The Ka-Case of KaBlam!

From the early 90s until the mid 2000s, children gathered around their TV sets at 8pm on Saturday nights to catch a legendary 2-hour block of programming. It ran on the network Nickelodeon, featuring shows meant for older kids, and of course, a big orange couch.

SNICK, named for “Saturday Night Nick,” featured shows like: Clarissa Explains it all, the Adventures of Pete and Pete, Are You Afraid of the Dark, and so many more. We love these shows so much, it’s hard to imagine a time when they were all airing on the same network. So, to honor a few of them, we are doing SNICK-tember! Each week will feature an episode on a SNICK TV show. The first one on our list? Ka-Blam!

Ka-Blam! was billed as “A New Kind of Cartoon Show,” that featured a mixture of different shorts in a variety of mediums. It played as a video comic book, with the animated hosts Henry and June guiding you through the pages. Ka-Blam was unlike any Nicktoon before it, a strange–yet hilarious–show that perfectly harnessed the magic of 90’s Nickelodeon. 

Today we’re covering the history of this often-forgotten gem. So, grab your popcorn, sit back, relax, and let us turn the pages for you. 

WHERE IT ALL BEGAN

  • Many people consider Kablam to be a spin-off from All That, the children’s sketch comedy show that started airing two years before Kablam. 
    • Apparently an episode of All That aired the short: Action League Now before Kablam started airing in 1996.
    • I haven’t been able to track down this episode, but it seems to be a widely held belief.
    • Much like All That, Kablam was a sketch comedy show. The key difference is that the show is animated, but the concepts are similar.
  • Kablam! Premiered on October 11, 1996 as part of Nickelodeon’s plan to extend their prime-time block of entertainment past the usual 8 PM cut-off. It came out alongside another brand new Nicktoon: Hey Arnold!
  • It was created by Bob Mittenthal, Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi.
    • Bob Mittenthal was responsible for classic 90’s Nick shows like, Welcome Freshmen, and Family Double Dare.
    • Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi were, of course, responsible for The Adventures of Pete and Pete (Absolute Heroes, honestly.) 
    • The idea of the show was to fill a half hour with brand new cartoons created by artists all over the country. In a Chicago Tribune article, Will McRobb was quoted saying, “Kids love cartoons and that’s a scientific fact. We are just giving kids more cartoons in a half-hour than they are used to getting and we are giving them stories in a way that’s fresh and new.”
      • Fresh and new is right! The show featured a variety of animation styles, from traditional, to clay, to puppetry, to something they liked to call, “Chuckimation.” (Which we will get to in a minute.) 
      • Shorts like, “Life With Loopy” and “Action League Now!” pushed animation boundaries, and provided a type of entertainment alternative to what children were used to seeing.
  • Henry, June, and Mark
    • Henry and June were two cartoon best friends, and the hosts of Kablam! They provided the in-between segments that tied the wildly different animation together. Without them, the show would seem to be a mis-matched hodge-podge of animation styles. These characters provided commentary on the cartoons, and of course, “turned the page” for viewers.
    • Artist Mark Marek was hired to create the two characters specifically for the show. He operated out of a strip mall (and before that, his basement) in New Jersey. He also owned, “Crank! It! Out! Inc,” a small animation studio.
      • The creators didn’t give Marek a lot of direction, except that Henry should look unkempt–as if he had just gotten out of bed. June was a little more organized, and Henry would be the one who was always catching up to her. Marek filled in the blanks from there.
      • Marek’s studio handled all the animation for the Henry and June shorts.
      • Kevin Kay, Nickelodeon’s former Senior Vice President of Production, told a local New Jersey newspaper that Marek’s style and fairly unknown status as an animator, totally fit with the alternative sensibility of Kablam! 
      • He said, “Mark has a unique talent. We’re very anti-`house style,’ and his work looks very different from everything else that is on our air.”
      • In the beginning, Mark animated the segments by himself, and then with one other animator. By the time the show was done airing, he had a team of 14 people. The 5-minutes of Henry and June for each episode took about three weeks to complete.
    • Henry and June were break-out characters on the show, and Nickelodeon used them as hosts for a summer Nicktoons program. 
    • When Kablam! was in its fourth season, Henry and June got their own special! Nickelodeon was hoping that it could become its own spinoff show. Unfortunately, The Henry and June Show did not get picked up. You can watch the original special here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABsVEPk6gDA 

VOICE ACTORS:

  • Henry was played by 13-year-old Noah Segan.
    • Besides voice acting he also was recently in Knives Out as Trooper Wagner, Kid Blue in Looper, and an x-wing pilot in Star Wars Episode VIII-The Last Jedi.
  • Julia McIlvaine played June.
    • She has worked on several things, some live action and some voice. Examples are Netflix’s Dark, The Seven Deadly Sins, Judging Amy, and Pokemon: Twilight Wings.
  • Bert Pence voiced the general announcer.
    • He has done a few other voice acting jobs, one of the most notable being a narrator for the second episode of Documentary Now!

THE SHORTS

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  • ACTION LEAGUE NOW
    • What quickly became the most popular short on Kablam, Action League Now won over audiences with its childish humor and innovative concept. Created by the same three men who created Kablam, this short followed a heroic group of children’s dolls as they humorously saved the day.
    • The show portrayed how children play with their toys. The audience was meant to imagine an unseen child character, moving the dolls and making them talk. That’s why the events of the show are so zany, they’re meant to come from a child’s imagination. This also explains why the dolls are so miss-matched, a funny collection that you would find on the floor of a child’s bedroom.
    • It was the only segment to air every episode(not including the specials.)
      • It proved to be really popular [on All That], but we decided that it needed to be on its own stage so we made it the anchor of KaBlam!.” -Robert Mittenthal
    • Action League Now! had its own special name for its animation. They referred to it as “Chuckimation!”
      • The name came from the action of chucking the dolls around, just as a kid would do. The creators would throw the dolls, run over them with cars, drop them off the roof, and then just layed funny dialog over the footage.
    • One of the dolls, The Flesh, is notable for not having any clothing. Mittenthal said, “When I was a kid, we used to take action figures and dolls’ clothes off and throw them away. They didn’t have genitalia so it wasn’t dirty. It’s just funny. Just saying the word `naked’ makes kids laugh.”
    • The characters that make up the Action League are various modified dolls and action figures.
      • The Flesh is a refashioned Conan the Adventurer.
      • Thundergirl is a mixture of a Barbie and She-Ra.
      • Stinky Diver is a GI Joe “Shipwrecked” doll with the mask on backwards.
      • Meltman is a GI Joe Cobra figure that has been melted.
      • The Chief and The Mayor are both mixtures of different Playschool People Dolls.
    • The villainous Mayor’s voice was modeled after Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy.
    • Voice Actors
      • Scott Paulsen played the announcer and Meltman.
      • Jim Krenn voiced The Flesh, Bill the Lab Guy, Stinky Diver, and The Mayor.
      • Cris Winter played Thundergirl.
      • Collin M. McGee as The Chief.
    • There was one episode of the show called, “Rock a Big Baby” where Kiss members actually voiced their characters https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118551/ and Harry Connick Jr. played Big Baby?!?!
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  • PROMETHEUS AND BOB
    • Created by Cote Zellers, this segment consisted of claymation (although Zellers did not like this term because the characters were mostly made of foam latex).  It centered around two main characters: One is Prometheus, an advanced alien life-form who continually records his progress in trying to teach the second character Bob (a caveman) how to become evolved. It involved a lot of slap-stick humor that kept you coming back for more!
      • Cote Zellers began by directing commercials. Often there would be leftover sets and equipment that was loaned for another day. He got into the practice of taking these items to create little shorts.
      • The Prometheus and Bob sketch was born from the leftover set for a lottery commercial. He thought it would be funny if an alien tried to teach a caveman how to use fire. This would be the unaired pilot where Bob, after the fire is built, he puts Prometheus on the fire to cook and the monkey flies the saucer into the camera.
        • The producers at Kablam! really liked it but said that this original one could not be used or shown to anyone. He even had to sign a contract saying it would not be released, as it was too intense for kids to watch.
      • David Ernst would help to create the models for the following episodes as Cote would be filming the current episode. Daniel Shklair was the sound director for these shorts. It would mostly be these three men that put together this brilliant segment.
      • You can find the full interview with Cote Zellers here:
    • Each time, a script would have to be submitted for approval. Cote Zellers said that he had a rule. If there were more than 4 notes on the script he would scrap it and start a different one. He did not want to work on something that he felt was not his own.
    • There was a full-length movie planned, but it was eventually scrapped.
      • It had been slated to have David Spade and Chris Farley as Prometheus and Bob but was thrown out when Chris Farley passed away and when Cote Zellers disapproved of the script. What was left of the script was worked into “Gulliver’s Travels” starring Jack Black.
      • The final short that Zellers shot was titled “Painting” but was unaired because it was supposed to be a short before the scrapped movie.
    • In one of the most popular episodes, Tape 677 Evolution Chamber, Prometheus and Bob use the chamber to evolve themselves. Bob turns into Prometheus, Prometheus turns into a version of Bob, and the monkey turns into a modern-day human.
      • The theory behind this episode is that both characters are idiots.
      • Apparently the episode was banned in Kansas for portraying evolution.
    • Voice Actors
      • Prometheus was voiced by Cote Zellers.
        • He said a lot of swear words, which they would have to flip around in the audio.
        • Zellers still thought that it sounded like swear words.
      • Bob was also voiced by Cote Zellers.
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  • SNIZ AND FONDUE
    • Sniz and Fondue was created by Michael Pearlstein who is now known as Mike R. Brandon. 
    • Kablam! was not the first time that Sniz and Fondue appeared. It began as a pilot in 1992 with a short called “Psyched for Snuppa.” In this original pilot Snuppa and Bianca were the main focus and Snuppa was voiced by the musician Meatloaf.
    • This segment was in 3 of the 4 seasons and is done with the more traditional form of animation.
      • When the segment returned as a part of Kablam, Mike Brandon was the only one of the crew to return.
        • He would go on to be its writer, storyboard creator, artist, and voice actor for additional characters.
      • It only was on Kablam for 3 seasons because Mike Brandon’s animation studio, Funbag Animation Studios, was facing bankruptcy while they also were planning animation for the TV series, Watership Down.
    • Sniz and Fondue live with their friends Snuppa and Bianca, as the show follows the four ferrets and their adventures. Sniz is full of life and tends to get into sticky situations, and he usually pulls the anxious and reserved Fondue along for the ride.
    • Voice Actors
      • Rick Gomez as Sniz Bronkowski.
        • Those who are Nickelodeon fans may also know him as Endless Mike Hellstrom from The Adventures of Pete and Pete.
        • Among many other roles he was also Klump in Sin City.
      • Oscar Riba as Squeaky Fondue.
      • John Walsh as Snuppa.
      • Monica Lee Gradischek as Bianca.
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  • LIFE WITH LOOPY
    • This short was created by Stephen Holman. Holman began in the world of animation when he got to work in the last two seasons of Peewee’s Playhouse as a designer. Peewee’s show would greatly influence his personal style because of the mixed media approach within it. 
      • After Peewee’s Playhouse he would go on to create the short “Joe Normal” for Liquid Television on MTV. Liquid Television showcased animation, some of which would become bigger and well known like Beavis and Butthead. Joe Normal combined pixelated live action, stop motion animation, and live puppetry. 
      • In 1993 he and his wife, Josephine Huang, would create their own animation studio called (W)holesome Products Inc. 
        • It was then that he would pitch an idea to Nickelodeon called “We Are the Shrimpskins.” While this live action show would not make it far, only one developed episode, it would be the reason that Life with Loopy exists. When signing with Nickelodeon for the Shrimpskins, there was an agreement in the contract that a short of some kind would be included. This short would end up being Life with Loopy. When Shrimpskins did not continue, Life with Loopy found its perfect home within the Kablam! show.
    • The Life with Loopy segment also combined various art forms by utilizing stop motion, puppetry, and live action pieces done by the show’s creators. 
      • The tricky part with using all these forms was that everything had to match the lighting and atmosphere to make it seem as if it all went together. 
      • Stephen Holman said that doing the live action sequences really helped to break up the long hours spent on animation. It kept it fun and silly. He in fact played several of the live action characters, the most recurring ones being Charlie Chicken and the TV host Hank Hankerman who was meant to be like a David Letterman.
    • Life with Loopy was narrated by Loopy’s 12-year-old brother Larry as he took the audience through the daily life of his family–more specifically his little sister. Loopy is an adventurous young girl, who explores the world around her with imagination and wonder. 
    • The heads were made from metal which is why they have a flatter look but also made it really easy to switch out the facial features as they were magnetic.
    • Voice Actors
      • Danielle Judovits played Loopy.
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  • THE OFF-BEATS
    • The Off-Beats is a traditional animation segment created by Mo Willems, of Codename: Kids Next Door fame. 
    • It had a similar feel to that of the Peanuts TV specials and Hanna-Barbera cartoons due to its art style and jazzy soundtrack. The series itself in story and concept pays homage to the classic Peanuts, especially since the majority of the voice cast are child actors. Originally for the pilot episodes this segment was called “The Misfits” and featured a slightly less developed animation style with different voices.
    • Each segment was two to four minutes in length and are about the title group of outcasts dealing with problems from a rival group called The Populars. The ambience was filled by scoring the short with jazz. It was created mostly with just a piano, drums, and a double bass.
    • Voice Actors
      • Betty Anne Bongo voiced by Mischa Barton
        • She is the leader of the outcast of kids who has her own theme song that she herself sings “My name is Betty Anne Bongo, I sing this little song-O, I sing it all day long-O!” 
      • Tommy voiced by Mark Wagner with his yelling voice by Kevin Seal.
        • He is a self-proclaimed outsider of the group who loves his plaid coat.
      • Repunzil voiced by Trisha Hedgecock.
        • Her name makes sense due to her long floor length hair. She is also the youngest and the most naive.
      • August voiced by Dylan Roberts. 
        • August strives the most to be included with the Populars clique but remains in the status quo with his love for technology, even though most times his inventions are failures.
      • September was the only main character voiced by an adult and that was the creator himself, Mo Willems.
        • September is August’s talking dog with a sarcastic attitude. Although he is there he has no motivation to affect the plot-lines that happen. He is intelligent but yet cannot open a simple can of dog food. You may notice he and his owner August have similarities to Peabody and Sherman.
      • The three “Populars” are Tina, Beth and Billy.
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  • ANGELA ANACONDA
    • Angela Anaconda is a cut-out animated short created by Joanna Ferrone and Sue Rose.
      • These two animators were first known for creating the old mascot for the 7-Up commercials. 
        • His name was Fido Dido, a teenager with a triangular face and wavy hair. He began as a sketch that Rose made on a napkin in 1985, then became a cartoon, and finally was licensed as the mascot for 7-Up by PepsiCo.
      • Sue Rose also is known for creating the popular animated show Pepper Ann.
    • This segment only lived for two episodes within Season one of Kablam! It would, however, go on to become its own show on Fox Family Channel for 65 episodes.
    • In the shorts for Kablam! Angela Anaconda finds herself as the unpopular kid in school that is often mocked by the conventionally pretty Nannette Manoir. She then gets “revenge” on her antagonist but it is mostly just revenge that she imagines to happen. 
    • Every aspect of this segment begins as a photo reference.
      • Each object, even things like hair, is taken from three different viewpoints; the front, side, and three quarter view. All of these images are then stored within a computer database that is easily accessed. 
      • Once they had all these images they would use the program Houdini which would load these images together and switch angles to create movement by quickly changing what angle is shown. 
    • Voice Actors
      • Angela Anaconda was voiced by one of her animators Sue Rose.
      • Nannette Manoir who is the original antagonist of the short, (who is not even french) was according to Sue Rose was the name of an actual person that Joanna Ferrone knew as an adult and disliked for her similar attitude to the character. She was voiced by Ruby Smith-Merovitz.
      • Johnny Abatti is Angela’s love interest though she is only 8 years old. He is voiced by Ali Mukaddam.
      • Mrs. Brinks, her teacher that obviously favors, Nannette is voiced by Richard Binsley.
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  • LOUIE AND LOUIE SHOW
    • This short was only in one episode but featured Louie the Chameleon and Louie the Hamster who are desperately trying to get their owners to pay attention to them.
    • The story was written by Gary Baseman who would later go on to write for Disney’s TV animated show Teacher’s Pet.
    • Voice Actors
      • Louie the Chameleon was voiced by Jim Belushi.
      • Louie the Hamster was voiced by Billy West.
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  • JETCAT
    • JetCat began as an actual comic book series which makes it perfect for the Kablam! line-up. It was created by Jay Stephens and did not appear until Season 3. It would be in a total of 4 episodes. 
    • It centers around a young girl, Melanie McCay, who has an alter-ego which is a cat-themed superhero. 
    • Voice Actors
      • Melanie McCay voiced by Ashley Michelle.
      • Tod Johnson who is her best friend is voiced by Grady Larkin.
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  • RACE RABBIT
    • Created by Scott Fellows was featured in the later seasons, 3 and 4. Scott Fellows was also the creator of the popular Nickelodeon show Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide.
    • He’s a British Race Rabbit and he’s tearin’ up the tracks, he’s got a need for speed, but he’s always got time for anybody in need.
      • While helping others he also manages to always foil the plans of the Boolies (from the upper crust.)
    • This segment is live-action and uses real animals as the race rabbit. The other characters were:
      • Gabby McSHOUTS-ALOT, the race announcer.
      • The Boolies are aptly named because they are bullies that want to catch and stuff Race Rabbit for their wall.
      • Superchip M.A.X. is always trying to keep Race Rabbit on track to win the race. She never wants him to stop and help others because it could delay their winning.
        • This superchip takes inspiration from Knight Rider’s K.I.T.T.
  • SURPRISING SHORTS
    • This segment of the show would feature one of a kind shorts that would not be recurring. In the first season Henry and June would introduce them by having June pull-down Henry’s pants which would reveal boxer shorts with fun animals or flowers on them. In all the other seasons they were introduced just as any other short was, by saying it was the world premier. 
    • Some of these shorts were; Lava!, Anemia and Iodine, The Brothers Tiki, Randall Flan’s Incredible Big-Top, and Garbage Boy.

Kablam! Captured 90’s Nickelodeon in the most wonderful way. It was strange, a little gross at times, silly, and original. It was made to showcase artists that were under the radar, and bring them to the forefront. Kablam exposed audiences to stories and characters that they would otherwise never have seen. It was ambitious and entertaining–and very funny. 

I have so many fond memories of Kablam, it felt like a show that was meant just for me. And in that way, it made it the perfect show for Nickelodeon: the first kid’s network.


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