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My best friend and confidant Bill Reiter has asked me to write a short bio on the Canadian children’s television program Zig Zag. First of all, in my opinion, it wasn’t a kid’s show. It may have been children’s programming in the beginning when it was co-hosted by radio and television personality Terry David Mulligan and his bubbly photogenic co-host Susanne McLellan, but it eventually turned into something a little more adultly foolish. When Susanne left the show to pursue a quite successful career in the burgeoning Hollywood North film scene, she was replaced by the equally enthusiastic Marilyn Smith. Both these early alumni’s post-Zig Zag show business pursuits have led to long-lived careers. I recently saw the still beautiful Ms. Smith on a Vancouver talk show during a nation-wide book tour promoting her latest tome. I’ve consistently enjoyed her television commercials. Terry Mulligan has re-invented himself over and over again, and now has a wealth of radio and television production credits, both in-front-of and behind the lens (microphone). I recently enjoyed him on CTV’s Robson Arms.

Terry David Mulligan

Along with Reiter, and in an effort to keep above-the-line costs down, BCTV management employed many of its own "straighter" on-air personalities in Zig Zag cameos. These appearances became a highlight of the show. John McKeachie, Bernie Pascall, Tony Parsons and Deborra Hope showed their zany sides in unexpected comedy bits. Talented staffers Steve Bucek and Rubin Landers also answered the Zig Zag call. After a couple of seasons doing comedy drop-ins, Bill finally joined Mulligan as full time co-host but it wasn’t until a young Saskatchewan-born stand-up comedian named Rick Ducommun came into the fold that Zig Zag rounded out to the 1980’s Canadian cult-TV classic it’s known as today.

The main man in Zig Zag’s world though was Ross Sullivan. On-staff producer of mostly BCTV sports programming, Sullivan was the brains behind the front-of-camera idiocy. As the show’s producer/director, he let the actor’s wits wander and allowed them to play the fool wherever they wanted. It was Sullivan, who as a fan of Reiter’s comedic talent, brought Bill into the fray. “Fortunately for me”, as Reiter has said, because his full-time hiring came just as a very successful 9 year run with CBC Radio’s popular comedy show Dr. Bundolo’s Pandemonium Medicine Show ended. With no budget but plenty of innovative ideas, Sullivan molded and improved the Zig Zag show each of its eight seasons. It was Ross Sullivan who saw the mad-cap energy and creativeness of Rick Ducommun when shooting at Rick’s roller-skate shop on Denman Street.

Bill Reiter

Soon afterwards, Rick and Ross formulated the idea of a show within the main show. The Biff and Bart Show became a three to five minute segment introduced by two hand held puppets named Little Biff and Little Bart. “I’m Biff”. “I’m Bart”. “We think we’re pretty smart” sang Biff (Reiter) and Bart (Ducommun) while they worked their respective mini-me puppets, hands stuffed up. Invariably, as the overweight “puppeteers” crouched unprofessionally behind their show’s desk, they’d be “seen” by the camera prompting their manic appearance. Reiter has said that watching Rick work opened his mind’s door to the possibility of an easier way to write comedy. Before that, Reiter found more often than not, it was difficult for him to bridge the gap between comedic idea and written comedy fulfillment.

Zig Zag Team Circa 1988 Working with Ducommun showed Bill that he was making the writing of humour too complicated. Reiter had to, more simply and confidently, write what his brain was telling him. Since his “tutelage” by the then thirteen year younger Ducommun, Reiter has strengthened his career with writing which now includes, among other things, well over a thousand radio and television commercials, 99% of them comedy. Unfortunately, near the end of the second season their co-starring ended.A growing hostility culminating in an on-set disagreement between Bill and Rick while cameras discreetly “shot the ceiling” ended any possibility of the two continuing together as Zig Zag partners. Mr. Cool & Nerdo, two other Reiter/Ducommun characters, would be no more.

In the years following, other successful and talented comedic actors joined Bill until the program ended its run in the late 1980s. “Ended” may be a misnomer. The show continued in re-runs well into the 1990’s. Worldwide syndication during that period also made it a sales winner for the BCTV mother ship.

Zig Zag has been called an adult comedy show in the guise of a kid’s TV series. Ross Sullivan was responsible for this. With the help of dedicated crews and performers led by Terry David Mulligan and Bill Reiter, he made it a show that featured, as regulars, some of The Great White North’s very gifted comic performers such as Valri Bromfield, Norm Grohmann, Nicola Cavendish and Ryan Stiles . All became an integral part of this adult kid’s show.

Zig Zag
bio by Frederich Hende, former host of CBC radio’s Nightfall – March, 2007

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