Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Shining Time Station

Yes, I'm aware Shining Time Station was a spin-off of Thomas and Friends and that this introductory picture is thus misleading. Thanks for pointing that out.


Quiet telethon-hosting public television giant PBS has a lot more balls than for which we generally give them credit. Okay, so maybe their sunny broadcasts of Antiques Roadshow and breathless pseudo-historical reality show trashiness of Manor House aren't winning them any edginess points, but they did have the gall to cast comedian George "Seven Dirty Words" Carlin as Mr. Conductor on Shining Time Station. You have to admit, that took some pretty serious cajones from someone down at PBS HQ.



Of course, they had to ease into a big step like this. No, no, we needed to start a little smaller. Alright, alright, so the character is already minuscule by definition, as Mr. Conductor was a tiny man who lived in Shining Time Station's signal house. Are you with me on this? Good. Great. Grand. Wonderful. Anyway, the original Mr. Conductor was played by none other than former Beatle Ringo Starr, who can be seen in the clip below drumming with some wooden spoons. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.



Though past my prime Shining Time days, it does please me that in the 2000 big screen version entitled Thomas and the Magic Railroad, our friend Mr. Conductor was played by none other than my favorite 30 Rocker/angry voicemail designator Alec Baldwin. Really, what a feat of casting on all three counts. Thomas and friends were pulling in some pretty big names.



A decade before Alec Baldwin was running out of Mr. Conductor's magic gold dust, the old-fashioned style kids show was warming hearts and instilling a deep-seated love of train travel within children of the 80s and 90s. The original Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends premiered in Britain in 1984. Impressed by the show's success, producers in the US decide to create an American version five years later.

As a child, I watched the movie Grease on repeat for approximately two years straight (right after I'd emerged from my unfortunate but long-sustained Sound of Music stage)and was delighted to find my Pink Lady pal Frenchie starring in this show about trains. Frenchie (okay, fine, her real name is Didi Conn) starred as Stacy Jones, the perky manager of Shining Time Station. Shining Time Station seems like a pretty run-of-the-mill train station until we meet Mr. Conductor, the tiny magical man who lives in the signal house in the mural painted on the wall and reveals himself to share stories about Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends. You know. The usual.

The station's old and rusty when Stacy goes back to reopen it, but it certainly has its high points. For example, a jukebox featuring a full internal puppet ensemble band. Not bad for an abandoned train station. There's also an arcade, run by a man by the name of Schemer. Schemer's favorite for coining the phrase "Genius time!" as he marveled over all of his less-than-genius ideas to make more money and preserve his valued arcade.



Beginning of the first US episode, in case you need a refresher course from 1989. I can't imagine why.

They had a few more tricks up their sleeve with this cast of characters. Season one featured an engineer named Harry, whose grandchildren (along with Stacy's nephews) make up the child population of Shining Time Station. Season two veered a little more toward good old 90s multiculturalism, featuring a new engineer named Billy Twofeathers. You know, if we're going to have Native American characters we can't be subtle when it comes to names. No matter he's played by a guy named Tom Jackson--this guy's getting a legitimately multicultural moniker.

The show also had the convenient trick of making the stability of major characters flexible. Whenever a cast member dropped out, they simply replaced him with a long-lost cousin or are transferred to a new station. While this type of Dukes of Hazzard/Brady Bunch Cousin Oliver-level tomfoolery may have jumped the shark in other shows, it was pretty well-suited to children's entertainment. After all, children are pretty fickle by nature. So long as they consistently fed us old-timey train-themed entertainment, we were pretty content to eat it up without question.

The show's concept was sweet and uncharacteristically set in a more traditional premise. It taught values in not-so-subtle ways, but at least surrounded the arrow of its moral compass by a sturdy backing of comedic wit. It introduced a whole new generation of kids to the joy of trains and managed to supplement that love with a slew of corresponding overpriced merchandise to boot. How can you blame them for milking this concept, though? This show had it all: trains, puppets, animated segments. Oh, and George Carlin. You can't forget George Carlin.*

RIP, Mr. Conductor


*Unless you were more of a Ringo fan, in which case I scoff at your choice. Scoff!

18 comments:

Nic said...

I am a Ringo fan! Hehe :)

Mrs EyeCanSee said...

Where do you dig this stuff up! I always enjoy my daily blast from the past!

nikki said...

This isn't a blast from the past for me at all. I'm living it. I have a2 1/2 year old who is a verified train-maniac. We have Thomas EVERYTHING. And he wants to be a conductor when he grows up.

George Carlin and Alec Baldwin take turns narrating the American version of Thomas and Friends. I wish I didn't know that.

Jaime | Fast Times said...

My 5 year old nephew LOVES Thomas & Friends, so I still get to watch this show all the time. I love it, I really do. And earlier this year we took him to see Thomas & Friends Live, my dad and my sister and I, and we ALL had so much fun!

PEE ESS - I went through a Sound of Music stage too! My sister still hates me for it and never wants to watch it again. What does she know? :D

Hanako66 said...

I think that I was too old for these....I remember the stores popping up at malls across america!

Andhari said...

Oooh I don't remember liking this but some of my cousins did :)

Katie said...

yay for happy childhood memories!

Couture Carrie said...

My nephews adooooore Thomas!
Fun post!

xoxox,
CC

Allison said...

Aww, I wish I watched that show more. I don't remember it all that well, but I did catch it a few times. I didn't realize all the different conductors. :)

Tracy-Girl said...

I never watched too many of these shows growing up... but I did watch Reading Rainbow! :)

Okie said...

I wasn't big on Shining Time (except for the humor of seeing George Carlin & Ringo Star). But my middle son was HUGE on Thomas (and still is, but less so now...as a 7 year old, he's moved on to LEGO and more 'action' filled toys). Still, we had a lot of fun with Thomas & friends and even took a ride on Thomas at a railroad a little ways from our home.

Shoshanah said...

I definitely remember watching Shinning Time Station when I was little (although I couldn't have told you the name till I read it here). I always though Thomas the Tank Engine was a spin-off of this show, and not the other way around

lovelila said...

I used to like this show until Thomas and the Gang just got so boring for me to watch. Plus, I eventually found them to be insanely creepy later... loved the live-action, though! lol

Summer Wind said...

I am so glad you found my blog so I could find yours. Seriously, I'm obsessed! Reading your blog brings back so many memories! What a great idea for a blog, how did you remember all of these great 90s things?!

Brunch at Saks said...

I wasn't too into this show, but it reminds me of when my little sisters (who aren't so little anymore which makes me sad!) used to watch this! Thank you for sharing- it brought back great memories! XOXO

Just Playing Pretend said...

Stacy. Her voice is still like nails on a chalkboard to my ears.

Lil' Woman said...

Love that show, and it soo cool to watch my nephew love it like I did when I was his age! :)

Janna said...

Yeah, I thought Thomas the Tank Engine was a spin-off, too, but I see it actually started in the UK and they created Shining Time Station as a US spin-off.

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