March 27, 2008

"Hot Dog: A Program About Stuff" Starring Woody Allen & Jonathan Winters. Huh?

Hot Dog was a children's television series that ran for one season (1970) on NBC's Saturday morning. Called "The Show About Stuff," it was basically the network version of the "How do they make _____?" segments from Mister Rogers and Sesame Street, only with groovier music--and commentary from Woody Allen, Joanne Worley, and Jonathan Winters [who replaced Tommy Smothers, who was in the pilot, which has some sweet, hand-drawn titles, btw].

Which is funny, because of course, The 'Street and The Electric Company were both explicitly patterned after Laugh-in, and even used some of the same characters. Lee Mendelson, the guy who had approached Charles Schulz about making an animated TV special once [1], was the producer of Hot Dog, which was created by Frank Buxton. Here's what Buxton says about the series on IMDb:

Each week the program showed where four or five common everyday items come from and answered kids' questions about them - "Is that really lead in a lead pencil?", "how do they make baseballs?", "What makes popcorn pop?", "Who invented the hot dog?". etc. The "hosts" - Woody Allen, Jonathan Winters and JoAnne Worley would attempt to answer these questions in their own comedic way and then, through imaginative cinematography, editing and music, the actual answer was shown. Winters portrayed many of his characters as "experts", Worley worked hard to give correct answers and Woody Allen (who's only TV series this is) gave bizarre responses, as expected
Hot Dog's short segment format made it easy to chop up and syndicate into local TV station Saturday morning schedules, and it was apparently incorporated into Kids Are People, Too! too.

According to TVParty, Hot Dog was sponsored by Howard Johnson's, whose spokesman was Bob McAllister, the last host of Wonderama, the local kids show on New York's WNEW Channel 5. So Hot Dog seems to be straddling two eras: the end of locally produced kids programming and the emergence of national network programming [which, for kids, had been pioneered by Rogers and the Children's Television Workshop.]


Unfortunately, at the moment, there are only two intro/credit clips and three "making of" clips online, so no McAllister. The NBC intro has the cast modeling the sweet-looking Hot Dog logo t-shirts, which seem like prime candidates for revival/knockoff/homage. And then there's this wild credit: "Connie Davis (Almost A Doctor)". Any idea what that's about?


As for the clips, there's the first 80% of making a surfboard; the making of a hot dog bun [unsliced]; and the making of a baseball glove. Still missing: clips of "pencils, crayons, money, toothpaste, etc."

Hot Dog: How Do They Make A Surfboard? [youtube via boingboing]
Hot Dog: How Do They Make A Hot Dog Roll? [youtube]
Hot Dog: How Do They Make A Baseball Glove? [youtube]
The pilot/trailer for Hot Dog has rather awesome hand-drawn title cards and animation [youtube]
TV Party info on Hot Dog, which was apparently Woody Allen's only kid's show []

[1] Am I the only one whose cranky idealism about commercialization, creative "selling out," and idyllic childhood nostalgia got totally thrown out of whack by this paragraph from Lee Mendelson's Wikipedia bio?

While Mendelson was attempting to find a market for the Schulz documentary, he was approached by The Coca-Cola Company, who asked him if he was interested in producing an animated Christmas special for television. Mendelson was, and he immediately contacted Schulz in regards to using the Peanuts characters. Schulz in turn suggested hiring animator and director Bill Melendez, whom Schulz had worked with while creating a Peanuts-themed advertising campaign for the Ford Motor Company. Mendelson also hired jazz composer Vince Guaraldi after hearing a Guaraldi-composed song while driving across the Golden Gate Bridge.


I remember this show (although, at age 14, I was a little old for it) and thought it was unusually good, the kind of thing I wished there was more of on tv. I mostly remember Jonathan Winters being on it.

The story in your footnote about Lee Mendelson is revealed in detail in the recent biography of Charles Schultz. Sometimes you'd be happier not to know how hot dogs are made, so to speak, but I found it fascinating.

[very funny. how the hot dogs are made. now I've gotta get that Schulz bio for my upcoming plane rides. -ed.]

I need to know the song name & the composer name-
The Theme from Hot Dog- starring Woody Allen--Thanks for your time..

[the credits on the pilot list original music by The Youngbloods, but it's a different song from the on-air clips. -ed.]

I'd like a DVD of this series. How many shows does one still remember after 30+ years?

I want to see the machine that makes perfect egg slices again.

I liked the one where they made a Fender Bass Guitar, and the inspector at the end took the finished Bass and played a little finger exercise using 4 frets that I use to this day to warm up. It was instrumental "no pun intended" in inspiring me to take up the Bass Guitar.

Looks like I need to search for that clip!


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