The 90s were a weird time. We liked wearing loud, baggy clothing, new jack swing style music, not knowing what the internet was and a little learnin’ with our cartoons.
Okay, not really.
Back in 1990 Congress passed the Children’s Television Act which basically mandated that networks have certain time allotted to educational programming. In 1996, the FCC decided to start enforcing the Children’s Television Act by requiring a certain percentage of “informative” and “educational” programs within a channel lineup.
Part of the KidsWB! programming poked fun at that, like Animaniacs, and Tiny Toon Adventures. With segments like “Wakko’s America”, “Yakko’s World”, and the wheel of morality, they created educational segments without making the show entirely about fancy book learning.
Fast forward to 1998 when the WB introduced another show in the Spielberg/Rugger collaboration department, Histeria!, a show that could best be described as what would happen if you took Freakazoid, split him into 13 personalities and forced him to narrate history. It’s better than it sounds.
The premise itself was simple: let’s break down historical events into comedic segments that educate and entertain without being heavy handed in the education aspect. Father Time, who acted as the show’s host, would introduce the Year the particular segment took place along with the historical event that was taking place. From there, the historical figure would be merged with the caricature from (at the time) current pop culture. Think of it as an animated SNL loosely based on history, because a lot of the information they presented wasn’t exactly historically accurate.
The cast itself played similar roles in every sketch, but they made them funny/humorous. We were never meant to see these characters “grow”, they were basically a mouthpiece for how the animators wanted to tell a story.
Each episode revolves around a theme: like The Civil War, US Presidents, Inventors, etc. They would typically set up a sketch with the date and the person of importance leading to either an Animaniacs style sketch where the person in question gets annoyed into brilliance by the Kids Chorus (more on them later). Sometimes you’d get infomercial style sketches, like “The Hits of the 60s, the 1860s” where they listed off the battles of the Civil War and the order the Confederate States seceded. There was also a sketch revolving around trying to create a Richard Nixon style Teddy Bear that spout off phrases like “I am not a crook”. Or an Abe Lincoln Seinfeld style sketch featuring General McClellan as George Costanza, Allan Pinkerton as Kramer and Jefferson Davis as Newman. The episode about US Presidents featured a sketch with Dwight D. Eisenhower peddling a hair restore product.
A few reoccurring segments included, Pepper Mills a teenager who ALWAYS confused the historical person with someone of (then) modern day pop culture relevance, hosting a show called “Pepper’s Pep Rally”. For instance she mixes up Calvin Coolidge (U.S. President, 1923-29) with Coolio (rapper), General Patton for Elmer Fudd, etc.
“Ask Me If I Care” where stoner/surfer guy Toast hosted a talk show where his guest was a historical figure who would rattle off their accomplishments. You could probably guess Toast’s response. The show was also rife with songs performed by The Chorus Kids to give a quick recap on the profiled character’s historical importance, usually to pad segments between sketches.
The show got buried and overlooked for a number of reasons:
- It followed up slam dunk classics like Tiny Toon Adventures, and Animaniacs as well as cult classics like Freakazoid!
- The KidsWB! was on its way out the door, beginning the merge process with UPN to become the CW
- Most WB properties were shipped to Cartoon Network, airing there
- It was apparently very expensive to produce and therefore didn’t last long.
Admittedly the show wasn’t as polished as its predecessors and lacked some of the wit that shows like Freakazoid were packed with. While there were plenty of laugh worthy moments in the show, they didn’t have you in stitches like so many of the others. If you’ve never watched, it’s worth the try if you were a fan of the old 90’s Spielberg cartoons.