Jerry O'Connell My Secret Identity CastNo Secret To Show's Success

The harvest of family sitcoms are bountiful on TV networks, and seem to vie for attention as to who can be the most outrageous. Yet My Secret Identity stands apart with a refreshing combination of zaniness and heart.

This half-hour Canadian comedy/adventure series, now in its third season on CTV, won the 1989 International Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Programming for Children and Young People, for good reason. Produced by Sunrise Films Ltd., the series' widespread popularity is evident by international sales to 35 countries on five continents.

Jerry O'Connell portrays Andrew Clements, now age 16, whose secret superpowers and incorrigible yen for mischief with pal Kirk Stevens (Christopher Bolton) cause Dr. Jeffcoate (Derek McGrath), the neighborhood mad scientist, frequent bouts of hair-tearing.

Andrew is bright and assertive, but not a smartass. Dr. J is a gentle man, but not a pushover.

"He's getting cooler now," says O'Connell, who recalls Dr. J as "kind of a nerd the first year." O'Connell views My Secret Identity generally as "more hip" this season, addressing more adult issues. Andrew, for example, is more interested in girls and cars than in comic books.

"I wouldn't call him a nerd," replies McGrath, with mock indignation. "I would call him a private person."

"He's a private nerd," adds O'Connell, an impish twinkle in his blue eyes.

And what about pal Kirk? "He's a bit of a mouthpiece," says Bolton, age 20, last season an occasional guest and now a regular character on My Secret Identity. "He doesn't have an editor between his mouth and his brain, so it's up to this guy (Andrew) to look out for me."

Andrew's mother Stephanie (Wanda Cannon) and sister Erin (Marsha Moreau) complete the all-Canadian cast, with the exception of O'Connell who hails from Greenwich Village, New York.

McGrath view Dr. J as "the moral centre" of the TV series. "For me, his most attractive quality as a human being is a kind of profound courtesy. He's courteous to the atmosphere and to his fellow men. He believes in that.

Jerry O'Connell and Derek McGrath My Secret Identity"And he's a great romantic," McGrath continues calmly and confidently, against a background of guffaws from O'Connell and Bolton, who then adds: "He's a regular 'studmuffin.' "

"Well, I wouldn't go that far-r-r," replies McGrath, "That's a little example of Kirk's character, no editing. I would have said 'gangster of love' or 'Cadillac of passion' perhaps." Andrew's petty mom Stephanie, of course, is Dr. J's prime love interest, who tends to be not quite accessible.

An obvious ingredient in My Secret Identity's success is the rapport between characters in production and off set. The show's themes range from popular issues of concern in adolescent and family life to the fantasy world experienced in Andrew's dreams.

There, he sees himself, Kirk and Dr. J as fantasy characters in a time warp of 1960s hippie days or 1930s gangster legends.

A noticeable difference between this show and other family sitcoms, however, is the lack of controversial language. Why? "I'm not against it, frankly," says McGrath. "I don't think there's anything you can say that kids haven't heard. It depends on the kind of programming and the tone.

"When it comes to a show like ours," McGrath continues, "I think it would simply be inelegant and in bad taste... We have a responsibility to the audience who have supported the show. They say, 'It's such a relief to be able to turn on the television, and find a show that the whole family can watch, without being offended, and still be entertained.' "

"We also have to be careful not to preach," says Bolton. He and O'Connell are against censorship of language on TV programs, even if My Secret Identity avoids what is controversial.

"As our (young) audience grows older, they start to do what they want to do," says Bolton. "They don't want people telling them what to do. We just show that it's not always the best idea -- we don't preach it -- you shouldn't drink or you shouldn't do drugs, or you shouldn't drop out of school. We just set a good example, and I think we've done a really good job."

Sandy Greer