The series revolves around a group of children and teenagers who performed in their own rock group, Kids Incorporated. They struggled to deal with issues ranging from schoolyard crushes to peer pressure to child abuse, while performing regularly at a local former musical club (now a kids' hangout) called The P*lace (called "The Malt Shop" in the pilot on September 7, 1983). It had originally been named The Palace and had been a theater where, supposedly, the biggest names in entertainment, such as Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra, had once performed. But the first "a" in the neon sign burned out and was never replaced. It was never explained how the group funded or profited from their performances, but the show did not aim for strict realism. The action took place on abstract "stagey" sets and the plots involved many fantasy elements, such as the group meeting a robot (Season 1, Episode 10), a runaway princess (Season 1, Episode 6) and even a wise-cracking bicycle (Season 1, Episode 17). In addition to their performances on stage, the group would break into song when they were off-stage (much like in a stage musical).
The city in which the P*lace was located was never disclosed. The school depicted on the set had signage reading P.S., and later, Public School 127. In one episode in the first (Season 1, Episode 20 (1984)) season, The P*lace was expected to be torn down, but was saved as a National Historical Landmark.
The cast was mainly children and teenagers. The only recurring adult cohost members were Moosie Drier (Riley, 1984–1988), Sean O'Riordan (Flip, 1989–1992) and Dena Burton (Dena, 1993-1994), who played staff of The P*lace. Michael Lewis played the manager of "The Malt Shop" (the predecessor to "The P*lace") in the pilot. Parents rarely appeared on the show nor figured directly into episode plots. The cast of all nine seasons is listed as follows:
The group members ranged in age from eight to seventeen. From Seasons 4 to 5 (1987 to 1988) there were six members (three of each gender); in Seasons 1 to 3 and 6 to 9 (1984 to 1986 and 1989 to 1993), it always consisted of three girls and two boys.
The characters on the show usually carried the names of the actors who played them (for instance, Stacy and Renee's characters were also named Stacy and Renee). However, in some cases, the names were shortened (Richard Shoff's name was shortened to Richie and Anastasia Horne became Ana), and in other cases they were completely replaced. For example, Marta "Martika" Marrero's character was named Gloria while Jerry Sharell's was named Mickey and Jennifer Love Hewitt's character was called Robin. Rahsaan Patterson was called Kid and his real name was not revealed as Rahsaan until well into the series (Season 4, which was to be his last) although scripts continued to refer to him as Kid regardless. Last names were rarely mentioned.
Actors left the show when they "aged out" of their roles on "Kids Incorporated" or if they wanted to work on other things. The disappearances of some actors, such as Jerry Sharell, Martika, Renee Sands, Rahsaan Patterson, and Moosie Drier, were written into the script. However, many of the characters were replaced without comment such as the disappearances of Robin, Kenny, Devyn, Connie, Stacy, Richie, Eric, Jared, Flip, and Ryan.
While she was on the show Stacy eventually went from being the youngest to the oldest and holds the record for the longest run on the series having been on for six seasons, including the pilot. Moosie Drier was part of the cast for five seasons. Renee Sands, Rahsaan Patterson, Kenny Ford, and Ryan Lambert were on the show for four seasons each. Several of the other performers, however, like Eric Balfour, Jared Delgin, and Jerry Sharell, left the show after only one season. Sharell's departure was said to be due to creative differences with producers Thomas W. Lynch and Gary Biller. In particular, he was unhappy with the show's often bizarre and outlandish story lines. Connie, Devyn, and Jennifer were on the show for two seasons each. Martika, Richie, and Sean O'Riordan were on "Kids Incorporated" for three seasons.
For many of the cast members, the show was the beginning of a fruitful career in the entertainment industry. Currently, the most visible "Kids Incorporated" stars are Jennifer Love Hewitt, Eric Balfour, Martika, and Stacy Ferguson, a former member of pop trio Wild Orchid who performs with the Grammy Award-winning group The Black Eyed Peas as well as enjoying a very successful solo career. Others who have seen success in the fields of music and acting include Martika ("Toy Soldiers"), Mario Lopez (Saved by the Bell, Pacific Blue, Extra and Dancing with the Stars), Eric Balfour (24, Haven, Skyline), Jennifer Love Hewitt, who was credited simply as "Love Hewitt", (Party of Five, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Ghost Whisperer) and Ryan Lambert (The Monster Squad, Elephone, Kill Moi) and Haylie Johnson (Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman).
Supporting the group's singers was an ensemble of five young dancers. They were not in the pilot episode. They appeared in background scenes in The P*lace, performed choreographed routines, and served as backup singers and musicians (pretending to play) during the group's performances. With the exceptions of Ryan, Richie, and Haylie who each play an instrument in real life.
Generally, the dancers were peripheral to the stories; the plots almost never incorporated them. (In at least one episode, their "drummer", Mario Lopez, taught The Kid to wrestle.) However, during Season 1 (1984), dancer Wendy Brainard performed as a guest star singer for Corey Hart's "It Ain't Enough" and Donna Summer's "Dim All the Lights" and returned to the show as a guest star playing a dance instructor in season 8 (1992). In addition, over the years, more than twelve of them were given speaking roles in various episodes.
The longest-running dancer in the cast was Angella Kaye, who appeared on the show for seven years, from 1986 to 1992. Other noted ones included recording artist Shanice Wilson ("I Love Your Smile"), actor Mario Lopez (Saved by the Bell, Extra), and Broadway choreographer and dancer Darren Lee.Charon Aldredge (Keyboardist) – 1991–1994
Chad Anderson (Dancer) - 1985–1986
Kenneth "Ken" Arata (Keyboardist/Drummer/Bass Guitarist) – 1993–1994
Wendy Brainard (Keyboardist/Keytarist)– 1984–1986, Non-Dancer Guest Episode "On Your Toes" (1992)
Dee Caspary (Electric Guitarist/Keyboardist) – 1987–1988
Joseph Conrad (Keyboardist/Electric Guitarist/Drummer) – 1989–1990
Nicole Cropper (Tambourinist/Electric Guitarist) – 1987–1988
Kimberly Duncan (Keyboardist/Drummer) – 1988–1990
Brian Friedman (Bass Guitarist/Keyboardist/Keytarist) – 1991–1994
Andre Fuentes (Keyboardist/Drummer) – 1993–1994
Aaron Hamilton (Bass Guitarist) – 1984
Angella Kaye (Dancer) – 1986–1992
Jennifer King (Keyboardist) – 1991–1992
Leilani Lagmay (Keyboardist/Electric Guitarist/Keytarist) – 1989–1990
Darren Lee (Bass Guitarist) – 1985–1986
Mario Lopez (Drummer/Singer) – 1984–1986
Danielle Marcus-Janssen (Keyboardist/Drummer) – 1991–1994
Challyn Markray (Keyboardist/Keytarist) – 1987
Anthony "Tony" Perrin (Drummer) – 1991–1992
Brian Poth (Keytarist/Bass Guitarist/Tambourinist) – 1987–1988
Carletta Prince (Keytarist/Keyboardist) – Some 1984 Episodes
Rey-Phillip Santos (Dancer) - 1984–1985
Tiffany Robbins (Keyboardist/Guitarist) – 1989–1990
Cory Tyler (Keyboardist/Keytarist/Guitarist/Drummer) – 1989–1990
Gina Marie Vinaccia (Keyboardist/Tamborinist/Electric Guitarist) – 1985–1988
Andrea Paige Wilson (Dancer) - 1984–1986
Shanice Wilson (Keyboardist/Backup Singer) - 1984
Guest stars included both established celebrities and newcomers. Florence Henderson (1992), Gwen Verdon, Kathy Johnson, Barry Williams, Billy Blanks, David Hasselhoff, John Franklin, Ryan Bollman, Christian Hoff, Paul Rodriguez, Brian Robbins and Ruth Buzzi were among the stars who appeared during the run of the show. Young actors who guest starred on KI included Brittany Murphy (1992), Andrea Barber (1986?), Scott Wolf, R.J. Williams, Jason Hervey and Jeff Cohen ("Chunk" from The Goonies).
Music was an integral part of the show and five songs were included in every episode. The musical variety ranged over a number of different genres released from the 1960s onward. While these numbers were usually performed onstage in the context of a concert at The P*lace, they were also occasionally used to illustrate a character's internal monologue or conflict. The vocal responsibilities were shared by all five (or six) singers; every cast member was given an opportunity to perform featured or solo songs throughout the course of the season.
Each episode consisted of one original number and generally five previously recorded songs by recognized artists. Artists and songs ranged from the 1950s to the 1990s. The original songs were written by the hired composers of the show. Depending on the year those composers were Michael Cruz, Andrew R. Powell, Craig Sharmat and others.
Due to the age of both the performers and the target demographic, lyrics with objectionable content were generally edited out of the songs and replaced with more appropriate language such as "Jump Around" by House of Pain and "Hip Hop Hooray" by Naughty by Nature. However, occasionally songs were performed as written, slightly objectionable lyrics intact. Examples of uncensored songs that were presented on the series include "Dancing with Myself" by Billy Idol ("The Storybook House" episode, 1990), "Seven Wonders" by Fleetwood Mac (1988), "Prove Your Love" by Taylor Dayne, and "Smooth Criminal" by Michael Jackson (1990).
The large number of songs performed in the show, and the subsequent licensing fees existing therein, present a considerable challenge to releasing it on DVD or returning it to television.
The original pilot for the show was produced in 1983 and shopped to several networks by creators Thomas W. Lynch and Gary Biller.
The show was not picked up by a major network, but, distributed by MGM/UA Entertainment Co. Television, began a syndicated run on September 1, 1984. The original four cast members, Stacy Ferguson, Marta Marrero, Renee Sands and Jerry Sharell, were joined by Rahsaan Patterson and a company of five backup dancers.
In syndication, the show was usually shown on Tuesday or Sunday evenings; this, of course, depended on decisions made by local television stations. For example, KTRV in Boise, Idaho aired the show at first on Tuesday, then Saturday nights at 6:30 PM, while WNBC in New York City aired it first on Sundays at 1:00 PM then moved it back to 9:00 AM. KPTV in Portland, Oregon first aired it Saturday mornings at 10:30 AM, then moved it back to 9:30 AM. The shuffling time slots affected the ratings, and KI was cancelled the weekend of May 25, 1986. Reruns aired on CBN (now ABC Family) from 1985–1986.
It was due to the positive ratings from the CBN reruns that in the summer of 1986, the show was given a second chance when The Disney Channel acquired the rights to the series. It resumed production with the same cast, and new episodes began airing on November 3, 1986. Disney's buyout package also included the entire syndicated run; as such, edits had to be made to remove fee plugs and commercial outros. The show's main time slot on the Disney Channel was 5:00 PM ET/4:00 PM CT.
After the sixth season (1989) was filmed, the show was put on hiatus for a year, during which time most of the cast moved on to other projects or "aged out". The only two who were invited to return in 1991 when it resumed production were Kenny Ford and Jennifer Love Hewitt.
Budget cuts and the expiration of Disney's lease with MGM prompted another hiatus in 1993, after only ten episodes of Season 9 had been filmed. The last episode of this season, which aired on February 9, 1994, proved to be the series finale. By the summer of 1995, when the show was scheduled to resume production, most of the cast members were graduating from high school or college, or getting married, and they could no longer sustain the show's image as a result. Thus, it did not continue.
The show's format would have changed, giving the songs less importance and placing them in breaks in the main storyline action. Some proposed scripts had none at all. In addition, the show's filming would have moved from Los Angeles to Vancouver. There was some hype created for the new project in Los Angeles and New York, but it never came to fruition.
After its default cancellation, the show continued to be shown in reruns on The Disney Channel until May 30, 1996.
The show was filmed at Hollywood Center Studios in California for its entire run. It was one of the only shows, along with The Mickey Mouse Club, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and You Can't Do That on Television, in which the complete season took place within the calendar year, instead of the traditional fall-through-spring shooting/broadcast schedule. For instance, if an actor/actress was in it from 1985 to 1988, he/she actually appeared in four seasons, not three.
A significant amount of time passed between the filming of each season, accounting for the speed at which the kids in the cast seemed to age. Excepting specials, such as the 1986 holiday show Rock in the New Year (also known as "Rockin' in the New Year" or Season 3, Episode 14), production took place during July and August of each year. In later seasons, this schedule was moved to the spring.
Throughout its history, various producers and production companies were associated with the show, including K-tel Entertainment, Lynch-Biller Productions (later Lynch Entertainment; now The Tom Lynch Company), RHI Entertainment, and MGM Television (aka MGM-Pathé). Hal Roach Studios/Qintex, the studio responsible for the Our Gang (Little Rascals) short films series of the 1930s, was also involved with it.
The show essentially launched the careers of creators and producers Gary Biller and Thomas W. Lynch, who would go on to create The Secret World of Alex Mack and Romeo! among many other shows, leading the New York Times to call him "the David E. Kelley of 'tween TV". Prior to it, Lynch and Biller created and produced a long-running music video series for TBS, Night Tracks.
The 1983 pilot was recorded in August 1983 but never shown on television; however, in 1985, it was released on VHS as Kids Incorporated: The Beginning. In order to include Rahsaan Patterson, who joined the show after the pilot was shot, a new storyline was edited into the film. His character, "The Kid", was depicted as the new kid in town, who was very shy and afraid to audition for the group. He also revealed the origins of them. The "The Kid" scenes were filmed in 1985, and edited in, with the 1983 footage of the rest of the cast or in with it.
Two additional videos were released in 1985, entitled ChartBusters and The Best of Kids Incorporated. While the show was still in syndication, four albums were also released, titledKids Incorporated (1983)
Kids Incorporated (1984)
Kids Incorporated: The Chart Hits (1985)
Kids Incorporated: New Attitude (1985)
At least two of these achieved platinum sales status. No further ones were released when the show moved to Disney because the company that produced them, K-Tel Records, filed for bankruptcy at around the same time.
There had been talks about bringing the series to DVD, but due to separate rights to the series and music rights issues, those plans never materialized at the present time.
An original Japanese adaptation of the show, titled StarS, ran from 1999 to 2001. Between 13 and 26 episodes were filmed in each of its three seasons. A second version, StarS2, was scheduled to premiere on MBS in the summer of 2007. Both were produced by TOEI and co-produced by Sunrise Studios.
In addition, the American version, dubbed into Japanese, was shown on the MBS network until 2001.
The original New Zealand version of the show, High Life, began production in 1990. It ran periodically for five seasons, broadcasting six episodes per year, until 1995, when TVNZ-2 cancelled it.
The original show was also seen in countries such as Germany, Iraq, United Kingdom, Iceland, Federated States of Micronesia, Yugoslavia, Samoa, Australia and New Zealand.