The early days of television in Madison, as in many other markets, featured a number of local, live kids' shows.
One of our city's favorites was "Marshall the Marshall," which debuted on Channel 27 in 1964 featuring none other than Marsh Shapiro, the man most people today know as the owner of the popular Nitty Gritty birthday bars.
As a young WKOW-TV staff member, Marsh donned a cowboy suit and put together ashow featuring little kids' interviews and several comic shorts to keep young people occupied. And it was all done live with lots of ad libs.
No history of Madison would be complete without mentioning Shapiro's show, which still brings nostalgic pangs to the now older generation of the city and area. Shapiro went on to cover news and sports on Channel 27 for years before devoting all of his time to the restaurant business.
Tv Shows Of Old Were Kid Stuff
HERE'S A quick Madison trivia question: What do Marsh Shapiro andBill Dyke have in common?
Answer: They each hosted a TV show for kids in Madison.That one was pretty easy. Here's another: What was the name of HowieOlson's dummy sidekick on his Madison kid show?
Answer: Cowboy Eddie.
That was easy, too. But who was Mr. Goober?
Answer: I will provide it momentarily, after mentioning that this trip downkid TV memory lane is courtesy of a new book from the University Press ofMississippi: "Hi There, Boys and Girls! America's Local Children's TVPrograms." Author Tim Hollis has done prodigious research on that wacky earlyTV era before local stations started running endless repeats of networksitcoms. Instead, they produced their own programs, many of them for children.The results were wildly uneven and sometimes unintentionally hilarious.
Hollis, who himself hosted a puppet show in Birmingham, Ala., takes a lookat children's programming city by city.
One of Madison's first kid show hosts was a man named Mike Warren, whoplayed a "comical old geezer" named Mr. Goober on what is now NBC-15. Warrenwould eventually jump markets to New Haven, Conn., and take Goober with him.In Madison in the 1950s, the shows were called "Breakfast with Mr. Goober" and"Lunch with Mr. Goober." He also mentions a local "Romper Room" host named"Miss Judy" Fraser on the same station.
Madison's public TV station had a kid show that ran 1954-59, "The FriendlyGiant," hosted by Bob Homme, who read children's stories and decamped in 1959for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., where the show had a successful run inthe '60s.
WKOW-TV/Channel 27 got in early, too, Hollis notes, but he misspells thelast name of the late, great John Schermerhorn, who hosted a 1950s kid westernshow called "Foreman John."
Schermerhorn rates a column by himself. He was a fun-loving extrovert and amuch-loved local celebrity, a man of vast appetites who later hosted atremendously popular music show called "Dairyland Jubilee" and ran tour groupsto Hawaii with his travel agent buddy Wally Rhodes. There was never a dullmoment around those guys.
Schermerhorn's kid western was eventually usurped by another WKOW entry,hosted by a young guy who has also become a Madison institution. "Marshall theMarshal," starring Marsh Shapiro as a western lawman, debuted in 1964.
Hollis interviewed Shapiro for his book, and there's even a picture ofMarsh in his marshal garb, along with WKOW employee Harold Heidtke, who playedjailhouse cook J. Skulking Bushwhack on the show. "Marshall the Marshal" ranweekdays at noon and started with Shapiro simply introducing cartoons. Helater added a studio audience as well as a second show later in the afternoon.Shapiro tells Hollis that he knew the show was a hit when he handcuffedhimself on the air and told all the kiddies he needed a key to unlock thecuffs. Thousands of keys poured into the station. Shapiro says that some kidswho celebrated birthdays on "Marshall the Marshal" in the 1960s now celebrateas adults at his popular campus restaurant, the Nitty Gritty.
WISC-TV/Channel 3's entry into the kid sweepstakes came in the late '50swith Bill Dyke playing Bozo the Clown on a show called "Circus 3." Dyke, ofcourse, would later be elected mayor of Madison, a career move perhaps bestdescribed as lateral.
Dyke hung up the clown suit in 1961, and Circus 3 got a new host who wouldstay another decade. Ventriloquist Howie Olson and sidekick "Cowboy Eddie"hosted more than 13,000 area kids in 11 years.
It is perhaps no accident that the run of "Circus 3" ended in 1972, andwith it the great era of live kid shows in Madison. Hollis notes that on Jan.1 of that year, the National Association of Broadcasters issued a ruling thatkid show hosts could no longer personally do commercials for show sponsors.That, and syndicated reruns, did them in.