'Plastic Man' A New Kiddie Cult Figure / Local entrepreneur, comic mold new hero Deck Byline and Credit SANDRA HANSEN KONTE PubDate: SUNDAY 4/20/1986 Section: San Francisco Chronicle,  SUNDAY DATEBOOK Page: 45 Edition: SUNDAY Correction Dateline Body Text follows:

REMEMBER the golden age of television, when grown men dressed in ridiculous costumes introduced tacky-looking cartoons? Who can forget Captain Satellite? Sir Sedley? Mayor Art? Captain Cosmic? Deputy Dave?

A sweet memento of the past, right? Certainly not a programming concept for an age when the top-rated kid shows are "Galactic Guardians" and "Wheeled Warriors."

But two enterprising Bay Area men, one who claims to have been Captain Satellite's biggest fan, and the other who will admittedly do anything to be discovered, decided that maybe the costumed hosts they loved as kids were put out to pasture too quickly.

The result: "The Plastic Man Comedy Adventure Show," a syndicated package of 130 cartoon shows seen each week Monday through Thursday at 3 p.m. on Channel 36, which has become successful enough to tempt producers of high-tech kiddie entertainment to hock their computer graphics machines.

In this visually sophisticated age, "Plastic Man" shouldn't have a prayer. Local comedian Mark Taylor, dressed in tights, goggles and shoulder pads in bizarre imitation of the DC Comics hero of the same name, sits on a spaceship set that looks like it was built in somebody's garage, tells corny jokes, and introduces cartoons.

You'd think it definitely wouldn't play in Peoria. But "The Plastic Man Comedy Adventure Show" not only plays in Peoria, it's seen in New York, Nashville, Atlanta, Memphis, Boston, Milwaukee and 200 other syndication markets.

MOREOVER, the show has consistently won its time slot in Los Angeles and Dallas, beating out such competition as "Good Morning, America." When it airs in New York City, 28 percent of the TV sets that are on are tuned to "Plastic Man."

Steve Whiting, the Redwood City independent video producer who is the brains behind "Plaz," as he calls the character, admits he is somewhat stunned by the show's success.

"I certainly never thought we'd be more successful than `Hour Magazine' the show's local competitor and `Good Morning, America.' In fact, it's become a sheer profit situation."

How successful is "Plastic Man"? Whiting says he produced all 130 half-hour shows for about $300,000. To date, they have grossed $4 million.

Ironically, Whiting created "Plastic Man" as a routine effort to repackage some mildly successful cartoons produced by Ruby-Spears, a Los Angeles-based animation company.

Whiting recalls: "They literally thrust these dusty film canisters at me and said, `Here, see if you can get these ready for syndication.' "

Among animated episodes featuring Marmaduke, Heathcliff and Goldie Gold, the Richest Girl in the World, Whiting noticed a series of cartoons featuring a somewhat obscure superhero named Plastic Man.

"I used to read his comic books, and remembered how he could stretch himself into different shapes, slip under doors - great stuff. I thought, `Why don't we have a live Plastic Man who introduces the cartoons?' I remembered how I had enjoyed watching a live host every day.

"In fact, I have stronger memories of my afternoons with Captain Satellite than of my entire elementary school career."

Whiting hired contractors to build a quasi-"Star Trek" set at Versatile Videos in Sunnyvale. He also hired Taylor, notorious for the extremes to which he is willing to go for his career (he is a former Playgirl centerfold) to play Plastic Man. Taylor, formerly of the Screaming Memes and Marks to Morrissey comedy groups, and now a solo, jumped at the chance to don tights and goggles.

"Listen," he says. "Most entertainers are hard-up mothers. If somebody offered me a lot of money to sell catsup, I'd do it. I'm struggling. I'm in debt. If they didn't get me, they'd get somebody else. I couldn't refuse it."

The two immediately threw out the scripts written by the children's show vets they had hired - "They were full of lines like, `Hey, kids, looks like that crazy Marmaduke's at it again," groans Whiting - and began to improvise what they considered to be more sophisticated humor.

"We decided this wouldn't be one of those kiddie shows where the actor talks down to the audience," says Taylor. "We wanted it to be genuinely funny, more camp than corny."

"Listen to this letter I got," the padded muscle-bound host announces. He reads, " `Hey, man. Your show's great, man. I watch it every day, man.' " He flashes his 10,000-watt grin. "Oh, come on. This is Plaz. We're all friends. You don't have to call me by my last name . . ." Well, it plays in Peoria.

After Whiting spent several months editing, splicing and cleaning film ("Those were well-worn cartoons," he grins), he delivered the finished product early last year to Arlington Television Sales Inc., an L.A.-based syndicate. All at once, Plaz was off and flying. "I had hardly finished editing before the big markets began inquiring about the show," says Whiting. "Right away, we were picked up by Chicago, New York, Dallas. We even have a fan club at Harvard."

This gave Whiting another brainstorm - The Plastic Man Personal Appearance Blitz. Dressed in his tights, goggles and shoulder pads, Taylor co-hosted a segment of "Evening Magazine" that was nominated for a local Emmy Award.

HE CURRENTLY makes the rounds of supermarket openings, charity drives and conventions, hoping that more and more children will tune in to watch him not-so-magically turn himself into a tire, and say things like, "Every time I do this I get gravel in my teeth."

Now however, Plastic Man has become so popular that the superhero may appear on a new show. Another Ruby-Spears character, "Mighty Man: The World's Smallest Super Hero," may soon get his own program, and Whiting intends for his star to be right there by his side.

Just why has "The Plastic Man Comedy Adventure Show" become so successful? "Maybe because it's so simple," says Whiting. "Almost too simple. For a while, everybody in the children's TV industry was trying to create a small screen version of a Spielberg film. People think that's what kids want. Maybe it's not."

Taylor has his own theory. "I certainly don't think the thing's a masterpiece. I think people can't believe that someone has the guts to do this sort of thing. I mean, here's this guy who's willing to wear tights and goggles. I think they tune in just to see if I'm for real."

"The Plastic Man Comedy Adventure Show" plays Monday through Thursday at 3 p.m. on Channel 36.

Comment Pull Quote Column Series Section SUNDAY DATEBOOK Caption (1-2) Ex-Playgirl centerfold Mark Taylor, above, now wears a'Plastic Man' costume; Steve Whiting, left, created the show / PHOTOS BY VINCENT MAGGIORA Publication THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE