Mourning The Loss Of Popcorn Playhouse

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Mourning The Loss Of Popcorn Playhouse

Postby TVNewsman » Mon Apr 27, 2009 11:39 am ... tside0416/

Local TV in the 1960s was low-rent and had low entertainment value, but it was Edmonton
Published April 16, 2009 by Maurice Tougas in Comment

As an avid, maybe even excessive TV viewer, I do not miss the old days of the two-channel universe. Today’s TV is so far superior in both quality and quantity to the TV of my youth, it hardly seems like the same medium.

But there is one aspect of olden-days TV that outdoes anything we have today: local content. Aside from newscasts, there is no local content anymore.

Thanks to the money-saving homogenization of television and the ubiquity of Sniffles and Simpsons reruns, local TV has been wiped clean of every last vestige of individual personality.

Remember a station called CFRN? It’s still there, sort of, but now it’s called CTV Edmonton, which looks exactly the same as CTV Anywhere. Remember CITV? It’s still around too, but now it’s called Global, which looks exactly the same as Global Anyplace.

Edmonton today has four local stations, but my guess is the four combined don’t produce as much local TV as CFRN did in the 1960s. For that entire decade, Edmonton was a two-station town: CFRN (born in 1954) and CBXT (1961). It took until 1974 to get a new local station (CITV).

From a kids’ point of view, however, there was only one channel: CFRN, which produced hours of local TV. Most of it was aimed directly at kids, and even the stuff that wasn’t was still happily juvenile.

Every kid in Edmonton watched CFRN’s local programs, and the favourite of mini-Edmontonians was an afternoon show called Popcorn Playhouse, 90 minutes of goofiness broadcast every weekday.

How big was Popcorn Playhouse? Let me put it this way. Popcorn Playhouse was to Edmonton kids what The Krusty the Klown Show is to Springfield kids. At 4 p.m., Edmonton kids would gather around the TV and turn on Channel 3, just the way Bart and Lisa tune in Channel 6. Instead of a chain-smoking clown, we had a sly, funny host named Klondike Eric. And while Krusty has Sideshow Mel (or Bob), Klondike Eric had Muskeg Moose, a ratty-looking papier-mâché moose’s head that hung on the wall. Instead of Itchy and Scratchy cartoons, we had Popeye.

Popcorn Playhouse was broadcast in front of a live audience of antsy kids from a faux log cabin. Every kid in attendance got some face time in a one-on-one interview with Klondike Eric. There were other hosts from time to time (one guy reminded me of a terrified substitute teacher in front of an unruly class) but Klondike Eric was the man. The interviews with the kids were hardly in-depth — name, age, school, likes, dislikes, then onto the next kid — but you were ON TELEVISION!

Popcorn Playhouse was the biggest kids’ show on CFRN, but not the only one. Saturdays featured two other “classic” programs: Kiddies on Kamera and Kids’ Bids. Kiddies on Kamera, most often hosted by avuncular longtime CFRN staffer Ed Kay, was a talent show featuring local kids. I’m sure many Edmonton kids have fond memories of appearing on Kiddies on Kamera, but it was not exactly a showcase of cutting-edge talent, consisting as it did mostly of baton-twirling and tapdancing.

A better, if somewhat weirder, show was Kids Bids. The show featured a young audience bidding on a variety of toys, using empty bags of Old Dutch potato chips as their monetary units.

The show was hosted by real auctioneers, an older couple named the O’Haras, who didn’t cut the kids any slack. They would go full out with that incomprehensible speedspeak of the auctioneer, while baffled kids tentatively raised their hands to bid on items.

I’m trying to picture exactly what the appeal of this program was, and I’m coming up with nothing. But we watched it nonetheless.

Perhaps the best of all CFRN programs was one that wasn’t aimed directly at kids, but had a major young audience all the same. I guess the best way to describe The Noon Show was to say that it was a variety program. The hosts, a rotation that included Ed Kay and a lanky fellow named Norris McLean, wore loud Hawaiian shirts and goofy hats, indicating that The Noon Show was not to be taken too seriously.

There was even a house band, the legendary Gaby Haas and The Barn Dance Gang, who played just the kind of music you’d expect from a band named Gaby Haas and The Barn Dance Gang. For kids, the highlight was the daily airing of The Three Stooges. Inspired by the Stooges, we would meet on the playground and promptly poke each other’s eyes.

The CBC didn’t contribute much as far as I can recall, although I do have a vivid recollection of CBC suppertime news parading the participants in the Miss Nude Edmonton Pageant sometime in the 1970s, just as they would appear in the pageant — nude. Does anyone else remember this, or was it just my fevered teenage brain at work?

Alas, aside from hours of news, locally made TV is no more.

I’m not saying Popcorn Playhouse was brilliant television, or that Kiddies on Kamera was anything more than a low-rent showcase of modestly talented children, or that either show would hold the attention of today’s short-attention-span generation.

But as bad as it was, and as cheap as it was, it was a part of Edmonton. It was ours.

Comments: 1

sginther7 wrote:
Even after all these years Popcorn Playhouse comes up in a conversation between us mature folks. I was part of the show a few times, I also was one that cried when Idid not dig a nugget out of the sand box. That show bring so many memories, especially when you have a run in with someone who has also been in the show, then you try to remember if you were on the same episode. Besides what a way to get excited when you go for a taping of a show, then you to see yourself on TV. Remembering having 1 TV was special. I would have loved to see myself in color, LOL

Can you imagine if we had that show again? the family dynamic have changed so much, that if Eric Neville would ask a3-8 years old kid today what they what to be when they grow up. The answer won't be like it was in the 60's they would want to be fire truck( remember some of those answers) today they would probalby want to grow up to be drug dealer (i know went to extreme) but this would not surprise me. Wouldn't it be nice to have Popcorn Playhouse come out of the archives at CFRN, so we could share the moment with our children, or even grand children for some .... not me (thank goodness). Saturday morning would be a great time for reruns.
Thank you SEE for the great memory.
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Popcorn Playhouse

Postby jon » Mon Apr 27, 2009 12:16 pm

Popcorn Playhouse was the cause of real cultural shock for me in the last couple of weeks. I was contacted by e-mail by the young adult child of someone who appeared on Popcorn Playhouse as a kid on his birthday in the mid-1960s. The person, gender unknown, wanted a copy of the show from that day, featuring the Father as a birthday gift for the Father.

Not wanting to sound like a bitter old coot, I tried gently to explain that technology was a little different "back then". I tried to explain that I'd be extremely surprised to find any complete copies of a live local show like Popcorn Playhouse, let alone one particular day's show. Hoping to relate, I explained how NBC had erased and reused the video tape for something like 10 years of Johnny Carson's Tonight shows, because the video tape and the space to store them was so valuable.

Obviously, it didn't sink in. As the person departed the conversation with "I'm sure someone somewhere would have taped it".

With what? It would be nearly 20 years before VCRs were generally available. 8mm film was the only consumer alternative back then. And a roll of 8mm film lasted what, 45 seconds? Not to mention the fact that there was no easy way for consumers to sync the camera's frame rate with the refresh rate of the television.
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Re: Mourning The Loss Of Popcorn Playhouse

Postby Neumann Sennheiser » Tue Apr 28, 2009 7:10 am

Not intending to hijack the thread, but I'm betting I'll open it a whole lot wider by including age 40 or 50-something Calgary kids and memories of both "Buckshot" and "Colonel Lunar"; two separate, local kid's shows, one considerably more of a legendary icon than the other.
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Local Programming

Postby jon » Tue Apr 28, 2009 7:26 am

TVNewsman wrote:Edmonton today has four local stations, but my guess is the four combined don’t produce as much local TV as CFRN did in the 1960s.

In a tour of CFRN-TV about 3 years ago, I was told that owner CTV (whatever the official name is these days) does not allow CFRN-TV to produce any local programming other than the News programming.

Or to produce any commercials.

But they are allowed to rent out their large studio "in the back". It is primarily used by local companies producing commercials. The Brick, for example.
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Re: Mourning The Loss Of Popcorn Playhouse

Postby Howaboutthat » Tue Apr 28, 2009 5:27 pm

Seriously attempting to hijack the thread... Julius Pierpont Patches was a must for this youngster every day! Live and unrehearsed... I'm sure it set me up for a future career in entertainment!

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Postby jon » Tue Apr 28, 2009 5:41 pm

I never actually got to see JP much, as KIRO-7 was basically unwatchable off-air where I lived, and only my grandparents ever had cable TV before my entire family left Vancouver in 1974.

But I still loved the Robin Mitchell story, from his web site, about JP's "day job" as a manager. He would often not have time to get rid of his makeup before scheduled management meetings. And Robin said it took some getting used to, taking your senior manager seriously when he was in a clown's face makeup.

For my part, I was raised on CHAN-TV's live afternoon children's programming of the '60s, and Captain Kangaroo on KVOS-TV. On Radio, it was Ross Mortimer on CJOR.
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Re: Mourning The Loss Of Popcorn Playhouse

Postby flange » Wed Apr 29, 2009 10:33 am

j.P. Patches was an icon, when I was a kid...but so was Captain Puget, Stan Boreson, < 'King's Clubhouse' Starring: Stan Boreson and his basset hounds, Tallulah and No Mo Shun > and even my little sisters fave : Wunda, Wunda.

Us Victoria kids also had Club Six,on CHEK, with Bob Aylward and Uncle Bob and Shandygaff on CHAN, too...if the rabbit ears were just right.

Fun-o- Rama was my fave. LOL
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Re: Mourning The Loss Of Popcorn Playhouse

Postby Promotions Guy » Thu Apr 30, 2009 8:12 pm

My old friend Maurice Tougas, former editor of the Edmonton Examiner and former MLA for Edmonton Meadowlark, remembers the most recent version of Popcorn Playouse. Prior to Klondike Eric, there was Captain Doug MacFarlane and I believe even George Kidd and Don Brinton, took their turns hosting the show. The show was legendary for the host asking questions of the 'birthday kid' and getting some answers that weren't scripted and sometimes should have been bleeped, but the technology on live tv was around back then.

Thanks Maurice for bringing back the memories.
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