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Space Host

Ed. Note: Art can be obtained from Paul Siefken, Public Relations Director for the Cartoon Network.]What do Ashley Judd, Denzel Washington and The BeeGees have in common? Give up? They were all on a first episode of Space Ghost Coast to Coast, a talk show featuring an animated, 31-year-old superhero as host. Now nearly four years old, the show is enjoying raging popularity, particularly on college campuses, mostly drawn to the retired '60s superhero who "interviews" live celebrity guests in a weekly transmission from the Cartoon Network.Denzel Washington was in the first pilot, a two-minute splice-and-dice of a pre-packaged press interview he did for CNN's Showbiz Today in which programming coordinator Andy Merrill "asks questions" to Washington's answers, which never aired. Ashley Judd was on the first taped show (that ran after the premiere). And The BeeGees were on the first show to actually air in April, 1994.Space Ghost's birth as a talk show host is a little confusing since he leads at least three separate lives: Space Ghost, the original cartoon superhero created by comic book artist Alex Toth; Space Ghost, the cosmic talk show host given life by Cartoon Network executive Mike Lazzo; and Tad Ghostal, Space Ghost's alter ego.In 1966, then-kid Mike Lazzo really liked Space Ghost when he was a legit Hanna-Barbera cartoon superhero on the show The Space Ghost and Dino Boy. Space Ghost would fight intergalactic crime - usually initiated by members of the nefarious Council of Doom - with the help of two spunky, but occasionally unreliable teenagers named Jan and Jason, a small space monkey named Blip and an impressive array of superpowers and weaponry. (Dino Boy was a separate cartoon paired with Space Ghost in the 30-minute slot).Unfortunately for Lazzo, at that time most of America was enamored with The Flintstones, The Jetsons or Rocky and Bullwinkle, thus hurtling Space Ghost, Phantom Cruiser and all to the nether region of cartoon programming after only one year. There he languished with the Herculoids, Bat Fink, Birdman and other H-B castaways, until, in 1992, a particularly shrewd earthling named Ted Turner began something called the Cartoon Network . Turner hoped to exploit the vaults of H-B cartoons he had purchased years before, on a nation of budding Mike Lazzos.Realizing that the Cartoon Network and his boyhood cartoon hero were now poised at their crucial destiny, then-vice president of programming Lazzo made his move. He commissioned the two-minute pilot from Merrill, in which Space Ghost appears to interview Denzel Washington. Merrill edited the footage and provided what he thought would be a good Space Ghost voice for his "questions" to the blissfully unaware Washington."I spent five hours one Saturday taking old footage and splicing it together to make Space Ghost's mouth stay open or closed, asked questions to whatever Denzel answered to the Showbiz interview and then Mike took it around to sell it," recounts Merrill.Nowadays, the voice of Space Ghost, George Lowe, conducts an interview by phone with guests who are instructed to imagine talking with the superhero. The show's dialogue is written later. On the show, the reincarnation of Space Ghost places him in a desk job, as a talk show host, retired from actively fighting crime (but retaining his superpowers and so, therefore, still able to intimidate puny earthlings and kick various Council of Doom's members' butts). As host, he casually banters with live celebrity guests from his base on a revolving meatball called the Ghost Planet. To assist him, he has enslaved two villains from the original series - Zorak, an evil green mantis, as his bandleader, and Moltar, from a lava planet, whose closest relatives are large microwave ovens, as the director with a passion for CHiPs reruns.Space Ghost's alter ego is Tad Ghostal, the fishmonger son of Mabel and Luther Ghostal. Tad has an evil twin, Chad Ghostal (who occasionally sabotages the show), but no other known relatives. He also has a former flame, "Ms. Nesbitt," who dropped Tad when he was a younger, more impressionable superhero. Other than this, not much is known about Tad.After Lazzo had successfully sold the original idea of recycling Space Ghost animation for the talk-show format in mid-1993, there remained the tiny matter of booking the guests for upcoming shows. This unenviable task fell to SGC2C's original staff of one, producer Keith Crofford, fresh from his stint as the independent filmmaker of the art house hit film, Ruby in Paradise ("available on video at Blockbuster," he quips)."Since we had no shows to show them, a lot of people simply could not comprehend the concept of being interviewed by this obscure superhero," Crofford explains of his initial attempts to lure guests. "Some of them would just start giggling or have that deer-in-the-headlights stare."Luckily for Crofford, Judd, who starred in his movie, was willing to return the favor and, coupled with comedienne Judy Tenuta and the late Dr. Timothy Leary, became the first official SGC2C guests to be taped, in what would be the third episode."The original questions we had caught the guests off-guard because they were weird ones that a superhero might ask, like, 'What would you do with an inviso-belt?' 'Do you have enough oxygen?' and 'Do you have any super powers?'," says Merrill, who, along with fellow programmer Khaki Jones, is credited with giving Space Ghost the initial quirky personality that Lowe preserves. "Now, we ask more questions about whatever the person is doing at that time - music, a film project or whatever - and try to make it more conversational."The popularity of Space Ghost has so overwhelmed Lowe, previously a well-known regional radio and commercial voice talent based in Atlanta (where SGC2C is now produced), that he claims, "I'm much deeper in debt than I was three years ago! "But I don't think it's the type of thing you retire from unless you're [original Space Ghost voice] Gary Owens. You know, Gary makes all the money," adds Lowe, admiring Owen's status in the cartoon voice-over industry. "I just look forward to Disney calling one day and saying, 'Hey, you're the porcupine in our next film and it pays hundreds of thousands of dollars and you'll be done in three weeks!' That's my dream gig."For others, however, SGC2C is their dream gig. After a mere five episodes, musician-comedian Weird Al Yankovic became the first guest to solicit the show in hopes of being a guest (he was successful). Michael Stipe, lead singer of R.E.M. and another Georgia native, was so eager to do SGC2C that "he drove himself over, got lost and was a half an hour late," says Crofford. Stipe even brought his own interviewing gear."A lot of people think that we made Michael wear the goggles he wore on the show," says Crofford, "but he brought those himself. Those weren't prop goggles, those were his."Where Stipe and Yankovic found joy, stupid laughter and some chaos on their trip to the Ghost Planet, Paul Westerberg, the former lead singer of the The Replacements turned successful solo artist, found only anger and bitter confusion, storming off the set after only five minutes."Oh yeah, he was huffy," Lowe recalls. "He got all honked off not realizing it was a cartoon. One of his 'handlers' evidently didn't tell him it was, you know, a cartoon. Then one of our producers, the poor guy, asks him, 'Uh, Paul, would you like to say something to Zorak?' and that was it. He blew his stack and stormed off!"SGC2C is currently in reruns until July when they will be premiering 26 new episodes (Westerberg's five minutes of infamy will not be included, however - "He wouldn't sign the release papers," says Merrill) but there will be plenty of other guests visiting the Ghost Planet's green room, including Bjork, Beck, Goldie Hawn, Billy Mumy (Will Robinson on Lost in Space), Mark Hamill, Peter Fonda and Erik Estrada. For the new season, Crofford also divulges that a new character, most likely the sorcerer in Zorak's band, The Original Way-Outs, will take on an expanded role, "for our tens of dozens of fans out there."Party on the Ghost Planet. Starts in July. Bring your own goggles. Space Ghost Coast to Coast airs on the Cartoon Network, at 8 pm, Fridays, and 9 pm, Saturdays.SIDEBAR: Space Ghost: Exclusive interview with Citizen Tony (Tony C. Duarte)Citizen Tony: Do you have any heroes?Space Ghost: Pat Sajak! I just love the way he spins that wheel! Have you seen him? He must have an arm like an ape!CT: What happened with your former girlfriend, Ms. Nesbitt?SG: Aaah, she dumped me. We never had that wild monkey love. I'm a stag ghost now.CT: Why have you only enslaved Zorak and Moltar, and no other enemies?SG: Well, you can't enslave everybody, because then, you know, what's the point, Chester? And I don't have to worry about Brak because he is too stupid to carry off an evil plan. Someone will bring in a plate of cookies, and he'll forget what he was doing.CT: Where is the Ghost Planet, anyway?SG: You know where Pluto is? Go to Pluto, take a left.CT: How does Earth compare to the Ghost Planet?SG: It doesn't.CT: You have a late night talk show. What do you think of Oprah and the rest of the daytime talk shows?SG: Oh, I love Oprah. I hope she asks me to go on her show so she can give me a makeover.CT: On Earth, we have something called the lottery where you can win riches and wealth. If you won the lottery, what would you do?SG: I would have all the refried beans in the universe. Then, anybody who would want refried beans would have to come to me and I would deem whether they would be worthy enough to have refried beans.CT: Are refried beans your favorite food?SG: Man, I love those refried beans! How do you think I can fly? SIDEBAR 2: Best Supporting Aliens (SGC2C cast):Space Ghost (Host) - Former superhero of the galaxy. Wears a black hood and yellow cape and conducts late-night talk show where he interviews Earth celebrities. Known for charming them, laughing with them or evaporating them with his power bands.Zorak (Bandleader) - An evil green mantis. One of Space Ghost's former enemies, now enslaved as SG's personal bandleader. He plays the keyboard, frequently hurls insults at the host and constantly schemes to escape. Known for double duty on the spinoff show, Cartoon Planet.Moltar (Director) - Lava man enslaved as SGC2C's director. Also a former enemy, but not as evil-minded as Zorak, though Moltar occasionally pops off to Space Ghost, too. Known for watching CHiPs reruns when intergalactic host isn't looking.Brak (Space Cat Buccaneer) - Yet another former enemy and longtime Council of Doom member. Brak once "went through this field of piranha mites -- piranha-like termites -- and he was half-lobotomized. That explains his stupidity and why he has such a dumb voice," says writer Andy Merrill. Known for his love of franks and beans, cookies and other fine cuisine.Lokar (Extraterrestrial Extraordinaire) - A locust and card-carrying member of the Council of Doom. Boasts a loquacious vocabulary used to intimidate foes and irritate Zorak. "Lokar was really a Hollywood agent," reveals Merrill, "but we haven't milked that storyline yet, so we just gave him a fakey British accent and said he came from Oxford."Tanzit (Space Hi-Jacker) - Occasional visitor and COD member. Known for shouting out random words or whining about some injustice that has been done to him.Metallus (The Robot Master) - A big, dumb walking garbage can with ears and COD member. Known for language that can only be deciphered by Moltar. He doesn't get out much and appears once every 10 episodes or so.The Black Widow (Queen of the Tarantula Pods) - A subtle, but dangerous former enemy. Heads the COD. Known for orchestrating, rather than participating in, COD's evil doings.Jan and Jason (Teenage Sidekicks) - Former personal crime-fighting assistants, not part of current show. "I think they're pretty bitter about it right now, but I think they'll get over it," says producer Keith Crofford.Blip (Space Monkey) - Team mascot in the original episode. Now enjoying royalties on his own personal island where he oversees a banana plantation. Known for cameo appearances.Dino Boy (Ex-partner in crimefighting) - Shared a time slot with Space Ghost and nowÉ "I think Space Ghost has a hard time remembering him, you know?" says Crofford.

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