Monday, September 21, 2009
My favorite fan letter
An autograph Robert Axelrod mailed to me in 1995. Hallo Spencer is seen at the left, and Elmer, Robert's character, is on the right.
My favorite television program is one most people have never heard of. It's called The Hallo Spencer Show and aired (in the United States) from 1993 to 1994. I mention the United States because the show, titled simply Hallo Spencer, was a long-running program in Germany, airing from 1979 until 2001. To put it in a few words, the show was essentially Germany's answer to the Muppets, and it focused on the goings-on of a small village inhabited by a cast of diverse characters (running the gamut from a dragon who lives in a crater to a pair of twin girls who share a houseboat together).
In the early 1990s, Saban imported the show to the U.S. and made a few changes (shaving several minutes off each episode and incorporating a rap that was sung by Hallo at the end of every show, "wrapping" it up).
While most hard-core fans (naturally) find the German version superior, I don't. Not at all. I've seen several of them on YouTube and have been left cold each time. For me, Hallo Spencer can only be voiced by Tom Wyner, Elmer (not Elvis!) can only be voiced by Robert Axelrod, Grumpowski can only be voiced by Mike Reynolds, etc., or else it's not the real thing.
I discovered the program in the fall of 1993, and it quickly became one of my favorites. The show was well-written (it remains the cleverest "children's" show ever written, in my humble opinion), the voice cast was perfectly selected for each character (which is one of the reasons I was surprised to learn the show was originally made in Germany. I always thought the characters were created with the American voice actors in mind!), the music was charming, and, to this day, watching an episode can always bring me out of a bad mood.
Fast forward to September 1994. School is about to resume, and by this time, I had seen and taped virtually every episode of The Hallo Spencer Show. However, on my first day of school, I decided to set my VCR's timer to record the show during its usual time slot on WGN. I loved watching the show after coming home from school, and I was curious to see which episode aired on my first day of 8th grade. Well, I got home, checked the tape, and discovered that Hallo no longer occupied its old time slot. In fact, it no longer occupied any time slot. It had been taken off the air. Of course, I was disappointed, but I was mostly relieved that I taped all but one episode (to my knowledge, anyway), so the show wouldn't just be a pleasant memory for me.
In December of '94, I started thinking about all this again, and I decided to write a letter to Saban, letting them know that, while the show may not have lasted very long, it had at least one dedicated fan. I had no idea whom to address the letter to, and after looking at the show's credits, decided that the producer, Eric Rollman, would be the most relevant person. I mailed the letter to Saban and had no idea what to expect.
The response I got was nothing short of overwhelming. Tom Wyner, the voice of Hallo Spencer himself, gave me a call. We chatted on the phone for a while had several subsequent conversations. I also received a letter from Robert Axelrod, who voiced Elmer, Hallo's sidekick. In his letter, Robert explained that he came to work to do voice-over work for The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (on which he voiced Lord Zedd) when Scott Page, Power Rangers' ADR director, showed him a photocopy of my letter. Suffice it to say, Robert was touched by my letter and confirmed to me what I already thought, that the cast and crew of Hallo Spencer loved the show and considered it a favorite project. Interestingly enough, I later asked Robert how often he saw fan mail through Saban, and he said that the voice actors virtually never saw any. I don't know how it did it, but I'm extremely thankful my letter made it through!