Tubby Baxter. Gary Gnu. Goriddle gorilla. Speed reader. For people of a certain age, these names are likely to draw distant memories of a television series that combines live action, puppetry, and animation. It was The Great Space Coasterand it was broadcast daily in syndication from 1981 to 1986. She received both a Daytime Emmy and a Peabody Award for excellence in children’s programming. The Great Space Coaster fell somewhere in between Sesame Street and The Muppet Show– a series for children who want to improve their doll performance a little.
Unlike most classic children̵
To get on board
The Great Space Coaster was created by Kermit Love, who worked closely with Jim Henson Sesame Street and created Big Bird and Jim Martin, a master puppeteer who also worked with Henson. Produced by Sunbow Productions and sponsored by Kellogg Company and toy manufacturer Hasbro. The Great Space Coaster followed the same approach as Sesame Street to be educational entertainment. In fact, many of the puppeteers and writers were veterans of Sesame Street or The Muppet Show. The producers met with educators to identify topics and content that could lead to a positive cognitive or personal development goal for the audience that should be children ages 6 to 11. There would be music, comedy and cartoons, but everything I would work towards a lesson, from claustrophobia to the dangers of being a throwing bug.
The premise included three teenagers – Danny (Chris Gifford), Roy (Ray Stephens) and Francine (Emily Bindiger) – who were driving a spacecraft piloted by a clown named Tubby Baxter. The crew would head for an asteroid populated by different characters like Goriddle Gorilla (Kevin Clash). Roy was wearing a monitor that was playing The line, an animated segment by the Italian creator Osvaldo Cavandoli, showing a character that contradicted his animator. The kids – who all looked a little older than their supposed teens – also sang in segments with original or cover songs.
The most memorable segment could have been the news broadcast with Gary Gnu, a congested puppet broadcaster that delivered the day’s top stories with its slogan: “No Gnews is Good Gnews!” Apart from Gnu, there were speed readers (Ken Myles) , a super-fast sprinter and reader who checked the books he blew through. Often the show also had guest stars, including Mark Hamill, boxer “Sugar” Ray Leonard and Henry Winkler.
Everything had a somewhat disrespectful tone with humor that was more acrid than most other children’s programs of the time. The circus that Tubby Baxter ran from was directed by a character named MT Promises. Gnu received his messages subversively. Other characters weren’t always meant as well as the residents of Sesame Street.
Here we go
The Great Space Coaster was popular with viewers and critics. In 1982 it won a Daytime Emmy for outstanding individual performance in children’s programming – graphic design and a Peabody Award in 1983. After the show was discontinued in 1986, it had no second life in replay or on video. Just a VHS tape The Great Space Coaster Super Showwas ever released in the 1980s. And while fan sites like TheGreatSpaceCoaster.TV appeared, it was difficult to put together a full library of the series.
In 2012, Tanslin Media, who had acquired the rights to the show, explained why. Because of the musical interludes, re-licensing songs would be prohibitively expensive – possibly far more than the company would spend on selling the program. Even worse, the original episodes recorded on 1-inch or 2-inch reel tapes were about to deteriorate.
In the same year, Jim Martin launched a crowdfunding campaign from Indiegogo to raise funds to save episodes and digitize them for preservation. This work has continued over the years, with Tanslin releasing episodes and clips online that don’t require expensive licensing agreements, and fans uploading episodes from their original VHS recordings to YouTube.
There was no further word on digitizing the entire series, although Tanslin has reported that future home video release is not out of the question. When this happens, Gary Gnu will likely be the first to deliver the news.