Remembering 'Curiosity Shop,' the forgotten live-action show from Looney Tunes legend Chuck Jones

This Saturday morning series introduced Schoolhouse Rock!

Everett Collection / ABC

Chuck Jones helped shape your childhood. The animator was the best-known of the Looney Tunes creators, as beloved characters like Marvin the Martian, Michigan J. Frog, Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner were born from his imagination. He directed beloved Bugs Bunny shorts such as "Wackiki Wabbit" and "What's Opera, Doc?" — and gave us the brilliant Daffy classic "Duck Amuck."

Beyond Looney Tunes, Jones rebooted Tom and Jerry in the 1960s and, of course, crafted the perennial Christmas classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

What you may not realize is that Chuck Jones made live-action entertainment, too.

Fifty years ago, the ABC network turned its Saturday morning schedule into a Chuck Jones showcase. Kids could kick off their day with The Road Runner Show and wrap up their morning with Curiosity Shop, an educational Sesame Street-like program that blended puppetry, child stars, stop-motion animation and cartoons. 

For the puppets, the show tapped marionette master Bob Baker, who in 1963 opened his Bob Baker Marionette Theater, now the oldest children's theater company in Los Angeles. Baker's creations included Flip, an orange hippo; Nostalgia, an elephant; and Baron Balthazar, a European man with a white mustache and top hat.

The human cast included Pamelyn Ferdin, who herself had a hand in cartoon history, as she voiced Lucy Van Pelt in Peanuts cartoons. (She also nearly landed the lead role in The Exorcist.) That's her with the pigtails to the right of the hippopotamus in the image above.

Granny TV, a vintage television set "character," would show clips from classic silent films featuring comedy legends Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.

With Chuck Jones aboard as a producer / creator, naturally there were some fresh cartoon characters, too, including a literal "book worm" named Professor S. I. Trivia.

Kellogg's backed the show as a sponsor. Yet, Curiosity Shop lasted a brief, single season.

However, those mere 17 episodes offered a handful of historical firsts.

The pilot episode aired in primetime on September 2, 1971. Shirley Jones (pictured up top on the far right) from The Partridge Family starred in this premiere. But perhaps the biggest name in that first episode was "Three Is a Magic Number." This famous Multiplication Rock segment was the first-ever airing of the influential and unforgettable Schoolhouse Rock! series.

Yep, Schoolhouse Rock! premiered in the Curiosity Shop premiere.

There was another piece of animated history on this show. Hank Ketcham, creator of the Dennis the Menace newspaper comic strip, popped in as a guest star and presented the first animated cartoons of Dennis the Menace.

While by today's standards a single, 17-episode season seems like a flop, we should remember that H.R. Pufnstuf lasted the same amount of time. You could make a big impact over the span of an autumn.

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HerbF 6 months ago
17 episodes was the standard order for a Saturday AM show of the time, and is hardly a flop - most shows usually got a season of all-reruns, so that's a year of 3 cycles following a year of first run and 3 cycles. The BIG shows were lucky to get additional seasons - but the way Saturday AM was programed - less is more. Eventually it went to 15 then to 13 episodes - 4 cycles in a year - more cost effective.

So you could have a hit show with 2 years of runs, but one batch of episodes. Heck, After their prime time runs, and even after syndication, the single seasons of Top Cat, The Jetsons, and Johnny Quest all had Satruday AM runs!
forthekids 9 months ago
The voices for the Bob Baker animal puppets..were performed by Mel Blanc and by June Foray.
forthekids 9 months ago
"Granny TV"also screened an early W.C.Fields talkie film comedy:"The Golf Specialist".
forthekids 9 months ago
I remember watching "Curiosity Shop"on Saturday mornings on The ABC TV was fun and informative..better than the educational shows on PBS TV. Along with the regular cast members:Ms.Ferdin,Ms.Fields and the two young men..who played"Gerald & Bernard" and Ms.Minkus..who played"Ms.Gittle the witch". There were guest performers like Ms.Shirley Jones and Vincent Price and a guest personality:Cartoonist:Hank Ketcham..the creator of"Dennis The Menace". I'm sorry that this series didn't last too long.
VBartilucci 18 months ago
Don't forget Onomatopoeia the spider!
L 22 months ago
I remember Pam Ferdin in this. I would pay serious money for DVD. Watching this would make me 10 years old again.
VBartilucci 22 months ago
First place I ever saw Professor Balthazar.
UTZAAKE 22 months ago
Never was able to watch this series most likely because I was too young to have had any say on deciding what shows to watch in the household. Always thought its name was one of the cleverest ever. Found out years later that the name was a play on Charles Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop.
timothys71 22 months ago
How cool would it be if MeTV could toss a little "Schoolhouse Rock" into the station breaks during Saturday Morning Cartoons?
Andy 22 months ago
I saw the episode with "Three Is A Magic Number" and when it spun off into Schoolhouse Rock, I yelled at the TV, "CURIOSITY SHOP"!
Runeshaper 22 months ago
Never heard of this show, but I LOVE How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (-:
KevinButler 22 months ago
I remember seeing"Curiosity Shop"on ABC TV..Saturday and Sunday Mornings during the early 1970's. It was a wonderful kids tv news's sad that it only lasted one season.
KJExpress 22 months ago
I vaguely remember this show. I had no idea that Schoolhouse Rock, which I remember very well, had its debut on it.
MichaelSkaggs KJExpress 22 months ago
Same here. It got killed in the ratings by cartoons on CBS and NBC.
KJExpress MichaelSkaggs 22 months ago
I can understand that. My brother and I loved the Saturday morning cartoons. Live action was for the rest of the week. 🙂
TheSentinel 22 months ago
Never saw this one. CBS was my go-to network on Saturday mornings when I was growing up.
LoveMETV22 22 months ago
Interesting story. The hippo looks like Henrietta on " The New Zoo Revue - " 1972-1977. "

Yes corny, but not when you were a child watching it.
Glad Pamelyn Ferdin didn't land the role in "The Exorcist." Don't think I could watch the other series she appeared in the same way. LOL
justjeff LoveMETV22 22 months ago
I once saw an outtake video from "The New Zoo Revue" that was X-rated...
OldTVfanatic justjeff 22 months ago
I saw that one a few times. They really let loose with the slurs.
wawaspaceman 32 months ago
What I wish I could hear again, or at least identify, is a song I heard in one Curiosity Shop episode. A kind of melancholy dude was looking up in the sky in his telescope, and saw a little critter standing on a little planet singing some sort of "Wa Wa" song. He managed to get out into space himeself and joined her on this planet, and they sang the wa-wa song together. If anyone else ever came across this, you probably remember immediately the one I'm talking about. I had taken the melody as I remember it and ran with it, giving it words for my shadow projection shows: "See the shade that is paid, Come and watch the Paid Shade...." I specialize in culling songs long forgotten from old shows and commercials.
inHYPHENcorrect 38 months ago
If Curiosity Shop magically resurfaces just as The Jokers Wild did, it will not be able to be officially released as there would be numerous Intellectual Property disputes, not unlike The Match Game Hollywood Squares Hour. ... And another Game Show I would like to see resurface is: The All New Jeopardy! with Art Fleming and a Golden game board instead of Blue Screen Of Death Blue.
The MGHS issues were apparently resolved enough to run on Buzzr.
Moverfan BrianLBedsworth 20 months ago
Yeah--at three in the morning (Eastern time). I'd like to see Art Fleming's version of Jeopardy again, too...with Don Pardo...and Rice-A-Roni...and the case of Turtle Wax...
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