Sunday, July 27, 2014

From Primetime to Daytime: Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (1994)

This also appears on my other blog, The Land of Whatever:

The most successful graduate of Universal's ambitious Action Pack movie anthology series, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys transitioned into a 1 hour weekly series in January 1995. The series would last six seasons total, though the final season consisted of just six episodes.

Hercules (Kevin Sorbo), the son of a mortal woman and the Greek god Zeus, traveled with a number of companions, most notably Iaolus (Michael Hurst), who was initially killed off at the start of season 5, only to have an evil god take over his body before it was driven out by Hercules. Some episodes had Hercules meeting other heroes of myth, including Jason, in his travels. After a couple of appearances in season 1, Xena, Warrior Princess was spun off into her own equally successful series.

For some reason, some episodes in seasons 4 & 5 took the most extreme of tangents, as the producers took a light-hearted look at themselves, the idea being to either use past clips, or, in one instance, just to give Hercules a little, ah, vacation. Actor Bruce Campbell (Autolycus) directed at least one of these episodes, as well as a few others during the series. Campbell would also appear on Xena, and then landed his first headlining series in the short-lived Jack of All Trades.

In some cities, Hercules would air premiere episodes in primetime, then repeat them a week later in a much earlier time frame, usually between 1 & 3 pm (ET), giving fans additional chances to catch up. In all one episode could air as much as three times in the course of a week, since the series would replay on a Sunday morning after a Saturday evening premiere.

From season 3, here's "Doomsday":

The poster got the title wrong or mixed up.

Two feature film versions of "Hercules" this year haven't exactly been blockbusters, and Kevin Sorbo reportedly was a bit miffed that he wasn't even asked to make an appearance in the current film, starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, which I believe finished behind "Lucy" this week.

Hercules: The Legendary Journeys gets a B.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

You Know The Voice: Mike Road on Bewitched (1967)

To millions of cartoon fans, Mike Road will be remembered as the voice behind Roger "Race" Bannon on Jonny Quest, Ug from Dino Boy, and Zandor, the leader of The Herculoids. Some of us remember seeing him as the pitchman for Fireman's Fund insurance during the 70's.

However, Road also did a few "face acting" jobs, such as the one we're showcasing today.

From season 3 of Bewitched is the conclusion of a 2-part story in which Aunt Clara (Marion Lorne) pulls Benjamin Franklin (guest star Fredd Wayne) into the 20th century. Mike plays district attorney Chuck Hawkins. How he could not have been cast in a similar role in any number of crime dramas back in the day is a mystery unto itself.

We'll start with a long missing opening tag that summarizes the first part of the story, as narrated by Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery):

And, now, we move on to the episode proper:

It does appear as though we're missing some of the episode. Just the same, tell me what you think.

From Comics to Toons: Black Panther (2010)

Here's a Marvel cartoon that may have slipped through the cracks, such that it was cancelled after its initial 6 episode order, and few actually noticed.

Filmmaker Reginald Hudlin ("House Party") had taken a turn writing comics for Marvel before becoming President of BET (Black Entertainment Television). His experience at Marvel enabled him to forge a deal with the comics giant to adapt the series he had been writing, Black Panther, to television in 2010. As I noted above, the show was quickly cancelled after six episodes, due likely to a glaring lack of promotion from the network outside of its airwaves. I'd read about the project, but never got the chance to watch the show, not knowing what night it'd be on or what time.

Hudlin relied on star power, casting Djimon Hounsou in the title role as T'Challa, the Black Panther that comics fans have known for nearly 50 years or so. Singer Jill Scott was chosen to voice the X-Men's Storm, who was also T'Challa's wife in the comics at the time. The cast also included Kerry Washington (currently on Scandal), Adrian Pasdar (as Captain America), and, inevitably, co-executive producer Stan Lee, who was given a meatier role as General Wallace. The series first aired in the UK in 2010 before being brought to the US in 2011, long after production had ceased.

What Hudlin sought to do was create the impression that the Panther had been passed down from one generation to another, and that the fictional African nation of Wakanda had been around since at least the 5th century, expanding on what Lee himself had created when the Panther debuted in the pages of Fantastic Four. The computer animation is similar to what had been used for MTV's ill-fated adaptation of Sam Kieth's Image series, The Maxx, 15 years earlier (previously reviewed). Given how MTV had fumbled with Spider-Man, and the fact that Lee's last series on a Viacom channel, Stripperella, had fared slightly better on Spike around the same time, all it tells me is that Viacom simply let Hudlin indulge himself with his pet project, but had no interest in promoting it in the press. Marvel, in fact, didn't do much in the promotion department, either, that I know of.

In the following clip, a flashback to World War II suggests the Panther first met Captain America back then, contradicting what had been established in the comics back in the 60's. Marvel similarly upgraded, if you want to call it that, and expanded Wolverine's history with the "First Avenger" in the books some years prior.

I think the series is on DVD, but I'm not sure. It does look like the character designs were modeled after the work of artist John Romita, Jr., who'd worked with Hudlin on his Black Panther book.

Rating: B+.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Saturday Morning's Greatest Hits: Nightshift (1985)

From American Bandstand:

The Commodores had just 1 Top 40 after Lionel Richie left the band to go solo. "Nightshift" pays tribute to Marvin Gaye, who passed away in 1983, and Jackie Wilson, even going so far as to reference some of their hits (i.e. "Higher & Higher") in the lyrics.

Bad TV: The Three Friends.....And Jerry (1998)

Fox Family (now ABC Family) made some pretty curious programming decisions in the late 90's. One of them was The Three Friends......And Jerry. Created in Europe and imported to the US, this aspired to be a clone of the long running Peanuts comic strip, except that Jerry has it worse than Charlie Brown. The Three Friends don't like him, but tolerate him as long as he's able to help them with their issues.

Also, some episodes reportedly had more mature themes than would normally be found in a kids' cartoon, topics you'd normally expect to find on one of those teen-coms that are being churned out like they were on assembly lines at Nickelodeon & Disney Channel.

Small wonder, then, that this series bombed out, cancelled after 1 season. As Fox had the rights here, Nick had them in England, which explains the old school Nick logo attached to this video, which features the episodes, "Olympic Games" & "Secret Box":

Giving some of the kids buck teeth didn't exactly help them win viewers now, did it? Hmmmmm, welllllll.....of course not!

Rating: D.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Toonfomercial: Remember when the Burger King was a cartoon character? (1960's-70's)

When I was growing up, my introduction to the Burger King restaurant chain was a series of animated spots featuring a character called Kurger Bing (voice of Allen Swift). In time, Kurger was discarded in favor of a live-action King as the chain began to copy rival McDonald's by giving the new King a set of supporting characters such as Sir Shake-a-Lot and Duke of Doubt.

Here's Kurger Bing:

I know they say you are what you eat, but this was pushing it.

Is Saturday Morning really dead?

Over the last 22 years, the networks have slowly killed off the traditional business model for Saturday morning television, such that when the new season starts in September, only 1 broadcast network---NBC---will actually be airing animated fare, and NBC was the one that abandoned cartoons all the way back in 1992.

For first-run animated fare, kids are turning more and more to cable television. Nickelodeon, however, can't be trusted, since a lot of the time they schedule marathons willy-nilly of certain shows that to them are still "hot" with viewers (i..e. Spongebob Squarepants). Disney Channel & DisneyXD don't use Saturday mornings for a lot of premieres, either, mostly using reruns of shows that get played to death during the week. One wonders why Disney refused to repurpose shows like Suite Life On Deck (to succeed Suite Life of Zack & Cody) or Brandy & Mr. Whiskers or any other series that conceivably could've fit the FCC's E/I mandates over the last decade. They simply didn't see the need.

Cartoon Network let DC Nation die a slow death due to then-programming head Stuart Snyder's decision to put more emphasis on lame comedy. Not all the comedy shows CN has are legitimately funny. One that was, The Tom & Jerry Show, is burning off the remaining episodes on weekdays this month, meaning it got a quick hook when ratings didn't exactly set the world on fire. The fact that this was running premieres on Wednesday afternoons instead of Saturday mornings, where the legendary duo were a proven commodity, proves that the programming remains an issue that new president Christina Miller needs to address, preferably yesterday.

The problem with CN is that a lot of their Saturday schedule replays on Sundays as well, with less fanfare, and there are replays during the week. Talk about burning out your product.

Over at the Hub, they get it. Sure, the schedule changes periodically, and there have been some clunkers (SheZow, anyone?), but the Aquabats SuperShow is a proven winner. The network, following the lead of others, rotates their shows in and out, rather than run each series through one or more rerun cycles like in the old days. The Transformers will return with a new series in 2015, but one wonders if there will be a 2nd season for Sabrina: Secrets of a Teenage Witch after all the hype that accompanied the series' launch last October. Given that Archie Comics is doing a more mature take on Sabrina come the fall, and the bad rep that Moonscoop, the producers of Secrets, has gained, well............!

Back to the broadcast networks. CW will join CBS, ABC, & Fox in programming a lineup that will be totally E/I, but all totally live-action in content. Fox's new block, Exploration Station, will be another exercise in E/I futility, much like CW's Litton-programmed block. Litton also programs for CBS & ABC, and probably would be happy if NBC stopped repurposing from cable cousin Sprout, which they bought outright from PBS a while back. However, NBC/Sprout is the last bastion of broadcast animation on Saturdays for what Ivan Shreve calls the cereal & footy pajamas set.

With most cartoon shows also accessible online, it's a matter of time before the cablers begin shifting gears as well. Disney Channel splits their AM schedule in half. The first half is a primer for sister network Disney Junior, for subscribers who don't get the latter channel. The second half is the same, tired teen-coms (i.e. Jessie, Dog With a Blog), the type that they wouldn't let ABC have so they could retire That's So Raven a few years back. Cartoon Network's sister channel, Boomerang, is supposedly undergoing a face-lift later this year that is meant to make it more girl-or-family-centric. We'll see if that works out, and it should.

So, is Saturday morning TV really dead? No, but it ain't on life support, either.