Leo Cook, aka Johnny Appleseed. Photo by Erin Stephenson


“I’m phasing out of the food industry,” says Leo Cook, former head caterer at the Showers Inn Bed & Breakfast. “But I’m always cooking up new ideas.”

One recent concoction is Footsteps to Flight, a series of 15 Indiana bicentennial segments that Cook, 51, wrote, produced, and hosts for the WTIU children’s show The Friday Zone. One 3- to 5-minute segment will air each week for two seasons beginning September 26.

Footsteps to Flight introduces audiences to famous past Indiana residents and a mode of transportation used during that person’s lifetime. The segments’ host, usually a tin-capped and barefoot Johnny Appleseed played by Cook, interviews historical figures, blending transportation into the conversation. Johnny’s a punster, and his sidekicks — apples with names like Napple and Crabby — provide visual gags such as holding up the wrong props for Johnny’s history lessons. “The segments have a lot of moving parts,” Cook says. “We keep kids on their toes with whimsy and sneaking in all kinds of things.”

In one segment, Johnny discusses canals with a talking portrait of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln informs Johnny and viewers that one of his first jobs was digging a canal and explains that transporting goods by canal on a raft pulled by a mule or ox was faster than moving them by boat. Other personages featured in the series include Frances Slocum, Tecumseh, and James Dean.

Kelsey Gumm, 23, helped Cook with preproduction and directed all of the shooting outside the studio while she was an intern at WTIU. She’s now a promotions assistant at the station. “Without Kelsey,” Cook says, “the series wouldn’t be nearly as good.”

WTIU’s children’s programming producer and Friday Zone creator Eric Bolstridge calls the series “funny and smart,” adding that it “goes right along with our commitment to making educational content fun for Indiana kids and teachers.”

In addition to airing on WTIU, Friday Zone episodes that include Footsteps to Flight will run on loops in pediatric wards at hospitals in Bloomington, Bedford, and Martinsville.