Hallo Spencer is a German children's television series, created by Winfried Debertin and produced by NDR from 1979 until 2001. In these 22 years, 275 episodes were filmed, including a number of 'specials' featuring the characters taking part in traditional fairy tale and nursery rhyme themed stories.
It is a puppet based show, featuring characters created and operated in the same fashion as Jim Henson's Muppets. To this day, the series is popular and well-loved in its home country to the extent that the theme park Heide Park features a themed area devoted to the show.
The series has been repeated on the commercial channels Nickelodeon Germany and on the pay-TV channel Premiere. Episodes are still regularly found on regional broadcast stations.
In the early 90s, after many years of success in its homeland, Saban International bought the foreign rights to Hallo Spencer. The show was soon being translated and broadcast in many countries, including America, China, Spain, Singapore, Russia, Scandinavia and the Netherlands. However, the rushed translations and changes made to the show were often for the worse. The European style of characters speaking over one another worked very badly in other regions, making scenes unintelligible and worse, laughable. This was not helped by the comparatively low budget of the programme.
The American version was retitled The Hallo Spencer Show and heavily edited - seven minutes were cut from each episode in order to fit the American broadcast schedule, and to accommodate the inclusion of a rap at the end, summarising the events of the episode. The title character, Spencer, was renamed Hallo Spencer (Hallo now being his first name), and many other characters were altered to make them more palpable. Nepomuk also found himself with a first name: Grumpowski, Elvis became Elmar and the house band, the Quietschbeus became The Screech Boys.
Episodes of the original version are widely available in Germany on VHS.
The American language version is unsurprisingly rarer. It is unknown how many episodes were originally translated and broadcast, but only six have been released on VHS, in three volumes. Judging by the contents of the tapes, the American episodes seem to have been chosen at random, with no regard at all to the running order of the original series.
The contents of each tape is as follows:
A Friend from China (Episode 100) and The Storm (Episode 86)
The Visitor (Episode 121) and The Argument (Episode 77)
The Less I See, The More I Hear (Episode 84) and A Million for Mona Lisa (Episode 120)
Hallo Spencer is set in the fictional German town of Spencerdorf. Geographically, the area is wildly varied: densely forested and lush grassland areas border an arid, extremely localised volcanic area. There is also evidence that a substantial forest once populated the area - the remains of one trunk has been converted into a four-storey elevator shaft.
The US language version was relocated to Spencerville, Ohio, which interestingly, is a real town. However, visitors hoping to see some familiar Hallo Spencer landmarks would be disappointed: it has little in common with its fictional counterpart.
Spencer is the Mayor of Spencerdorf. This may be a coincidence, but Spencer's influence over the town seems to extend far beyond the remit of a traditional mayoral position. While the town seems fairly well established, and it is unlikely that Spencer himself founded it, the population never reference previous mayors (indeed, there is a conspicuous lack of any political system, or even desire for one), and all seem comfortable with Spencer being in charge. But however comfortable, change must be assumed to have occurred at some point in the past. Thus, if it is assumed that the town and mayor sharing the same name is not a coincidence, and if it is not a hereditary position (passing from one Spencer to another), perhaps the new mayor assumes the 'Spencer' name along with his duties.
The videophone that Spencer employs to monitor and communicate with the population has been likened to the two-way telescreens seen in George Orwell's 1984.
Only Spencer has control over the system, which features the ability to have split-screen conversations with any number of participants. The number of cameras installed in Spencerdorf is unknown, but it must be vast - Spencer never has a problem locating and conversing with another citizen, no matter their position in the town. Oddly, no objections are ever made to this total lack of privacy.