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Throwback Thursday: Local millennials remember Tampa's 'David D TV'

In an age when YouTube is helping fuel peak Clinton-era nostalgia, it was only a matter of time before this one resurfaced.

Local millennials remember David D TV as that show that aired on WFTS-TV* after Captain Planet and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the '90s. It followed a guy with a perfect surfer cut and a single earring, David D, and his mildly mischievous Muppet-looking friend, Smedley.

It would have completely faded into the past if not for someone quietly posting several episodes online a few years ago. They went mostly unnoticed until a recent Reddit post about David D TV started getting attention from people excited to find the old episodes available online.

"I've been trying to figure out this show's name for years," wrote user DanglesWangles on the Reddit post. "I only remember it because they went to a Walmart that was right next to my house growing up."

Those YouTube videos reveal a show that's profoundly weird, Tampa-centric and maybe the most 1990s thing ever. It's also strangely watchable, with a subtle humor and a world where nobody questions a guy whose roommate is a puppet.

"Most shows with puppets, like Sesame Street, they bring the humans into the puppet world. We did the opposite," said David Dodd, who played David D.

Dodd enjoyed a local celebrity status during that run, making public appearances at events like Bucs Fan Fest and marching band competitions.

"I remember doing an appearance at Petland where there was a line of hundreds of people wrapped around the building," said Dodd, now 50. "Whenever I'm in Tampa and I'm doing something around people who are 10 or 20 years younger than I am … I'll be in line for a beer and some guy will go, 'Hey! You're the guy with the puppet.' "

The show started as part of the Fox Kids Club in 1992 as public service-oriented bumpers between cartoons. When the station became an ABC affiliate in 1994, David D TV was turned into a half-hour series for Saturday mornings and ran until around 2000.

"I remember it as the essence of Florida in the '90s," said filmmaker Thomas Nudi, 27, who grew up watching the show in Bradenton. "It's full of orange and pink neon, and everyone had Flock of Seagulls haircuts. Seeing it again brought back all the feels. I grew up in a generation that was the fade out of local stations doing narrative TV. Nothing like that show exists now or ever will again. It's a piece of local history."

David and Smedley's adventures usually took place around Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater because actual sets would have cost more than the show's "shoestring" budget allowed.

They crash a David Hasselhoff fan convention at Tradewinds Resort in the episode "Vacation Nightmare." In "Movie Flakes," they eat cereal in their pajamas inside St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, though it's unclear why. Busch Gardens stands in for ancient Egypt in "Mummies From Mars," though a sign in the background reading "restrooms" kills the illusion.

"Stuck at the Mall" takes place entirely in the Tyrone Square Mall parking lot, where Dave and Smedley become trapped when their shoes stick to discarded chewing gum.

Dodd, whose on-air name is David Jones, has spent the last 21 years hosting what's billed as one of the nation's longest-running morning radio shows, The Jones and Crane Show, on Sarasota's WSRZ-FM 107.9. Locals are more likely to recognize him from his commercial and infomercial work, specifically the ubiquitous Sunsetter Retractable Awnings commercials that run every summer in the area.

He credits David D TV, though, for giving him a start in television.

"It was a crash course. Like going to college," he said. "When it went away, the station manager said, 'The sales team sells news now,' and this just isn't making money. We were heartbroken."

Todd Coyle, a St. Petersburg native who provided the voice and puppeteering for Smedley, now runs a costume business outside of Los Angeles. That career path sprang from his work on David D TV, where he created the Xena: Warrior Princess costumes that David and Smedley wear at Al Lopez Park in the episode "Xenaphobia."

"It was like $50 per show. If we needed an extra character, we'd just get our friends to be in it, or ask someone off the street," Coyle said. "We'd write the shows ourselves, make the props ourselves. We did a whole episode in a mall parking lot. I don't know if you'd call that stupid, or creative or desperate."

Even now, he struggles to explain the show's premise.

"There's a guy and a puppet and they live in a house. We had nothing more concrete than that. Once in awhile we'd think, 'Who are these people and why are they living in this house?' and we couldn't explain it, so we just went with it."

"It was so much fun to hear the recognition when you told people what you did," he said. "When it's over, you miss it. I'm not saying it's the same exactly, but it gives you a little insight into how a famous actor feels when his career is over and nobody knows who he is anymore."

Coyle said he still has one of the Smedley puppets in a box in the attic, though he's scared to look at it for fear it has probably disintegrated.

Contact Christopher Spata at 727-893-8719 or cspata@tampabay.com. Follow @SpataTimes.

*Editor's note: The story has been corrected to reflect that David D TV appeared on WFTS-TV.

Throwback Thursday: Local millennials remember Tampa's 'David D TV' 08/25/16 [Last modified: Thursday, August 25, 2016 10:58am]
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