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"Histeria!" proves history can be fun
By Helen Lee, syndicated October 11, 1998

Many people might think history is dry, but a new animated show, "Warner Bros. Histeria!" aims to prove them wrong every weekday at 3:30 p.m. ET and at 11:30 a.m. ET on Saturday mornings.

''We're trying to cover 35,000 years of human history in 65 hours,'' says Tom Reugger, the shows' creator and executive producer. ''We're not going to accomplish that, but we're going to try.''

Ruegger may be best known for producing the cartoon ''Steven Spielberg Presents Animaniacs,'' which tells about the Warner Bros. (and the Warner sister), three rambunctious cartoon siblings created in the 1930s and locked away in the WB lot's water tower because they were just too zany. Yakko, Wakko and Dot occasionally strayed into historical territory, tangling with the likes of Rasputin, Picasso, and Abraham Lincoln in past episodes.

But in ''Histeria!,'' Reugger is able to focus solely on events from the past, making topics like the Vikings and the French resistance interesting for children. From Confucius to the American Revolution and the top ten tyrants, anything is fair game.

''History hasn't been coopted yet. No one has really said, we're going to take the ball and run with history,'' Reugger explains. ''So we said, let's make a comedy series about it. I felt that on 'Animaniacs' we had some success with the Warner brothers meeting characters like Abe Lincoln. I thought, back then, that I know something about history. I've learned since then I know nothing."

''Histeria!'' is a cross between ''Saturday Night Live'' and ''Animaniacs,'' with comedy skits -- many including music featuring repertory-style sketch comedy from an ensemble cast. Music includes catchy jingles like "The Invasion Song," which covers most of the famous military invasions. These songs are often satires, parodying everything from "The Brady Bunch" theme to full-scale Broadway production numbers.

''It's tons of work because it's a comedy show, but before we can even get into the comedy we have to start out with the facts. So it's a different process than with 'Animaniacs' or 'Tiny Toons,' where we had funny characters and put them into funny situations. We need to know things, research the facts, then we can start having fun with it,'' says Reugger.

To help its educational mission, ''Hysteria!'' boasts a cast of distinct personalities that introduce kids to historical events. There's even a guest host, usually a prominent figure from history like a Valley girl-inspired Joan of Arc. The half-hour show's regular characters include host Father Time, Fetch the dog, Miss Information, Toast, Pepper Mills, Cho-Cho, the World's Oldest Woman, Lucky Bob, network censor Linda Karaoke, Charity Bazaar, Big Fat Baby and Mr. Smartypants. Toast, the "contemporary burnout kid," just wants to chill out. Four kids, Froggo, Loud Kiddington, Charity Bazaar and Aka Pella, make up the show's "Greek chorus."

Loud Kid, the show's ''Town Crier,'' shouts his lines out in every episode. In fact, in one episode he heckles Abe Lincoln because he doesn't understand what the president is trying to say in his Gettysburg Address -- which irritates the president, but reveals handy information for the young viewer who doesn't know that "four score" means 20 years.< Three characters -- Froggo, Big Fat Baby and Loud Kid, are voiced respectively by Ruegger's sons Nathan, 14; Luke, 12; and Cody, 10. The three boys also provide the inspiration a few of the characters, as they did for the Warner brothers (and Dot) on ''Animaniacs.''

''Luke does baby sounds imitating our cat, and it's very odd and strange. Loud Kiddington's personality came from Cody because Cody has the tendency to be the loudest kid on Earth. Nathan, our oldest son, did the voice of Skippy squirrel [on 'Animaniacs']. But he's not Skippy anymore, he's a little man,'' Reugger says.

Early on, Father Time was meant to be in the spotlight, but the show's kid characters ended up being the lynchpin of ''Histeria!,'' according to Reugger. It's a fitting evolution for a program meant to educate young people, and yet entertain adults and teens as well.

''I'd really like to tell everyone around the world it's funny, that's why people will watch it,''Reugger says. ''That they pick up facts along the way will be the bonus. The FCC just wants us to say it's educational, but I don't think that's going to get kids in the door. It's a good family show because, like 'Animaniacs,' it has something for everyone.''
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