May 02, 2020
(NBC, September 12-December 5, 1970)
Lee Mendelson-Frank Buxton Joint Film Productions
Tom Smothers – Host (pilot)
Jonathan Winters – Host, various
Woody Allen – Host
Jo Anne Worley – Host
In 1969, NBC commissioned several one-hour specials to serve as pilots for their next potential educational series. The winner was Hot Dog, whose pilot aired on March 28, 1970. Hot Dog was an edutainment documentary series created by Frank Buxton. It was inspired by Buxton’s travels as a comedian and as a host of ABC’s Discovery. Hot Dog was described as a “program about stuff”. It took a comedic look at explaining everyday things and/or how they were made (plywood, bicycles, baseballs, spaghetti, etc.) and answered kids’ questions about them.
Hot Dog debuted on NBC on September 12, 1970. It was hosted by Jo Anne Worley, Woody Allen (before he became notable in film), and Jonathan Winters, who replaced Tom Smothers from the pilot. The three hosts each had their own particular style: Winters often humorously portrayed characters that were related to the topic being discussed; Allen gave bizarre responses; and Worley strove to give correct answers. But it was through a combination of their antics and creative editing, music and imaginative cinematography that the real answers would reveal themselves. Some of the footage included visits to various factories and kids being quizzed on the items in question.
The series was co-produced by Lee Mendelson and featured a large number of editors including Bill Westwick, Chuck Barbee (also the director of photography), Gerald K. Wolf, Don Wiley, Pat Johnson, Bill Bishop, Sandy Nichols, Ben Maiden and Charlie Peterson. Ed Bogas and The Fillmore Coporation handled the music direction, and some music was provided by The Youngbloods. 70 topics were covered over the course of 13 episodes, with upwards of 5 being covered per episode.
The series was positively reviewed and lauded, winning a Peabody Award for “Best Children’s Series”. Unfortunately, it failed to draw in a suitable viewing audience. Mendelson blamed it on the time slot NBC put it in, which resulted in its being constantly preempted on the West Coast for baseball. Hot Dog continued to air in reruns until the fall of 1971, and was later syndicated during the 1977-78 season to coincide with Allen’s rising movie career. Individual topic segments were sold to schools on 16mm film and were used on the local Los Angeles children’s program, That’s Cat. A book based on the show was published in 1971 by Grosset & Dunlap and written by Jean Lewis. Before Buxton’s death in 2018, plans for a DVD release of the series was in the works, according to his website.