Bill Leff, the affable Chicago radio personality, stand-up comedian and improv actor, will host a national one-hour weekday morning cartoon show on MeTV, the Chicago-based network for nostalgic television.
Starting in early January, “Toon In With Me” will feature Leff and a few other characters performing original comedy sketches leading into the best of the Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes animated classics, including Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety and Road Runner.
For the eternally youthful Leff, a pop culture fan and collector of wide renown, the role recalls a golden era of Chicago television, including legendary children’s show hosts Ray Rayner and Bill Jackson, among others.
“As a child I was late for school every morning because I could not stop watching Ray Rayner’s show,” said Leff, who grew up in Oak Forest and now lives in Evanston. “I felt like he was talking directly to me. Then after school, the brilliance that was Bill Jackson’s ‘Cartoon Town’ was just so influential to who I would eventually become.
“‘Toon In With Me’ pays tribute to both. It’s part Ray Rayner, part ‘Cartoon Town,’ part ‘Pee Wee’s Playhouse,’ and part ‘Sea Hunt.’ It’s something for everybody,” he said.
Until last November Leff co-hosted middays with Wendy Snyder on Nexstar Media Group news/talk WGN 720-AM. Since February the two have been podcasting for Cumulus Media Chicago. Their twice-weekly shows will continue on wlsam.com and iTunes.
“Toon In With Me” is the latest creation of Neal Sabin, vice chairman of Chicago-based Weigel Broadcasting and the genius behind MeTV, which Weigel debuted here in 2003. It’s been a full-fledged national network since 2010 and now ranks among the top five cable nets in the country, with an audience of 27 million viewers a week.
“It’s launching just after our 10th anniversary [nationally] and should really resonate with boomers as well as those who love classic cartoons,” Sabin said of the new morning show. “I think the writing is great and will work on an adult and kid level, just like the Warner cartoons.”
Sabin acknowledged that he created most of the characters and the spirit of the new show. “We have a great team of writers and others on the show,” he said. “I’m making sure a few pies get thrown and the puns fly as well.”
Also joining the cast are performers Kevin Fleming, whose comedy writing credits include the Warner Bros. Animation series “The New Looney Tunes,” and Leila Gorstein, who has performed as part of The Second City Touring Company and recently co-wrote and starred in the romantic parody film “Love Dump.”
“’Toon In With Me’ will evoke the hosted children’s shows of decades past, blending nostalgia, fun, charm, comedy and cartoons, reimagined with new, original, live-action characters,” Sabin added. “It all adds up to a new program for viewers of all ages, ready to share the fun and positive energy together weekday mornings.”
MeTV also announced plans to debut “Saturday Morning Cartoons,” a three-hour block of cartoons — with no studio host — on Saturday mornings.
Friday’s comment of the day: Daniel Rice: Tragic story . . . Vaughn [McClure] was way too young.