Produced in 1972 and released in 1973, “Mulligan Stew” was not the first 4-H TV series, but it stimulated an extraordinary increase in 4-H enrollment at the time.
The series of six half-hour programs centered on a kids’ rock band that “turns on” to good nutrition by – a la “Mission Impossible” – solving a different type of nutrition problem in each episode. It was developed and produced by Extension Service/USDA, and filmed by USDA Motion Picture Service, based on work by Developmental Committees and Iowa State University Extension Service 4-H Nutrition Television Programs, with a grant from the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP).
Eleanor L. Wilson, national 4-H TV coordinator at the time, recalls that the 4-H TV Developmental Committee liked what Iowa State did with nutrition content, but the series did not emerge as a creative whole until Ira Klugerman was hired to direct the show. Klugerman, with a background of children’s television at WQED in Pittsburgh, came up with the title and general treatment.
Production began on location in Washington, DC in 1971. Besides budget concerns which Wilson managed, nutrition content had to meet existing standards.
Sue Kleen Benedetti, Home Economics Information Specialist at the time, was named along with Wilson as Technical Director to assure that everything was nutritionally correct. Benedetti chose, prepared and staged food for the home scenes. The child actors were sometimes difficult and Wilson recalled that when she was not juggling budgets, she was settling arguments on the set or haunting local produce markets looking for just the right shade of green vegetables for the next day’s shooting.
“Mulligan Stew” premiered October 4, 1972, during National 4-H Week at the National 4-H Center, but it was already a winner. Advance information had enticed the states and they were lining up their viewing schedules and stockpiling materials. The series included the six half-hour films, leaders’ guides, and a “Mulligan Stew” comic-book developed by Michigan State University. “Mulligan Stew” was promoted and distributed through the National 4-H Service Committee, and Television Specialist Larry L. Krug recalls the comic-book printer’s reaction: “We placed an initial order for one million copies of the comic book and before they got them off the presses I had to call back and order another one and a half million. They thought I was crazy. Before the series was completed we had printed over seven million copies of the ‘Mulligan Stew’ comic-book.” Cooperative Extension Service invested $716,000 in “Mulligan Stew,” or about $1 per child enrolled, compared to the $10.48 cost of enrolling a child in a single 4-H project at that time.
A 4-H member from McConnelsville, Ohio, summed up the series’ appeal when he wrote, “Dear Mulligan Stew, Thank You for putting on the show. It taught me a lot about nutrition. My little brother watched it and is eating better now. I hope you will show it again next year. It was funny too.” From letters like that it was apparent that the series had succeeded in promoting concepts of good nutrition in an educational – yet fun – way, and the series very significantly increased 4-H enrollment at the time.
To learn more about the “Mulligan Stew” TV series, please visit http://4-HHistoryPreservation.com/History/Television/