Thursday, September 30, 2010

Teenage Toons: Pebbles & Bamm-Bamm (1971)

5 years after The Flintstones had ended production, Hanna-Barbera decided to return to Bedrock, but time apparently moved even faster there, as Pebbles & Bamm-Bamm were now teenagers, the idea being that CBS wanted to load up on teen-oriented cartoons as much as possible, with Pebbles joining H-B stablemates Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? (3rd season) and Josie & the Pussycats (2nd) and Filmation's Archie's TV Funnies & Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. Sally Struthers (All In The Family) was heard as Pebbles, while Jay North (ex-Dennis the Menace, Here Comes The Grump) voiced Bamm-Bamm. Due to her Family commitments, Struthers left the series after the first season, as Pebbles was rebooted as part of the Flintstone Comedy Hour.

Cartoonsintros provides the open:



Pebbles did inherit one trait from her father, Fred (Alan Reed). A penchant for outlandish ideas and schemes that, despite the best of intentions, always seemed to fall apart at the most inopportune of times.

Despite a series of prime time specials in recent years that followed Pebbles & Bamm-Bamm all the way to the altar, advertisers seem to prefer them to remain eternal toddlers, as witnessed in recent ads for the Pebbles line of cereals from Kraft's Post division. As The Flintstones marks its 50th anniversary today, you wonder if or when WB will finally do the right thing and restore Pebbles & Bamm-Bamm to adulthood and create a new series around them as a sort of Flintstones: The Next Generation, if you will. The format change in '72 suggests that despite the lineage, viewers didn't feel the kids could carry a show on their own, even with their parents around.

Rating: B.

Toon Rock: "Yabba Dabba Doosie" (1972)

From 1972's Flintstone Comedy Hour, here's the Bedrock Rockers (Pebbles & Bamm-Bamm's band), performing "Yabba Dabba Doosie". The video has Pebbles, Penny, & Wiggy as fairies, a la Tinker Bell, if you will.



Not exactly on a par with, say for example, Josie & the Pussycats or The Archies, or even Fat Albert's Junkyard Band, who debuted that season. The Bedrock Rockers had debuted on Pebbles & Bamm-Bamm a year earlier as an excuse to pit the titular teens against their fellow toon rockers, even if none of them were going to replicate the success of the Archies' 1968 #1 smash, "Sugar, Sugar". Let's put it this way. While Pebbles inherited her father's penchant for outlandish schemes that didn't always work, despite the best of intentions, she didn't inherit his latent vocal talents.

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Shirt Tales (1982)

Based on characters from a series of greeting cards in the early 80's, the Shirt Tales acted as a lead-in to Smurfs when it debuted on NBC in 1982.

MzTavish uploaded the open, taken from Retrojunk.com.



The amazing thing was how the team managed to carry out their missions without Park Ranger Dinkle knowing about it. Even more amazing was that it didn't last as long as you'd think, just a couple of years before NBC pulled the plug. CBS would pick up the series as a mid-season replacement a few years later.

Rating: A-.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Saturtainment: The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show (1974)

CBS wanted to do something different with their Saturday morning lineup, just to prove they weren't resting on their ratings laurels. That "something different" was adding some live-action programming to the schedule. Granted, they already had the CBS Children's Film Festival, hosted by Kukla, Fran, & Ollie, at the bottom of the lineup, but ever since Captain Kangaroo had left Saturdays a few years prior, the network had a mostly animated slate. One experiment was a half-hour variety show featuring the Hudson Brothers. Here's the open to their show, courtesy of Muttley16 and YouTube:



Series regulars Ted Ziegler & Billy Van had also been in the employ of producers Alan Blye & Chris Bearde on Sonny & Cher's prime time show, and Van also starred in the syndicated Hilarious House of Frightenstein, another Bearde production. Murray Langston is better known to most as the Unknown Comic, a frequent visitor on The Gong Show, which Bearde initially co-produced with host Chuck Barris. Freeman King, another member of the Sonny & Cher repertory company, would later serve as announcer-DJ on Merv Griffin's Dance Fever. The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show is available on DVD, so if you want to show your kids what you watched when you were their age, here's a great example.

Rating: B.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Celebrity Toons: Mr. T meets Alvin & the Chipmunks (1983)

NBC got Alvin & the Chipmunks off to a fast start by having another of their stars pay Alvin, Simon, & Theodore a visit in their opener. The network figured that the best way to promote the debut of Mr. T later that morning was to have the big fella make his toon debut on Alvin, coming to the aid of the boys when bullies steal a gold watch Alvin brought in for show & tell.

Edit, 9/21/16: Unfortunately, this episode has been deleted from YouTube again.

Ruby-Spears obtained licenses for both Mr. T & Alvin, but would lose the Chipmunk license to rival DIC a few years later. NBC would lose the Chipmunks altogether, as the series later moved to Fox to finish its run, albeit under a new title. But that's another story for another time.

Rating: A.

Rein-toon-ation: Jim Henson's Muppet Babies (1984)

The centerpiece of CBS' 1984-5 Saturday morning lineup was Jim Henson's Muppet Babies, which reimagined the familiar Muppets, such as Kermit the Frog & Ms. Piggy, as toddlers. This was spun from a dream sequence in the movie, "The Muppets Take Manhattan", which was released in July of that year, with Muppet Babies following 2 months later to launch a 7 year run. Here's the open, courtesy of YouTube:



The most interesting aspect of the show is the talent involved. Howie Mandel (Deal Or No Deal), who was appearing on St. Elsewhere at the time, worked on the show the first two seasons, and when other commitments precluded him from continuing, the producers hired another Canadian comic, Dave Coulier (later of Full House) to take his place. The Muppets' Nanny, whose face was never seen, was voiced by sitcom icon Barbara Billingsley (ex-Leave It To Beaver). Marvel Comics' television division produced the show, and Marvel even produced a comic book spun from the series. Today, both the Muppets & Marvel are the property of the Walt Disney Company, but due to rights issues regarding music and/or film footage used on the show, there doesn't appear to be a DVD release coming any time soon. It was good, clean fun, just like the Muppet Show before it.

Marvel would also do a cartoon based on another Muppet franchise, HBO's Fraggle Rock, for NBC, but was not quite as successful.

Rating: A.

Saturtainment: Pryor's Place (1984)

Sid & Marty Krofft had previously sold one first-run series to CBS, 1975's Far Out Space Nuts, which lasted one year. Now, the network was looking for programming to counter then-#1 NBC, which dominated Saturday mornings in the 80's with Smurfs, Mr. T, & Alvin & the Chipmunks. The Kroffts offered up a Sesame Street-esque half-hour, Pryor's Place, somehow managing to secure comedian Richard Pryor to do a Saturday morning show. By this point, Pryor had started making more family-friendly comedies, and had come off a dramatic turn in "Superman 3" a year earlier.

Here's the intro, with the theme performed by Ray Parker, Jr. ("Ghostbusters"):



Unfortunately, Pryor's Place met the same fate as Space Nuts did, cancelled after just 1 season, only in this case, CBS wasn't willing to let the show play out the string. By the spring of '85, the network had acquired the original Land of the Lost to fill the space vacated by Pryor.

Due to syndicated programming airing from 11 (ET) forward on Saturdays, the local affiliate aired Pryor at 7:30 am, which was when I'd be able to see the show. Had it been given an earlier berth, there's no guarantee the show's fate would've changed for the better. It can be said that Pryor's near-death experience a year or two earlier had given him a career epiphany, leading to this show and movies like "Moving", which came out the following summer. At least he fared better this time than with his prime-time show, which got a month on NBC in 1977.

Rating: B.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Celebrity Toons: Partridge Family 2200 AD (1974)

The story goes that Joe Barbera had pitched a revival of his 1962 series, The Jetsons, to CBS, which at one time during the late 60's aired repeats of the series. However, network suits didn't want The Jetsons, though they were willing to try another domestic sitcom set in the far future. The Partridge Family was available after ending its prime-time run on ABC, and some of the kids from the show, including Susan Dey (Laurie) & Danny Bonaduce (Danny), had joined the cast of another H-B show, Goober & the Ghost Chasers, halfway through its one and only season. The end result was Partridge Family 2200 AD, which, like Goober, was cancelled after 1 season. Here's the opening, which shows how the cityscape of Earth in the year 2200 resembled the world of The Jetsons:



This was one of the last series to be blacked out in mid-morning in favor of syndicated programming, as my memory serves. Most of us will recall how the show was included in the Fred Flintstone & Friends syndicated package that came out in 1977, with the episodes split into two parts. From what I saw, trying to substitute the Partridges for the Jetsons ranks as one of the worst ideas in cartoon history. Luckily for H-B, they would get that Jetsons revival after all, when a weekday version of the series went into syndication in 1985.

Rating: C.

Saturday Morning's Greatest Hits: Begging Benny (1972)

Fat Albert & the Cosby Kids was Filmation's longest-running series, airing for 13 seasons (1972-1985), the final season as a weekday syndicated entry. One of the Junkyard Band's best known songs was "Begging Benny", which if my memory is correct came from the series' 1st season.



Like other pre-fab cartoon groups of the period, a Fat Albert soundtrack album does exist, but you'd be hard-pressed to find it. It's that rare. With the series resurfacing, airing Saturdays on RTV (check your local listings) beginning October 2, you can bet there'll be a clamor for the album to finally be released on CD.

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Hong Kong Phooey (1974)

Martial arts movies were in vogue in the mid-70's, and Kung Fu, a Western (!) starring David Carradine, was being shuffled in and out of the ABC prime time lineup. The network felt they needed another superhero show to complement Super Friends, which was in perpetual rerun for its 2nd season. Enter Hong Kong Phooey, a canine martial artist whose talents were overshadowed by his general ineptitude. Shoot, Maxwell Smart was more proficient with mere karate chops than Phooey, but then again, Hanna-Barbera had Smart in mind when they were developing this series. Here's the open, narrated by Don Messick, and uploaded to YouTube:



Phooey (Scatman Crothers) would solve two cases per week, and one of the rare times where this wasn't the case was in a backdoor pilot for Posse Impossible, which later made it to air as part of the 1977 anthology series, CB Bears. Joe E. Ross (ex-Car 54, Where Are You?) was heard as Sgt. Flint, Penrod Pooch's boss.

There have been rumors for the last few years about a live-action/CGI feature film version of the series, but nothing has ever materialized beyond the talking stage. Would Hong Kong Phooey be worth reviving as a regular series? Only if they rebooted and converted Flint and Rosemary into canine characters. As we've already seen in the 21st century, "funny animal" heroes interacting with humans (i.e. "Underdog") don't resonate with audiences the way they did back in the 60's & 70's.

Rating: B.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Saturtainment: Marlo & the Magic Movie Machine (1977)

Marlo & the Magic Movie Machine was a syndicated series that was well ahead of the curve. If it were launched today, it'd have the FCC's "E/I" designation as being both educational & informative. Here's the opening:



Laurie Faso starred as Marlo Higgins, employed by the L. Dullo Computer Company, but whose office was near the basement. Good enough to hide the Movie Machine, built from Dullo tech. Marlo would queue up old movie or documentary footage, and play challenging games geared for the viewing audience. Faso would later return to Saturdays as a game show host (I'm Telling!) a decade later. Marlo lasted three seasons, but after being a 1 hour show the first year, it was chopped in half for seasons 2 & 3, for reasons known only to CBS affiliate WFSB of Hartford, CT., where the show was taped. To be sure, it was way ahead of its time.

Rating: B.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Celebrity Toons: New Adventures of Gilligan (1974)

By 1974, Gilligan's Island was well established in syndication, and in my home district, having been introduced to cable just a year earlier, viewers could see the show twice a day most days.

Creator Sherwood Schwartz, having seen The Brady Kids fall apart in its 2nd season, leading to cancellation, decided it was time to bring Gilligan and the rest of the castaways back. However, not all of the cast reunited for The New Adventures of Gilligan, which replaced Brady Kids on ABC's Saturday schedule. TVSeriesFinale.com uploaded the open & close to YouTube:



As it has been explained, Tina Louise wanted nothing further to do with the franchise, wary of typecasting, and Dawn Wells (Mary Ann) was away with a touring theatre company and could not return. Filmation's stalwart female voice artist, Jane Webb, voiced both Ginger & Mary Ann, credited as "Jane Edwards" for the latter part. Wells would turn the same trick when the gang got back together 8 years later for Gilligan's Planet, back on their original network, CBS. If anything at all, the most experienced voice actor in the group was Jim Backus (Mr. Magoo), who for all we know might have doubled as an uncredited voice coach. New Adventures would move to Sundays for its 2nd & final season while Bob Denver (Gilligan) moved on to the Kroffts' Far Out Space Nuts back on CBS. Devotees of the Gilligan franchise hoping for a DVD release may have to petition Warner Bros., which holds the rights. Right now, even though New Adventures marked its 35th anniversary last year, it doesn't seem likely. WB, after all, has a whole treasure trove to go through.

New Adventures of Gilligan tried to recapture the spirit of the original series, but couldn't find enough viewers. Filmation actually did themselves in, since CBS booked another of their freshman entries, Shazam!, directly opposite New Adventures. Enough said.

Rating: B-.

Saturday School: Jambo (1969)

Producer Ivan Tors is better known for prime time shows like Cowboy in Africa, Gentle Ben, & Daktari. However, Tors ventured into Saturday daytime with Jambo, which aired on NBC in 1969. Daktari's Marshall Thompson is the host-narrator, and also serves as a producer. Thompson isn't the only one crossing over from Daktari, as he's joined by Judy the Chimp. 70skidvid uploaded the open to YouTube:



In essence, Jambo was treading the same ground as Wild Kingdom, which aired on Sunday nights during its original run, but put more of an emphasis on educating the audience. Unfortunately, the series didn't last very long, and if it were to be revived today, the only place where it would air would be Animal Planet.

Rating: B-.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Saturday Morning Ringside: World Class Championship Wrestling (1984)

One of the advantages that professional wrestling enjoyed in the 70's & 80's, especially, was that in syndication, local stations could put it on any time of day. When the Von Erichs decided to put their Dallas based promotion, World Class Championship Wrestling, in national syndication in the mid-80's, some stations, such as WRGB in Schenectady, the current CBS affiliate, slotted it at 11 in the morning, blacking out another hour of CBS' Saturday morning fare.

Following is an episode from November 1984:



World Class aspired to be at least the #2 promotion in the country, behind the juggernaut that the WWE had become. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. Like everyone else, they fell victim to Vince McMahon's talent raids, and by the end of the decade, the World Class television show was no more. For a good period in the mid-to-late-80's, however, it did provide an alternative, and a pretty good one at that.

Rating: B.

Saturtainment: Krofft Supershow (1976)

Sid & Marty Krofft made an inroad into variety shows when they were tapped to produce Donny & Marie upon its launch as a mid-season replacement in January 1976. 8 months later, the Kroffts unveiled The Krofft Supershow, an anthology series that mixed together comedy & music segments from the house band/hosts, Kaptain Kool & the Kongs with 3 featured series.

The segment most fans remember is Electra Woman & Dyna Girl, a distaff knock-off of Batman, complete with cliffhanger endings and the occasional diagonal camera angle. Diedre Hall (Days of Our Lives) & Judy Strangis were the title heroines. Here's the open, uploaded by spottymax to YouTube:



The fan following for Electra Woman was such that the Kroffts actually mounted a prime time pilot in 2001 to mark the series' 25th anniversary, with Markie Post (ex-Night Court) as Electra Woman. The pilot never made it to air.

Wonderbug was the only regular feature, aside from the band, to appear on both seasons of the Supershow. It was cheesier than anything else on the show, as the usual cheap production values were more obvious here. It also inspired a semi-knockoff the following year, when Hanna-Barbera served up the animated Wonder Wheels, about a dilapadated scooter that turns into a souped up motorcycle, as part of the Skatebirds. Wonderbug came to life with the aid of a magic horn. Go figure.

Here's the intro:



Dr. Shrinker was loosely based on a 40's horror movie, "Dr. Cyclops". In this case, Shrinker (Jay Robinson, "Train Ride to Hollywood") had plans to sell off his "Shrinkees" to a foreign power. Billy Barty (Sigmund & the Sea Monsters), Jeff MacKay (ex-Black Sheep Squadron) and Ted Eccles (better known for his voice work on The Herculoids and Three Musketeers) co-starred. Here's "Pardon Me, King Kong".



After the first season, Dr. Shrinker and Electra Woman were cancelled, and replaced with two new segments, Bigfoot & Wildboy (previously reviewed) & Magic Mongo. Mongo featured veteran voice actor-producer Len Weinrib in a rare (by that time) live-action role, as a bumbling male genie now under the charge of a group of teenagers. Unfortunately, I don't have a clip to post here. There are some tied to the series' theme for season 2, but embedding's been disabled.

As for Kaptain Kool & the Kongs, they had some ties to my home district. Singer-songwriter Bert Sommer, from Albany, was cast as "Flatbush", but left the series after the 1st season. Drummer Mickey McMeel (Turkey) & vocalist Debra Clinger (Super Chick) were the only other true musicians in the group. McMeel had previously played & toured with Three Dog Night. Clinger had been in a folk vocal group, the Clinger Sisters, who had made the rounds in the 60's, including the infamous Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. In that respect, the Kongs had something in common with the most famous pre-fab band of the 60's, the Monkees. Here's a clip of the band, minus Sommer, from The Brady Bunch Variety Hour (1977), performing "Names".



The band was split up, seemingly for good, we thought, after Supershow was cancelled. Nashville (impressionist Louise DuArt, who later hosted the game show Rodeo Drive for cable's Lifetime) and Turkey went on to NBC's Krofft Superstar Hour, and would be joined by the others periodically. Those that claim that this was really the Supershow under a new title have to be mistaken. Debra Clinger (Super Chick) went to prime time, starring in the short lived CBS series, The American Girls, and hasn't been heard from much since. Michael Lembeck (Kaptain Kool) also moved to prime-time, landing a gig on another, more successful CBS show, One Day at a Time, before turning to directing. However, the band would reform to appear for a few episodes before the NBC series was abruptly retooled to put more focus on the show's hosts, the Bay City Rollers. For all we know, Mickey McMeel may still be playing in a band somewhere. The Krofft Supershow was the next-to-last Saturday morning series the Kroffts would produce for ABC until a revival of Land of the Lost in 1991. As noted previously, Bigfoot & Wildboy was spun off from Supershow during the 1978-79 season. It was fun while it lasted.

Rating: B.

Updated, 11/17/11, with more information.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Toon Rock: The Jackson Five (1971) & The Osmonds (1972)

After the failure of The Reluctant Dragon & Mr. Toad (previously reviewed), Rankin-Bass decided that the best way to make an impact on Saturday mornings was to join the increasingly crowded bubblegum pop sweepstakes. And, so it was that the studio entered into an agreement with Motown Records to produce an animated series based on the Jackson Five (or 5ive, if you go by the title graphics). The character designs were done by the British animation team of Halas & Bachelor, who'd previously had worked on some Popeye cartoons in the 60's for King Features' TV division. Here's the open to the Jackson Five:



Seeing how the series was a relative success, Rankin-Bass followed up the next year with The Osmonds, with Merrill, Jay, Jimmy, Wayne, and, of course, Donny, acting as goodwill ambassadors while on tour. ClassicTelevisionFan posted the opening:



Unfortunately, only one season was produced for each series, preventing even the most remote concept of a cross-over between the two shows, and both were cancelled at the end of the 1972-73 season. Jackson Five made the rounds of syndication in the late 70's, but The Osmonds didn't, despite the fact that Donny had returned to television, this time with a live-action variety show, teamed with sister Marie. The Osmond family, then, likely owns the rights to the cartoon, which might've been co-produced with MGM (since the Osmonds recorded for MGM Records at the time). Thus, most fans probably don't realize that Donny & Marie (1976-79) wasn't Donny's first starring gig. Jackson Five last aired on cable on BET a few years back after a brief run on step-sister network TV Land. Amazingly, VH1 didn't bother dusting it off as part of a tribute to Michael Jackson, who passed away last year.

So what was the better show? Actually, they were about the same. That's all that needs be said.

Rating: B- (for both shows).

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Celebrity Toons: Will the Real Jerry Lewis Please Sit Down (1970)

Most of today's audience only knows comedy legend Jerry Lewis as the man who does the telethons every Labor Day for muscular dystrophy. Lewis, though, had previously had a couple of prime-time series bearing his name that didn't quite work out as well as hoped. The same thing applies to a 1970 cartoon for which Filmation obtained a license to use Lewis' likeness and those of characters he created for some of his films, including "The Family Jewels". ToonTracker uploaded the opening & closing to Will the Real Jerry Lewis Please Sit Down to YouTube:



While Lewis served as an uncredited creative consultant, he didn't lend his voice to his animated likeness. That job went to a then unknown David L. Lander, who later earned his big break as Andrew "Squiggy" Squigman on Laverne & Shirley. Lander & Howard Morris handled all the Lewis creations, while Jane Webb voiced all the female parts. Unfortunately, the series only had 1 season's worth of episodes, and was shunted off to Sundays the next year. Lewis owns the rights to the series, and reportedly has no intention of releasing them into syndication any time soon. That's a shame, since it might be worth the while to look back and laugh after all.

Rating: B.

Saturday Morning's Greatest Hits: We're One Big Family (1970)

The Archies couldn't quite match the chart success of their #1 smash, "Sugar, Sugar", but they could've picked any number of songs from their CBS cartoons and market them a little bit better. One strong example is "We're One Big Family", a ballad about international brotherhood. Here's the clip, including a skit with Veronica & Jughead that precedes it, uploaded by Pterixa to YouTube:



In this writer's opinion, "We're One Big Family" is actually a better song, largely because of its positive message. It's just too bad that insofar as Billboard was concerned the Archies had already peaked.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Cool McCool (1966)

It wasn't enough that there was already a live-action spy parody, Get Smart, on the air, mixed in with the likes of Man From U.N.C.L.E. & Mission: Impossible. There had to be one for the kids, as well. King Features television head Al Brodax collaborated with Bob Kane, the creator of Batman, to create Cool McCool as part of NBC's Saturday lineup. NBC, also home to Smart & U.N.C.L.E., kept McCool around for a couple of years. Conniptions886 uploaded the opening & closing credits to YouTube:



What you don't see is Cool's dad, Harry, who had his own backup feature. Bob McFadden based Cool McCool's voice on comedy legend Jack Benny, perhaps imagining Benny as a secret agent. Well, if it worked for Woody Allen, it could've worked for Benny, too, given the right script. Could the seemingly indestructible Cool return in today's world? It all depends on who currently has the rights, be it King Features or someone else. We can all use a good laugh.

Rating: A-.

From Comics to Toons: Kid Power (1972)

Morrie Turner's newspaper strip Wee Pals was adapted for television as Kid Power in 1972. Produced by Rankin-Bass for ABC, Kid Power's ethnically diverse cast of youngsters was actually comparable to Charles Schulz's legendary Peanuts strip, but it would be another decade before Charlie Brown and company would make their Saturday morning debut. Muttley16 uploaded the open to Kid Power to YouTube:



Today, Wee Pals is still around, but not in as many papers as it once was, and Morrie Turner is still writing and drawing the strip, while Peanuts lives on in reprint form after Schulz's passing a few years back. Conversely, Kid Power, the last weekly series produced by Rankin-Bass, along with The Osmonds, has been lost in television limbo after it was cancelled. I may be wrong, but the series was shifted to Sundays for its final season. It's a shame, really. Fat Albert & the Cosby Kids, with its all-African-American cast, launched the same year, and became a television icon, lasting a total of 13 seasons (the last in syndication from 1984-85). Kid Power, had it been marketed the same way, might've hung on a little bit longer. All that's left now is to hope for a DVD release.

Rating: A-.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Celebrity Toons: Mission: Magic! (1973)

Australian singer-songwriter Rick Springfield made his first inroad into the American pop charts in 1972 with "Speak to the Sky", and was being compared favorably to actor-singer David Cassidy (The Partridge Family). Somehow, Filmation convinced Springfield he was just the guy they needed to headline a new animated series they'd sold to ABC, Mission: Magic!, which in fact was spun-off from The Brady Kids, as Miss Tickle, the school teacher/sorceress who was the real heroine on this show, had appeared in a back-door pilot on the latter series the year before. In truth, Springfield fit about as well as a square peg in a round hole, and if you go by the open, you'd think that he & the teacher were involved in a relationship. Here is said open, uploaded to YouTube:



Filmation's luck was starting to run out at ABC. Mission: Magic! was a dud, the weakest link among the network's freshman class of '73 among Saturday morning shows. Springfield would launch his acting career in earnest with a few guest appearances here & there before ABC came calling in 1981, bringing him aboard their flagship soap, General Hospital. Of course, the rest is history. As for Miss Tickle, if it ever happens that Classic Media, which currently holds the rights to a majority of Filmation's library, decides to bring her back, I'd not be surprised if they rebooted her as a sexy hottie to attract the teenagers in the audience. Not that it would be an improvement over time, but stranger things have happened.......

Rating: B-.

Saturday School: You Are There (1971)

You Are There was produced by CBS' news department, and originally aired in prime time back in the late 50's or early 60's. Stuck for programming to counter ABC's afternoon juggernaut, American Bandstand, CBS decided to revive You Are There in 1971, complete with legendary anchor Walter Cronkite at the desk. 70skidvid uploaded the open & close to the episode, "The Siege at the Alamo", starring Fred Gwynne (ex-The Munsters) as Davy Crockett, to YouTube:



Aside from CBS News reporters Bob Schieffer & Douglas Edwards, the only other notable name in the cast was Roger Davis, who at the time was the announcer, and later co-star, of Alias Smith & Jones. I recall sitting with my brother & father watching this show at lunch time, and this was the sort of Saturday fare the parents could actually make time for. Unfortunately, CBS, seeing the low ratings, shunted the series off to Sundays the next season before putting it to bed for good. Cronkite would put this experience to good use several years later. While working on the animated series, Liberty's Kids, Cronkite, voicing Benjamin Franklin, would anchor news briefs during the show (it originally aired on PBS before going to commercial syndication). And, as Cronkite himself would say, "that's the way it was".

Rating: A.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Animated World of DC Comics: Wonder Woman on "The Brady Kids" (1972)

The Brady Kids was the centerpiece of ABC's 1972-73 Saturday lineup. The six Kids from Brady Bunch (Maureen McCormick, Eve Plumb, Susan Olsen, Barry Williams, Christopher Knight, & Mike Lookinland) lent their voices to their animated alter-egos, at least through the first season. Half the gang chose not to return for the 2nd and final season, which coincided with the end of Bunch, as both series were gone by 1974. Filmation & Paramount co-produced the series, the first of two such collaborations (NBC's reboot of Star Trek the following year was the other) between the two studios. They also contributed to the evolution, if you will, of what would be the cornerstone of the network's Saturday schedule the next year, Super Friends, as Wonder Woman & Superman guest-starred in separate episodes. Filmation stalwart Jane Webb was the voice of the Amazing Amazon in the episode, "It's All Greek to Me", which Diana Prince (get it?) uploaded to YouTube:







As we all know, Hanna-Barbera landed the license to produce Super Friends, which would be a franchise for ABC well into the mid-80's, and they certainly knew how to better utilize Wonder Woman. All you needed to do was take a look at how they were able to have Batman & Robin interact with Scooby-Doo over on CBS, to get an idea.

Rating: C (for cheesy).

Saturtainment: Hey, Vern, It's Ernest! (1988)

The late comedian Jim Varney had struck a cultural gold mine with a series of commercials playing country bumpkin Ernest P. Worrell during the 80's. While we never saw Ernest's pal, Vern, whom he was always addressing in the ads, Worrell himself became a pop icon, such that Varney parlayed the character's success into a series of feature films, along with a short-lived Saturday morning series on CBS that aired in 1988. Unfortunately, the local affiliate opted not to air the show. Here's a sample episode, courtesy of YouTube:



DIC & Varney took a chance by giving a daytime berth to a character who actually was more suited for prime time, and the gamble ultimately failed. Hey, Vern, It's Ernest! bit the dust after 1 season, and Varney soldiered on, continuing with the "Ernest" series of feature films. It's a wonder CBS never considered trying it at night, because that might've saved the show. Since I never saw the show, I can't give it a rating.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Literary Toons: The Reluctant Dragon & Mr. Toad (1970)

Rankin-Bass adapted Kenneth Grahame's Reluctant Dragon & Mr. Toad for ABC in 1970, but unlike their rebooting of King Kong into a Saturday morning superhero 4 years earlier, kids just weren't into the adventures of the characters from the books Reluctant Dragon & Wind In The Willows, which had previously been adapted into a theatrical feature for Disney nearly 30 years earlier.

ToonTracker uploaded the open & close of the show to YouTube:



The series was cancelled after 1 season, and Rankin-Bass replaced it on the ABC schedule the next year with another licensed property, one you might've heard of. A little group out of Indiana known as the Jackson 5ive, which lasted two seasons. I admit I never saw Reluctant Dragon, save for the above, and having never seen any full episodes, I cannot give it any sort of rating.

Celebrity Toons: Hammerman (1991)

MC Hammer was one of the hottest, most popular rap stars on the planet as the 90's began. In fact, he'd dropped the "MC" from his name and went by simply, "Hammer" for his CD, "Too Legit To Quit", in 1991. In September, Hammer (Stanley Burrell) made the first of several bad career moves by signing off on an ABC Saturday morning cartoon based on his likeness. Hammerman, produced by DIC, posited the title character as a hip-hop superhero whose biggest weapon was a pair of magic shoes. As bad as it sounds. Vandevere uploaded the open to YouTube:



As you can tell, Hammer performed the theme song, but that was about as far as his actual participation went. The series, mercifully, lasted just one season, and ratings were so bad from the get-go that it was moved into the lunch hour blackout zone, meaning the local affiliates would bump it for syndicated programming and push the show to a early morning slot where fewer people are likely to watch.

Rating: D.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Celebrity Toons: Pro-Stars (1991)

NBC was transitioning its Saturday morning line-up away from cartoons and toward live-action in the early 90's. They let Alvin & the Chipmunks move to Fox, and bade farewell to the Smurfs after a decade. So what stood in their places? For starters, there was Pro-Stars, repositioning star athletes Wayne Gretzky (hockey), Bo Jackson (baseball/football), & Michael Jordan (basketball) as crime fighters. Utch uploaded the opening to YouTube:



While the funky theme song gets the show off to a good start, it gets bogged down with cliched story ideas that we've seen a zillion different times over the years. Predictably, none of the athletes voiced their animated counterparts. It was not a good year for DIC, as this was one of three celebrity-based cartoons the studio produced, and all of them were cancelled after the 1991-92 season. The others? The notoriously bad Hammerman (MC Hammer green-lighted this series about a rapper-turned-superhero thanks to a pair of magic shoes) and Wishkid, a vehicle for then-white-hot movie star Macaulay Culkin ("Home Alone"), who actually did lend his voice to his toon persona of Nick McCrary. By the fall of 1992, NBC had left the toon business and went with an all live-action lineup comprised of teen oriented sitcoms. Too bad they left on such a sour note. Of course, they'd return to toons, thanks first to Discovery Kids, then Qubo.

Rating: B-.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Game Time: Junior Almost Anything Goes (1976)

Well before there were "reality" games like Survivor and The Amazing Race, ABC had introduced a similar night-time game show, Almost Anything Goes, as a mid-season replacement in the mid-70's, and borrowed sportscaster Charlie Jones from rival NBC to call the action. Almost proved to be popular enough to warrant a spin-off for the Saturday morning crowd, and so producer Bob Banner (who'd later help get the syndicated Solid Gold off the ground) was commissioned to create Junior Almost Anything Goes, a lunch hour entry on ABC's 1976-77 schedule. Unfortunately, the local ABC affiliate at the time chose to black out the show in favor of more profitable syndicated programming. A pity, since it was the first network series for iconic funnyman Soupy Sales, who served as the series host. Just as unfortunate is the fact that there is only a network promo, uploaded by 70skidvid to YouTube, to mark the existence of the series, which lasted just the one season:



I actually watched some episodes of the parent Almost Anything Goes, which pitted teams representing small towns against each other in contests that you'd might find either at the county fair or on Beat the Clock. The kids' version is pretty much the same thing, but since I never saw an episode, I cannot give a fair rating.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Saturday School: In The News (1971)

CBS struck a gold mine when its news department decided to add a series of short news briefs to the network's Saturday morning lineup.

In The News was the follow-up to the animated In The Know, which Hanna-Barbera produced for the network a year earlier, featuring the cast of Josie & the Pussycats. While there are no In The Know clips presently available, there are quite a few of In The News, which was narrated for the bulk of its 15 year run by reporter Christopher Glenn, who would later be given a regular news program of his own, with the launch of 30 Minutes in 1978.

Here for you is a 1979 piece on The Who and the tragic concert in Cincinnati. Uploaded by Uncle Cathode.



In The News lasted 15 seasons, ending rather quietly in 1986, but would enjoy a brief revival in 1997-98. Today, ABC, NBC, & CBS all have weekend editions of their weekday morning talk-news programs to lead off their Saturday lineups, but for those who grew up with In The News, it's really the continuation of a tradition.

Rating: A.

Krofftverse: Land of the Lost (1974)

After specializing in comedy-fantasy for 5 seasons, Sid & Marty Krofft decided to try something a wee bit different. While Land of the Lost still had the same dime-store production values as its stablemates, like H. R. Pufnstuf, for example, it was more of a dramatic series. PufnStufProductions uploaded this clip to YouTube:



Soap star Wesley Eure (Days of Our Lives) was given top billing, though only on a first name basis early on. Eure was a regular subject of the teen magazines of the day, right up there with pop stars like Tony DeFranco and actor-singer David Cassidy (The Partridge Family). Land of the Lost lasted 3 seasons on NBC, and in the final season, Spencer Milligan left the series over a salary dispute (what else?), resulting in Ron Harper (ex-Planet of the Apes) being brought in to take his place. Land of the Lost developed enough of a fan base such that when CBS dropped another Krofft show, Pryor's Place, halfway through the 1984-85 season, they picked up Lost reruns to fill the slot. This, in turn, led to Lost being revived in 1991, this time on ABC, with a new cast, headed by Timothy Bottoms. Not only that, but this Land was filmed instead of videotaped, which improved the production quality. Here, courtesy of BaptistKitty, is the open to the 1991 version:



Last year, Lost was revived again, this time as a comedy-adventure feature film starring Will Ferrell ("The Other Guys") in the role of Rick Marshall (Milligan's character from the original series). Unfortunately, the combination of a bad script and the presence of Ferrell, an acknowledged fan of the series, resulted in mostly negative reviews and a less-than-stellar performance at the box office. Ferrell, of course, has rebounded with "The Other Guys", but it may take some time before the Kroffts can adapt any of their other properties to the big screen.

The 1991 Lost was the superior version, in this writer's opinion, largely because of the improved production values, and it also spent some time in reruns on Nickelodeon later in the 90's. The original series' cable rights were previously held by SyFy, but I don't know who has them now.

Rating: (1974) B; (1991) A-.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Toon Rock: The Beagles (1966)

Buried beneath the adventure heroes assembled by CBS in 1966, The Beagles, a funny animal knock-off of a certain British pop group whose own animated adventures were airing on ABC at the time, were the first pre-fab band to break into Saturday morning television. CBS would later acquire reruns of the other pre-fab pop sensation of '66, The Monkees, to fill out their lineup at the end of the decade. ToonTracker uploaded this sample of the episode, "Foreign Legion Flops", to YouTube:



The Beagles was the last series produced by Total Television (Underdog, Tennessee Tuxedo), and, unfortunately, couldn't follow their toon brethren into syndication. Legend has it that a TTV staffer mistakenly tossed the master tapes into the garbage, making the above clip a rare find. An album of music from the series was released, of course, and could be found at record conventions if you're lucky. Would someone be willing to bring back Stringer & Tubby for a new generation? If they can get the rights and reboot the series to modern times, sure. We can all use a good laugh.

Rating: B-.

Rein-toon-ation: Emergency! Plus 4 (1973)

Emergency! was a big hit for NBC from 1972-77, leading into the network's Saturday evening movie package. But what were network suits thinking when they green-lit Emergency! Plus 4 for their 1973 Saturday morning lineup? From an educational standpoint, they wanted to teach younger viewers that probably couldn't watch the parent series about firefighting and rescue squads in ways that Smokey the Bear couldn't. A noble idea, but the execution was lacking. Independent producer Fred Calvert, who'd also produced a few entries for ABC's Saturday Superstar Movie around the same time, obtained the license from Universal & Mark VII (Jack Webb's production company) to produce Emergency! Plus 4, which showcased firemen John Gage (Randolph Mantooth) and Roy DeSoto (Kevin Tighe), now also mentoring 4 teenagers. Yeah, in a way, it was NBC's answer to ABC's Super Friends, but at half the size (half hour), and, apparently, half the budget. Here's the opening, courtesy of ClassicTelevisionFan, who uploaded it to YouTube:



Amazingly, the series lasted a total of 3 1/2 seasons, the last 1 1/2 being all repeats. NBC was desperate for programming to fill their Saturday morning lineup, such that there was a schedule overhaul on a seemingly annual basis. Calvert would ultimately replace the series and make one more attempt at Saturday ratings glory, this time with iconic boxer Muhammad Ali.

Rating: C-.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Tooniversary: Tomfoolery (1970)

Tomfoolery was the only series Rankin-Bass ever sold to NBC, this despite the fact that the network was home at the time to 2 classic R-B Christmas specials, Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer & The Little Drummer Boy, and that the studio would provide NBC with others during the 70's & 80's. Courtesy of The1970schannel & YouTube, here's the opening:



As a 7 year old back then, I barely remember seeing this show, so I was enthused to see that someone had posted it on YouTube. I was too young to understand the works of Lewis Carroll ("Alice In Wonderland") and Edward Lear, which were adapted for the show. Not surprisingly, NBC cancelled it after 1 season, due largely to poor ratings, plus the fact that the material was way over the heads of the target audience. Aside from the holiday specials, NBC never bought another series from Rankin-Bass after this.

Rating: C.

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Jana of the Jungle (1978)

In the latter half of the 70's, it seemed as though jungle heroes were back in vogue. Filmation had obtained a license in 1976 to adapt Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle for television, and the series lasted 6 years, but not many episodes were made. The series went into perpetual rerun around year 3, with episodes compressed for time as part of the Super Seven anthology, and later, pairings with The Lone Ranger (1980) and Zorro (1981). Hanna-Barbera's first response came when Rima, the heroine of H. Rider Haggard's Green Mansions, and licensed to DC Comics, appeared in two short featurettes on The All-New Super Friends Hour. However, H-B was either unable to or interested in obtaining a separate license to produce a Rima solo series.

That leads us to today's subject, Jana of the Jungle, one-half of NBC's Godzilla Power Hour, from 1978. Here, courtesy of Muttley16 and YouTube, is the open:



Jana came from the pen of comic book writer-artist Doug Wildey, the creator of Jonny Quest, who had been hired as a producer. Two months into the season, reruns of Quest were added, resulting in the anthology's title changing to Godzilla Super 90. Quest merely played out the string, and, unfortunately, Jana was cancelled after 1 season. It wasn't for lack of trying, especially in terms of creating role models for young women, but considering the competition on the other networks, especially from H-B itself, viewers felt more comfortable with something familiar (i.e. Popeye) than something new.

Could Jana be given another chance today? It'd be a welcome change, but these days, the networks don't gear their Saturday programming strictly for kids, and Cartoon Network is highly unlikely to even pick up an option, especially considering sister network Boomerang can't be bothered to dust off the series and put it in rotation.

Rating: A-.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Saturtainment: Hot Fudge (1974)

Hot Fudge was a syndicated series that started as a regional program out of Detroit before going national. The Mits Puppets were the real stars of the show, but, as http://www.fuzzymemories.tv/ reveals through YouTube, TV icon Arte Johnson (ex-Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In) made at least one appearance as host and performer. Here's a sample clip:



I am not sure exactly when Hot Fudge ceased production, but if memory is correct, it lasted into the early 80's. They just don't make 'em like they used to.

Rating: B.

Krofftverse: Lost Saucer (1975)

In 1975, Sid & Marty Krofft actually had two series on two different networks that had essentially the same concept. Neither one lasted very long, but in hindsight, had both been on the same network, there might've been the possibility, albeit a remote one, that the storylines of both shows could've been resolved in one neat, tidy package. Ah, perchance to dream.........

While the Kroffts paired up former kids' show host & Right Guard pitchman Chuck McCann and TV icon Bob Denver (Gilligan's Island) for Far Out Space Nuts on CBS, they then matched two more TV favorites, Ruth Buzzi (ex-Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In) and Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle, USMC, of course), in ABC's Lost Saucer. I am not sure if the two series were matched against each other for ratings purposes, I'd have to look that up, but I've believed that had both series been on either CBS or ABC, chances were good that the Kroffts might've been able to pitch a movie-of-the-week to resolve the matching storylines. BDM55 uploaded the opening of Saucer, complete with its funky theme song, to YouTube:



While Space Nuts was cancelled by CBS after 1 season, Lost Saucer was attached to Krofft Supershow for the first half of the 1976-77 season before being cancelled and, with Supershow trimmed to an hour, ABC filled the remaining half hour with truncated Super Friends repeats. Ruth Buzzi would return to Saturdays, this time reprising one of her Laugh-In characters, in 1977's Nitwits, one half of a DePatie-Freleng series with Baggy Pants, a Charlie Chaplin satire in funny animal form, for NBC.

I recall seeing Saucer as part of ABC's Thanksgiving kids' block, and there was a segment as part of the block that featured co-star Alice Playten doing a musical number. Sadly, I haven't been able to find it on YouTube, else I'd add it on here. Saucer was good, clean fun, and followed the familiar Krofft format to a T. Unfortunately, that format was getting a little long in the tooth, as evidenced by both Saucer and Space Nuts getting relatively quick cancellations, in comparison with Land of the Lost and Sigmund & the Sea Monsters over on NBC, which each lasted 2-3 years.

Rating: B-.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Bigfoot & Wildboy (1977)

Bigfoot & Wildboy was one of the components of the Krofft Supershow during the latter's 2nd season. While in real life no one's been able to prove the existence of Bigfoot, he was a valuable commodity in Hollywood, used in some storylines on another ABC hit, The Six Million Dollar Man, before the Kroffts got him. Fabster333 uploaded the open to YouTube. Marvin Miller, the original voice of Aquaman 10 years earlier, provides the narration:



Bigfoot & Wildboy filled the action-adventure void in Supershow created with the cancellation of Electra Woman & Dynagirl, a distaff parody of Batman that has become a cult favorite unto itself. However, Bigfoot proved to be a little more successful and popular, as ABC brought it back as a stand alone series a little more than a year later as a mid-season replacement. Unfortunately, it would also be the last series the Kroffts would produce for ABC until 1991, when Land of the Lost was revived.

Rating: A-.

Game Time: Wheel 2000 (1997)

Wheel of Fortune has been one of the most popular game shows on television since debuting in the mid-70's. However, by 1997, the series had found its niche in syndication, its days as a daytime staple long over. Undeterred, CBS took a chance on a junior version, picking up Wheel 2000 (odd title, considering that they were pre-dating themselves by 3 years) for their Saturday morning lineup, replacing another game show, Secrets of the Cryptkeeper's Haunted House. However, you won't find Pat Sajak or Vanna White interacting with the kids here. Instead, David Sidoni is the host, and filling Vanna's role is a CGI character named Cyber Lucy (voiced by Tanika Ray).

Here's a sample, courtesy of YouTube:



Unfortunately, like other game shows before it, Wheel 2000 lasted just one year, a victim of low ratings and gradually changing viewing habits, and this was despite the decision by Sony to take the show on the road to generate interest. Incidentally, the series also aired on GSN (Game Show Network), which also was the home for a juvenile version of another Merv Griffin game, Jeopardy!, Jep!, which met the same fate. If you were a Wheel fan and had kids, this was definitely for you. CBS, though, stuck it, as memory serves, around 11 am (ET). In those days, anything from 11-forward was endangered because affiliates were still subbing syndicated programming in order to reap the benefits of additional ad revenues. Had Wheel 2000 been given a cushier time slot, maybe it would've broken the curse attached to Saturday game shows.

Rating: A.

Saturtainment: The Banana Splits Adventure Hour (1968)

CBS & Filmation kickstarted the Saturday morning bubblegum pop sweepstakes with the launch of The Archie Show in 1968, but NBC & Hanna-Barbera answered back with a 1 hour anthology series, The Banana Splits Adventure Hour, which boasted cereal giant Kellogg's as a sponsor. Trying to find the original opening, uncut, has been very hard, but we now have one, coupled with the original closing:



While there were three animated features per show, Micro Ventures, about a scientist and his two teenagers shrinking down, a la Fantastic Voyage, to do some research at home and on the road, only had 4 episodes. Here's "The Dangerous Desert":



We've already talked about the other cartoon components, Three Musketeers & Arabian Knights. Of course, one big lure was the music. Here's another Splits song, "You're The Lovin' End", which incorporates footage of other H-B cartoons, including The Herculoids and Precious Pupp, the latter of which would be part of the syndicated Splits package.

Uploaded by Cicero:



 Last, but certainly not least, was the serial Danger Island, which starred Frank Aletter (ex-It's About Time), Ronnie Troup, daughter of actor-musician Bobby Troup (Ronnie would later join the cast of My Three Sons), Rockne Tarkington (ex-Tarzan), and (Jan) Michael Vincent, who'd later gain greater fame in films like "Baby Blue Marine" and the 80's series Airwolf. If you're only familiar with the syndicated version of Splits, you may be stunned to learn that the theme to Danger Island is actually twice as long. Here's the long version.



Banana Splits ran for 2 seasons, but by integrating other series into the syndicated package, it's been able to sustain itself for 40 years and change. Boomerang airs the syndicated version twice daily, but they're only looping the 1st season material, as they've aired Atom Ant, Secret Squirrel, and the Adventures of Gulliver separately. Boomerang also has the Sunday prime time series, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but that's sitting in the network vaults. Their loss, as usual.

Rating: A-.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: The Three Musketeers (1968)

Alexandre Dumas' legendary swordsmen, The Three Musketeers, were part of the Banana Splits Adventure Hour, along with the Arabian Knights (previously reviewed), and the science series, Micro Ventures. Hanna-Barbera's take on the Musketeers would also set the tone for future series, as Lady Constance's nephew, Tooly (Ted Eccles), aspired to join the Musketeers despite being a juvenile.

Right now, scope  "The Jewel of India".

Edit, 5/10/17: The original video has been replaced with a syndicated episode of Banana Splits & Friends in its entirety:



I am not sure if Dumas had ever envisioned Aramis (Don Messick) as a magician in his spare time, but H-B did, believing that the magic would be a convienent distraction against opponents, and a bit of comic relief for the viewers. Sharp-eared fans will recognize the voice of Jonathan Harris (ex-Lost in Space) as Athos, one of his first cartoon roles. The Musketeers, unfortunately, didn't survive past the first season, as they were replaced with a rotation of reruns of Atom Ant, Secret Squirrel, and their respective backup segments.

There have been other animated incarnations of the Musketeers, the first of these being an adaptation on The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo (1964). As with the Knights, it's doubtful that anyone would try doing another animated incarnation of the Musketeers in today's harsh political climate, given the perception some people have of France today.

Rating: A-.

Game Time: I'm Telling! (1988)

It can be said that NBC was ahead of the curve when it came to transitioning their Saturday morning programming toward a live-action-centric schedule. I'm Telling! was the network's 1st Saturday morning game since Runaround in 1972. Actor Laurie Faso (ex-Marlo & the Magic Movie Machine) served as host for this series, produced by Australian game show mogul Reg Grundy (Scrabble, Sale of the Century). Here's a sample, courtesy of YouTube:



Predictably, I'm Telling! was cancelled after 1 season, but found a new life on cable, as the Family Channel (now ABC Family) picked up the series on 3 different occasions. The premise was based in part on Chuck Barris' legendary Newlywed Game, only done with brothers & sisters. What killed the show was its time slot. Airing around lunch time, it ran into the predictable affiliate indifference. I actually got to see bits & pieces when I'm Telling! was rerun on cable in the 90's. Good game, bad time slot. That's all I can say.

Rating: B.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Game Time: Shenanigans (1964)

Shenanigans was one of three game shows that Merrill Heatter & Bob Quigley co-produced with Four Star (PDQ & The Celebrity Game, the latter a forerunner of the more familiar Hollywood Squares, were the others). Shenanigans, which launched in 1964, aired on ABC and looked like a reboot of an earlier H-Q game, Video Village, and its Saturday sister series, Video Village Junior, which aired on CBS a few years earlier. Broadway vet Stubby Kaye ("Guys & Dolls") served as host for Shenanigans, with announcer Kenny Williams appearing on camera as "Kenny the Cop". Here, compliments of OldWorldTelevision and YouTube, is a clip from the show:



Milton Bradley invested quite a bit of money and advertising in the show, but, unfortunately, it didn't last very long, cancelled after 1 season. ABC would get back into the Saturday game show business a few years later with shows like Junior Almost Anything Goes and Animal Crack-Ups, but it's doubtful we'll ever see the likes of Shenanigans revived, unless Hasbro, which bought out Milton Bradley a few years back, gives it a shot for their new kids' network, The Hub, debuting next month.

Rating: B.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Saturday School: Curiosity Shop (1971)

From the producers of Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp and the creative genius of animation legend Chuck Jones comes Curiosity Shop, which gets its title from a Charles Dickens story (The Old Curiosity Shop), but without the menace & malice. Pamelyn Ferdin, the voice of Lucy Van Pelt in the "Peanuts" specials at the time,  is the star. Here is the show open, courtesy of 70skidvid & YouTube:



It was a noble experiment, one of the first shows designed to educate and entertain at the same time for a Saturday morning audience. Unfortunately, it was ahead of its time, and was cancelled after 2 seasons. Pam Ferdin later would star in Filmation's Space Academy, and resumed her voice-acting career, working on such cartoons as Hanna-Barbera's Roman Holidays (1972) and Devlin (1974), among others. Jones, who had previously produced the Dr. Seuss specials for CBS and Off to See The Wizard for ABC, would not create another series for television. It would be interesting to see if a series like this can be revived, especially since it fits under the FCC's E/I guidelines.

Rating: B.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Tooniversaries in 2010

Time to hand out some "Happy Anniversary" greetings:

50 years:

The Flintstones & The Bugs Bunny Show both started in prime time in 1960. Bugs made the transition to Saturday mornings first, and eventually would shuttle back & forth between ABC & CBS until 2000. The Flintstones spent 6 seasons on ABC before NBC picked up rerun rights. Of course, the first spin-off, Pebbles & Bamm-Bamm, marks its 40th anniversary next year.

45 years:

Atom Ant & Secret Squirrel started off sharing a 1 hour block on NBC before being splintered off into their own half-hour pockets. Al Brodax of King Features Television acquired a license to create an animated series starring the most famous rock group of the period, The Beatles.

40 years:

Hanna-Barbera, flush with success over Scooby-Doo a year earlier, adapted Archie Comics' Josie & the Pussycats for television and applied the Scooby Formula. Same thing with the basketball legends, the Harlem Globetrotters. They also tried domestic comedy again with Where's Huddles, which was actually a prime-time sitcom that also filled time on Sundays after football. DePatie-Freleng adapted Doctor Doolittle, and Rankin-Bass did likewise with The Reluctant Dragon & Mr. Toad. Filmation, reeling from the Hardy Boys bombing out a year earlier, struck a deal with entertainer Jerry Lewis, but while Lewis acted as a uncredited creative consultant, he didn't voice his own animated alter-ego. That job was given to David Lander, later of Laverne & Shirley.

35 years:

Filmation expanded their live-action lineup with Isis & Ghost Busters for CBS and Uncle Croc's Block (previously reviewed) for ABC. The Kroffts presented Far Out Space Nuts, their first series for CBS, and Lost Saucer on ABC. Tom & Jerry returned to creators Hanna-Barbera, who gave them a new "playmate", if you will, The Great Grape Ape. DePatie-Freleng adapted Neil Simon's classic comedy into the funny animal farce, Oddball Couple, for ABC, and also produced Return to the Planet of the Apes for NBC.

30 years:

Heathcliff leaped from the Sunday funnies to Saturday mornings, thanks to Ruby-Spears, which also mashed together elements from "Star Wars" & "Conan the Barbarian" to create the post-apocalyptic Thundarr the Barbarian. Hanna-Barbera's licensing department obtained deals for Fonz & the Happy Days Gang (previously reviewed) and Richie Rich. Each of those four would average 2 seasons apiece. Tom & Jerry moved to Filmation and returned to CBS, which was home to their first series in the 60's. Filmation also acquired The Lone Ranger to pair with repeats of Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle.

25 years:

We've previously reviewed the abysmal Hulk Hogan's Rock & Wrestling. Ruby-Spears figured NBC's Knight Rider was ripe for parody, and so they rolled out Turbo Teen, only it aired on ABC, and was sent to the garage after 1 season.

20 years:

Real-life musical acts Kid 'N' Play and New Kids on the Block gave cartoons a whirl on NBC & ABC, respectively, and both bombed.

15 years:

Casper returned to television, this time with Universal producing a follow-up to their feature film. Fox's heavy-handed schedule shuffling made it difficult to follow the show, which was cancelled after 1 season.

I'm sure I missed a few, but bear in mind that unless I specify it, we're dealing only with Saturday morning shows. For the weekday crowd, She-Ra, Princess of Power marks her 25th anniversary this year. If you think I've missed a few Saturday anniversaries, feel free to let me know.

The Animated World of DC Comics: Plastic Man (1979)

Plastic Man, who came to DC Comics from Quality some time in the 50's, and made his DC debut around 1966-67, made his television debut in a cameo guest shot on Super Friends in 1973, but it took 6 more years before he'd get his own series. By then, Ruby-Spears had acquired the license to produce Plas' adventures, with one major change. Missing were Plas' long-time sidekick and confidant, Woozy Winks, and their employers, per the DC series, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). Instead, Plas had not one but two sidekicks, sexy Southern belle Penny and Hawaiian native Hula Hula, who had a penchant for bad luck. While Penny was in love with Plas, he in turn had eyes on his boss, the Chief.

Here, courtesy of fabster3333 and YouTube, is what is billed as the intro to the series, but IMPO may really be a commercial, since the actual opening would include backup features Rickety Rocket, Fangface, & Mighty Man & Yukk:



Plastic Man would return for a 2nd season, trimmed to a half-hour show. The backup segments had all been cancelled, making Mighty Man & Rickety Rocket the first R-S entries not to be renewed, with Fangface gone after 2 seasons. Instead, Penny got her man after all, and the end result was Baby Plas. Ruby-Spears had learned nothing from adding a baby werewolf to Fangface's team the previous year. Predictably, Plastic Man and his family were sent packing at the end of the 1980-81 season.

Plas has recently turned up on Cartoon Network's Batman: The Brave & the Bold, and, this time, Woozy is with him. Not only that, but Plas is married to a different woman, probably the same one as in the comics. Unfortunately, with the 1979 series now on DVD, it's doubtful that CN or Boomerang will even bother bringing the series back to their schedules, though it wouldn't hurt them to shake things up for a change.

Back to the 1979 series. It tried to remain true to the spirit of the original comics, but leaving Woozy out of the mix was a critical mistake. It's as if Ruby-Spears felt for some reason that Woozy didn't fit with a Saturday morning audience. I would buy that, but giving Plas Penny & Hula to make up for Woozy was overdoing it just a wee bit.

Rating: B-.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: The Arabian Knights (1968)

Once again, we plumb the gold mine that is the Banana Splits Adventure Hour for Hanna-Barbera's last super-team of the 60's, the Arabian Knights. Here is the series opener, "The Joining of the Knights".



Sadly, the Knights' battle with Bakaar & Van-Gorr never reached its conclusion. Even though the series continued for a 2nd season, no new episodes would be made. In today's political climate, with all the unrest in the Middle East, it's unlikely that the Knights would be revived to finish the story without any radical alterations that would actually do more harm than good to the characters. I barely recall seeing the Knights when the series first aired (I was but a toddler at the time), but thanks to the Splits' syndication package in the 70's, I caught up and gained an appreciation for the series. Such escapist fare would be watered down for today's audiences.

Rating: A.

Bad TV: Ben Grimm becomes a teenage Thing (1979)

If you're a hardcore Marvel Comics fan, you had to be reaching for some kind of medicinal relief (asprin, Maalox) after seeing what happened to The Thing after returning to Hanna-Barbera in 1979. A year earlier, DePatie-Freleng had served up The New Fantastic Four for NBC, with H.E.R.B.I.E., a robot, replacing the Human Torch. There are urban legends about the rationale behind that bone-headed move, but that's for another time. Some knucklehead, either at H-B or NBC, I'm not sure which, decided that Ben Grimm would now be a teenager, only able to transform into the Thing thanks to a magic, two-piece ring. Here's an example of this blasphemic mistreatment of a Silver Age icon, thanks to YouTube:



Granted, Ben did have one confidant who knew his secret. Kelly Harkness was posited as a close friend, rather than establish a more intimate relationship. In the comics, Ben had dated blind sculptor Alicia Masters for years, but since Kelly wasn't going to appear in the comics any time soon (and there's no proof that she would be related to sorceress Agatha Harkness, a long time ally of the Fantastic Four), where was the harm? And that's Kelly behind the wheel of the car as Ben changes, by the way.

It wasn't a good period for Marvel. The original Electric Company had ended production, meaning the end of Spidey Super Stories, even though the comics version would continue for a few years. A live-action Spider-Man was a prime-time bust for CBS, which rebounded with the Incredible Hulk. The DFE Fantastic Four bombed, due largely to affiliate indifference, as I'll explain another time, and so did Spider-Woman, which was previously reviewed.

Ben only interacted with Fred Flintstone & Barney Rubble in some interstital sketches. I recall a soft-shoe bit with those three. A few weeks into the season, NBC, in a ratings panic yet again, fused together New Shmoo with Fred & Barney Meet The Thing to create a 90-minute series, prolonging the pain. The sight of a teenage, shape-shifting Ben Grimm was an insult to long time fans who'd seen two previous TV incarnations of the FF. And you wonder why NBC was the last place network at the time.........!

Rating: C--.

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Monster Squad (1976)

In the mid-70's, NBC was relying more on live-action programming to fill their Saturday morning schedule. A good chunk of those shows were produced by the trio of William D'Angelo, Harvey Bullock, & R. S. Allen, and perhaps the cheesiest of the trio's output was this campy adventure series, Monster Squad, which told the tale of a college student and part-time wax museum employee (Fred Grandy) who secretly used the museum as a headquarters for a trio of wax monsters come to life: Frankenstein's Monster, Dracula (Henry Polic II, ex-When Things Were Rotten), & the Wolf Man. Here's the opening & closing, with a scene from an episode, courtesy of 70sKidVid, uploaded to YouTube:



Grandy, of course, would go on to board The Love Boat the very next season, and went on to a brief career as a congressman from his home state of Iowa. Polic would later host a game show, Double Talk, for ABC, and hasn't been heard from much since. As for the producing team of D'Angelo, Bullock, & Allen, their track record at NBC was, well, horrible. The only one of their series that went past the first season was Run, Joe, Run (1974-76), which was replaced by Monster Squad. After shutting down their studio, the three producers would join Grandy on Love Boat, writing several storylines for that series.

In hindsight, Monster Squad tried to recapture the campy spirit of Batman from a decade earlier, while at the same time trying to mine the supernatural vein broken by Filmation's Ghost Busters in 1975. The production values, though, were even lower than either Filmation or the Kroffts. And that's saying something.

Rating: C.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Drak Pack (1980)

4 years after the live-action Monster Squad failed to click with NBC audiences, Hanna-Barbera decided to take a chance on "reforming" classic monsters Dracula, the Wolf Man, & the Monster of Frankenstein, this time using teenage descendants of the originals, to form the super-team known as the Drak Pack. Here's the opening, courtesy of YouTube:



Drac, Jr. (Jerry Dexter) was a bumbler in the grand tradition of Maxwell Smart (Get Smart), and Dexter paid a little homage to Smart himself, Don Adams, by doing a Adams-esque voice for Drac, Jr.. Of course, the absurdity of it all is the mere fact that Dracula (Hans Conreid) was even capable of siring a child. Same thing for the Monster, and, as it turned out, viewers weren't buying it, either. Drak Pack was cancelled after just 1 season, same as Monster Squad before it.

In 1980, CBS had built their Saturday lineup around classic characters such as Bugs Bunny, Popeye, Tarzan, and returning stars Tom & Jerry and the Lone Ranger. It'd be fair to say that the Drak Pack was the bad apple that spoiled the whole lot.

Rating: C.