I don’t know about you but from my end nothing enhances the enjoyment of a good block of cartoons like a bunch of kids crammed into a bleacher and loaded up with fried chicken and soda. Popeye’s Fried Chicken did this for, like, a really long time with “Popeye and Pals”, a kid’s block on WWL-TV in New Orleans.
“Popeye and Pals” started airing in 1957, a really amazing lifespan for a kids’ show, but I’m going to focus on the ’70s and ’80s execution of this block as the color TV footage really makes the chicken grease pop.
On paper the concept’s pretty simple: you’ve got an adult host, a set full of kids, and you introduce and come back from cartoon segments. This was fairly common with local TV stations, a low-cost way for them to repackage old cartoons and still have something unique on their channel. “Popeye and Pals” had the advantage of the fast food franchise’s tie-in, which meant food for the kids, cartoon branding for the set, and lots of free advertising for the restaurant.
More Pappyland than Bozo, the in-studio pieces stitching the cartoons together come off pretty dry and unimaginative. The lion’s share of segments are basically the host asking kids their names and their schools. THEIR FULL NAMES AND THE SCHOOLS THAT THEY ATTEND. ON LOCAL TELEVISION. How times have changed.
Of the 80% of segments that are the host asking the kids’ names, about 80% of the kids are Cub Scouts or Brownies, signaling that this was a frequent outing for Scouts. There were segments that focused on things that weren’t introducing kids, featuring things like local law enforcement giving safety tips and other common kids’ show fodder. Unfortunately, the safety tips do not include NOT SAYING YOUR FULL NAME AND THE SCHOOL YOU ATTEND ON A TELEVISION BROADCAST.
“Popeye and Pals” ran through the ’80s , eventually becoming eclipsed by cable television and networks that catered to kids exclusively, all the time. This weird mish-mash of local television production, using kids as audience members, blatant product placement and a celebration of all things fast food are all bespoke aspects of a really specific moment in American history. Here’s an episode, featuring a commercial with a young Peyton Manning.