Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Go Retro: Whitney And The Robot!

Before Nickelodeon, and even before PBS, there was a time when local television stations around the country aired locally-produced children's programming.

Here in Los Angeles, locally-produced kids' shows aired largely from the 1950s to the early 1990s, stretching from Sheriff John to Hobo Kelly to That's Cat (Raise ya fist up if you remember any of those!).

The Militant did some reminiscing as well. When the Militant was young (a.k.a. Lil' Mil), he watched a show from the late '70s called Whitney and the Robot which aired on - and was produced by - KNBC 4.

The show featured an unabashedly blatant R2D2 knockoff robot named 4U2, who came from a planet named Zeda and was sent to the planet Earth to learn more about it, under the care of a whimsical taxi cab driver (not a very busy or lucrative profession in Los Angeles) named Whitney. Whitney's good pal, the red-headed Corky, would join them on their various adventures, and would frequently break out in song.

So what's so militant about this? Well, each episode featured a different locale, filmed around the Los Angeles area, where the child-like robot would learn about things or experience them, from visiting the city dump to learn about recycling and where your garbage goes (the one episode most people seem to recall) or taking a train ride at Union Station or learning about horses at a ranch (filmed at the Old Rex Allen Ranch in Calabasas). Did this show fuel Lil' Mil's budding Angeleno knowledge? It may or may not have...but he tends to think it did.

The show was created by its (human) actors, Whitney Rydbeck, a local actor with a mime background (having performed in the Richmond Shepard mime troupe in Los Angeles in the 1960s), and Robert V. "Corky" Greene, another local actor with a musical background. Both have done bit parts in television and movies since Whitney and the Robot - (Whitney even sealed his place in Star Trek lore), and Rydbeck currently works as a performing arts professor at Pasadena City College. Greene, a Van Nuys High alum, got into directing and producing and seems to be enjoying grandfatherhood these days. He's been known to lurk on teh Interwebz so he might very well stumble upon this here blog post! (Whatup, Corky?!)

Anyway, here's what the show's opening looked like (rather long by today's standards...):

You can watch one of the episodes here - if you were a kid in the late '70s, it may or may not take you back!

There were only 14 episodes made, from late 1978 to 1979. KNBC aired the show on Saturday and/or Sunday mornings up until the mid-1980s, but the show was also syndicated to other cities and aired at one time or another on television up until 1990.

For the Militant, and those around his age who remember this show, it was a way to learn about things and places and present Los Angeles as a familiar place, free from the usual cliches and stereotypes one would eventually pick up later on in life. It's a crying shame the kids of today have no equivalent.

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