todays special

The making of Today's Special and how it was the wackiest TV show in Toronto history

Today's Special was a simpler time of magic hats and rhyming couplets, and while there was no shortage of killer kids' TV content in the 1980s, this Canadian show was a different breed. 

The show ran on TVOntario from 1981 to 1987 and starred Jeff, a mannequin who came to life at night with a magical hat and a rhyming spell.

His pals, Jodie, Sam, and Muffy join him on his escapades of learning about everything from how to make friends, to the difference between amphibians and fish, to darker subject matter, like death.

The show was filmed at a few different locations over the years. Nina Keogh, who was the voice (and hands) behind Muffy the Mouse, told me that aside from studios in Etobicoke, they would often do on-location shoots at an old Simpsons department store.

"We would go in at nine o'clock at night when the store was closing and we would go to the department we needed to be in and the crew would set up all their equipment," Keogh explains, "everybody [was] just buzzing."

But it wasn't all fun and games. Operating a puppet is a full-body workout, and to get shots just right, Keough, who comes from a long line of puppeteers, would have to look at a monitor while interacting with her cast mates, crouching on a swivel stool under the toy store counter.

This became even more challenging when doing scenes where Muffy was ballroom dancing, or riding a scooter up Yonge Street.

One story that Keogh recounts is kind of ironic, as the whole premise of Today's Special was based around a mannequin coming to life.

Keogh says of filming after dark that, "they take all the lighting down really low at night [...] and I remember that if we wanted to go to the bathroom, we had to go down the stairs because the elevators were shut off. And that was the spookiest thing, because as much as I worked with a mannequin everyday named Jeff, all the mannequins in the stores just creeped me out."

Listen to Season 2, Episode 9 of the blogTO podcast

Nina Keogh talks about working in children's television in the 70s, 80s and 90s, on shows like The Friendly Giant, Polka Dot Door, and Today's Special, where she took on the role of the rhyming mouse, Muffy.

She also discusses growing up with a family of puppeteers, the logistics behind operating one for TV, and getting freaked out by mannequins while filming after-hours at the old Simpsons department store.

Guide to this podcast
  • 1:34 Introducing Nina Keough
  • 2:06 Nina's parents and grandparents had creative jobs
  • 2:50 Establishing the Canadian Puppet Theatre
  • 3:15 Strange city people with puppets
  • 4:21 Choosing puppetry as a medium
  • 5:00 Competing with animation
  • 6:15 Creating Dr. Beryl Freud as an alter-ego
  • 7:45 Over 100 episodes of Today's Special
  • 8:22 The heyday of Today's Special
  • 8:53 Getting the job of Muffy the Mouse
  • 10:05 The logistics of filming the show as a puppet operator
  • 11:06 Working with monitors
  • 12:12 Choreographing the ballroom scene
  • 12:27 There were five Muffys
  • 13:17 Shooting locations around Toronto
  • 14:15 Shooting after hours at Simpsons
  • 14:38 Creeped out my mannequins
  • 15:30 Working in children's television
  • 16:00 Getting recognized
  • 16:30 Wearing mini-shorts on Polka Dot Door
  • 17:30 Being a puppeteer no one knows who you really are
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