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WGN-TV To Air 'Bozo's Circus: The Lost Tape'

WGN-TV will soon be broadcasting footage from a pair long-lost episodes of "Bozo's Circus," which has not been seen on the station or anywhere in over four decades. Those 1971 episodes have been turned into a hour-long special entitled, "Bozo's Circus: The Lost Tape."

WGN-TV's "Bozo's Circus" is regarded as among the greatest children's shows in television history. The show was produced in Chicago from 1960-2001. It was originally titled simply "Bozo" and ended with the titles "The Bozo Show" and "The Bozo Super Sunday Show." However, for most of its historic run, from September 1961 until August 1980, the show was "Bozo's Circus." The show was so incomprehensibly popular that tickets to be in the audience for the show had a waiting period of well over ten years.

Thousands of episodes of "Bozo's Circus" were aired, yet only a handful exist anymore, as the shows were not archived for future use. Up until recently, it was believed that no episodes from the late 1960s to early 1970s survived. That changed earlier this summer.

In late May, Rick Klein, the curator and founder of the Museum of Classic Chicago Television, was dealing with Ruta Abolins, Director of the Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, searching for rare television videos, including the recently discovered "BJ & Dirty Dragon" episode and some classic "Snipets" shorts. While going through the list of archives of the Peabody's, Klein discovered a 1971 Peabody Award entry submission by WGN-TV for "Bozo's Circus." That submission contained a great deal of footage from two 1971 episodes of "Bozo's Circus," contained on a 2" quadruplex videotape. While it may not have won a Peabody Award that year, the submission tape was kept well-preserved within the Peabody Awards' archives.

Rick Klein then contacted George Pappas, Senior Programming Coordinator at WGN Television (and the current man behind the Bozo makeup at parades, grand openings, and special events that WGN-TV participates in), letting the station know of the incredible find.

This summer, WGN-TV and Tribune Broadcasting began the process to obtain a copy of the old Peabody submission (which had already been transferred from the 2" quadruplex videotape content to a modern and more usable format), along with obtaining permission from the Larry Harmon Pictures Corp., the copyright holders of all things "Bozo," so that these rare videos can be broadcast once again.

Everything worked out well for WGN-TV. The video tape was in pristine condition and permission was granted. The end result will soon be a primetime special, "Bozo's Circus: The Lost Tape."

This 60-minute special will feature the 1971 footage from the recently discovered tape. It stars the classic line-up of Bob Bell as Bozo the Clown, Roy Brown as Cooky the Clown, Ned Locke as Ringmaster Ned, and Bob Trendler and his 13-piece Big Top Band. It is believed that this footage is the earliest known to exist of Roy Brown as Cooky, who joined the show three years earlier. It also may be the earliest known footage of Bozo in his blue-colored costume, having switched from his red one the year before. The footage is just months after Ray Rayner, as the clown named Oliver O. Oliver, exited the show. The shows in 1971 were written and produced by the late Norm Nowicki, who produced the show for four years and worked on nearly every single episode of Chicago's "Bozo" broadcasts in one capacity or another.

The new Bozo special will be hosted by Dean Richards, who also hosts WGN-TV's most popular, reoccurring special, "Bozo, Gar and Ray," which also features rare "Bozo's Circus" footage.

Not all of what was found on the 1971 Peabody Award submission tape will air on the special. A few scenes, including a Bozo cartoon and a guest xylophone act, will be shown on the WGNTV.com website at a later date, at the end of December or early January. Being added to the special will be other rare footage of "Bozo's Circus" home video clips from the later 1970s, as well as some holiday-themed segments.

"Bozo's Circus: The Lost Tape" will air on WGN-TV on Sunday, December 9th from 7:00pm-8:00pm. At the same time, the special will stream live on the Internet for the world to see on WGNTV.com. For those who miss the broadcast on December 9th, the special will be rebroadcast on WGN-TV on Christmas Day, December 25th at 11:00am, and will also stream again on the station's website. Additionally, "Bozo's Circus: The Lost Tape" will be shown on the Tribune Broadcasting-owned retro television network, Antenna TV on Saturday, December 15th at 7:00pm and Sunday, December 23rd at Noon. Antenna TV airs locally on WGN-TV's digital sub-channel 9.2. The special will not air nationally on Antenna TV or WGN America.

This December, Chicago can once again enjoy the answer to the burning question, "Who's your favorite clown...?"

Updated 9:00pm with additional and corrected information.

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