By Ellen Gray
THE REAL ADVENTURES OF JONNY QUEST. TNT: 8 a.m. weekdays and 6:30 p.m. Saturdays; TBS: 4:35 p.m. weekdays; Cartoon Network: 8 p.m. and midnight weekdays.
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J.D. Roth finds it hard to believe he's 28.
``Kids still write in to the Disney Channel asking what grade I'm in,'' the host of the network's monthly ``Inside Out'' said Monday. ``I don't know if my voice has ever changed.''
It's that voice - not Roth's boyish looks - that won the Cherry Hill, N.J., native the part of one of his boyhood heroes in ``The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest,'' which premieres Monday on TNT, TBS and the Cartoon Network.
Although the original series - the first animated action-adventure - premiered on ABC four years before he was born, Roth remembers it well, particularly the '70s update. ``The real deal is that I grew up watching Jonny Quest and now I am Jonny Quest,'' he said.
What attracted him, then and now, he said, was that Jonny's ``a real kid, who has real instincts, who wants to help people. He has star quality.''
Star quality's something Roth, the son of a lawyer and an interior designer, spotted in himself at an early age. His mother, he said, jokes that he used to start performing every time he opened the refrigerator and the light went on.
``What kid knows that you can actually be on television?'' Roth said, recalling how at 11, while recovering from pneumonia, he booked himself an audition for a New York nightclub's children's show. ``My parents thought I was crazy,'' he said, but he won a spot on the show, along with a group that included Sarah Jessica Parker, Ricki Lake and Ricky Schroeder.
After that, ``My dad gave me a thousand bucks and said, `That's it,''' he said. When the money ran out, he was expected to quit show business. It never did.
``In New York, if you do two or three commercials a year, you're a hero,'' he said. ``In my first year I did 22.''
His parents, he said, kept his feet on the ground. At one point, he said, his father told him, ``One, remember, you always have to take out your own garbage. And two, there are 8 million people in China who don't know who you are.''
Chances are, there are more than 8 million adults in the United States who don't know, either, but Roth has made a name for himself among children as the host of a number of children's game shows, beginning at age 19 with Fox's ``Fun House,'' once the No. 1 children's show in the country. At 22, he became NBC's youngest-ever executive producer with a show called ``Double Up.'' He continues to produce and is currently pitching a couple of shows he hopes will meet the FCC's requirements for educational children's programming.
```G.I. Joe' is not educational. `The Jetsons' are not educational. If you look historically back at television, these are the shows that have been submitted to the FCC as educational,'' he said.
One of his proposals, for a geography-based show called ``Cyrus X. Centric,'' sounds like ``Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?'' but Roth begs to differ: ``The kids who come on that show are kind of brains on a stick. They're not personality-driven,'' he said.
``I'm up for a new `Little House on the Prairie.' Where's that show? Where are the lessons we learned on `Eight Is Enough'?''
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CBS will finally launch its own cable channel next March. Called ``Eye on People,'' it will feature biographical profiles, some drawn from material in CBS's archives ... Former ``Inside Edition'' anchor Bill O'Reilly is the latest hire at Fox News Channel, due to launch Oct. 7. O'Reilly will anchor a one-hour live news program.
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You can reach Ellen Gray by e-mail at elgray(at)phillynews.com, by fax at 215-854-5852 or by mail at the Philadelphia Daily News, Box 7788, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101.
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(c) 1996, Philadelphia Daily News. Distributed by Knight-Ridder/Tribune Information Services.