The Great Saturday Morning Experience

Actor Spotlight: Robbie Rist

The 1973-1974 TV season brought an end to two iconic family sitcoms. That year the fourth and final season of “The Partridge Family” and the fifth and final season of “The Brady Bunch” premiered. Both shows felt since the kids on the shows were getting a little long in the tooth that perhaps new cute blood was needed. “The Partridge Family” addressed this with the addition of a cute little long haired neighbor boy who had a talent for singing. At least somebody thought he was cute and had a talent for singing but Ricky Segal only appeared on ten of the first twelve episodes and was absent the rest of the season. He went on to provide additional voices for such Saturday morning cartoons as  “Scooby-Doo and Scrappy Doo”, “Trollkins”, “Ri¢hie Ri¢h”, Shirt Tales” and “Monchhichis”.

“The Brady Bunch” decided to bring in a relative in the form of cousin Oliver, Carol Brady’s nephew, played by Robbie Rist, with the twist that he believed he was a jinx. It turned out he was a jinx of sorts as he didn’t even manage ten episodes, appearing in only six. To be fair, they were the last six episodes of the series as opposed to Ricky being on at the beginning of “The Partridge Family’s” last go round, but the series wasn’t renewed for a sixth season, causing the character of cousin Oliver to be branded a show killer whether fair or not.

Robbie Rist on the other hand found plenty of life after Brady despite not being around for many of their future incarnations. He was quite the prolific child actor having appeared in episodes of both “Love American Style”, and “Emergency” before “The Brady Bunch”.  After cavorting around the Astroturf with Bobby and Cindy, Robbie appeared in a prime time show with David Hartman called “Lucas Tanner”. He also appeared in three episodes of “The Bionic Woman”,  showed up on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, “What’s Happening”, “Medical Center”, “Lou Grant”, “Lucan”, a couple of “ABC Afterschool Specials”, Trapper John, M.D., “Galactica 1980”, “CHiPs”, “One Day at a Time”, “Knight Rider”, and of course “The Love Boat”.

Robbie on “The Brady Bunch”/”The Mary Tyler Moore Show”/”Lucas Tanner”/”Galactica 1980″/”Knight Rider”

As for his Saturday morning work, it might not have been that prolific, but he did provide us with a couple of memorable roles. Not long after “The Brady Bunch”, Robbie appeared on “Run, Joe, Run” playing Mike in the episode called Sunken Treasure. He falls in the water and is then found with a cache of valuable jewels. That sounds more like a plot for a “Flipper” episode instead of one about a German Shepherd, but there you go.

A few years later came his own show on Saturday morning called “Big John, Little John” in which he played half the title character, Little John Martin. Herb Edelman plays the other half, Big John, who is a middle aged school teacher that finds the fountain of youth and takes a drink. That’s what makes him shrink. Seriously, it’s in the opening credits.

This was many years before the morphing video technique came into play so they had to do an old school morph of Big John changing into Little John. He never knows when he’ll turn into his younger self or when he’ll turn back which of course causes all kinds of hilarity with his family and students. If this sounds like something from the mind of “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Brady Bunch” creator Sherwood Schwartz, it’s probably because he was the producer. He and his son Lloyd each wrote an episode. You have to admit as Saturday morning sitcoms go; this was a particularly good premise.

Herb Edelman you’ll recognize as having a very lengthy career having been in movies like “Barefoot in the Park”, “The Odd Couple” (where he played Murray), and “California Suite”.  He also popped up on numerous TV shows like “That Girl”, “The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.”, “The Flying Nun”, “Bewitched”, “Ironside”, “The Partridge Family”, “Love, American Style”, “Maude” “Welcome Back Kotter”, “CHiPs”, “Charlie’s Angels”, “Fantasy Island”, “Cagney & Lacey”, and “Matlock”. He costarred with Bob Denver in “The Good Guys” and had multiple appearances on many shows such as “The Love Boat”, “Thirtysomething”, “The Bradys”, “St. Elsewhere”, “Knots Landing”, “The Golden Girls”, and “Murder, She Wrote”.

Robbie on “Run Joe Run”/”Magic Mongo”/”Big John, Little John”/”Kidd Video”

After “Big John, Little John”, Robbie showed up on the”Magic Mongo” segment of “The Krofft Supershow playing Hermie, in the episode Hermie the Frog. A few years later, no longer a child actor at age twenty, Robbie played a teenage character named Whiz on the show “Kidd Video”, in which a young rock band gets taken to a cartoon world where music is used to fight off the villains who want to make them their musical slaves. This was during the mid 1980s and was quite possibly the golden age of music videos. They actually would play current music videos of the day in the program. In this show Robbie got to play both live action, and an animated character as well as put to use his musician skills as the band would get to be in their own video on each episode. Whiz played both guitar and keyboards for the band.

“Big John Little John” was put out on an official DVD set. There was also a jigsaw puzzle and a coloring book among its show related merchandise.  DIC video did put out some episodes of “Kidd Video” on VHS. You might be able to find on some knockoff DVDs of the program out there somewhere. With those it’s always a good thing to keep in mind what Mike Brady used to say; caveat emptor.

Robbie Rist through the ages

Robbie has been very busy providing voice over work in video games for the last couple of decades as well as many animated shows (most notably “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”) and still pops up in front of the camera every now and then but we at the Great Saturday morning experience will always remember him for showing us that kids weren’t just viewers of Saturday TV but could be stars of it as well.

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