HELP US FIND THE FOX CUBHOUSE
In 1994, executive producer Ron Saunders approached Jay Rayvid, a producer at WQED, Pittsburgh's local PBS station (known for producing Mister Rogers' Neighborhood) to see if the station was interested in helping to get Johnson and Friends on television in the United States. Jay agreed, but was unable to find a market for the series as a standalone program. By this point, 52 episodes (the first three series) had been produced and were available to WQED for distribution.
FOX Kids were looking to start a preschool series around the same time and thus The Fox Cubhouse was created. WQED and Fox teamed up and implemented Johnson and Friends, Rimba's Island and Jim Henson's Animal Show into this concept. The latter two series were specifically produced for the Cubhouse, but were also shown independently in many other countries. In addition, the Fox Cubhouse itself was shot at WQED.
The Cubhouse series served as a ‘wrap-around’ for the three programs. Each episode ran for roughly 22 minutes - which fit very comfortably into a 30 minute time slot with ads taken into account. Stan Swan served as the series director. The Fox Cubhouse was presented by a woman known as Rosie, played by Nancy Mura, and four puppet characters - Silbert the Dinosaur (Donn Kinney), Fogel the Bird (Dreux Priore), Cammy the Fox (Melissa Polakovic) and Mailvin the Mailbox (Bill Schiffbauer). In each episode, the characters encountered a problem, which would usually be resolved quickly. They would then introduce an episode of one of the three programs, which usually revolved around the same theme. For example, in Cubhouse Episode #2, Friends, Silbert asks Rosie if he has any friends. Rosie responds by listing off each of his friends, and they sing a short song about friendship. After an ad break, Rosie and Silbert introduce Johnson & Friends episode 1 - Beginnings, in which Johnson makes two friends, Diesel the Truck and McDuff the Concertina. The series’ theme song was written and performed by Gloria Estefan.
The Johnson auditions were held in Pittsburgh. Bill Schiffbauer auditioned for the role of Johnson, but was unsuccessful. However, he received the role of Mailvin the Mailbox, who appeared during the Cubhouse segment of the program. The US casting company for the Johnson & Friends revoicing was The Talent Group in Pittsburgh. Zoje Stage received the roles of McDuff, Squeaky and the narrator. But, for whatever reason, the roles of Squeaky and the narrator were recast. Zoje retained the role of McDuff. It was decided that Peter Browne would be retained as Alfred's voice actor, but due to master recording issues, all of his dialogue in the first 26 episodes had to be rerecorded. The vocal stems for the latter 26 episodes were available, so they were used. Oddly enough, Peter Browne did not rerecord any lines for episodes #127 - #152, despite all other character’s lines being altered.
Several additional songs and music tracks were written by Chris Neal and his son Braedy, who had previously composed the score and songs for the original version of Johnson and Friends, as FOX felt that some of the earlier episodes were "too quiet" and didn't fit the atmosphere they wanted for the series. Instrumental versions of preexisting Johnson songs were also used. As the series was broadcast as a segment rather than a standalone program, the credits were featured at the end of the Cubhouse itself and most Johnson episodes ended with the final chorus of 'Toys, Toys, Wonderful Toys' from the Johnson album, re-recorded by the US cast. Some episodes also featured the regular ending theme.
Minor cuts were also occasionally made along with adjustments to John Patterson's scripts, to remove Australian terminology and slang. The dialogue was recorded at Production Masters Inc in Pittsburgh. The dub was produced by Lynne Squilla and Nancy Lavin. Shirley J. Saldamarco took the position of dubbing director. John Cosgrove, Jay Rayvid and Donna Mitroff were also heavily involved with production of the dub. The final American soundtrack was also mixed at PMI Pittsburgh by engineer Jack Bailey.
In one instance, the first shot of a particular episode was cut for unknown reasons (presumably to do with timing) and the episode began with the second shot. A new title card was created. The Johnson title sequence and theme song was cut down, so that it starts from the shot of Johnson skateboarding, as a result, Squeaky does not appear during the title sequence. The voices were left undubbed and other than Alfred’s voice - they are the only original voice clips used in the US version. The section of the episode in which the credits would usually roll was left blank, and most episodes ended with a rerecorded version of “Toys, Toys, Wonderful Toys” - though some ended with the regular credits theme. A separate credits sequence was cut together from various episode clips and played after the “Goodbye Song” during Cubhouse. An instrumental version of the Cubhouse theme played over these credits. The credits were fairly inaccurate as they were compiled from a mix of series 1 and 2 episodes. The costume performers were also uncredited.
The final US cast consisted of Tony Marino (as Johnson), Zoje Stage (as McDuff), David Flick (as Diesel), Peter Browne (as Alfred), Katie Watkins (as Squeaky), Minette Seate (as Victoria) and Amy Hartman as the narrator. After the original broadcast of the first season of the Cubhouse, it was decided that David Flick’s Diesel voice was ‘inappropriate and unsuitable for the series’. Doug Scroope, who had provided the voice of Diesel in the original Australian version, was brought in as his replacement. Much like Peter Browne, Doug was required to rerecord all lines from the first 26 episodes due to master recording issues. However, for the last 26 episodes, the original dialogue stems from the Australian version were utilised. This would create a continuity error for young viewers of the Cubhouse series, as Diesel originated with a very Americanised ‘surfer dude’ styled voice but gained a very strong Australian accent. It is known that the revised Johnson dub was edited into the first season of Cubhouse. It is not known as to whether or not these versions were broadcast.
The Fox Cubhouse wrap party took place on the night of 28/09/1994 (09/28/1994 - US date). The Fox Cubhouse became a short-lived success, and FOX Children’s Network commissioned an additional set of 26 episodes of Johnson and Friends, Jim Henson’s Animal Show and Rimba’s Island, as well as a new season of The Fox Cubhouse.
The new Johnson episodes were produced under a contract which stated that FOX would have worldwide rights to this particular series - minus Australia and New Zealand - which would be held by Film Australia. However, if FOX did not produce a fifth series within five years from 1995 - the worldwide rights would lapse back to Film Australia. The episodes were also shown in Australia, dubbed by the original voice cast and were marketed as the fourth series of the program. However, they did not air until 1997.
The second season of 26 Johnson episodes were dubbed in Canada. Series director Ian Munro maintained a level of creative control over the American version of the program and was involved with voice direction. The dub was produced by Julia Weinstein. Peter Browne and Doug Scroope’s dialogue was recorded in Australia, and the dub was mixed there as well - The finalised masters were then sent over to FOX. These episodes were also shown in Australia, dubbed by the original Australian voice cast and marketed as the fourth series of the program, but not until 1997. Occasionally, older episodes of Johnson would reappear as repeats in certain Cubhouse episodes during its second season. The ‘Doug Scroope’ version of the dub was always used. Almost always, older episodes faded out before “Toys, Toys, Wonderful Toys” started playing. This resulted in a very rough transition. New episodes of Johnson and Friends retained the classic ending tune, however, they also faded out rather quickly. A new set of costumes were built. The title sequence was reshot and accurately recreated using the new set and new costumes. A shot of Victoria was added and Ron Saunders was added to the on-screen billing, instead of solely appearing in the end credits. Jay Rayvid and Donna Mitroff were brought on as executive producers after WQED were dismissed from production of The Fox Cubhouse. The US version of the fourth series title sequence featured the same dialogue and effects track, but the music was replaced with the extended version of the theme for unknown reasons.
The new season of Cubhouse was completely overhauled due to demands from the FOX executives - the ‘Cubhouse’ set was very different to the one in the first season, and the characters were replaced with new ones. Ellaraino was brought in to play Sunny - who presented the series. Wendy Polland played Freddy the Fox. It is currently unknown who performed the role of Bill the Sunflower. It is also currently unknown who directed the new season. WQED were dismissed from production and were no longer associated with the program, however, WQED’s Jay Rayvid and Donna Mitroff went on to work on the fourth series of Johnson & Friends. It is known that the new season of Cubhouse was split into two parts, with an unknown amount of episodes totaling over 150. Two new programs, “Britt Allcroft’s Magic Adventures of Mumfie” (13 episodes) and “Budgie the Little Helicopter” (26 episodes) were added to the Cubhouse lineup.
For the second season of Cubhouse, all Johnson episodes would cut back to Cubhouse just before the regular credits music kicked in, and the credits would be displayed on the right side of the screen. The credits were mostly complete and for the first time, the costume performers were credited in American broadcasts. There were several inaccuracies and spelling errors, but compared to the first season of Cubhouse, these credits were fairly accurate. Some episodes also faded to black and then cut to ads before returning to Cubhouse. When Cubhouse would start, Ellaraino (as Sunny) would introduce Johnson, and the title sequence would play, before fading to black and cutting to ads. While previous Cubhouse episodes featured two episodes of Johnson and Friends, the second season sometimes paired a single episode with an episode of Budgie the Little Helicopter or Magic Adventures of Mumfie (due to the fact that all three programs had a running time of ten minutes).
The Fox Cubhouse was taken off the air in early-mid 1996 and has not aired since. It is believed that most if not all of the master tapes of the program were wiped or junked, however several master copies of the Americanized Johnson and Friends episodes, and master copies of the other five programs shown within Cubhouse, are known to exist.
What we're looking for
Everything, basically. Information, video recordings, TV recordings...US Johnson, Rimba's Island, Cubhouse itself.
If you have any info or materials, please contact me via the form on my site. We are working with some of the original series crew to preserve what is left of this show, as there is next to nothing. We currently possess several hours worth of footage from both the first and second seasons of Cubhouse, a collection of Rimba's Island episodes, 28 US dubbed Johnson episodes amongst various copies of the other shows from the series.