CITV Memories – Freakazoid!

Freakazoid! (1995-1997)

As well as the likes of Tiny Toon Adventures, Taz-Mania and Animaniacs, another great Warner Brothers cartoon that was shown on CITV in the mid-90s was Freakazoid! As far as I remember Freakazoid! was always shown on Fridays on CITV so I associate that great “just got home from school and the weekend’s started” feeling with watching, and I became a big fan.

Freakazoid! was about a rather unusual superhero, and when the show’s opening theme wasn’t going on about chimpanzees it explained the idea. Ordinary teenager Dexter Douglas is someone who has spent far too long on the information superhighway (well, it was the mid-90s) and he gained his abilities from the code in a computer bug, becoming the all knowledgeable hero in the process. He can instantly transform into his alter-ego by saying “freak out!”, although his family have no idea about his new identity. vlcsnap-00748

Because he was a superhero, dealing an alien invasion was just an everyday occurrence for Freakazoid, but he also had battle with several baddies to help save the world. These included Longhorn and Cave Guy, but his main enemy was The Lobe, a rather strange character who had no head but he did have a brain with a face on it and he spoke in an English accent. In his rare moments of spare time from trying to take over the world he liked to do the Hokey Pokey (as they seem to call it in America). vlcsnap-00743

Of course, one thing I liked about Freakazoid! was the streak of weirdness going through the show. An announcer would usually appear to try to explain the situation but as the episode progressed he found it a struggle, and the concept of TV was played around with, with episodes randomly stopping and the Animaniacs title sequence beginning as if it had suddenly turned into another programme, there were strange cutaways to unrelated archive footage, and lots of people were parodied, from celebrities to presidents, and it seemed that no-one was safe from a ribbing. There were also odd credits and a post-credit sequence featuring a character making a quick joke to end the show. vlcsnap-00745

Freakazoid! was a fairly short-lived show and it only ran for two series and 24 episodes, it didn’t become as popular as the other Warner Brothers cartoons, and it hasn’t been released on DVD in this country. As well as being shown on CITV, in more recent years it has been on Cartoon Network where it gained a new following, and I remember setting the video once for an episode that was shown in the morning during the Christmas holidays one year, you definitely wouldn’t see something that odd on ITV now at any time. I was always happy to watch and support the show though, because if I didn’t they’d be unemployed. vlcsnap-00738

More TV Memories – Bob And Margaret.

Bob And Margaret (1998-2001)

In there late-90s there were a big wave of animated comedy shows that launched on TV. Among these shows were the likes of South Park and Futurama, and these went on to be very successful, so British TV decided to have a go at making some too. One was Stressed Eric, which ran for a couple of series but I don’t remember watching that, another one that I did watch was Bob And Margaret.

In 1994 a cartoon called Bob’s Birthday won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, and the decision was made to turn this into a series. Bob and Margaret Fish are a married couple around their early-40s who live in London and don’t have any children, but they do have two stupid dogs (now there’s a good idea for a cartoon). Bob works as a dentist, while Margaret is a chiropodist, and we see them in their work and going about their daily lives interacting with family, friends and patients. vlcsnap-00728

Because Bob And Margaret was a British production, most of the early episodes were shown on Channel 4, although in a rather late timeslot, and various British comedy actors provided the voices, including Andy Hamilton who wrote TV sitcom Drop The Dead Donkey and starred in radio series Old Harry’s Game who voiced Bob, and Steve Coogan and Doon Mackichan were also among the cast. The show also had a rather distinctive animation style, with all of the cast featuring rather worryingly large noses. vlcsnap-00727Of the 52 episodes, one that stuck in my mind was called “Fly On The Wall”, where Bob was contacted by an old school friend to take part in a documentary called Cutting Lives showing his work as a dentist. Bob then gathers all his friends round to watch the show on TV. However, Bob gets stitched up when clips of him are shown out of context, such as when he shouts at a hard of hearing elderly patient “what is wrong with you?”, making it seem like he was verbally abusing them, and Bob ends up rather embarrassed. vlcsnap-00724

For the third series, there were some changes. A Canadian production company took over the making of the show so Bob and Margaret left the UK to start a new life in Toronto, and things carried on rather as they had been until the fourth and final series. Because of this, the show gained a small following of fans in the USA and Canada despite the humour being typically British. vlcsnap-00729

I remember watching Bob And Margaret when it seemed to be repeated endlessly on the now long-gone Freeview digital channel FTN about a decade ago. It was at this point that I really got into the show having not seen it first time round, there were a lot of interesting characters and memorable moments, but it now hasn’t been on the screen for a while and it hasn’t been released in full on DVD in this country, but it was a good attempt at an animated sitcom that deserves more acclaim.

Game Show Memories – Perfection.

Perfection (BBC2, 2011-2012, 2015, BBC1, 2013-2014)

Perfection was a weekday daytime game show hosted by Nick Knowles where contestants could win a cash prize – but the twist was that they would only do so if they got every single question right. The show began with four contestants, and one of them was picked at random to play, but the other three could still have a big influence on how the game would turn out. vlcsnap-00706

The contestant takes part in three rounds. In all of them, they are given four general knowledge statements and they have to determine whether they are true or false in 45 seconds. Once they have, it is revealed how many they got right. If they get all of them right, they move on to the next round, but if not, the other contestants (known as “the suspects”), who didn’t watch this part of the game happen, can then have the chance to correct the answers that they think are wrong. Usually this helps the contestant to get all the answers right, but there is always a risk that they could change a correct answer. This round is then played two more times. vlcsnap-00707

In the final there are a choice of 12 categories. The contestant has to pick six to answer in the final, although the suspects have chances to pick categories for them too. They are all titled with vague categories which should give the contestant a small idea of what they might be about. Again, in the final the contestant will be asked true or false statements but with no time limit, and by this point they have to be confident of their answers. The answers are then revealed, and if they get them all right, they have achieved perfection and win the money on offer. But again there is a twist. vlcsnap-00710

If one of the suspects thinks that one of the answers is wrong, they can help out a contestant by correcting some of the answers to play for a share of the money, although this means that they lose their chance to play the game individually. However, if contestant, or a contestant accompanied by a suspect get even one answer wrong, they lose the game, and the money rolls over into the next game, with another £1,000 added to the jackpot. A new contestant is then added and the whole cycle begins again as two full games are played in every 45 minute show. The biggest ever individual win on the show was £21,000, and it took 57 shows before someone won the money by getting all 18 statements correct first time out without any help from the suspects. vlcsnap-00716

Perfection attracted some surprise publicity when it launched because after almost all of the first series was completed someone noticed that it was possible for the contestants to be able to see a screen that might be showing some of the answers. This would give the suspects an unfair advantage, and all the shows had to be remade. Perfection was a decent daytime show, and for a short while it was promoted to BBC1, but by the end of its run it fell out of favour with viewers, with some of the final editions being shown at the terrible timeslot of 6am on BBC2 which was rather harsh because Perfection contained an challenge that was interesting to watch how it would turn out.

CBBC Memories – Rugrats.

Rugrats (Nickelodeon, 1991-2004)

Rugrats was another cartoon that was first shown on children’s channel Nickelodeon, but it really became popular in this country when it came to CBBC in the early-90s. Rugrats centred around the adventures of a group of toddlers, with the main character being Tommy Pickles, who loved discovering things about the world around him and he was always dragging his smelly nappy around in various exciting stories. vlcsnap-00691

We also met Tommy’s parents Didi and Stu who is an inventor and he also loves chocolate pudding. Of course none of the adults in the show realise that Tommy can actually speak! The other children included the twin brother and sister Phil and Lil, and the glasses-wearing Chuckie. There is also Tommy’s cousin Angelica who is a couple of years older than the others, she is often seen playing with her favourite doll Cynthia and thinks that she knows a lot more about life than they do, often calling them “dumb babies!”, but they usually outsmart her. vlcsnap-00696

We also meet various other family members, including Tommy’s dozy granddad and Angelica’s mother who is something of a workaholic. One thing that was distinctive about Rugrats was that every episode would begin with a shot from the child’s eye view accompanied by some odd “bah-bah” music which made it difficult to realise what was happening at first, but everything was soon revealed, and the story developed from there. Some episodes revolved around the children’s favourite TV show about a dinosaur called Reptar. They really loved them, and they were very excited in one episode when a breakfast cereal was released which made the milk turn green! vlcsnap-00694

Rugrats ended up running for over a decade and over 100 episodes were made, and it became popular enough for two films to be released. One of my favourite episodes is “Incident In Aisle Seven” where Grandpa takes Tommy to the supermarket and ends up having great fun. Honestly, it was chaos, there were watermelons everywhere. In later episodes Tommy also gained a younger brother called Dil but I had stopped watching the show regularly by then. There was also a monthly comic featuring more Rugrats stories which launched in 1996 and it ran for about a year or two. I remember buying a couple of copies, but I didn’t keep them though which is rather annoying. There were also some games and DVDs released among a lot of other merchandise. 2007927-03

In more recent years there was also a spin-off series called All Grown Up which featured all the main cast members but they were now all ten years old, and this was series was actually shown on CITV, along with some of the later episodes of Rugrats. I still very much remember watching the earlier episodes of Rugrats and enjoying them, and it is remarkable to think that the one-year-olds that we have come to know have now been around for 25 years.

CITV Memories – Garfield And Friends.

Garfield And Friends (1988-1994)

Garfield is a cartoon strip that was created by Jim Davis and it was first published in 1978. It centres around the adventures of a rather lazy ginger cat. Garfield likes to sleep around the house all day, and the only thing that seems to get him excited is being able to eat lasagna which is his favourite food. Garfield is owned by the long-suffering Jon Arbuckle who does his best to look after him, but he always gets the better of Jon as he has a witty aside for every occasion. After a while Garfield became very popular so the decision was made to turn the strip into a TV show.

Of course, somebody thankfully realised that cats don’t speak, so we heard Garfield’s thoughts from his mind courtesy of Lorenzo Music who had a suitably downbeat voice. Garfield And Friends launched in the late-80s and it was shown on CITV regularly for about a decade. One amusing part of the show in the early series was that like The Simpsons there was a change to the opening sequence every week. This was were Garfield would make a quick joke, such as “welcome to my world… did you bring food?”. vlcsnap-00688

As the episodes progressed, we saw Jon and Garfield interact in lots of stories, but there were other characters in the show, including Odie the dog who Garfield wasn’t very found of, the cute kitten Nermal, and we meet some more of Jon’s family. I also remember that Garfield liked to watch the TV a lot, especially Binky The Clown, a crazy screechy-voiced TV star who made Krusty The Klown in The Simpsons seem calm and sensible by comparison. vlcsnap-00684

The “Friends” in the show were the stars of the other segment, which was Orson’s Farm (known in America as US Acres). This was also created by Jim Davis and featured various farm animals including Orson the pig, Booker and Sheldon the chickens, Roy the rooster, and Bo and Lanolin the sheep. I also remember Wade the duck who was scared of everything, and he always wore a rubber ring which had his face on it, and the expression on it changed when Wade’s did, it’s odd how you remember these things. vlcsnap-00689

Garfield And Friends was a cartoon that I always enjoyed watching on CITV, and eventually it ran for seven series and was released on DVD, but not in this country unfortunately. There has also been a huge amount of Garfield merchandise, including books and those toys which had suction caps on them so you could stick them to your car window which seemed to be all the rage for a short while. After the cartoon ended, the story continued though, there were two film versions made which featured real people and a computer-generated version of Garfield, and almost 40 years after it launched, the comic strip continues in newspapers around the world to this day. vlcsnap-00690

Game Show Memories – University Challenge.

University Challenge (ITV, 1962-1987, BBC2, 1994-present)

I must admit that I am not really a regular viewer of University Challenge, but I felt that I had to write a review about it because it is a very important game show in British TV history, being one of the longest-running and most respected in the genre. When I put this piece together I decided that I wanted to watch some editions from the first era of the show on ITV, unfortunately I could only find one incomplete edition online.

A quick look over the rules: teams of four representing universities from across the country compete against one another, facing some of the toughest questions to have featured on a game show, and only Blockbusters could rival the amount of mascots that the teams had. A starter question is asked for ten points with both teams shown in the famous split-screen effect. Whoever buzzes in and gets it right gets three extra questions for the team to answer for five points each. There are also questions that feature audio and picture clues. Repeat this until time is up. vlcsnap-00672

The reason I wanted to look back at the first era of University Challenge was because when the show was on ITV it was hosted by Bamber Gascoigne, who is regarded as one of the greatest game show hosts. And after watching some of his work I must admit that I was very impressed and I can clearly see why he is held in such high regard by viewers, and why the show is considered to be in the same group as Mastermind. As time began to run out he increased the pace and began to talk quicker as if he was a horse racing commentator and… there’s the gong! The winner is then announced much to the delight of an overexcited studio audience, with a trophy for the overall series winners who are usually a very bright bunch of people. vlcsnap-00673

As the years progressed though, University Challenge seemed to fall out of favour, it was shown by most ITV regions in a daytime slot, but the scheduling was very irregular from region to region. Various rule changes that were introduced included the Pass The Baton round which was difficult to get a grasp of, and ratings slumped, meaning that the show came to an end in 1987 after an impressive 25 years. vlcsnap-00678

The story didn’t end there though. After a one-off special, BBC2 decided in 1994 that the time was right to revive University Challenge in a primetime slot with new host Jeremy Paxman, and it is a surprise to think that he has now hosted the show for almost as long as Gascoigne did. The show remains very popular with viewers, although it does seem to have a very complicated knockout format and the questions are as tough as ever. I’m sure it’ll continue to be on the screen for many years to come.

More TV Memories – The Dance Years.

The Dance Years (ITV, 2001)

At the start of the 2000s decade, there was a big craze on TV for looking back at various times in documentaries. Every cultural event from the past five decades seemed to be chronicled and analysed either year-by-year or in various top ten lists, or sometimes even top 100s. Being interested in the history of dance music, I was rather pleased when a show came along which looked back at the development of this genre.

The Dance Years was first shown on ITV in 2001 in a late-night Saturday night slot. I didn’t see it myself though until a repeat run a year later. ITV showing original programming in a late-night slot? Yes, it really happened. The show was hosted by Dave Pearce, who is a DJ and has presented dance music shows on various radio stations for many years, and at the time of this show he was a presenter on BBC Radio 1 (where I remember Mark Radcliffe used to call him “a dangerous gap-toothed gypsy” for some reason, he’d probably get the sack for that nowadays). vlcsnap-00663

Every week Dave revealed his top ten favourite dance hits from 1988 to 2001, and the videos to each hit were shown in descending order, with comments on them from various people. One thing that was good about the show was that the contributors clearly knew what they were talking about as a lot of them had worked in dance music for many years, and we heard opinions from various DJs, rappers, producers, and so on. There were also comments from non-famous people who remember hearing the songs in the clubs and buying the records in the shops. vlcsnap-00668

As the weeks progressed we saw how the genre of dance music evolved over the years, with the house scene being big in the late-80s, through to rave becoming popular in the early-90s, then drum & bass being successful in the mid-90s, all the way up to garage dominating the scene in the late-90s. To pick a year as an example, the edition reviewing 1994 featured some memorable hits including JX’s floorfiller “Son Of A Gun” and the terrific “Let Me Be Your Fantasy” by Baby D, which after being around for a couple of years eventually became a number one single. vlcsnap-00666

There were so many great songs featured on The Dance Years and it brought back a lot of great memories for me and I learned a lot about the genre in the process, and best of all it was really great seeing this era of music being taken seriously and discussed knowledgeably. A lot of music documentaries still to this day seem to only focus around 1960s and 1970s rock music as if that’s the only genre that’s worth preserving and what people want to know about. I hope that one day there will be more TV series treating the most interesting parts of the last 30 years of pop music with more respect.