Sparks was a WRAL children’s program that premiered in 1985 and aired Saturday mornings through 1990. The half-hour fantasy/drama program primarily engaged older elementary school children and pre-teens.
The stories revolved around a mysterious time machine that could transport the characters into the past or future to resolve conflicts and/or provide insight and better understanding of specific time periods.
Sparks was set in a mythical North Carolina town in the time of the show’s production- the mid to late 1980s. The ongoing story line is rooted in a fictitious incident that occurred on June 17, 1955.
The lead character Sam Blade was a government scientist working on a top secret project, code name “Sparks.” Blade invented a time machine and then transported himself into the future.
During his trip he discovered that the government had ulterior motives for the machine. Upon his return, Blade realized the need to hide the machine as well as himself. Meanwhile the government is trying to find him. Actor Mark J. Miller portrayed Sam Blade.
Junius Fogg, Blade’s best friend, is a small-appliance repairman. Even though Blade and Fogg are the same age, Blade’s time travel of thirty years into the future put him into time limbo – he did not age. Consequently the gray-haired Fogg is now thirty years older than Blade. This became a comical source of conflicts within the various plots of the show. The time machine is now safely and secretly stashed away in a back-room at Fogg’s Fix-It Shop. Actor Mark Cath portrayed Junius Fogg.
The youth aspect of Sparks was introduced through Fogg’s grandchildren, Tory and Zachary, and their friends. The script writers tackled dilemmas and issues that confronted them. Many of these concerns were worked out in the malt shop setting called “Shades” – a local hangout for youth. Topics ranged from cheating, bullying, lying, stealing, name-calling, peer-pressure, etc. Young actress Meredith Nicolson played Tory and Joshua Bo Lozoff played the role of Zachary. Kent Faulcon portrayed Nathan, Zach’s best friend. Later in the series Steve Joe joined the cast playing Nick and Meg Plunkett played his girlfriend, Jennifer.
The time travel sequences transported the various characters back in time to meet literary characters like Ichabod Crane from Washington Irving’s short story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and historical figures including Harry Houdini and Blackbeard the Pirate, to name a few. Examination of historical periods ranged from the “Trail of Tears” of the Cherokee Indians, gold mining in the 1800’s, slavery, and the pony express mail delivery.
Sparks was created and produced by Peter Anlyan. Cindy Carter wrote many of the scripts. In the latter years Sparks was produced by Dan Oliver, who also served as the director/photographer on segments produced away from the studio.
Sparks received a national Iris award in 1991, as well as several Parents’ Choice Awards and the Service to Children Television Award from the National Association of Broadcasters.