Hi There, Boys And Girls!

Cyclists ride by a near-deserted Tiananmen Square in Beijing on Wednesday, June 3, 2009. Foreign journalists were barred from the square, while authorities blocked Web sites such as Twitter and confined dissidents to their homes or forced them to leave Beijing. The efforts aim to prevent commemorations of the protests or remembrances of the hundreds, possibly thousands, who died in the June 3-4, 1989, military assault. AP Photo/Elizabeth Dalziel

You know who you are: a viewer of a certain age who grew up devoted to a cop, a clown, a sailor or a cowboy.

Whatever the uniform, your favorite kids' show host exuded good cheer and authority while bringing you a predictable mix of cartoons, games, foolishness and, of course, product plugs.

During the 1950s and '60s, the kids' show was a local-TV mainstay and as much a part of growing up as Dick, Jane and Sally.

By the early 1970s, it was largely over. "Sesame Street" had rewritten the rules of children's programming, while stations originated fewer shows of any kind.


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”Hi There, Boys and Girls” or other Tim Hollis books
Today as dead as nickel Cokes, the kids' show is memorialized on TV from an ironic distance, as with "Krusty the Clown" (adored by Bart on "The Simpsons") and "Greg the Bunny" (a new Fox spoof of a kids' show and its behind-the-scenes turmoil).

Should local kids' TV be dismissed as parochial? Brazenly commercial? Flung together by kid-hating buffoons? Not according to Tim Hollis, a Birmingham, Ala.-based writer who has compiled an encyclopedic tribute to the era, titled "Hi There, Boys and Girls!" (University Press of Mississippi).

Hollis recognizes that, in the atomized universe of bygone local TV, each city's shows were viewed in isolation, their audience blissfully unmindful of the role an Icky Twerp (Dallas) or a Solomon C. Whiskers (New Haven, Conn.) was playing in the national phenomenon.

Now Hollis celebrates that phenomenon - and with thoroughness, wit and affection, he catalogs it, beginning with Anniston, Ala. (Cousin Cliff) and ending with Cheyenne, Wyo. (Captain 5).

Wherever you grew up, your favorite is almost certainly here: Whizzo the Clown (Kansas City), Princess Pat (Montgomery, Ala.), Rusty Nails (Portland, Ore.), Garfield Goose (Chicago) and Sally Starr (Philadelphia), as well as dozens of locally franchised stars of "Romper Room" and "Bozo the Clown."

"Officer Don" Kennedy, a towering presence on Atlanta TV into the '70s, is in the book. So are circa-'50s hosts Fire Chief Bob, Skipper Ray and Miss Boo. Indeed, everyone is accounted for, if my childhood as an Atlanta viewer serves me.

For viewers of a certain age, Hollis has done nothing short of reclaiming a bit of our collective youth, restoring it to our consciousness and recording it in exacting detail, in all its tribal variations.

In short, he chronicles our childhood - and television's.

He loves his subject too much not to have fun with it, but a more serious (and doggedly researched) TV history is hard to imagine. Why did he do it?

"I've always been interested in this stuff," he explains on the phone in a twangy accent, "and when you get to a certain age you're able to do something about it."

After all, he's a 39-year-old kid who, a few decades ago, celebrated his birthday on Birmingham's "Sergeant Jack Show" (a photo in Hollis' book documents his appearance).

As an adult, he fell in with the aforementioned "Cousin Cliff" Holman who, during a comeback bid in the early 1990s, brought Hollis aboard as puppeteer.

"No one in the television industry saved as much about their career as he did, and it was so fascinating going through it all," says Hollis, who in 1991 published "Cousin Cliff: 40 Magical Years in Television."

A few years later, after publishing "Dixie Before Disney: 100 Years of Roadside Fun," Hollis set out to chronicle the whole kids' show phenomenon.

He contacted every station in the nation, he says, and developed a network of kids' show buffs across the land. Of some 1,400 shows represented in the book, he tracked down 200 hosts.

Many of them, like their viewers, had enjoyed the kids' show heyday in a very provincial way. "You would be surprised at how many of the hosts had no clue what was going on with other shows in other parts of the country," Hollis says.

Even so, the shows found similar formats. No wonder. They shared the same cartoons, barebones budgets and early-TV pioneering spirit. Maybe most important, they shared an insight into what children crave: a grownup who appears to care about them.

"Some hosts were manic and frantic, others were very low-key," says Hollis, "but all of them encouraged the kids to be good citizens, look both ways before they crossed the street, and brush their teeth."

"Most of the kids who grew up watching those programs never forgot the hosts as role models. I just know that people remember them fondly."

His book reminds us why.
By Frazer Moore

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