September 27, 2014


(TLC, Syndication, CBS, September 18, 1992-December 6, 1997)

ELP Communications, Universal/Belo Productions, Columbia Pictures Television, Columbia TriStar Television

Paul Zaloom – Beakman, Art Burn, Professor I.M. Boring, various
Mark Ritts – Lester the Rat, various
Alanna Ubach – Josie (season 1)
Eliza Schneider – Liza (season 2-3)
Senta Moses – Phoebe (season 4)
Bert Berdis – Don the penguin
Alan Barzman – Herb the penguin
Ron Jancula – Ray the cameraman’s hands

              Who says you can’t learn anything from comics?

You Can with Beakman and Jax logo.

            While answering George Lucas’ fan mail at Lucasfilm, Jok Church became enamored with the way children bravely asked anything at all in their letters. He was inspired to write about real questions from real kids and conceived of the comic strip You Can With Beakman (later adding “and Jax with the introduction of that character). 

U Can With Beakman and Jax comic strip by Jok Church.

            Beakman Place, named for the street in New York City, was a spiky blue-haired man with a tie and a pocket full of tools and a strong desire to learn. He wasn’t a scientist, just an ordinary guy intrigued by the world at large. Later joined by his sister Jax, Beakman strove to prove what he’d read about in books in a text-heavy one panel comic strip demonstrating a simple experiment that could be attempted by readers. This was similar to the methodology in which Church would select which letters to answer when they arrived, by finding ones about subjects he didn’t know and wanted to learn about himself. The original strips were done digitally on a Mac before Church eventually upgraded to the Adobe Illustrator series of programs.

The first Beakman book.

            The strip first appeared in the Marin Independent Journal on July 14th, 1991, offered to them for free. Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate, the strip had grown to reach 52 million readers in 13 countries. With its success and being collected and reprinted in book form, Church was approached by Columbia Pictures with the idea of turning the strip into a television show.

Paul Zaloom as Beakman.

            Beakman’s World began on The Learning Channel (TLC) and national syndication before moving to CBS Saturday mornings in its second season. It followed eccentric scientist Beakman (Paul Zaloom) as he answered several letters out of the thousands they received weekly from his viewers about various scientific concepts. In his cluttered and zany lab, he would conduct simple experiments that children could perform at home with everyday household items to demonstrate the principles in question. Beakman would also issue a “Beakman Challenge,” whereby he’d challenge his costars to perform a deceptively simple feat using science.

The lab assistants: Alanna Ubach, Eliza Schneider and Senta Moses.

Although not utilizing the Jax character in order to simplify the show with a single host, three female assistants who would aid Beakman’s experiments were utilized. In season 1, Josie was played by Alanna Ubach until she left to pursue a movie career. Seasons 2 and 3 had Liza, played by Eliza Schneider. Despite not being as well-liked as Josie by fans, Liza had the longest tenure on the show. Schneider eventually left to perform in the one-woman show USA 911 before beginning a voice over career, notably as Mrs. Cartman on South Park. The final assistant was Phoebe, played by Senta Moses.

Mark Ritts as Lester the rat.

Also assisting, albeit begrudgingly, was the lab’s resident rat and frequent guinea pig Lester (Mark Ritts, who also doubled as Herb the penguin’s puppeteer). Lester wasn’t actually a rat, however. Two running gags in the show declared that he was both an actor whose agent landed him a bum gig and that his rat suit was a lifestyle choice. In the pilot episode, Lester was originally a puppet and was supposed to remain that way for the series until it was decided at the last minute to make the character an actor in a suit. 

Don and Herb at the South Pole watching Beakman's World.

            Each episode usually began and ended with two puppet penguins Don (Bert Berdis) and Herb (Alan Barzman), named after the legendary Mr. Wizard (aka Don Herbert), tuning into the show in the South Pole. The TV would explode, leading to Beakman in his lab where would lay down a fast fact before the title sequence. The series’ theme was composed by Mark Mothersbaugh, known from the new wave group Devo. The unseen cameraman “Ray,” played by prop-master Ron Jancula’s hands, would often hand Beakman various items from off-camera. A “viewing screen,” known as the Boguscope, would be employed to show crude animations to illustrate something being explained. 

Comin' at ya! Josie and Lester read a viewer question in the series' trademarked tight shots.

Besides Beakman, Zaloom would typically play multiple characters; from various famous scientists and historical figures to his other frequent characters, fry cook Art Burn and Professor I.M. Boring (seen in segments reminiscent of black and white film reel clips). Ritts also occasionally appeared outside of his rat suit as other minor characters. The show relied heavily on comedy and manic pacing, as well as keeping the cast and experiments in tight shots most of the time to form a kind of intimacy with the viewer. During its run, the series was nominated for and won multiple awards, including Daytime Emmys and Parent’s Choice Awards. Despite the critical acclaim and praise for the series, CBS was not achieving the ratings they desired—played in large part to the timeslot given to Beakman often resulting in the show being pre-empted for sports or special news broadcasts—and sought to overhaul their Saturday morning line-up with a more cartoon-intensive format.

Zaloom as Beakman in 2014.

            Although the series wrapped in 1997, the comic strip that inspired it continued until 2016 following the death of Church. Zaloom maintains the rights to use the Beakman character to perform at live events for children and continues to do so around the world in a show called Beakman Live! There was also a traveling exhibit called Beakman’s World On Tour started in 1998 that visited science halls across America. In 2016, Zaloom appeared as Beakman in an episode of the web series Captain Disillusion, which was filmed and acted in a style similar to an episode of Beakman’s World. 

EPISODE GUIDE (as there were no story plots, there are no episode descriptions):
Season 1:
“Rain, Beakmania & Volcanoes” (9/18/92)
“Gravity, Beakmania & Inertia” (9/26/92)
“Noises at Night, Beakmania & The Nose” (10/3/92)
“Blood, Beakmania & Dreams” (10/10/92)
“Leaves, Beakmania & Paper” (10/17/92)
"Soap, Beakmania & Auto Engines" (10/24/92)
"Electricity, Beakmania & Light Bulbs" (10/31/92)
"Sound, Beakmania & Explosions" (11/7/92)
"Refraction, Beakmania & Attraction" (11/14/92)
"Levers, Beakmania & Television" (11/21/92)
"Boats, Beakmania & Airplanes" (11/28/92)
"Bubbles, Beakmania & Feet" (1/23/93)
"Microscopes, Beakmania & Healing" (1/30/93)
"Scientific Method, Beakmania & Rainbows" (2/6/93)
"Vaccinations, Beakmania & Friction" (2/13/93)
"Thermodynamics, Beakmania & Pimples" (2/20/93)
"Fossils, Beakmania & the Human Voice" (2/27/93)
"Lungs, Beakmania & Telephones" (3/6/93)
"Tape Recordings, Beakmania & Force Vs. Pressure" (2/3/93)
"Microwaves, Beakmania & Spiders" (4/10/93)
"Earwax, Beakmania & Rocket Engines" (2/17/93)
"Ozone, Beakmania & Acid" (2/24/93)
"Plumbing, Beakmania & Roller Coasters" (3/3/93)
"Bees, Beakmania & Earthquakes" (5/8/93)
"Reflection, Beakmania & Madame Curie" (5/15/93)
"Wheels, Beakmania & Finding Answers" (5/22/93)

Season 2:
"Submarines, Beakmania & Digestion" (9/18/93)
"Heart, Beakmania & Helicopters" (9/25/93)
"Batteries, Beakmania & Balloons" (10/2/93)
"Tunnels, Beakmania & Trains" (10/16/93)
"Bats, Beakmania & Energy" (10/30/93)
"Sky, Beakmania & Henry Ford" (10/23/93)
"Sound, Beakmania & Illusions" (11/6/93)
"Lightning, Beakmania & Bones" (11/13/93)
"Moon, Beakmania & Elevators" (11/20/93)
"Video Games, Beakmania & Teeth" (3/25/95)
"Check-Up Time, Beakmania & Oil" (12/25/93)
"Ben Franklin, Beakmania & Chemical Reactions" (2/5/94)
"Ants, Beakmania & Collisions" (2/26/94)
"Pain, Beakmania & Comets" (10/15/94)
"Hydraulics, Beakmania & Dinosaurs" (10/29/94)
"Electric Motors, Beakmania & Time" (12/1/94)
"Frogs and Toads, Beakmania & Polymers" (10/1/94)
"Money, Beakmania & Water Power" (11/12/94)
"Garbage, Beakmania & Meteorology" (11/26/94)
"Skyscrapers, Beakmania & Indicators" (11/19/94)
"Sharks, Beakmania & Einstein" (11/5/94)
"Mold, Beakmania & Caves" (4/16/94)
"Momentum, Beakmania & Cows" (9/24/94)
"Allergies, Beakmania & Codes" (10/8/94)
"Snakes, Beakmania & Seasons" (10/22/94)
"Tornadoes, Beakmania & Firefighting" (9/17/94)

Season 3:
"Seeds, Beakmania & Bridges" (10/7/95)
"Balance, Beakmania & Camouflage" (11/4/95)
"Carbon, Beakmania & Inventions" (10/28/95)
"Gyroscopes, Beakmania & the Heart" (9/23/95)
"Steel, Beakmania & Developing Film" (12/2/95)
"The Sun, Beakmania & Metamorphosis" (11/18/95)
"Vacuums, Beakmania & Weaving" (10/14/95)
"Snow, Beakmania & Natural Selection" (12/9/95)
"Alligators and Crocodiles, Beakmania & Robots" (11/25/95)
"Geysers and Hot Springs, Beakmania & Kidneys" (9/16/95)
"Sleep, Beakmania & Amplification" (9/30/95)
"Crustaceans, Beakmania & Bernoulli" (10/21/95)
"Islands, Beakmania & Energy" (11/11/95)

Season 4:
"Sweat, Beakmania & Weighing a Car" (9/14/96)
"Migration, Beakmania & Living Space" (9/21/96)
"Bunsen, Beakmania & Sewage" (10/5/96)
"Cats, Beakmania & Dynamite" (11/8/97)
"The Mouth, Beakmania & Scale" (10/19/96)
"Catalysts, Beakmania & Aerosol Cans" (9/20/97)
"Rubber, Beakmania & Hair" (12/14/96)
"Camels, Beakmania & Density" (11/29/97)
"Boomerangs, Beakmania & Circus Science" (1/18/97)
"Elephants, Beakmania & X-Rays" (9/28/96)
"Skin, Beakmania & Oxygen" (11/30/96)
"Bread, Beakmania & Measurement" (11/16/96)
"Electromagnets, Beakmania & Senses" (11/9/96)
"Chimps, Beakmania & Eye Exams" (9/13/97)
"Magic, Beakmania & Cosmetic Chemistry" (12/28/96)
"Pigs, Beakmania & Sound Frequency" (9/27/97)
"Sunken Treasure, Beakmania & Archimedian Screw" (10/11/97)
"Whales, Beakmania & Optical Illusions II" (10/18/97)
"Sound Barrier, Beakmania & Healthy Living" (10/25/97)
"Polar Exploration, Beakmania & Circular Motion" (10/4/97)
"Dogs, Beakmania & Bio-Medical Engineering" (1/11/97)
"Human Growth, Beakmania & Solutions and Suspensions" (11/15/97)
"Action-Reaction, Beakmania & Talking Birds" (11/22/97)
"Protozoology, Beakmania & Movie Stunts" (12/6/97)
"Horses, Beakmania & Refrigerators" (11/1/97)
"Fingerprints, Beakmania & Flatulence" (1/4/97)


(NBC, September 27-December 5, 1987)

Jim Henson Productions, Marvel Productions

Bob Bergen – Wembley Fraggle, Canfus the Minstrel, The World’s Oldest Fraggle, Archbanger Fraggle, Gunge, Furious Garboil, Lugnut Doozer, various
Townsend Coleman – Gobo Fraggle, Wrench Doozer, Architect Doozer, various
Barbara Goodson – Red Fraggle, Wingnut Doozer, various
Michael Laskin – Junior Gorg
Mona Marshall – Mokey Fraggle, Cotterpin Doozer, various
Patricia Parris – Ma Gorg, various
Rob Paulsen – Boober Fraggle, Sprocket, Marjory the Trash Heap, Henchy Fraggle, Rhinestone Doozer, various
Patrick Pinney – Uncle Traveling Matt, Pa Gorg, Flange Doozer, various
Stu Rosen – Storyteller Fraggle
John Stephenson – Jerome “Doc” Crystal, Philo, Gunge, various

            A co-production of British company Television South, the Canadian Broadcasting CorporationHBO and Henson Associates (later Jim Henson Productions), Fraggle Rock was an international production created by Jim Henson featuring a mixture of live-action and Henson’s trademark puppets.

Jim Henson amongst his creations.

            Fraggle Rock was the name of the subterranean world of the Fraggles; colorful little creatures with tails who like to sing, dance and play. The entrance to their world was located in what they call Outer Space, or the surface world, where the Silly Creatures, or human beings dwell. Using a mixture of comedy and music, the series was accessible to viewers of all ages and dealt with serious issues such as prejudice, the environment, social conflict and more through allegory. The series was the first collaboration of Henson International Television and Deluxe Digital Studios.

            Each episode was bookended by a live-action segment that featured the human who dwelled where the entrance to Fraggle Rock was located (aka a hole in the wall) with a small subplot that dealt with the overall theme of the episode. Unlike previous Henson projects, Fraggle Rock was produced with international markets in mind. As a result, the live segments varied in locations and actors in order to allow the viewers to relate to the world of the show. In America, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Ireland, Scandinavia, Spain and Eastern Europe, the human was inventor Doc (Gerry Parkes) and his dog Sprocket (portrayed by a puppet operated by Steve Whitmire with assistance by Karen Prell) in his workshop. The German version had a similar setting with Doc played by Hans-Helmut DickowThe British version took place on a rocky lighthouse island with The Captain (Fulton Mackay) for the first two seasons, his nephew P.K. (John Gordon Sinclair) for the third, and his son B.J. (Simon O’Brien) in the fourth. In France, Doc was a baker played by Michel Robin set in a bakery he inherited from his eccentric inventor uncle Georges. Sprocket was called Croquette in that version.

Wembly, Red, Gobo, Mokey and Boober and their animated counterparts.

            Fraggle Rock itself was inhabited by a variety of creatures. The series centered on five main Fraggles: Gobo (Jerry Nelson puppet, Townsend Coleman animated), the de-facto “leader” of the group who was unusually level-headed for a Fraggle and played guitar when not exploring the Rock’s unknown regions; Red (Prell puppet, Barbara Goodson animated), who was highly athletic, the best swimmer in the rock, and often clashed with Gobo over who should be in charge in a given situation; Mokey (Kathryn Mullen puppet, Mona Marshall animated), a hippie-like Fraggle with strong spiritual and artistic inclinations; Wembley (Whitmire puppet, Bob Bergen animated), Gobo’s roommate and best friend who was the most cowardly of the group and who tended to wemble—a Fraggle verb meaning “to be indecisive”; and Boober (Dave Goetz puppet, Rob Paulsen animated), a highly nervous and cautious Fraggle that tended to be a hypochondriac and took great pleasure in doing the Fraggles’ laundry. Uncle Traveling Matt (also Goetz, Patrick Pinney animated) was Gobo’s uncle who spent most of his time exploring Outer Space—aka the human world--and sent postcards back to Gobo describing his adventures interacting with The Silly Creatures (the Fraggle designation for humans). Matt’s name was a play on “traveling matte,” a green screen technique used to produce his flashback segments with him against footage of the human world. They were all designed by Michael K. Frith.

The Doozers.

            The other primary residents of the Rock were smaller creatures known as Doozers, designed by Frith and built by Faz Fazakas. They were 6-inch-tall pudgy green beings with big noses that wore hard hats, work boots and gloves. They used a variety of construction equipment to build strange, intricate structures all around the Rock. Those constructs were made of an edible candy-like material and were the Fraggles’ other primary source of food next to radishes. Doozers were said to need to build to live, thus purposely made their constructs appealing to the Fraggles to eat in order to continue to have room to build.

The Gorgs: Junior, Pa and Ma.
            Fraggle Rock had another entrance which led to the garden of their primary antagonists, the Gorgs. The Gorgs were giant, furry humanoids who believed themselves the ruling family of the Universe. The Gorgs regarded the Fraggles as pests as they constantly stole radishes from the Gorgs’ garden. Unlike the Fraggles, the Gorgs didn’t eat the radishes but rather used them to make a cream to keep them from becoming invisible. The Gorgs were developed by Douglas Cook. They were comprised of Pa Gorg (Nelson and Gord Robertson live, Pinney animated), Ma Gorg (Myra Fried, Cheryl Wagner and Trish Leeper live, Patricia Parris animated) and Junior Gorg (Richard Hunt, Rob Mills and Frank Meschkuleit live, Michael Laskin animated).

The ever-wise Marjory the Trash Heap with Philo and Gunge (at left only).
            The other notable citizens of The Rock were Marjory the Trash Heap (Nelson puppet, Paulsen animated) and her assistants Philo (Goetz puppet, John Stephenson animated) and Gunge (Hunt puppet, Bergen animated), designed by Frith and built by Jane Gootnick and Maria McNamara. Marjory was, as her name implies, a living trash heap living near the Gorgs’ garden that served as an oracle to the Fraggles. Philo and Gunge were rats that served as Marjory’s heralds and helped to maintain her, while also delivering bad jokes and puns.

Comic book ad for NBC's fall Saturday morning line-up in 1987.

            The series ran on HBO from 1983-87. Near its end, it was decided to attempt to bring the series to a new audience on Saturday mornings. Henson teamed up once again with Marvel Productions and many of the people involved with their earlier hit show, Jim Henson’s Muppet Babiesto produce the series. Fraggle Rock: The Animated Series was essentially the same as the previous show, though the majority of the episodes were broken up into two story segments. The tradition of original music was continued with at least one per episode composed by Robert J. Walsh; however, several of the songs were recycled from the original series, not including the theme song. Aside from the cast being made up of animated voice actors, the only major difference in the series was that Doc (Stephenson) was only visible from the neck down, much like Nanny (Barbara Billingsley) from Muppet Babies. In its original run, the show was introduced by the puppet version of Traveling Matt in Doc’s workshop.

Uncle Traveling Matt making observations about Sprocket.

            Fraggle Rock: The Animated Series debuted on NBC on September 27, 1987. The series was written by Anthony Adams, Betty G. Birney, Pamela Dovale, Jack Enyart, Marta Fields, Cynthia Friedlob, Mel Gilden, Pamela Hickey, Mike Joens, Donna Kuyper, Chuck Lorre, Mark McClellan, Dennys McCoy, Kathryn Mullen, Barry O’Brien, Larry Parr, Bill Prady, John Semper, Misty Stewart-Taggart, Alan Swayze and Marv Wolfman, with Semper and Friedlob serving as story editors. Animation duties were handled by Akom Animation Company. Despite the successful franchise and the talented people behind it, the series failed to perform as well as its puppet counterpart. Besides the fact it was scheduled against the popular CBS series Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, the show lost a bit of the charm that could only be found in the world of Henson’s puppets. It lasted a single season of 13 episodes.

The first complete series DVD.

        Various Fraggle characters appeared in future Jim Henson productions, notably several Muppets movies; however those characters were excluded from the deal when Disney purchased the Muppets franchise from the Jim Henson Company. During and after the run of both series, Marvel Comics published two Fraggle Rock comics under their Star Comics imprint, lasting eight issues in 1985 and six in 1988. An interactive book was also made for Playskool’s Talk n’ Play. In 2007, KOCH Records released Fraggle Rockin’: A Collection which contained restored and remastered versions of three original Fraggle Rock records with special liner notes and interviews. Palace, a subsidiary of Virgin, released four VHS collections of 3-4 episodes in the United Kingdom in 1987, titled Fraggle Rock Animated. The first time the show came to DVD was when HIT! Entertainment included episodes as bonus features on six episode compilations from the puppet series. They would later release the first three episodes to DVD in 2005 in the United Kingdom, and the complete series in Australia in 2008. In 2010, Lionsgate Home Entertainment released the complete series to DVD. HIT! rereleased it as part of the 30th anniversary collection with the complete puppet series. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment produced new versions as part of a 35th anniversary collection and individually in 2018.

“No Fraggle is an Island” (9/12/87) – Fraggle Rock becomes too crowded and the Fraggles choose to move away, allowing a Slurp to take it over.

“Big Trouble for a Little Fraggle / Necessity is the Fraggle of Invention” (9/19/87) – A magic stone causes Wembley to grow and be mistaken for a Gorg by Junior. / Wembley has trouble coming up with an invention until he needs one to save Marjory.

“The Great Radish Round Up / Lucky Fargy” (9/26/87) – Pa has Junior hide their radishes and replace them with Banoony Berries, which make Fraggles sick. / Wembley accidentally loses the lucky doll Mokey gave Boober.

“A Fraggle for All Seasons / A Growing Relationship” (10/3/87) – Mokey tries to find a Fraggle for all seasons after being inspired by ancient philosophers. / Red enters a flower from Doc’s workshop in a contest, which soon ends up growing out of control.

“The Best of the Best / Where No Fraggle Has Gone Before” (10/10/87) – Red’s attempts to break her records from last year causes problems for her friends. / Gobo and Wembley climb the Gorg’s castle to reach the top of the universe.

“Gobo’s Song / Wembley and the Bemble” (10/17/87) – Cantus the Minstrel sends Gobo back to prehistoric times when Gobo begins to question the importance of making maps. / A scary story leaves Wembley afraid of the legendary Bemble.

“Ambassador Gorg / Homebody Matt” (10/24/87) – Pa sends Junior to invite the Fraggles to form a peace treaty. / A blow to the head leaves Matt forgetting he’s an explorer.

“The Great Fraggle Freeze” (10/31/87) – Doc’s workshop loses heat, having a dangerous effect on Fraggle Rock.

“Laundry Never Lies / What Boober’s Nose Knows” (11/7/87) – Wembley discovers Boober’s talent of detecting the odors on clothing. / Boober’s nose tracks his favorite sweet water to the Gorg’s castle.

“Mokey’s Flood of Creativity / What the Doozers Did” (11/14/87) – A poem Mokey is asked to recite at an event seems to cause a great flood. / Lugnut and Rhinestone doubt Cotterpin’s floating construction until the flood hits the caverns.

“Red’s Drippy Dilemma / Fraggle Babble” (11/21/87) – Red’s swimming is interrupted by a burst pipe. / Mokey has Convincing John convince everyone to make up a new vocabulary.

“The Radish Fairy / The Funniest Joke in the Universe” (11/28/87) – Red dresses as the Radish Fairy to convince Junior to put his radishes in Fraggle Rock to avoid a famine. / Boober’s new joke causes anyone who hears it to laugh continuously.

“Fraggle Fool’s Day / Wembley’s Trip to Outer Space” (12/5/87) – One of Red’s jokes backfires, leaving her trapped with Mokey in the Gorgs’ garden. / Too many decisive decisions gives Wembley Wembliosis, whose only cure is a good scare.

Originally posted in 2014. Updated in 2020.