The Saturday night challenge of entertaining a young audience, many of whom would rather be out of the house, has led Nickelodeon to save its Roundhouse for last.
Programmers over at Nick have moved the popular variety show "Roundhouse" from 8:30 to 10 p.m., the end of its "Snick" programming block that includes "The Adventures of Pete & Pete" and a couple of animated gross-outs named "Ren & Stimpy."
The initial concept of "Roundhouse" came to creator Buddy Sheffield in 1975, when he first saw NBC's "Saturday Night Live" sketch series. He thought that a similar show aimed at kids could offer both entertainment and encouragement in their formative years.
Each "Roundhouse" revolves around a single theme, with skits, songs and dances that work around it. The skits are designed with a child's attention span; none are longer than 60 seconds.
This rapid-fire technique "doesn't condescend to kids, it's more like irreverent comedy with a message," says John Crane, a 32-year-old writer and member of the cast. "Kids latch on to that. We're not talking down to them. It moves so quickly, and yes, it's geared to the MTV generation, where most kids are channel-surfing and this show can grab their attention and keep it there."
Benny Hester, executive producer, likes to compare the show to a thrill ride. "It's high-impact," he says. "Its like being on a high-powered roller coaster ride. We pack an hour variety show into 30 minutes."
"Kids have such a good sense of humor," adds cast member Julene Renee. "A lot of adults don't think kids can understand as much as they do. But they relate to us."
Many skits center on family situations, with a mom and dad (often played by Crane) and kids, played by the twentysomething cast members who take on various roles.
"It's great," Crane says about the CableAce Award-winning show. "We often have multiracial casts and never refer to it as part of the skit."
In addition to characters in TV parodies such as "The Broody Brunch," "Fully Housebroken" and "Fleas Company," the cast "plays all kinds of famous people, too," says Renee. "I've been Michael Jackson, Susan Powter, Loni Anderson and Shannen Doherty."
With no sets and just a stage to work with, Crane emphasizes that the show also tries to create an atmosphere of imagination, using props that are suggestive, like "a hubcap for steering wheel, or a piece of pipe that we always use for a phone." Shows, including the skits and music in each, are written and choreographed in three days, rehearsed for two, and then taped live before a studio audience in Los Angeles.
"We're always wrapping up with a message," Renee concludes. "For instance, one of the most important shows to me was one we did on gangs. We showed people that it doesn't matter what color you are. What matters is resolving problems. We also let kids make up their own minds."
\o7 "Roundhouse" airs Saturdays on Nickelodeon at 10 p.m. as the last show in its program block called Snick (Saturday Night Nickelodeon); it repeats Sundays at 7:30 p.m. For ages 6 to 16.\f7