UNCLE FLOYD VIVINO:
The Last Of The Old-Style Kiddie Shows
By Anthony Buccino
" My idea of fun is to call neighbors over to see who can make Jiffy Pop without starting a fire," Floyd tells the studio visitors.
He may not be able to match Superman's speed, but Floyd Vivino is unquestionably a force to be reckoned with.
His popular "Uncle Floyd" television show, now in its 11th year, bears two distinctions: It has raised more money than any other show on New Jersey Public Television, and, in 1983, it became the only show in the history of television to appear in one year on an independent station, in syndication, on local cable, on pay television an on public television.
Sandwiched between the 7 p.m. news and the lottery drawing at 7:57 (it's repeated at 11 p.m.), The Uncle Floyd Show is the last of the old-style kiddie shows.
There are nonsense skits where everything goes wrong - as planned. There are the oldest, corniest jokes that anyone can remember. There are puppets and mime for kids and double-entendre for adults. Vivino plays the piano and displays pictures from fans.
The show has been, and always will be, run on a shoe-string. It is filmed continuously, stopping only for technical reasons. There are virtually no rehearsals, an no chances to do it over again. What the cast members do is what the home viewers see.
The fact that the average age of the viewers is 29 speaks for the broad appeal of the show's humor.
There are two reasons for the show's continuing popularity, according to Jeffrey Friedman, manager at Newark TeleProduction Center, where the shows are produced. One is that the show is "different" from anything else on regular television.
"The other draw is Floyd's personal appeal. People all think they know him. He IS the same offstage as on," Friedman said.
It was Friedman who suggested to Hendrix F.C. Niemann, executive director/general manager of NJPTV, that the time was right to bring the show to the New Jersey Network.
He apparently was right; the show has received more than 5,000 cards, letters and pictures since it premiered on Oct. 31. It has also drawn the most successful response from viewers who support the station and the show with contributions.
Vivino, producer, creator and star of the show, grew up in Paterson and studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and the American Mime Theater, both in New York.
Vivino's personality and interaction with the fans are central to the show's success.
Radio personality Bruce "Cousin Brucie" Morrow, who appeared on the show in April , said that "talent depends on freedom. Floyd in this format has the freedom to control the show."
"Floyd is a fan of mine, and I am a fan of his," Morrow said. "Every time a show I am on reruns, I get a great response. I enjoy doing this show. I have a good time - that's important."
Vivino's banter with the studio audience between scenes reminds his fans why they've come.
"My idea of fun is to call neighbors over to see who can make Jiffy Pop without starting a fire," Floyd tells the visitors.
Skip Rooney asks, from out of nowhere, "Did you take the cardboard cover off?"
Vivino's car is also a legend among his fans. It recently lost its third transmission at 205,000 miles. Vivino called the automaker. "My warranty expired?" he asked in seeming surprise.
Another reason for the show's success is the cast.
Mugsy, whose real name is a secret, likes to "keep up the energy" of the show with the other regulars: Scott Gordon, Skip Rooney and Weenie.
It's "good to see things go wrong," Mugsy said. He fears that the show will get too slick if everyone makes a lot of money.
The cast can state "in touch with reality" better than if they earned mega bucks, said Mugsy pointing to the original "Saturday Night Live" show.
Mugsy adds to the musical talent of the show. His parodies of popular musicians include "Neil Yuk," "Bob Dilly" and "John Cougar Mellonhead."
Art Rooney is an intelligent, well-spoken professional - but as Loony Skip Rooney, he goes crazy. In character, Rooney fires one-liners and has an infectious laugh that drowns out the studio audience.
Scott Gordon is the perfect straight man, according to Mugsy.
Gordon appears in one skit as F. Scott Fitzgumball, a man in the fifth year of "seventeen-year flu" who is welcomed to "The Larry Bling Show," a radio call-in program.
Vivino plays Bling, who is plagued by annoying phone calls placed by the many voices of Mugsy.
The cast is rounded out by semi-regular Netto, the show's token space cadet, and Weenie, a young actress who is a relative newcomer to the show. Bob Leafe is the show's official photographer and shot the album cover for the show's record, now a premium for donations to NJPTV.
Visitors come from far and wide to sit in on the show's tapings. "Anyone can come in here at 9 a.m. but it's a real fan who stays to noon," Vivino said, referring to the fact that three shows are taped in a morning.
First published in The Herald-News, August 8, 1984
Vivino's first television show, "Uncle Floyd & His Friends" debuted on January 29, 1974, on UA Columbia Network serving much of Northern New Jersey. Later that same year he was featured entertainer on the station's first telethon. In November 1974, the show moved from the cable network to WBTB-TV, Chanel 68 in West Orange, NJ. The show aired on various stations until 1998.
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New Jersey author Anthony Buccino's stories of the 1960s, transit coverage and other writings earned four Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism awards.
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