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WB’s “Umptee-3” has Norman Lear’s signature

All those who were worried that FCC’s educational requirements for children’s TV were going to spawn a dreadful batch of pedantic shows should be able to breath a sigh of relief when WB’s “Channel Umptee-3” debuts this fall.

Created by veteran animator Jim George, with sitcom veteran Norman Lear and John Baskin of Act III on board as executive producers, the new series revolves around a zany band of pirates who broadcast material considered too weird for regular television in the “white space” between channels.

“I got sick of hearing other people and myself complaining about what’s wrong with Saturday morning TV shows,” says the show’s executive producer and writer George. “So, I came up with the idea for this new show — If you were to take ‘Rocky and Bullwinkle,’ mix it up with Jim Henson in a soup of Warner Bros., you’d get ‘Channel Umptee-3.’ ”

The production, which features an impressive group of veteran voice actors — including Jonathan Harris (“Lost in Space”), Alice Ghostley (“Designing Women”) David Paymer (“Quiz Show”) and Rob Paulsen (“Pinky & the Brain”) — uses sitcom storylines, bright colors and off-the-wall characters to teach young viewers about the world in which they live.

The premiere season’s 13 episodes also offer educational-type info about topics such as music, laughter, sleep patterns, and the reasons people lie or stick with the truth.

“We are not so presumptuous to think we will do anything more than entertain,” says Norman Lear. “but considering the impact TV can have on the formulation of values, opinions and knowledge, we hope to stimulate children’s imaginations and challenge their thought process.”

George is hoping that, like “The Simpsons” or “Pinky and the Brain,” the show will attract viewers in a wide range of age groups. He notes, “I’ve been driving the marketing people crazy because we’ve got material that’s going to appeal to the grandparents as well as the grandkids.”

So what comes first, the FCC educational requirement or the entertainment quotient? “I pitched the show just the way I envisioned it — hoping to create something that was fresh and wacky — and they bought it on the floor. It just happens that at the end of the half-hour, kids will end up learning something, as well as having been entertained. Those two things shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.”

Incidentally, the villains of the “Channel Umptee-3” are anti-creative creatures called Frumps, who wear gray suits and love putting everything in boxes. George admits, “I based them on all the people in my life who said ‘no’ to me!”

“Channel Umptee-3” premieres 8 a.m. Oct. 11 on the WB Network in the U.S.

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