The real Canadian razzle dazzle

Looking back at original Turtle Power

#RazzleDazzle lit up Twitter thanks to an ill-inscribed tweet from the New York Times: “Many Canadians are giddy at the prospect that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle would be moving to Canada, injecting some razzle dazzle to the sprawling, bone-chillingly cold country.” (Well, it’s happening now.)

Sadly, the CBC did not seize the moment to remind everyone about their groundbreaking cult kids TV show of the same name, which now seems completely lost to time:

Razzle Dazzle aired daily on CBC Television from 1961 to 1966, and was considered the first “snappy” (read: fast-paced) kids show, hosted by Alan Hamel (who married Suzanne Somers) and Michele Finney. (Later hosts were Ray Bellow and Trudy Young.)

It had a rabid fan club which numbered over 100,000 kids who received secret messages sent out during the show which only their decoders could decipher. Razzle Dazzle also featured serialized kids action shows within the show (including The Forest Rangers) and a menagerie of insolent characters.

Most memorable was Howard the Turtle, who basically became the breakout star. Howard’s jokes (referred to as “groaners”) earned him the title of the “most popular turtle in Canada.” He routinely received thousands of hand written letters from kids every day. The beloved puppet now resides at the Canadian Museum of History.

Howard was operated by puppeteers John and Linda Keogh, whose daughter Nina Keogh also became a puppeteer and worked on the biggest Canadian kid’s shows, from The Friendly Giant to Mr. Dressup to Polka Dot Door. But her most famous role remains Muffy, the Simpsons department store mouse who only speaks in rhyme on TVOntario’s Today’s Special.

That’s right, Canada’s most famous turtle was related to Canada’s most famous mouse. (Do we need more razzle dazzle?)

A decade later, The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show brought the Beatlesque singing siblings to CFTO-TV’s storied Agincourt studios, with a supporting cast of comedians that included Billy Van. Produced for Saturday mornings on CBS in 1974-75, the show might be largely forgotten, but the Divco milk truck from its opening survived.


Candu can’t do revisited

Ken Finkleman’s comedy series The Newsroom (1997-2005) eerily predicted the hysteria which might greet breaking news that the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station was in trouble.

The notorious false alarm of January 12 recalled the three-part first season finale “Meltdown,” which found Toronto director David Cronenberg (promoting his 1996 film, Crash) flee the CBC Broadcast Centre upon hearing news that the reactor was melting down. The media has essentially no idea how to report the news:


Game show history FTW

The traditional premiere of The Search for Canada’s Game Shows, a new six-part series, is set for January 16 on GameTV. Tracing the history (and shoddy preservation) of this sub-genre involves a dash across shows like The Mad Dash, Jackpot, Definition, Reach for the Top, Love Handles, Talk About and, of course, MuchMusic’s anarchic Test Pattern.

But there’s no need to look further—the first two episodes are currently streaming online.


Circle Square square-off

Retrontario’s feed on Instagram recently featured a clip from Circle Square, the children’s show produced from 1974 to 1986 by Crossroads Christian Communications. With that came commenters who remembered it as overtly cult-ish and creepy, at least to those who didn’t abide by the principles of 100 Huntley Street.

But this time, Circle Square’s most recognized graduate Marci Ien, currently of CTV’s The Social, jumped in to respond—a rarity, as she’s been known to avoid the topic, even if she tweeted a cast reunion.

(Ien’s fellow Circle Square alum include ABC News producer Janice Johnston, and journalist and author Adam Sternbergh.)


Our Treehouse, dudes

Corus Entertainment won a default judgement against the Tulsa, Oklahoma cannabis dispensary which was flagrantly using their Treehouse TV channel logo.

But given how Treehouse Dispensary LLC failed to plead or defend itself, it’ll probably be hard for Corus to collect on the $74,000 that they were awarded in legal fees.


Two plus you and Rubinek

Here’s a recent Retrontario discovery: TVOntario’s Two Plus You (1976) was a curriculum math series, set in a toy shop operated by Mr. Bean—played by Alfie Scopp, also the voice of Charlie-in-the-Box on the island of misfit toys from the Rankin-Bass Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

This episode features a silent cameo from a young Saul Rubinek as a thief who attempts to rob the toy store and is apparently scared away by the sentient toys. (Or, is it the spooky noodling electronic score?)


Rest in peace, Duneedon

Retrontario was saddened to belatedly learn that Sean Kenneth Hewitt died on June 6, 2019. Hewitt spent a life on the stage, TV and film (including Battlefield Earth!), but for a generation of Ontario students he was unforgettable as the alien nemesis Duneedon—who also masqueraded as Mayor Don Eden—in TVOntario’s educational sci-fi classic, Read All About It!


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