Shari Lewis returns to TV

January 13, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

Hollywood -- Shari Lewis describes her new PBS children's series, "Lamb Chop's Play Along," as the first "anti-couch potato" show.

"This is totally an audience participation program," Ms. Lewis said. "The audience gets to participate physically, vocally, musically and imaginatively. They get to join in the songs, the games, the stories. They get to hop along and sing along and count along."

It may be difficult for most baby boomers to believe, but the diminutive Ms. Lewis, who turns 58 this week, and her beloved puppets, Lamb Chop, Charlie Horse and Hush Puppy, have been entertaining children for more than 30 years.

Ms. Lewis got her first big break in 1955 on "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Show" and four years later she and Lamb Chop debuted on "Captain Kangaroo." From 1960 to 1963, she starred in the NBC Saturday morning series, "The Shari Lewis Show," and also hosted the 1975 syndicated series, "The Shari Show." Ms. Lewis also has had series and specials in every English-speaking country in the world.

A true Renaissance woman, Ms. Lewis is an actress, producer, musician, recording artist, ventriloquist, puppeteer and author and has won six Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award and the John F. Kennedy Center Award for Excellence and Creativity.

"Lamb Chop's Play Along" (airing weekdays at 7:30 a.m. on Channels 22 and 67, beginning tomorrow), consists of 30 half-hour episodes and features songs, stories, games, comedy and magic tricks. "This is not an educational show," Ms. Lewis said. "The children get to spell along and rhyme along, but I am not teaching the number 8 or the letter S," as happens on "Sesame Street."

Ms. Lewis has geared the series for children and their parents to enjoy. "Somebody asked Hans Christian Anderson, 'Do you write for kids or do you write for adults?' He said, 'I write for children, but I always keep in my mind the fact that adults are listening.' "

Like Anderson, Ms. Lewis appeals to a broad audience. "It starts with baby boomers and it includes the parents of baby boomers and the children of baby boomers, which means everybody except teen-agers. The PBS audience [age] at that hour is about 7 or 8. I do comedy that the older children enjoy, a lot of activity and puppets the younger children enjoy and a lot of music and funny stuff and dancing that the parents would enjoy."

Of course, Lamb Chop, Charlie Horse and Hush Puppy are prominently featured in each episode, along with a new character, Baby Lamb Chop. Ms. Lewis also uses animals from the San Diego Zoo.

"Today we did the 'Tortoise and the Hare' and we had a tortoise and a hare," Ms. Lewis said. "I got to talk about the difference between a tortoise and a turtle. We had a hedgehog and I got to show the difference between a hedgehog and a porcupine."

Ms. Lewis began focusing her attentions on total interactive programming for kids about four years ago with her first home video, "101 Things for Kids to Do."

"It was an enormous success," she said. "When kids have to respond they have to listen, they have to stay awake and the stupor won't work."

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