Sunday 18 February 2024

JOT

There are plenty of byways in the world of animated cartoons. One of the best places to learn about them is the Cartoon Research web site.

Recently, there was a post mentioning one of those byways I hadn’t thought about for a long time. It was post about JOT.

JOT starred in a passel of syndicated cartoons I don’t have a particular interest in, but it did get a fair share of ink in the newspapers of the 1960s, secular and otherwise.

Here’s an early review from the Tulsa World of September 20, 1964. Television columnist Chuck Wheat got a look at it.

Recently in Dallas I ran across a new type of religious program for children. Or maybe it is a church-sponsored non-religious program for children. In any case its name is “Jot.”
The production company of Keitz and Herndon has turned out the first few of a 13 program order for the Southern Baptist Convention. The Baptists tried a Spanish film maker and were dissatisfied with the results so they turned to Texas and got “Jot.”
“Jot” is a brief cartoon creation.
The color productions combine cartoon central characters and some wild actual pictography of such things as swirling oil paint in water for backgrounds.
The problem was to produce a program that would give the Baptists something for their money yet keep kiddies watching. “Jot” is aimed at very little children but just like the sometimes cynical Stan Freberg and always wacky Jay Ward, “Jot” hits adults in the eye as well.
JOT IS A DOT, A WHITE DOT. Jot’s playmates become stylized little boys and girls, but Jot remains essentially a blob of white amid the bright colors of his cartoon universe.
There is a glorious little tune for Jot’s theme. It is a lilting, almost jazzy little number that permeates the program with delight.
In each show, Jot learns a lesson in conduct. The first program had Jot telling his mother a fib. He said “No ma’am.” That “no ma’am” haunts Jot, trailing him through a morass of suddenly strange surroundings that had seemed so certain and friendly.
Jot runs back to his mother to recant and feels so much better.
Those pale words don't do any justice at all to the sweet cleverness of the little adventure Jot goes through, an adventure in a world of abstract designs which had been playground equipment, with everywhere—like a tiger peeking through the vines of the jungle—that frightening fib, “No ma’am.”
The point for theologians and psychologists is that there is no point-of-view moralizing in “Jot.” The story unfolds and points the moral with its viewers making the point.
For instance, since Jot is a white blob why did I invest him with masculinity? He reminded me of my son Jack, that’s why. My wife, however, who saw it with me, saw Jot as a little girl.
THE VOICE OF JOT INCIDENtally belongs to a model in Dallas whose name I did not get but who, I am told, is a remarkably well-endowed young woman with an off-mike vocabulary that might shock the good Baptists. On mike, however, her voice is the epitome of wonderful childishness.
Each segment of “Jot” will send its hero through another adventure in learning morality. The Baptists will make “Jot” available to televisions stations free of charge, I believe, so we may get to see it here some time after Jan. 1.
This whole business of applying show business movie to matters of religion, morality and principle fascinates me. Beth Macklin, the World's youth and religion editor, is going into it in far greater detail beginning this very day.
I urge your attention.


The series wasn’t test-marketed until January, 1968. It was so successful, it received a thousand letters a day, according to a story in one newspaper in 1970. A paper in Fort Worth reported in August 1968 that the Southern Baptist Radio and Television Commission had been overwhelmed with 22 thousand letters the month before. The same paper reported in June 1970 that the series was being expanded to 100 stations and the National Association of Broadcasters had presented the Commission with a “Life Achievement Citation,” saying JOT was an “outstanding contribution to the moral and spiritual life of America.”

The Associated Press looked at the series in 1967, and how much it took out of the church collection plates.

Jot Cartoon Introduced By Baptists
By MIKE COCHRAN
FORT WORTH, Tex., Mar. 17 (AP)—He’s a dot named Jot, and the Southern Baptists are gambling that he'll touch the hearts and personalities of millions of children.
They've already plunged $200,000 into the pot. That's only a starter. Jot is the key figure in a series of animated cartoons being produced in Fort Worth by the Southern Baptists' Radio-Television Commission.
The five-minute color presentations are designed to carry nonsectarian messages, not necessarily Biblical, to children ranging in age from 5 to 10. Based on Biblical principles, they draw moral or spiritual conclusions.
The adventures of Jot being offered free to television stations and are expected to make their first appearances in the fall.
The Rev. Edward Shipman, spokesman for the commission, said finances pose the only restriction.
"We could be on 400 or 500 stations simultaneously," he said. "But we just don't have the money."
The commission estimate that the production, six years in the planning stage, will eventually cost between $100,000 and $150,000 annually. Each episode costs from $5,000 to $15,000.
Ruth Byers, director of Dallas Children's Theater, writes and produces the show, aided by a Dallas production firm.
"This is a tremendously expensive venture, but one so significant we feel we had to go ahead, no matter what the cost," said the Rev. Mr. Shipman.
Jot is a white dot which sprouts arms and legs, flies, sings, runs and jumps and performs a wide variety of animated duties, speaks with the voice of a small boy.
"Jot represents the child personality most characteristic of the greater moral and spiritual community in America," the Rev. Mr. Shipman said.
"His problems and experiences lead him to a realization of the importance of a right relationship with God, with himself and with his fellow man."
Commission members feel the need for such a series was illustrated recently in the remarks of a Los Angeles psychiatrist, who said:
“Tens of millions of children in this country are spending more time with the television set than in school—and are getting very little for this expenditure of time.”
The new approach was conceived several years ago by Dr. Paul M. Stevens, director of the Radio-Television Commission. He initiated a study that culminated with the creation of Jot.
“It was written to give children something concrete, to teach them, to give them a moral or spiritual value,” the Rev. Mr. Shipman said. “It had to be something construction in the life of a child, not just entertaining.” Scattered showings of the pilot films won favor with children and provoked interest among parents and teachers, he said.
Truett Myers, director of television, said the commission aims for “good animation,” creating cartoons that will catch and hold the youthful viewer.
Children are astute critics, he said. Once they lose interest, they react swiftly.
“They don’t even bother to turn the set off,” he said with a smile. “They just walk out of the room.”


Here’s one more JOT-ting. This is from the Scrantonian Tribune of June 16, 1969.

‘JOT’ MAKES APPEARANCE
Kids’ Religious Show With Plenty of Bounce
By J. D. NICOLA

FORT WORTH, Texas—A bouncing ball once helped movie audiences stay together in theater sing-alongs, and now another bouncing ball is teaching their children and grandchildren how to stay in touch with God.
“Jot" is the name of a TV creation, variously described as bouncing ball that sprouts arms and legs and as an "animated dot," which teaches moral lessons to children in 4 ½ minute cartoons.
Produced by the Southern Baptists’ Radio and Television Commission but non-sectarian in content, "Jot” has been described by "Newsweek" as the first genuinely entertaining and effective use of television for preaching moralily to pre-teen children."
The roly-poly "Jot" cheerfully bounces across the TV screen and stars in little dramas in which he comes up against moral problems similar to those faced by the 5-to-10-year-olds for whom the program is designed.
When "Jot" does something wrong—like stealing a cupcake from his mother's table or getting angry with a playmate—he changes shape and even his color turns sickly, to show the young viewers that "Jot’s” behavior is distorted and to reflect “Jot’s” suffering conscience.
The “Jot” character, created by a specialist in children's theater, Mrs. Ruth Byers, is supposed to represent "a child personality sensitive to an inner conscience," according to Paul Stevens, executive director of the Southern Baptists' Radio and Television Commission.
"Jot is also supposed to be an effort to offset the harm that some TV programs do to children," he added.
"Those of us who work in the medium," he said, "realize the tremendous pressures brought to bear on our boys and girls by television. In the midt of these pressures, words from parents about honesty, morality, fairness, and spiritual values often go unheeded.”
The “Jot” series, which began 18 months ago on seven Southern stations but which is now seen on more than 40 stations through the country and still expanding, is frequently scheduled on such programs as “Cartoon Carnival," Sunday Morning Cartoons," "Popeye, Bugs Bunny and Friends," "Romper Room" and "Captain Kangaroo.”
And though the series is designed to entertain children, “through this entertainment they are led to serious thoughts about God, themselves, and others,” according to the Southern radio-TV commission. The story lines are uncomplicated, and to the point.
In one episode, "Jot" becomes fascinated with a playmate's new toy, and when the boy absent mindedly goes off and leaves it behind in a schoolyard, "Jot" runs off to his treehouse with it. But aware that he has done something wrong, he can not enjoy the toy, especially when it emits a rhythmic sound that seems like "thou shalt not steal . . . thou shalt not steal." Suddenly ashamed, "Jot" asks God's forgiveness, returns the toy to its owner and is glad that he has done the right thing. The boy forgives him, and the two go off happily, playing with the new toy together.
In another episode, "Jot" is in a library and is impressed by a sentence which reads: “Trust in the Lord and do good." Impressed, he finds the courage to tell a bigger boy to stop marring a library book, but "Jot" suddenly finds himself accused of damaging the book and is barred from the library. He goes home, disgusted with himself for putting trust the scriptural advice. But his mother greets him and tells "Jot" the librarian has just called to say she has learned who the real culprit was and to apologize to "Jot."
"Do good,” he repeats courageously now, “and trust in the Lord!"
In an episode titled "The Birthday Party, "Jot" haughtily displays a new roller-toy before another boy in the neighborhood. As "Jot" struts with pride and confidence, his head grows larger, until he realizes the other boy is wearing ragged clothes and has no toys of his own. "Jot" is suddenly ashamed of himself, and his head deflates—until he gives the boy a toy to keep.


In late 1972, the Baptist publication Word and Way announced JOT would be getting a companion series, starring a girl character named SASH. This cartoon “was developed to reach the audience that had outgrown ‘JOT’,” Stevens said, and was aimed at young people up to 14. A pilot of some kind was sent to the stations airing JOT. Keitz and Herndon were out of the picture by then, the owners having sold their 19-year-old studio to a corporatio in 1969.

As for the aforementioned letters, one second-grader in Phoenix wrote: “JOT I like you very much. What are you JOT. Are you an egg? Are you a baseball? Are you a boy?” The Opelousas, Louisiana paper reported other letters were more poignant. One went: “JOT I don’t have any friends. I haven’t had any friends for 3 years. I hope you will be my friend JOT.”

While comparisons of JOT to Jay Ward cartoons or Stan Freberg may seem odd, it would appear JOT connected with his young viewers. And that was the intention all along.

6 comments:

  1. Hans Christian Brando18 February 2024 at 09:41

    I'm surprised the Southern Baptists didn't revive Jot in their campaigns against same-sex marriage and Drag Queen Story Hour. Presumably Jot was cisgender, being referred to by male pronouns.

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  2. Keitz & Herndon is where future DNA Productions founders and personnel like John A. Davis, Keith Alcorn, Paul Claerhout, & Tim Hatcher got their starts at. Longtime Disney comic artist and former Gamma Productions staffer, Roman Arambula, once worked there for a little bit before heading to California sometime afterwards.

    Also, I heard that the guy who helped shape the visual direction of JOT was one Thomas “Tom” R. Young, who was a WWII veteran and served as the art director for the K&H studio. I wonder why only the company got credit and not any staff?

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    1. Thanks a lot, Anon, for some background behind the studio.

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    2. you’re welcome ^^

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  3. The last time I saw "JOT" was back around 2002. " Family Net " would play it between programs. Before then, I would guess, in the late 1960s.

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  4. Fine article, Yowp.. I remember watching JOT in the mid-late 60s.

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