“Pennsylvania Bridges Chuck” talks to “Pittsburgh Dad”
Want the ingredients for a hit show?
Mix a bit of All in the Family with a dash of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, throw in a cranky yet lovable sitcom father with humorous insights into life and, finally, add a pinch of nostalgia to remind viewers of their childhood.
Faster than you can say “Yinz”, you’ll have Pittsburgh Dad, a hit internet series with a popular character that’s become as much a part of Pittsburgh culture as the Steelers, Iron City Beer, or chipped ham.
Since its October 2011 debut, Pittsburgh Dad (created by writer/directors Chris Preksta and Curt Wootton, who also stars as the show’s title character) has become beloved by Pittsburghers, passing one million views in January 2012, and 27 million views in June 2015.
The show centers on Wootton’s Pittsburgh Dad character as he talks directly to the camera, as if he’s addressing his unseen wife Deb and their children, or speaking to neighbors, friends, and others, offering witty observations on being a dad in Pittsburgh, with a laugh track in the background to give it a classic sitcom feel.
Episodes have included Pittsburgh Dad making humorous retorts while stuck in a road work traffic jam (“I’ll tell ya, there’s four seasons in Pittsburgh: Winter, More Winter, Construction, and Stink Bugs!”), attending a parent/teacher conference, (“No, he didn’t bring home his workbook, The only things he ever brings home from this place are strep throat and stomach flu.”), reassuring his daughter who’s scared after watching The Walking Dead (“Zombies are slower than hell anyhows; they’re like old people down the self-checkout at Giant Eagles”) and berating one of his kids when they complain they don’t like what the family’s having for dinner (“Let’s see what else is on the menu, a hot plate of nothin’ with a delicious side of grounded.”)
The character has gone from Pittsburgh Dad to Pittsburgh Icon in only a few short years, inspiring t-shirts, books, and his own brand of beer. Eat N’ Park even has a Pittsburgh Dad Smiley Cookie, the proceeds of which benefit Caring for Kids at Children’s Hospital. You can order Pittsburgh Dad Smiley Cookies at smileycookie.com. The original concept for the show stemmed from the idea of two guys saving Pittsburgh from an alien invasion in the 1970s.
In 2011, Presksta and Wootton did a ten episode web series for the Syfy Network called The Mercury Men which was filmed in Pittsburgh and shot in black and white as a nod to the 1940s Flash Gordon serials. Presksta wrote and directed the series, which starred Wootton as heroic aerospace engineer Captain Jack Yaeger, who wass out to stop space invaders from destroying Earth. “During Mercury Men, I had begun doing this little impersonation of my own father just to entertain the crew,” said Wootton, “We decided to shoot some improv scenes with that character and set it to a laugh track. We added a fun 80’s style sitcom opening to it and shared it with our friends and family on Facebook. It started getting passed along and went kind of ‘Mini’ viral with Pittsburghers and the rest is history.”
Special guests on Pittsburgh Dad have included Pittsburgh Steelers Ben Roethlisberger, Jerome Bettis, Heinz Ward, and head coach Mike Tomlin. Both Wootton and Preksta have also been guests on the popular Hines Ward Show, and “Pittsburgh Dad” even appeared on the Heinz Field Jumbotron as the Steelers kicked off their 2012 season.
In October 2012, then Mayor Luke Ravenstahl declared October 25 as “Pittsburgh Dad Day” and in December 2014, WPXI aired a special, “Pittsburgh Dad’s Guide to Christmas”, which featured WQED’s Pittsburgh documentary historian Rick Sebak as host.
In a most recent episode, Pittsburgh Dad traveled back through time in a Back to the Future Delorean to different eras and stopped by the long gone, yet fondly remembered Hill’s Department Store. Watching each episode, viewers can tell both Preska and Wootton are having a lot of fun bringing this character and his adventures to life, which Wootton says is true.
“I really enjoy the freedom,” said Wootton, “Chris and I can pretty much do what we want with Dad, so it really allows us to virtually any fun situation or place that we can dream up. Now if we could just get Dad on the old Kennywood Lazer Loop!”
In addition to Pittsburgh Dad, Wootton also made Bigfoot: The Movie which premiered in spring 2015. Wootton starred as an Ellwood City, Pa local named Chuck, who teams with four other locals to take on the legendary Sasquatch known as Bigfoot and save Ellwood City.
Also in the cast are Joanie Dodds, Bill Crawford, Jim Krenn and Darieth Chilsom.
The film has played at several theaters and at other Pittsburgh area events. FMI: bigfootthemovie.com
With the huge success of Pittsburgh Dad, Wootten says he loves that fans love the series, and is a fan of the fans, as well as of Pittsburgh itself.
“We are always amazed and humbled by the success of Pittsburgh Dad,” said Wootton, “Sharing this character with so many ties to the Pittsburgh area and getting to hear the response and ideas just reiterates how awesome this city is, and how there’s really no other place quite like it.”
“Being from Pittsburgh is like being in a secret club and you’ll find members all over the world,” added Wootton. “Thank you to all our fans in the club who have embraced us and all allowed us to digitally share the awesomeness which is the Pittsburgh Culture.”
FMI: pghdad.com. Photo of “Dad” courtesy of his official web site.
Story by Chuck Brutz for Pennsylvania Bridges