Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Hot Hero Sandwich — A Second Serving! A Retrospective Interview

 by G. Jack Urso  


An introduction to a retrospective interview of the innovative 1979-1980 Saturday morning children’s TV show Hot Hero Sandwich with Sherry Coben and Patrick McMahon, writer and film editor, respectively, of the series.

The Hot Hero Sandwich sign from the TV set, still lighting up the night in 2023!
 (image courtesy Sherry Coben).

Hot Hero Sandwich is a ten-episode Saturday morning TV series for a preteen/young teen audience that aired on NBC from November 1979 through January 1980. Created by the Emmy Award winning team of Bruce and Carole Hart, Hot Hero Sandwich is often described as a Saturday Night Live approach to children’s educational television. To a degree, that is true. Like SNL, there is a cast of comic actors, funny sketches, and contemporary bands playing their hits, along with a totally awesome house band — the Hot Hero Band. In fact, HHS also shares some cast and crew with SNL.
 
What impressed me about Hot Hero Sandwich as a teenager was how it framed that just surviving the everyday struggles teens face was something “heroic.” As the lyrics to the theme song explain, just getting out of bed and getting to and from school itself can be heroic. Even in the best of times, adolescence is a confusing, frustrating, and lonely experience. Throw in a host of societal problems and family dysfunction, and it becomes nothing less than a Labor of Hercules to survive.

Hot Hero Sandwich aspired to something a bit more than just entertainment. It attempted to reach a difficult demographic — tweens, that shadowy phase between being no longer quite a child and not yet quite a teenager. To a great degree, Hot Hero Sandwich was foiled in its attempt by a network that didn’t quite get the show and who just needed it to prove they had a commitment to children’s programming besides toy commercials thinly disguised as half-hour Saturday morning cartoon shows.

At 15, I was probably a couple years older than the show's target demographic, but the fast-paced mix of elements were hard to resist and given my undiagnosed attention deficit disorder the short segments satisfied my wandering mind. As I also watched Saturday Night Live, the general similarity in the structure of the shows (which also shared some crew members) made it a familiar experience. Admittedly, I was drawn in by the straight-ahead rock of the Hot Hero Band and the musical guests — a nice break while living in the Disco era — but the animation, celebrity interviews, comedy, kid news, and short films kept me watching.

I have previously written about Hot Hero Sandwich in my article Hot Hero Sandwich: The Late 70s TV Teen Scene (ergo the title of this series of articles, “A Second Serving”). Due to its short-lived history, there is little information about the series online. In fact, I really didn’t expect to get much of any response to the post. Yet, I couldn’t have been more mistaken.

As it turns out, that article is one of the most popular on Aeolus 13 Umbra, frequently entering the top ten. Considering the amount of work I had to do researching online, buying back issues of TV Guide, and searching through microfilm in the dusty backrooms at the library, it was very gratifying.

Somewhere along the way, the article found its way to Sherry Coben and Patrick McMahon, who not only worked on Hot Hero Sandwich as writer and film editor, respectively, but later married and were close friends of the Harts. They reached out to me and offered to speak about the show, graciously responding to over two dozen questions (note: McMahon also is credited as an associate producer).

My questions covered everything from their background and the origins of the show, to network involvement, production details, cast and crew notes, the Hot Hero Band, and much more. They also provided some never before published behind-the-scenes photographs as well as caricatures by Coben (a talented artist as well as a writer) of some HHS cast and crew that once decorated the hallways of their offices at Rockefeller Center that summer of 1979 when the series was filmed there. You'll see these scattered throughout the five articles comprising this post.

More than just a history of the show, or even the time period of broadcast history, what we have is a primer of sorts for how a show of this type gets produced. For educators living in the digital multimedia era, it provides insight on how a mix of different media with a unified theme can engage young people. For aspiring performers, it shows the skill set required for ensemble productions. For those interested in the technical side, it not only provides a look at the state-of-the art in 1979, but also at the timeless production challenges in bringing a show together.

As an introduction, please read the initial article: Hot Hero Sandwich: The Late 70s TV Teen Scene. If you’ve previously read the article, I encourage you to read it again as it has been updated with new information from my interview with Coben and McMahon.

The interview is presented in three parts with two addendums:


I want to thank Sherry Coben and Patrick McMahon for reaching out and offering to discuss the history of Hot Hero Sandwich. They provided some behind-the-scenes photos as well as some of Coben's caricatures of the band and the crew dating back to 1979 which you'll see scattered throughout the five posts comprising this article . . . and yes, the photo above is indeed of the original Hot Hero Sandwich sign from the show in its current home as of 2023. 

I hope this helps bring wider attention to an exciting experiment in children’s educational television that deserved a longer run and a stronger commitment from its network, as well as more attention to the work of Bruce and Carol Hart.
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