Illness won't halt `Wiggles' juggernaut

December 05, 2006|By Verne Gay | Verne Gay,Newsday

To "wiggle" means to know that Dorothy is green, or that Jeff is always asleep, and feathers are made from swords, and that Rags is a dog. To wiggle also means to know songs like "Hot Potato" or "Fruit Salad" or a dozen others -- really know them, because the words and music are cauterized onto your very synapses, to be dislodged only by the time you are really, really old. Like, say, 12.

To wiggle also means to be about 4 years of age, by the way.

And to NOT wiggle means to be utterly oblivious to all of this or to care even less about last week's big news that Greg Page -- The Yellow One -- has left the music/TV phenomenon called The Wiggles, which he helped create 15 years ago. (He's suffering from a heart disorder that causes him to faint onstage.)

We all know that TV has been balkanized, fractured, sliced, diced and spliced along a thousand fault lines, where the very young herd themselves over to a couple of channels and the very old over to a couple of others. Some people watch the History Channel, and others watch MTV2, and the twain rarely meet. But occasionally a show comes along that not only defines a channel, but an entire genre, while spreading across the culture in the process. It becomes so pervasive that you almost forget what life was like before it -- or what life would be like without it.

That, my friends, is The Wiggles.

The Wiggles certainly didn't invent the genre of toddler TV; Nick Jr.'s Blue's Clues arrived on the scene long before, and Sesame Street long, long before that. Nor was it the first to use music, dancing or adults or dinosaurs or anything. What Wiggles did several years ago was to essentially launch Playhouse Disney, which has made the Disney Channel the hottest property in all of kids' TV. And in the puppy-eat-puppy world of the genre, Wiggles also pushed Barney off its pedestal, humbled by four lads from Down Under.

Non-Wigglers may be wondering by this point whether the Wiggles -- also including Australians Jeff Fatt, Murray Cook and Anthony Field -- are any "good." Even by objective, adult standards the simple answer is "yes": Spry, lively, sweet-natured, and scrupulously scrubbed of irony or any adult traits (with the exception of 5-o'clock shadows), they are almost perfectly configured to 4-year-old tastes.

Hence, the shock of last week's development. In reality, the departure of Page, 34, is not a huge blow to the machine that is The Wiggles. Page's replacement -- Sam Moran -- has performed shows with the band, and Page has prerecorded the entire 22-episode fifth season of the show, to begin airing in February. After that, Sam's the new yellow man.

Will true-blue fans care? Sloan Coleman, Dallas-based boss of The Wiggles' U.S. empire, noted last week in a phone interview that "children look at The Wiggles and see red, purple, blue and yellow."

She adds that "2 million children are born every year" and to them, Sam will one day be the only "Yellow One" they'll ever know. Of dearly departed Greg, she says: "He loves, loves, loves what he's done with The Wiggles. ... But the main thing is, Greg will be managed by the medications the doctors are giving him."

Power on, Wiggles. We know you will.

Verne Gay writes for Newsday.

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