Noel MacNeal of Nickelodeon’s Eureeka’s Castle interview

If you were a kid in the late 80s and were tuning into Nick Jr to watch the live action puppet series Eureeka’s Castle you’re in luck! This was a very influential movement for Nickelodeon as it was the very first Nick Jr show to be aimed at small children aged 3-6. Nick Jr is still riding high today and is still invested teaching  educational values among young children. Noel MacNeal, who famously voiced and managed the puppets of Magellan and Webster, had a certainly good time on the show and had lots of fun times at Nickelodeon Studios. You can read our excerpt of our interview below. Thanks to Noel for his participation and please see his website to find out additional info on him! http://noelmacneal.com/

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  1. How did you become involved with Eureeka’s Castle?

Nickelodeon approached the puppet company, 3 Design Studio (Jim Kroupa, John Orberg, & Matt Stoddart), to create the characters, back in 1988. During the late summer/early fall of that year, I was working with 3 Design on the motion picture LITTLE MONSTERS (starring Fred Savage and Howie Mandel). They told me about the show and the pilot to be shot that January, and would I want to be the dragon character. I said, “sure.”

  1. What was your first impression of the Nickelodeon Studios when you got there?

I thought they were wonderful. They were set up to be working sound stages for TV, movies, commercials; anything that Hollywood could do.

  1. What was a typical day like being there?

We would get the scripts in advance so we knew what was being shot that day and who was needed. We’d shoot from 9:00am til 1:00pm, break for lunch, and then come back and work til 6:00pm.

  1. Were there any differences between shooting in NYC versus Orlando?

Well, I live in NY so it was just a matter of going home, usually bus or subway. But in Orlando, you need a car. That expense plus individual housing was factored into the budget. We stayed in these furnished apartments that reeked of The Golden Girls interior design; rattan and wicker and pastel colors.

  1. Do you remember other shows taping there at the same time you were?

At the time we were the only one (that I remember).

  1. Do you still own the Magellan puppet?

I never owned Magellan (or my other character, Webbster, Batly’s pet spider). They are all still in storage (and no doubt the foam used in their construction, rotting away inside).

  1. Did you ever get to keep any type of props at the studio?

No, I didn’t. But I wrote a script for the second season called “Magellan’s Circus” and bought a felt top hat for him. I still have that.

  1. One of the highlights was the studio tour where the guests can see you all film or rehearse or have hair/make up done from a glass monitor up above. How often was it that you got to interact with the fans?

They had these fake “PAs” (aka Production Assistants) who wore mikes and could relay up to the visitors what was going on on set. One time, we had just broken for lunch when a group was walking through, up above. I couldn’t resist and used the mike to tell everyone that we were about to do a complicated set up called “lunch,” involving the entire cast and crew. But come back in an hour to see us tape something. In the meantime, ride Jaws…. Oh no that’s broken…… Or ride Kong……. No, he’s down…. Well…. See ya in an hour, folks!

  1. What was one of the good things about living and working in Orlando?

We were really close to Disney World! I bought a season pass cause I always liked going there. (And still do.)

  1. Have you ever been slimed?

Nope.

  1. Did you have a favorite ride at Universal Studios Florida?

Back to the Future (now The Simpsons Ride) was our fave. We wrap as the park closed so we would call over and ask if there was still time to ride, then race over and get on.

  1. How great was all the staff who worked at Nick? I always hear positive stories.

Wonderful.

  1. Favorite behind the scenes memory.

Part of the tour would go by the control room that had a clear glass wall and the visitors could see inside. The backs of the chairs were labeled “director,” “assistant director,” and two were labeled “producer.” One day, me and Jim Kroupa (who performed Batly) snuck upstairs and sat in the producer chairs, holding wads of money and fanning ourselves just as a group walked by.

Hee, hee, hee.

  1. You may not be aware but how do you feel knowing that Eureeka’s Castle and the rest of 80s & 90s Nickelodeon shows made such a positive impact on fans and is still loved today?

I am humbled and flattered how many people still think of this show fondly.

  1. What do you think made Nick Studios so great and special?

It was of its time. A direct rival to Disney’s studios, it was part of the “golden age” (as some have described) when Nick was just starting out. The fact that there was an actual location for that brand of fun, made it a must do for all families.

  1. Would you like to see it be re-opened?

Sure. But as I said it was a product of its time and at that time they had the game shows. Visitors could even be part of that. But there was also the financial drain of the situation. It was just too expensive to keep going (as Disney has found out too).

However, the castle does live on. They use the studios for their Halloween nights, with each one “themed.” A friend went down and was about to enter one with zombies when he saw a plaque next to the door. It was brass and stated that this studio was used for the taping of the Nick Jr series, Eureeka’s Castle. He said so many people stopped and took photos of it (and with it).

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Have Your Wish by Julie Benz

It’s always a good thing when celebrities, even anybody, donate their time to assist and speak out on issues affecting health/medical regarding kids and those who are less fortunate. When actress Julie Benz is not working she speaks out on her role for the non-profit organization Wish Upon a Teen. Though it happened last year, Julie is still gathering her thoughts to spread the word on teenagers who face life threatening illnesses. With another popular non-profit organization Make-a-Wish Foundation, it is certainly a joy to hear of another company willing to ask well known figures to represent their goals and campaigns on how we can find a cure and treat everyday teens who face these illnesses that to never give up hope and to still live out their teenage life like every other normal teens do. I seen the site and one of the programs being offered is Spa Day and Tech Rooms which could make any person feel at home! So if you want to know about this company you can find out more info here http://www.wishuponateen.org/. It’d be neat for Julie to speak on this for our site and well reminisce on her Hi Honey days 😉

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JULIE BENZ at Dexter Season 8 Premiere

It’s now 2015! What it now means.

Happy 2015 readers!! I just want to update this page a little bit for the time being to say that I have not forgotten about this project. In fact it’s been on my mind every day but with life goals and other interferes sometimes you have to put things on the back burner and that’s what happened here. While I do have over 87 interviews at the moment my time conducting them has slowed for a little bit, if you haven’t noticed, since schedules get in the way. But now a brand new year means brand new opportunities. I will be getting back to the interview circuit to assure that this documentary will get screened and viewed to the right audience. One thing that I do want to make sure is asking for help on possible press releases and major outlets that would support this type of project. Nickelodeon Studios is a building that not too many know about while it just catered to so many kids around the country and bestowed lasting memories for all the shows that were filmed there and for those who got a chance to visit the place when it was opened. With this April marking TEN years, yes 10 years, since the building got closed and restored as Blue Man Group now is going to be the right time to get this documentary to its final conclusion. It will need to be fast and get to the point on how the film is going to be represented. For those who are awaiting the interviews and wondering where I have been I apologize but i’m getting back to it. I’ve come so far to not let this all go to waste and my goal is just to obtain a valuable memory and importance that was Nick Studios Florida inside the minds of everyone who’s watching. Thank you and peace be with you 🙂 -B

The world of Ryan Reynolds

It seems there is no stopping Mr. Ryan Reynolds these days. Last year he shot three films back to back and last December it was announced that he would portray superhero Deadpool in his own spin-off film that originated from X-Men Origins:Wolverine he starred in years back. As for the movies he shot last year they were Mississippi Grind, Woman in Gold, and Criminal. While I previously did a review on Mississippi Grind, I now have to catch up on more info regarding Woman in Gold and Criminal. The former which released a trailer literally last week and the latter which can only be determined as it finished production or not is only the beginning for Ryan. Also last month he had another independent film that was released called The Captive. What I’d like to hear from Ryan is how all these films mean so much to him and is there a particular dream project of his. But I guess the biggest role and most meaningful for Ryan is him preparing to be a new father as he’s expecting a baby with wife Blake Lively due this year! I, one day, would like to know if he would be fond of his days on the Nickelodeon show Fifteen which is the sole basis for this project and inspiration for the website.

BSB are coming to the big screen!

The talented A.J. McLean, along with his group Backstreet Boys, are now making their way to the big screen. It’s a brand new documentary where the iconic group of 5 makes their way to London recording new music, reflecting on their 22 years in the  music business, how strong their friendship is, and healing past wounds. I will say that something like this is way past due but it’s a statement of just how beloved the band is. The group’s documentary Backstreet Boys: Shoe Em What You’re Made Of hits theaters and VOD Jan 30, 2015 and you can watch the official trailer for it down below. Hey A.J why don’t you come along and give an interview for this site to seek out your past and how it brought you here?! 😉

Cheryl Blaylock, from Eureeka’s Castle, talks about shooting at Nickelodeon.

For those who were just blooming into Nickelodeon in the late 80s and early 90s(or as I like to call them 80s babies) then you could remember a certain puppet show called Eureeka’s Castle that certainly differentiated the network. Eureeka’s Castle dealt with a community of puppets living in a community of a castle music box and certain sing-a longs were put in the show. The show is even more known because of it being the first ever Nick Jr, series and co-created by famed author R.L Stine, pre Goosebumps mania. While reading you can hear from Cheryl Blaylock, who voiced the main protagonist Eureeka, on how life was like for her when shooting at Nick Studios.

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1. How did you get to work for Eureeka’s Castle?

I auditioned along with a small group of colleagues who I’d worked with on Sesame Street and other Muppet projects. At that time, the world of television puppeteers was quite small and we all knew each other.

2. What was your first impression of the Nickelodeon Studios when you got there?

It was exciting to be a part of something brand new. A whole new concept to have a working studio inside the theme park and actually try to be part of the attractions people go to as well. A little risky for us, but not as revealing as say, an actor getting their makeup done and having a stream of visitors on the other side of a window.

3. What was a typical day like being there?

A little like driving onto a Hollywood studio lot in the sense that you get that special VIP feeling of going past the guard to your special reserved parking space. The stages were just getting started and there was an expectation of excellent work going on in each soundstage. I do remember the Florida heat and humidity! Inside the studio was freezing cold air-conditioning, so I wore layers of clothing, and I would go outside to warm up! Lunch hours were fun. We got to know all the restaurants in the park, one by one.

4. Were there any differences between shooting in NYC versus Orlando?

Well, it was home…! Lifestyle was quite different, but inside the studio the crew was professional and very accommodating to us Yankees.

5. Do you remember other shows taping there at the same time you were?

My friend Charlotte Booker was taping her show, “Hi Honey I’m Home” in another studio. We were both so busy we never got a chance to see each other!

6. Do you still own the Eureeka puppet?

The Eureeka puppet is owned by Three Design Studio, who built her. I believe she’s safely ensconced in a storage box somewhere.

7. Did you ever get to keep any type of props at the studio?

No, the production companies are usually very careful about that. I did have the honor of receiving a beautiful sculpture of Eureeka made by Kip Rathke, who built the puppet. He made it for my birthday.

8. One of the highlights was the studio tour where the guests can see you all film or rehearse or have hair/make up done from a glass monitor up above. How often was it that you got to interact with the fans?

That was one of the high points for me. I used to think of the glass tube at the top of the studio wall like those lava lamps that have the wave rolling back and forth. A never-ending dance of tourists and air. Luckily, they had a person who’s job it was to be the “floor manager” (we had a real floor manager who was too busy managing the production to stop and talk to the tourists, so they provided one to interact with them). Whenever I got a chance I would go over and talk to them with Eureeka. One day there was a little girl who was waving her hand frantically, desperate to ask a question. When we called on her she was so stunned that all she could do was blurt out, “I, I, I, I, I love you, Eureeka!” Oh, that filled my heart with joy. The disadvantage of working on television as opposed to live theatre is you never really get a sense of the impact of your work.

9. What was one of the good things about living and working in Orlando?

Driving around in a convertible!

10. Have you ever been slimed?

I never got slimed. I feel so deprived! Actually, it seemed like the slime era had just ended when Eureeka’s Castle came around.

11. Did you have a favorite ride at Universal Studios Florida?

King Kong. The banana breath was genius.

12. Do you think your experience being there was a learning process in terms of the work you do now in a beneficial way?

Ah yes, it’s all a learning experience. Life.

13.  How do you feel knowing that Eureeka’s Castle and the rest of 80s & 90s Nickelodeon shows made such a positive impact on fans and is still loved today?

I’m always surprised when I hear a statement like that. I know from talking to people about our fan’s age – they either never heard of the show or “OMG, You’re Eureeeeeeka??” One woman told me her family still has the tradition of watching the Christmas special on a worn-down VHS tape every year!

14. What do you think made Nick Studios so great and special?

I especially liked the live shows and the theme restaurants.

15. Would you like to see it be re-opened?

Of course! Yes!

A talk with gakmeister Bethanne Goehringer

The gak kitchen is one of the highlights if you ever got to tour Nickelodeon Studios Florida when it was around. You see the trademark for Nickelodeon has always been the green slime. So just to see up front how this substance is artificially made was exciting just to taste it and get the whole thing on you! Getting to talk to one of the first gakmeisters employed there Bethanne Goehringer ,now Seel, was cool because if you seen the pics or the video down below you’ll see that she is one of the main people who you got to see in the advertising to come to this special place and see the slime and gak. Bethanne shares with me her fabulous time working at the facility and just how precious the slime making process was!

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(you could see Bethanne at 7:40)

1. How did you get to become a gakmeister?
  I was hired by Nicky Nichols, who was the Operations Manager responsible for opening NSF.  She was so kind to me, and had me work a few freelance jobs to get some experience in television.  I worked MTV’s Spring Break at Daytona, and an Orlando Magic basketball game, to name a few.  The studios were not completely finished when I started there, so I did odd jobs for different departments while waiting for the Gak Kitchen to be completed.
2. What was your first impression of Nickelodeon Studios when you got there?
  My first impression was “What a fun place to work!”  There were quirky decorations all around, but it seemed normal to us.  The offices got more colorful as time went on.
3. How many hours did you stay in the gak kitchen preparing all the slimeful and gak substances?
  Once the tours began running through the building, my hours were really  9 to 6, like most jobs.  Tours came through every 4 minutes, and I got to be great friends with the Universal tour guides.   Many of them wanted to be actors, and they were so talented and funny.  We laughed a lot!  When we started taping Super Sloppy Double Dare, the kitchen went into full-on production mode.  I would do the visits for the tours, while the production assistants would hustle all around the kitchen, mixing up concoctions for the show.
4. From many advertisements and specials promoting NSF I think you were often seen in them, are you aware of this?
  Yes, I am aware of the ads and promos I am in!  It was always exciting for me, and a bit surreal.   However, I am well aware that the real star in the photos is Nickelodeon’s iconic slime.  I was just lucky to be the one holding it for a short time.
5. Describe the feeling the kids would get when coming through the studio tour. It must’ve been exciting for everyone that they wanna witness what you all do!
  Naturally the kids were excited walking through the building, but the place was so magical and wonderful that parents and adults were in awe, too.  The tour started in a gathering room, then they came down the hall, past the make-up room, wardrobe room, and finally to the Gak kitchen.   Then, they went upstairs and looked down over the two sound stages.  You could see actors from your favorite shows right there in front of you, on the set.  What a thrill!
6.  Was there a particular show there that you loved visiting the set of?
  All of the shows had something special about them…the actors, the crew, etc.  But Super Sloppy Double Dare was so unique!! How could you not laugh at a giant nose with green slime oozing out of it, or an enormous ear with pudding smeared all over it?  The prop masters and artists were so talented.
7. In the early 90s, I learned that you and the crew got to perform Nick shows for the NBA Orlando Magic halftime show. How much fun was that?
 I did not perform in the Magic halftime show.  One time however, Nickelodeon had a tent set up at an event at Loch Haven Park, Orlando. We had some props from Double Dare, and I was there in the Gak Meister costume.  Many people came by to taste the green slime and take photos.  One woman walked up and said to me, “Are you anyone?”  I was so shocked, I just said “No”.  Ouch, that still hurts even today!
8.  Did you have a favorite ride at Universal Studios Florida?
 My favorite ride at USF was the ET ride, because one time my sisters came to visit me and brought my grandmother.  When you got on the ride, the employees would type your name in, so when the ride ended, ET would say goodbye to you.  Hearing ET say my grandmother’s name made us laugh so much!
9.  Orlando back then was shaped up to be Hollywood East but never lived up to it. As a Florida native, how great was it to have all the TV and film production going on in the area and why do you think it has since decreased?
I’m not a Florida native, I am a Yankee!
10. How great was all the staff who worked there? I always hear positive stories.
 The staff truly was like a big family.  I was just a kid back then, and I felt like I was friends with everyone on the staff.  Everyone’s office was always open, you felt like you could talk to anyone, from the highest executive on down.  I was always impressed that Emmy Laybourne worked alongside everyone on the set of Welcome Freshmen.  She is the daughter of our then- president, Geraldine Laybourne, so we really were all a big family.
11. Do you mind telling the ingredients used to make gak and slime?
  Hmmm… not sure I can divulge the secret recipe!
12. Have you been slimed yourself?
 Nope, I’ve slimed lots of people including CBS news anchor Mark McEwen, and Orlando Magic GM Pat Williams, but never been slimed myself.
13. Do you mind explaining what you have been up to these days?
 I left Nickelodeon to have my first child, and since then have worked in preschool, and public elementary school.
14. Favorite behind the scenes memory.
 I have so many great memories, it’s hard to pin down just one.  Linda Ellerbee did a tv special for kids about the environment, with an appearance by then- Vice President Al Gore .  The Secret Service came through the day before to secure the building,  and on the day of the taping, we could not be in the hall, so I stood in the wardrobe room as Mr. Gore walked past us to the studio.   That was a thrilling day.
15. What do you think made Nick Studios so great and special?
 Nick Studios was so special because of the staff.  It was a wonderful company to work for.  Every time a show wrapped, there was always a fun party.  The staff once held a pumpkin decorating contest, and camera man Ken Krause and I won for our “Slime Pumpkin”!  And at every Christmas party we watched a video created for that year, where each department had to come up with their own segment.  These were super creative people, and I was so lucky to be among them!
16. Would you like to see it reopened?
 Anything is possible, but the magic wouldn’t be the same.