NEW YORK — After a nearly 30-year hiatus, Davey Hansen and his faithful dog Goliath are back to teach values to a new generation of young people.
The Lutheran church is reviving the 1960s-era animated series for a holiday special, “Davey & Goliath’s Snowboard Christmas,” on the Hallmark Channel Dec. 19. It airs at noon, and will be repeated the same time on the day after Christmas.
If things go well, Goliath’s exasperated “Oh, Davey” will be heard many times again when his master gets into trouble.
The original series was produced from 1960 to ’65 and distributed for free to television stations. Many eagerly aired the 15-minute episodes on Sunday mornings; as public licensees, it was a solid PR move to show wholesome children’s programming with a religious component.
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“If you can find somebody between 40 and 60, they’ll tell you a ‘Davey & Goliath’ story,” said the Rev. Eric Shafer, communications director for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and a key figure in bringing the series back.
Davey was a typically mischievous boy, constantly being helped out of jams by his dog. Goliath spoke (only Davey and the audience could hear him) essentially as Davey’s voice of conscience.
While a Christian show, “Davey & Goliath” soft-pedaled religion behind the constant themes that the love of God and parents were unconditional, Shafer said. In one typical episode, Davey is trapped in a train but comforted by the realization that God is everywhere.
Shafer said he’s received many e-mails from adults with fond memories of the series who say, “when my family wasn’t whole, Davey’s was and it got me through.”
Davey a Gumby cousin?
Ruth Clokey, daughter of a Lutheran minister, and her husband, Art, were the producers. Art created the Gumby character — remembered as much for Eddie Murphy’s “Saturday Night Live” skits as the original shows — and the quirky, stop-action animation that was its signature.
Production of “Davey & Goliath” was discontinued but the Lutheran church funded more episodes made between 1969 and 1971. A handful of specials were also made, the last in 1975. Repeats were a staple on TV until the early 1980s. It mostly disappeared after stations recognized the money they could make by selling advertising for other religious programming, often made by conservative Christians.
Old “Davey & Goliath” episodes would still occasionally pop up on some cable systems until a year or so ago. The Lutherans have moved to stop those airings in advance of putting VHS and DVD compilations on the market.
The church realized that Davey was both a valuable property with resonance for adults who grew up on the series, and an idea that’s still relevant, Shafer said. The characters were licensed for use in a popular soft drink ad, with the proceeds plowed back into the attempt to get the series up and running again.
“Davey & Goliath” was groundbreaking in its promotion of tolerance at the time; Davey was one of the first white television characters to have a black friend, said Joe Clokey, Art and Ruth’s son, who made the new Christmas special. In the show’s second season, one episode showed Davey suspicious of an immigrant shoemaker before learning a lesson of compassion.
Politically correct Davey
The one area in which the old shows feel outdated is in its depiction of women, something that’s addressed in the new special.
In the modern update Davey tries to show off his snowboarding prowess to two friends: Sam, a Jewish boy, and Yasmeen, a Muslim girl.
Along the way, the three children compare their celebrations of Christmas, Hanukkah and Ramadan. They get into some trouble, of course, but it’s all resolved in the end. And Yasmeen wins the snowboarding race.
The lesson of respect for other religions is purposeful. Clokey credited his agent, Patrick Lauerman, for developing the concept in the anguished days following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Clokey is concerned that the message that God loves all people has been lost amid more judgmental religious fare.
“The church wanted it to be about love and tolerance, and that’s not the face of Christianity in America,” he said. “In the ’60s and ’70s, Christianity was more of a liberal faction. There are still millions of liberal Christians who go to church, but they are not represented on TV anymore.”
Shafer said “Davey & Goliath” is “very much an interfaith show about the oneness of the three faces of Abraham.”
If the Hallmark special is a success, Shafer said he would like make others, with the eventual goal of making “Davey & Goliath” a regular series again.
It’s a labor of love for Clokey, whose parents are both still alive. Art is 83, and worked on the special, coming up with a key plot point. Ruth, however, suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.
She had a rare moment of clarity when her son took her to the studio to see the new “Davey & Goliath” being created and Art asked if she remembered any of it.
“I remember that was a lot of work,” she replied.
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