A year ago DIC Enterprises-a major producer of children's programming- ran an ad in the Hollywood Reporter headlined "Open Letter to the Acting Community." DIC and the Turner Broadcasting System were looking for major celebrities to do the voices and live-action tags for Ted Turner's new animated environmental action-adventure series, "Captain Planet and the Planeteers."
"It was sort of an open invitation," said co-creator and co-executive producer Barbara Y.E. Pyle, vice president of environmental policy at TBS SuperStation. "The first person to pop out was Tom Cruise."
But when Cruise's "Days of Thunder" schedule conflicted with "Captain Planet," the actor popped out. But other performers-including Sting, Whoopi Goldberg, Meg Ryan, Tim Curry, Ed Asner, Dean Stockwell and James Coburn-found the time to commit to the series, which premieres Sept. 15 on KTTV at 10 a.m. and Sept. 16 on TBS at 5:35 a.m. and 2:35 p.m.
"Captain Planet" isn't the only star-studded fall series geared for the 2- to 11-year-old crowd. Steven Spielberg, Roseanne Barr, Robert Klein, Howie Mandel, New Kids on the Block, George Carlin and Rick Moranis are just a few of the many personalities working on new children's programming.
John Ratzenberger, mailman Cliff on "Cheers," is the voice of polluter Rigger on "Captain Planet." He answered the ad the day it ran. "I started being an environmentalist in 1967," he said. "I lived in Connecticut and wrote an angry letter to my congressman about pollution and wondered why I couldn't swim in the same river my father and grandfather had." Ratzenberger has seen the first two episodes of the series. "My son just loves 'Captain Planet,' " he said. "He doesn't know I am in it; he's only 3. But he's really interested in it."
"The show is remarkable because it does challenge children," said LeVar Burton, whose voice is Kwame, one of the Planeteers. "The children are going to be responsible for the environment."
Whoopi Goldberg is the voice of Gaia-Mother Earth. "It's important to me that children are given interesting information in an entertaining fashion," she said. "I want kids to know that they can make a difference-regardless of race, creed or color."
Goldberg also is set to do two specials for cable's Nickelodeon. The first, "Hot Rod Brown, Class Clown," airs in November.
"I'm a big fan of Nickelodeon's programming," she said. "They've given me three 'Kid's Choice' awards, which means a lot because it comes from kids."
"Whoopi wanted to meet us," said Geoffrey Darby, senior vice president of programming for Nickelodeon. "She likes what we do on the air. Her idea is develop (the specials) into 'Tales from the Whoop' and introduce them." David Lynch's Propaganda Films also has found a home at Nick. Last month Nick aired its "Salute Your Shorts," a live-action comedy special set in a summer camp.
"They (the people at Nickelodeon) are very much on the edge," said Matt Loze, executive producer at Propaganda. "They are willing to take chances."
Shelley Duvall, who produced Showtime's "Faerie Tale Theatre," is producing three specials for Nick called "Stories from Growing Up." Celebrities will take part in a re-enactment of a special moment in their lives. For example, Roseanne Barr's first date; Billy Crystal's bar mitzvah. . The first is set to air in October.
"I want to do children's programming the entire family can enjoy," said Duvall. "Programming that doesn't condescend."
Barr created ABC's "Little Rosey," premiering Saturday at 11 a.m., which chronicles the adventures of a 10-year-old Roseanne Barr, she said, because a lot of her fans are kids.
"I did it for them," she said. "I love animation still. It's the most compelling thing to watch. Being a mom, I wanted to do a show about imagination." Though Barr is overseeing the scripts, she is not doing the voice of Rosey.
"She came to us sometime last October," said Jennie Trias, vice president of children's programming at ABC Entertainment. "We were happy with the concept." Carol Rosen, director of original programming at HBO, approached comedian Robert Klein to kick off its new series "HBO Storybook Musicals," premiering Sept. 10 at 7 p.m. He adapted, narrates and sings the classic "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel."
"He is a wonderful storyteller and a lovely singer," said Rosen. "(He) has a young boy, and I asked him if he would like to see this book made into a program for children."
"I loved the idea," said Klein. "I read the book to my son. I adapted it along with animator (and producer) Michael Sporn. I think having a child makes me more interested in doing this kind of thing."
Margaret Loesch, president of Fox children's programming, gave the green light to "Bobby's World," an animated series based on "Baby Bobby," a 4-year-old character in comic Howie Mandel's act. The series, which premieres Saturday at 7 a.m., will look at the world through little Bobby's eyes. "He's a very talented guy and has this vision," said Loesch of Mandel.