Merci Gaston! (lost French TV show based on comic book series; 1989)
Merci Gaston! (Thank you Gaston! in French) is a French children's TV show that was originally aired in early 1989.
It was based on the French-Belgian Gaston Lagaffe gag comic series by Franquin, and was the first official television adaptation of the franchise (a 1981 live-action film adaptation loosely adapted the comic but wasn't allowed to use the names).
It was part of a children's TV program block called Croque-Matin on French channel Antenne 2 (now called France 2) and Samedi en fête on Belgian channel RTL-TVi. It would air every Wednesday at 10:45 am in France and every Saturday at 9:40 am in Belgium.
There was no official description of the show's premise, but according to at least one viewer, it was a talk-show parody where Fantasio, alongside with Spirou, would interview real-life cartoonists. More specifically, it was inspired by the French talk show Le Divan ("The Couch") hosted by Henry Chapier, and Fantasio's voice was inspired by Chapier's voice. A press kit confirms it parodied this show, alongside Alain Decaux raconte and Destins (French historical culture TV shows).
Gaston himself was a mute character. Each episode would end with him causing an accident and Fantasio would sarcastically yell "Thank you Gaston!" at him.
Spirou, Fantasio and Gaston were notably played by professional mime actors wearing stylized latex foam masks and prosthetics, making them look very close to their comic book counterparts. The masks were animatronic, enabling facial expressions on the eyebrows, cheeks and mouths. They were connected by cables that would go under their clothes and be controlled by a hidden technician. Characters would have multiple masks for specific exaggerated expressions that couldn't be emulated by animatronics alone.
Several background props directly alluded to famous gags in the comics, such as the "giant wall ear" and the "boxing glove armchair".
The ads for the show notably focused on a contest where participants would have to answer two questions in a coupon that they'd send by mail. Some of the questions were about events that happened in the Merci Gaston! show.
The show itself would show the contest's results: among those who sent correct answers, the winners would be randomly chosen in a draw. The top winner would win an Atari 520ST computer with a color monitor; the four runner-ups would win the same computer, without the monitor; each would win 100 comic albums.
No video clip or even stills of Merci Gaston! have ever resurfaced after its original airing. Despite the Gaston comic being a very popular comic in French-speaking Europe, this show has never gotten a reissue on any kind of support.
Almost all information on the series comes from ads and "behind the scenes" articles in the Spirou magazine of the time. It shows some images of the props used for the show, but not actual screencaps of the show in motion.
Croque-Matin, the TV block where Merci Gaston! aired, is itself mostly lost media, having aired only in the first half of 1989.
- Spirou Magaziiiine n° 2658