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7 Tales behind the Tails

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From how Eddie got his job on Frasier to why the Taco Bell dog couldn't wait to get her paws on other fast foods, this week we're taking a look at the pampered lives of some famous prime time pooches.

1. Gidget: The Taco Bell Dog

quierobell.pngThe little Chihuahua that played the Taco Bell dog was named Gidget. She became so popular, however, that two look-alike dogs (Dinky and Taco) were hired to handle the many requests for personal appearances. When Taco Bell ended that particular ad campaign, Gidget made one last TV appearance on The Tonight Show. Host Jay Leno offered her a choice of a chalupa or some KFC chicken. Who would've thought that after all those years what the Taco Bell dog really "quiero-ed" was an extra crispy drumstick!

2. Eddie: The Dog from Frasier

eddie.ew.pngWhen Frasier first started topping the Nielsen ratings every week, which cast member received the most fan mail? You guessed it "“ Eddie the dog. Jane Leeves, who played Daphne on the show, once wryly observed that when Entertainment Weekly used Frasier as a lead story in 1993, Eddie was the only cast member to appear on the cover. Eddie was portrayed by a Jack Russell Terrier named Moose, who'd originally been adopted by a family that wasn't aware of the breed's rambunctious nature. Moose had relentless energy - he dug holes in the back yard, chased anything in his path, chewed furniture and even climbed trees to escape his enclosure. His family gave him up to a rescue organization, which is where professional trainer Mathilde de Cagny discovered him. She decided he would be a good working dog because of his boundless energy and desire to always be doing something. Moose turned out to be an apt pupil, and learned to follow commands immediately. During the doggie auditions for the show, the producers were looking for a pooch that could stare endlessly at Kelsey Grammer (a running joke on the series), and Moose performed flawlessly, staring at Mathilde's outstretched index finger offstage until he was "released."

3. Buck: The Married"¦ with Children Dog

buck.couch.pngThe original Bundy family dog on Married"¦with Children was a Briard named Buck. Often the voice of reason in the Bundy household, Buck's thoughts and observations were expressed in various voice-overs. In real life, Buck was played by Mike, a Briard that professional trainer Steven Ritt found via a classified ad in the Los Angeles Times. Although MwC was Mike's main gig, he also appeared in the music video for Janet Jackson's hit "When I Think of You" and had a small role in the 1988 film Scrooged. Mike co-starred on Married"¦with Children from the series' debut in 1987 until his retirement in 1995. At that time, he was 12-years old, elderly for large breed dogs. Mike passed away nine months after leaving the show of natural causes.

4. Dreyfuss: The Empty Nest Dog

emptynest.pngDreyfuss, from TV's Empty Nest, was big in more ways than one. The St. Bernard/Golden Retriever mix (played by Bear) was an immediate audience favorite, but the producers ended up having to limit his on-camera time because he was so massive. It was difficult to fit more than one actor in a scene when Bear was on the stage! Amazingly, Bear's big bones haven't hurt his family's career options either. His real-life sister, Bodi, is also in the business. She appeared in the film Steel Magnolias as Shirley MacLaine's unruly pooch Rhett.

5. Murray: The Mad About You Dog

dog.murray.pngEven though Mad About You's Paul Buchman described Murray as a "rare Flatbush Pound Collie-Shepherd," in real life Maui (the dog who played Murray) is a Border Collie mix. He was rescued from a Castaic, California, animal shelter and got started in the entertainment business doing commercials. Maui began film work on the same level as many ingénues; he was an understudy for the lead dog in the 1991 film Bingo. As for the tricks he can perform on cue: Maui can sneeze, shake his head, roll over, and (of course!) chase an invisible mouse. One other trick Maui can pull off is "hiking" "“ an industry term meaning to lift his leg as if he's going to relieve himself.

6. Comet: The Full House Dog

dog.comet.pngWe're always hesitant to shatter TV illusions, but we do feel the need to be honest "“ there was more than one Comet on Full House. The first Comet was a Golden Retriever named Buddy, who also starred in the film Air Bud. Unfortunately, Buddy wasn't able to appear in the sequel because he got cancer (the cause of 60% of deaths in Goldens). Once he first became ill, he retired from Full House and several different Goldens played the role of Comet for the rest of the series.

7. Duke: The Dog Who Shills for Bush Beans

dog.bush.pngJay Bush was very nervous about appearing on-camera when he was first tapped to be the family bean commercial spokesman. So, he brought a Golden Retriever named Duketo the set to help him relax. Then, someone got the bright idea to have Jay "tell" Duke the secret Bush's Baked Beans recipe, which he was reluctant to do because he thought it sounded "silly." For whatever reason, Jay tried it, and the campaign took off. Today, the dog that appears with Bush in those commercials is a professional actor; the real Duke doesn't care for show business and prefers to stay home.

Obviously, my space is limited, so I've left out several famous TV canines. Let me know what doggies you'd like to see in our TVHolic window in a future column.

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The Time Douglas Adams Met Jim Henson
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On September 13, 1983, Jim Henson and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams had dinner for the first time. Henson, who was born on this day in 1936, noted the event in his "Red Book" journal, in characteristic short-form style: "Dinner with Douglas Adams – 1st met." Over the next few years the men discussed how they might work together—they shared interests in technology, entertainment, and education, and ended up collaborating on several projects (including a Labyrinth video game). They also came up with the idea for a "Muppet Institute of Technology" project, a computer literacy TV special that was never produced. Henson historians described the project as follows:

Adams had been working with the Henson team that year on the Muppet Institute of Technology project. Collaborating with Digital Productions (the computer animation people), Chris Cerf, Jon Stone, Joe Bailey, Mark Salzman and Douglas Adams, Jim’s goal was to raise awareness about the potential for personal computer use and dispel fears about their complexity. In a one-hour television special, the familiar Muppets would (according to the pitch material), “spark the public’s interest in computing,” in an entertaining fashion, highlighting all sorts of hardware and software being used in special effects, digital animation, and robotics. Viewers would get a tour of the fictional institute – a series of computer-generated rooms manipulated by the dean, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, and stumble on various characters taking advantage of computers’ capabilities. Fozzie, for example, would be hard at work in the “Department of Artificial Stupidity,” proving that computers are only as funny as the bears that program them. Hinting at what would come in The Jim Henson Hour, viewers, “…might even see Jim Henson himself using an input device called a ‘Waldo’ to manipulate a digitally-controlled puppet.”

While the show was never produced, the development process gave Jim and Douglas Adams a chance to get to know each other and explore a shared passion. It seems fitting that when production started on the 2005 film of Adams’s classic Hitchhiker’s Guide, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop would create animatronic creatures like the slovenly Vogons, the Babel Fish, and Marvin the robot, perhaps a relative of the robot designed by Michael Frith for the MIT project.

You can read a bit on the project more from Muppet Wiki, largely based on the same article.

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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.


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