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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VBartilucci 17 days ago
First place I ever saw Professor Balthazar.
UTZAAKE 19 days 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 19 days ago
How cool would it be if MeTV could toss a little "Schoolhouse Rock" into the station breaks during Saturday Morning Cartoons?
Andy 19 days 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 19 days ago
Never heard of this show, but I LOVE How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (-:
KevinButler 19 days 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 magazine..it's sad that it only lasted one season.
KJExpress 20 days ago
I vaguely remember this show. I had no idea that Schoolhouse Rock, which I remember very well, had its debut on it.
Same here. It got killed in the ratings by cartoons on CBS and NBC.
I can understand that. My brother and I loved the Saturday morning cartoons. Live action was for the rest of the week. 🙂
TheSentinel 20 days ago
Never saw this one. CBS was my go-to network on Saturday mornings when I was growing up.
LoveMETV22 20 days 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 20 days ago
I once saw an outtake video from "The New Zoo Revue" that was X-rated...
OldTVfanatic justjeff 10 days ago
I saw that one a few times. They really let loose with the slurs.
wawaspaceman 10 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 16 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.
Margaret 17 months ago
I wish that ABC-TV hadn't wiped away all those episodes of Curiosity Shop because, like other people, I would still like to see that Halloween episode about fright that featured Vincent Price as guest star and master of scaremonies and see if I can find a part of the episode that inspired a scary dream about him that I had back in 1973. The dream went something like this; I dreamed that Vincent Price and I were in a Haunted house setting similar to the Curiosity Shop set in the Halloween episode, and he was sitting in the same black armchair, his favorite chair, that he sat in on the show, and I stood at the left of the armchair. He said something in the dream that I can't recall, like some kind of magic incantation, then the setting got totally dark and gave me quite a scare, and he went into his now-famous evil laugh as if he didn't even know that I was there in the room with him. I got panicky and started to cry and begged him to bring light back into the room and he did. He became sympathetic with me when I told him about myself and my visual impairment, all the cataract surgeries that I had on my eyes. We talked for a while, then I started to leave the setting and he called me back to his favorite chair and gave me a kiss on the right cheek and said goodbye to me in a voice that sounded as if my story broke his heart, and I left the setting after that.
tim_kangaroo 17 months ago
I remember this show! There was also a very limited amount of merchandise available at the time.

I also hear that no prints or recordings exist of this -- I hope I'm wrong about that! Even so, given the show's history and lackluster performance, it is unlikely we'll ever see a home video release of this unique program.
There are a few videos on YouTube. There was also a set of Viewmaster reels.
mattsteveo 17 months ago
That show made being a kid a fun thing,one of my very favorite shows.
Margaret 17 months ago
I remember watching Curiosity Shop on ABC-TV back in 1972 when the show was in repeats on Sunday mornings during the 1972-1973 season. I enjoyed watching that show a lot, even though I was in my 20s at the time. There was one episode that I will never forget. It was the Halloween episode of the show where the subject was fright, and it featured Vincent Price as the guest star and Master of Scaremonies. This episode inspired a scary dream I had about him back in 1973, and in that dream he and I were in a Haunted house setting just like that Curiosity Shop episode was set in, and he frightened me with darkness and it gave me quite a scare. I don't remember any darkness in the Halloween episode of Curiosity Shop, but there was darkness in the scary dream I had about Vincent Price. What made me have that dream about him, I wish I knew.
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