear) who spoke in silent code, inanimate story-time mouse, and rarely seen French Canadian cat Minou. During its peak, Polka Dot Door was sold to more countries than the mighty Sesame Street.
by Ed Conroy via blogTO