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The Uncle Ducky Show
Celebrating 25 years of spontaneous mayhem
By Jim Mount
Fort Wayne Reader
In the Studio Control Room at Access Fort Wayne, a clip of a steam engine locomotive pulling a train plays on the monitor. It is one of a few that are being considered for a skit segment called the “Mail Train” for the Uncle Ducky Show. The idea is to announce an on-air “mail-call” by way of the video (which will be framed by the farmhouse set window) and it is just one of many ideas utilized to make the show unique.
Over the years, Public Access has had literally thousands of shows produced and broadcast from their studio headquarters at the ACPL. Many shows have had their run and passed by the wayside but many have survived as well and have built up their own iconic stature in the cultural landscape of Fort Wayne. One of these shows is the Uncle Ducky Show. Started in October of 1984 and celebrating 25 years, the show is still being produced and broadcast regularly at Access Fort Wayne.
The Uncle Ducky Show is the brainchild of Doug Wylie, a soft spoken locomotive engineer for Norfolk and Southern. But for many folks in Fort Wayne he's “Uncle Ducky,” hosting a show populated with a plethora of characters played by friends and associates. There's “Persey the Paranoid Hand Sock Puppet” performed by Fred Motley, who also does “Moo-Moo the Cow” and “Ponzini the Groundhog,” a puppet who Wylie says is always present and provides the show with playful sarcasm.
There is also Professor Von Snicker Doodle (Jim Courtney) who Wylie describes as “an Emit Kelly kind of clown who talks like a cool hippie and who doesn't think he is a clown.” There is also “Mr. McHenry” (Andy Hammer), a talking portrait with moving eyes and whose spot on the set wall alternates from time to time with the portrait of his wife Mrs. McHenry (Wylie calls the McHenry painting a “Tim Johnson original”, given to Wylie by Johnson, a student at the Fort Wayne School of Art in 1983. It has been with the show ever since). Wylie describes the McHenry character as “a friend of mine from the Bronx who just happens to be a wall painting and isn't afraid to say what he thinks.”
Rounding out the core ensemble of characters are “Nurse Dee-Dee” (Dee Motley) the registered Nurse, the resident Elvis impersonator (Joe Church) and “Miss Manners” (Julianne Hyde) a strict character that Wylie describes as representing the “principal you don't want to cross paths with. When she enters the set she is sometimes accompanied by the sound of marching footsteps and looking out the window of the set piece we'll have a still photo of marching soldiers. She makes Uncle Ducky uneasy and she knows it.”
Two original characters, “Mr. Frankfooter” (Tony Talarrico) and “Dr. Clarence X” (Clarence Egts) have passed away and are remembered with a framed photo in the farmhouse.
Currently on its 25 year run, The Uncle Ducky Show has been especially fortunate in its longevity and has been in the national spotlight on more than one occasion. In 1985, clips of Uncle Ducky were shown on the Today Show with Debra Norville on a piece about cable access TV in America and in October of 1987, Doug Wylie was introduced on the Late Show with David Letterman. The Uncle Ducky Show has also been the recipient of four Cable Access awards in Denver, San Francisco, Dallas and Boston and these successes can be attributed to Wylie and company's “just having fun” attitude towards the show. “The Uncle Ducky Show to me is nothing more than a spoof of itself.” Wylie says. “You have to realize that I have such a regard for what is funny, true funny being hard to do, that I feel that we are more silly than anything. Silly is much different than funny, none of us are comedians, although Elvis, Miss Manners and Ponzini seem to come up with some nice ad-libs and barbs.”
“Funny is comical. Silly is foolishness but because of our haplessness, we can cause amusement. We're just spoofing ourselves, we get the joke.”
In developing his philosophy of performing, Wylie learned from an interview he did with Youtheatre’s Harvey Cocks, that as a performer, you have to be either lovable or likable. “I never forgot that sage advice,” Wylie says. “Every character on our show is likable, even Miss Manners.”
Over the span of the years, the show has accrued an impressive array of characters demonstrating a very active and prolific imagination in keeping the show going for so long. So where did Wylie get the idea for his show to begin with?
As Wylie relates it, the show derives its original inspiration from Captain Kangaroo. As a kid growing up in Toronto, Wylie, like thousands of others, was drawn to Bob Keeshans' landmark TV show. He remembers in particular “Grandfather Clock”, a talking clock character that would later serve as a template for Mr. McHenry. Other shows that captured the imagination of young Doug Wylie was Shock Theater on WABC-TV, Channel 10 in New York. “But it was really Schlock Theater with ‘Zacherely, The Cool Ghoul’ and even then as a youngster I recognized the show as being a spoof of itself.”
Over the span of its long run, The Uncle Ducky Show has seen a lot of changes and some of the more recent ones involve the show turning into more of a “quirky talent show.” “Today, the show is also a vehicle for talent to be seen on their community cable access TV channel,” Wylie says. “If someone wants to come on the set and show their pet turtle, welcome to our farmhouse. We're a safe environment and would never demean a guest. All we ask is that the guest be civil and refrain from profanity.”
When asked about the iconic stature of The Uncle Ducky Show, Wylie demurs, saying “I don't consider our show an icon, it's just one of the many shows produced at the Access center, no better, no worse, just another Access show. Many who produce shows at the Access center put in as much time and effort into their shows as we do; their shows are just different. So the description I would offer of the show is basically that ‘it's a disaster of a show but boy do we have fun doing it,’ and I think the audience recognizes that.”