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Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024
The Eagle

Make me some pancakes!

The office is on the second floor of a Glover Park office building. In the foyer is a huge plastic short-stack of pancakes. There is a cupboard along the wall filled with everything from Alice Cooper vinyl to videos of Saturday morning cartoons. A hipster's apartment? No, this awesome pad is where local D.C. children's variety show "Pancake Mountain" is produced.

Scott Stuckey, creator of the show, started his TV career back in the '80s. He soon became fed up with commercials and corporations and decided to go out on his own. With inspiration from local Chicago show "Chick-a-go-go," Stuckey set to work on his show to prove television can still be for families and inspire imaginations.

"I grew up watching local TV," Stuckey said in a recent interview. "I loved all those 'mom and pop' type shows." This background comes through on "Pancake Mountain," which has been known to feature improvised skits and wild spontaneous fun.

At first look, "Pancake Mountain" might seem like merely a kids show. There are songs about the alphabet, dance parties featuring little kids and a fake talk show with a sock puppet. But this is not your average PBS Saturday morning show: the songs are sung by the likes of Ian MacKaye and some are written by Fugazi drummer Brenden Canty, the dance parties are played by local D.C. bands, the guests on the talk shows are the Scissor Sisters, the Fiery Furnaces and Henry Rollins and the theme song is performed by politi-punks Anti-flag.

In a recent interview with the Eagle, Fiery Furnaces lead singer/chanteuse Eleanor Friedberger confessed that the impromptu ditty "Mouse House, Moose House" that can be viewed in clip form on the "Pancake Mountain" website was written in their tour van during their last visit to D.C.

"We could have just played one of our own songs or we could make up a new song, and Matt [Friedberger, guitarist for the Fiery Furnaces] wrote 'Mouse House, Moose House'... in the van four days before we recorded with the show. It was a lot of fun," Friedberger said.

The show started in 2003 when Stuckey and friends joined forces to develop the idea. Using his own funds, he made and self-distributed the first episode of Pancake Mountain. The show was charmingly rough around the edges and youthfully zany. Stuckey's unique purpose, to give kids a new outlet to express themselves, has gotten support from parents and the media.

It's easy to find educational television, Stuckey said, but there's little market for the imagination aspect of TV. Pancake Mountain seeks to fill this niche market of creativity-starved urban youth.

"I think kids are more open than adults, if you catch them at the right age," Stuckey said.

And given his mighty resume, Stuckey is a man who knows his stuff. He engineered at a studio in Athens, Georgia, working with such talents as Vic Chestnutt and R.E.M., worked in L.A. for a time producing for television and film and has been working a screen adaptation of the novel "Confederacy of Dunces" for years. Stuckey said it's been a rough road, due to bouts with unluckiness, such as all stars connected to the project dying - John Belushi, John Candy and Chris Farley, to name a few. He's still trying though. He likes zombie movies and wants to try his hand at that, as well. Regrettably, there are no plans for "Pancake Mountain: the Movie."

"Pancake Mountain," though, has been a more successful venture than trying to break on to the silver screen, as the show has been getting noticed by various media outlets like CNN, the Washington Post and local music magazine On Tap, as well as a growing cult following. Various television networks have also shown interest, which puts Stuckey in a philosophical pickle, as the show was initially founded with anti-corporate and DIY roots.

"I do think you can get inside and change," Stuckey said, a belief countered by friend and show contributor Ian MacKaye. "I'd love to take corporate money. "

MacKaye is decidedly against corporate involvement, sparking many long debates on the subject, Stuckey said. "He can really disagree with you, but still shows respect." MacKaye is responsible for showing Stuckey "Chick-a-go-go" and contributing to the show, most notably the classic "Vowel Movement," performed by his band The Evens.

"Pancake Mountain" is proof that someone can do what he or she loves and keep their dignity, despite odds against them. Currently the show has no distribution and therefore no way to get out to the public but word of mouth. Thankfully, this is working, as DVDs have seen a slow but pleasant rise in the recent months, even though the show spends nothing on advertising. It is a labor of love for Stuckey and crew.

Keep your eyes open for "Pancake Mountain" in the near future. It'll be huge.

 Hosts Sara Winick and Sydney Hsu introduce themselves and talk about their favorite TV shows. This episode includes fun facts, recommendations and personal connections. 

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