The adventures of a New Jersey college professor with very strange friends, colleagues, and family members.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The “Fun” Stops Here

During my fourth year in Repertory, I was approached by a child actor who stared up at me with saucer-eyes and asked: “Do you want to be on my father’s television show?”

I didn't even know this kid's name. “Who’s your father?” I asked.

It turned out that the kid’s father (whose name, inexplicably, was “Ski”) was the writer, director, and producer of a children’s television show called Fun Stop. I had never heard of it, but the kid insisted it was quality programming and that his father was always searching for more on-air talent. He also recruited my friend Chris in order to “balance things out.” Both Chris and I researched Ski intently, in an attempt to find out just how much he knew about television production. Naturally, he didn’t know much at all.

Because I had never done television before, I asked to see a copy of the script for the pilot, and several days later, Ski sent me one.

Reading the script, I became aware of a few things:

First, Chris and I were the only live human beings in the cast. The rest of the ensemble consisted of incredibly badly made puppets (I think they were supposed to be a frog and a lizard) for which Ski himself did all the verses while hidden behind a brick wall.

The second thing I realized was that Fun Stop had absolutely no idea what its target demographic was. In the pilot episode we learned the alphabet (directed at five year olds) and immediately following we had a sketch preaching the evils of smoking (aimed at teenagers). Weirdly, there was also a brief interlude of Ski, dressed in full drag, reading nursery rhymes out of a Mother Goose book.

The third thing that became clear was that Fun Stop might not have only been the worst children’s program of all time, but possibly the worst kind of television ever in the history of the medium. Still, I tried to make it work.

A week before shooting the pilot, Ski called me and asked me what my T-Shirt size was. “All quality children’s shows have personalized shirts,” he insisted. Perhaps he watched too much Mickey Mouse Club as a child.

The shirts were bizarre. They were red with white lettering. On the front were our names (in case the audience forgot) and on the back they said Fun Stop (in case we forgot).

My lines were absurdly easy to memorize, but up until this point I had only ever acted with actual human beings, not with puppets. And I certainly never acted as a puppet's straight man. On the first day of shooting, Chris and I arrived at the studio (with our shirts) and got a look at the set.

The set consisted of a blue backdrop, a phony-looking “brick wall” and the iconic Fun Stop stop-sign. It was on this stop sign that the cameras focused during the opening credits. It was the weirdest theme song I’d ever heard—offstage, Ski was playing polka music on an accordion. He looked like Weird Al Yankovic in drag.

Shooting got underway. Chris and I helplessly held up letters of the alphabet and then danced around with them. Ski read “Hickory Dickory Dock” at top volume, and blew out his microphone. My scene with the rabid puppets was a nightmare because Ski kept changing his voice. The anti-smoking sketch was long, drawn out, and generally put a damper on the whole episode.

A few weeks into this, I realized something; Ski was rapidly running out of money. We knew this because we only could rent the TV studio for an hour per week, which meant that we had to do everything in one take, even if it sucked (which most of it did). Also, our camera men kept disappearing, and I finally got it out of Ski that he had had to fire a camera man in order to finance episodes of Fun Stop; apparently, every sponsor we had pulled their funding once they saw what an absolute horror show it was. Eventually, he had to fire everyone and insisted on shooting the episodes with his videocamera set up on a tripod.

Finally, after an entire season, we were mercifully cancelled. Ski went on to go into real estate. Chris now works for a bottled water company, and I became an English professor.

Embarrassingly, the BeowulfParents still have all the tapes from Fun Stop, and occasionally watch them with parental glee. I just cringe.


  • At 8:24 AM, Blogger Meldraw said…

    "And I certainly never acted as a puppet's straight man."

    Apparently, neither had Ski.

  • At 1:26 PM, Blogger Elizabeth Sanford-Anson said…

    A few questions:
    1) How could you tell by reading the script that the puppets were badly made?
    2) How did the show last for an entire season (and how long a season?) when it was so poorly made and thought out? There are so many good, well-written shows with strong fan bases that are cancelled mid-season that it’s surprising that this disaster could live past the pilot.
    3) What channel was Fun Stop on, and what was the time frame? I can’t find anything on it by googling.


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