Bad Examples frontman Ralph Covert is expanding his 10-record "Ralph's World" universe. Chicago's fave kid rocker has taped a half-hour television pilot for the preschool set.
"Ralph's World: Time Machine Guitar," stars Covert as himself-a hippy-dippy family guy and musician-who lives with three puppets in a cartoony, TV-shaped tree house. The quartet travel through time via Covert's souped-up guitar to hang (and occasionally jam) with the likes of Bach and Beethoven.
"It's completely insane, fun, funny energy," says Covert, 49, as bouncy as his music.
He and wife Rita self-financed the tot-friendly project via Kickstarter and taped the pilot in January in Charlottesville, Va. Now they're pitching "Time Machine Guitar" to public television networks. A local affiliate is interested, and waiting to see how funding plays out.
"We need an underwriter," says Covert, a Playhouse Disney regular who earned a Grammy nod for "Green Gorilla, Monster & Me" (2005).
Fingers crossed he finds one who "gets" the show's easy-going, indie-rock vibe. For the Glen Ellyn-based father of four, the pilot is a labor of love, "something from the heart."
"Any studio head that needs to see me in a suit is the wrong studio head," he jokes. "I work in my regular T-shirt and my hair."
The typical episode will feature guest stars, a dance segment, musical numbers and a visit with a historic figure. The gang "will learn about a music instrument or style of music. A problem will arise, and we'll solve it by traveling back in time for answers," Covert says.
A favorite part is spinning "The Wheel of Shenanigans, where I do what I am told to do. Sometimes it lands on 'Crash A Party,'" Covert says. "We actually crashed two parties, reality-TV style, camera crews in tow."
Sesame Street veteran Bob McGrath once confessed he treats Elmo & Co. like co-stars "or they blow you off the screen." Covert-whose creative team includes Muppeteers Pam Arciero, Helen Williams and Jim Kroupa-can vouch for puppet power. The unseen puppeteers bring the felt-and-foam characters to such roaring life that the host forgets he's chatting with toys.
Rani the squirrel is all girl, "but she's also a fix-it kind of person. She likes singing and dancing, but she wears a tool belt. If something's broken, she's not shy about whipping out a screwdriver and fixing it," he says.
Then there's Malcolm the cat, a stickler for facts. "He's organized and precise," Covert says. "If someone mentions that Ben Franklin discovered electricity, he points out, 'Ben didn't discover it. He just proved that lightning is electricity.'"
Rounding out the trio is Beauregard, a laidback dog "with a real Zen quality to him. He plays a mean keyboard," Covert says.
At this point, the trio are as real to Covert as the Bad Examples, the band that powers the "Ralph's World" franchise. During a post-taping photo shoot, someone asked whether Covert would miss his puppets. "These aren't my puppets," Covert protested. "These are my friends."
"When I said that, I started tearing up," he admits.
For more information, visit timemachineguitar.com.