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Discovery laughs about sharks; PBS gives us Jonathan Winters

Friday, August 18, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

There's nothing like a little gross-out humor to make educational TV go down easy.

The producers of Discovery Channel's "Kenny the Shark" know that. In the first scene of this live-action special, viewers learn sharks throw up what they can't digest. Next we see a suburban father slip on the floor of his kitchen due to vomit left by Kenny, the six-foot tiger shark that lives in a spare bedroom.

Filmed from Kenny's point of view, the shark is never seen. Instead the star is Matt, played by 7-year-old Spencer Breslin, star of the Disney movie "The Kid." Matt's agitated father threatens to throw Kenny out, but Matt convinces him Kenny can get a job and earn his keep. But Kenny (sarcastically voiced by commercial actor Paul Spencer) will have none of it.

"I don't need a job," Kenny says. "I don't need anything, except maybe the occasional house pet."

But Matt convinces Kenny he needs to work. They head to Ms. Nastione's employment agency, but they're followed by a crazed shark hunter named Quint. The shark hunter aspect of this story is pretty lame, but when the focus is on Kenny and Matt, the show shines.

Kenny just doesn't excel at the job of delivering papers, hurling them over houses instead of to the front porch. (No, he did not previously work for the Post-Gazette.)

"Delivering papers just isn't for me," Kenny says. "Delivering fatal bites, well, that's a different story."

Last month at the TV critics press tour in Pasadena, Calif., Discovery Channel executives said they hope to make "Kenny the Shark" a weekly series if this special generates high enough ratings and a positive response.

Spencer Breslin said he learned more about sharks while making this special.

"I didn't know sharks could shove their stomachs out of their mouths," Breslin said.

"Hey, we only do that very occasionally," responded Kenny's disembodied voice.

"Kenny the Shark" airs tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. on Discovery Channel.

'Jonathan Winters: On the Loose'

(7 p.m. tomorrow on WQED/WQEX)

Robin Williams pays due homage to the one comedian who may be zanier than he is in "Jonathan Winters: On the Loose," a PBS pledge month special.

"On the Loose" tells the bare bones essentials of Winters' life story, emphasizing his style of humor, mostly in clips from mid-'60s talk shows.

Last month at press tour, Winters praised Williams. The two worked together on the sitcom "Mork & Mindy" where Williams' Mork played father to Winters' Mearth.

"Robin is, without a doubt, one of the most talented guys," Winters said. "I never enjoyed myself more working on any show than I did working with Robin."

Winters said he'd like to work with Williams again, but so far they have no projects lined up.

"I've got all kinds of ideas, but he's a very busy guy and he's doing as many as three, maybe four pictures a year, it seems like," Winters said. "And so it's hard, and he's got an entourage of people around him.

At 74, Winters won't be able to wait around for Williams long. That may sound a touch morbid, but so is "On the Loose," which features his daughter talking about how she'll miss Winters when he's gone.

Winters gets into the death act, too.

"In lieu of a stone, I want a parking meter and you'll feed it a quarter and I'll say something funny like, 'Don't step on me, I'll get out,' " Winters said.

This one-hour program comes punctuated with pledge breaks, and Winters does his best to assist the PBS beggars.

"Friends like you made it possible for this to happen," he says. "You're all guilty."

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