Saturday, November 22, 2014

Another look: The New Adventures of Batman (1977)

We have discussed The New Adventures of Batman in the past, but after acquiring a DVD of the complete series last week at Walmart, I thought it might be time to take a closer look.

As we've noted, the series cycled though in reruns on CBS until 1980, when it moved to NBC for one last cycle. The fact that rival Hanna-Barbera held a license of their own for the DC characters, one that would be renewed a few months after New Adventures launched, precluded Filmation from moving forward with a 2nd season.

There were a number of changes:

1. Villains: Even though he was included in the open, the Riddler wasn't used, as he'd been acquired, along with Scarecrow, by H-B, and would return in Challenge of the Super Friends the next year. Made-for-TV foes from the 1968 series, Simon the Pieman & The Judge, were not brought back. Instead, new villains were developed in the form of Sweet Tooth, Prof. Bubbles, Electro (not to be confused with the Marvel villain of the same name), and the Moonman.

2. Character designs: The only cosmetic changes were on three characters. For starters, Police Commissioner James Gordon was given the same look he had in the comics, with silver hair and a mustache, as opposed to being clean shaven & brown haired 9 years earlier. Robin's costume tunic had been color-reversed to avoid confusion with the Super Friends model. Catwoman traded in her green turtleneck jumpsuit for a brown leotard & tights, and her hair color changed from black to brown as well. The Princess of Plunder got the worst of the deal.

3. Casting: The big selling point, of course, was the return of Adam West & Burt Ward as Batman & Robin. Filmation needed to recast the leads with Olan Soule & Casey Kasem now at H-B. The studio's leading lady, Jane Webb, however, was not brought back to reprise as Batgirl & Catwoman. Instead, a relative newcomer, Melendy Britt, stepped in, as Webb was being phased out. Webb's last Filmation job was the Archie-Sabrina Hour for NBC in the fall of '77. Also, with Ted Knight wrapping up The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and seemingly retired from toons (his last Filmation work was Lassie's Rescue Rangers), veteran writer-actor Len Weinrib took over the roles of Gordon, Joker, Mr. Freeze, & Penguin, in addition to various subordinates and the new villains. His Sweet Tooth voice, for example, was a riff on Paul Lynde, and, as noted before, his Moonman might have been partially inspired by Casey Kasem, but not all the way. Co-executive producer Lou Scheimer went uncredited as the Bat-Computer, various incidental characters, and Bat-Mite, the 5th Dimensional imp whose attempts at aiding the Masked Manhunters were disasters waiting to happen, counter-balanced by his crush on Batgirl. Weinrib voiced the villain Zarbor, who came from Bat-Mite's world, and appeared in the final 3 episodes. Scheimer would recycle and modify his Bat-Mite voice for Orko (He-Man & The Masters of the Universe) just 5 years later.

In addition, in keeping with the comics of the day, Batgirl's dual ID of Barbara Gordon was known to the Dynamic Duo, and otherwise, Barbara was now an assistant district attorney, in contrast to the books, where she had been elected to Congress, a role she'd have until the early 80's. Also, as noted, while Bat-Mite carried a torch for her, in the books, Batgirl had to deal with Robin developing a similar crush that would lead to an on-again, off-again romance. Shoot, they'd even discussed marriage at one point. Bat-Mite couldn't be that lucky, even if he tried.

Some of the incidental music, composed by Ray Ellis (under the dual pseudonyms of Yvette Blais & Jeff Michael, which Ellis used at Filmation throughout the 70's), was lifted from live-action shows such as Shazam!. Like, couldn't they afford new music?

To refresh your memories, here's the open & close:

Rating: A.

Friday, November 21, 2014

From Comics to Toons: Mad (2010)

We previously covered our next subject over in The Land of Whatever a ways back, but now it's time to revisit Mad.

Following in the footsteps of the [adult swim] line of original series, Mad was set up as a 15 minute series, chock full of rapid fire sketches, some of which were familiar to readers of the long running magazine. In some respects, it's a more kid-friendly companion to Robot Chicken, but the only other common link between the two is that Chicken co-creator Seth Green contributed voice work to both shows. There were the occasional guest stars, including Gilbert Gottfried (ex-Aladdin, Saturday Night Live, Cyberchase) and Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Franklin & Bash, Saved by the Bell, etc.).

Mad always poked fun at DC Comics heroes, moreso in recent years since the publisher is handling distribution for the series, and as such, there were some DC parody skits, including positing Batman on Family Feud. Sooner or later, we'll get around to posting that and other DC bits. For now, scope out a sample episode.

The mix of animation styles, coupled with the breakneck speed of the skits, would've worked better had Mad been posited as a 30 minute show, instead of 15 minutes. Production ended last year, likely due to declining ratings.

Rating: C.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Getting Schooled: Reading Rainbow (1983)

We all know that PBS' longest running children's program has been, and forever will be, Sesame Street, which marks its 45th anniversary this year. Few have come close to matching its longevity, and on a short list of series that trail behind Sesame, you're bound to find Reading Rainbow.

Reading Rainbow ceased production in 2006 after 23 seasons, all of which were hosted by actor LeVar Burton, who, at one point in the show's run, turned a rare hat trick by working on two other series concurrently. You might have heard of them----Star Trek: The Next Generation & Captain Planet. Talk about being busy.

For the balance of its run, Rainbow anchored PBS' afternoon block, and in some respects can be credited with a back-door pilot of a sort. After TV icon Bill Cosby read one of Marc Brown's Arthur  books, the titular character was given his own series, which continues to this day. The segments were celebrities such as Cosby read various books has its roots in CBS' long running Captain Kangaroo, which gravitated to PBS to finish its initial run in the mid-80's after CBS dropped it. Regardless of what you might think of Cosby now, given the torrent of salacious accusations lodged against him, his inclusion on Rainbow marked the entertainer's return to PBS, after being an original cast member of The Electric Company.

Given how PBS rebooted Electric Company into something completely different a few years ago, one would assume that if they choose to bring back Reading Rainbow at some future point, it too would undergo a needless reboot. Seems to me that when they relaunched Electric Company, they did so with the idea of trying to compete with certain broadcast cable networks that needn't be named here (though you know who they are). Can't see that happening with the Rainbow.

Here's a sample clip of LeVar Burton, who didn't operate from a studio for the show, but rather, took it on the road.......

Too bad PBS took the reruns off the air in 2009, else today's kids could really learn something.

Rating: A.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Looney TV: Foghorn Leghorn for Oscar Mayer (1981)

Now, here's an ad that I have zero memory of seeing the first time around.

Oscar Mayer, now a part of the Kraft family at last check, contracted Warner Bros. to use Foghorn Leghorn (Mel Blanc) in a 1-shot ad in 1981. Foggy's on the beach, and, as usual, is befuddled by the kids he's with, in this case, humans.

And you wonder why Foghorn doesn't get that many commercial endorsements?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Bad TV: Fighting Foodons (2002)

In 2002, Fox outsourced their Saturday morning lineup to 4Kids Entertainment. Unfortunately, the anime-heavy lineup did manage to lay a couple of eggs.

One was Fighting Foodons, which, as I understand it, was meant to be a satire on another, more popular import, Pokemon, and perhaps, in general, card games from which Pokemon and others were adapted for television. The series lasted just 11 1/2 months on Fox before being cancelled. Well, there was one worse anime on the roster, and we covered that a long while ago (Ultimate Muscle), which somehow lasted longer.

Anyway, to refresh your memories, scope out the open, and try to get a handle on how food recipes can become monsters..........

The theme music borrows a familiar melody that has been used for supermarkets such as Shop Rite in the past. The concept, if it was meant to be funny, wasn't.

Rating: D.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Looney TV: How not to record an audiobook, as taught by Foghorn Leghorn (2011)

GEICO went back to the Looney Tunes kennel to bring old foes Foghorn Leghorn & Henery Hawk together for an ad. Seems our favorite rooster was asked to record an audiobook version of an old Dickens novel......

Where was the Barnyard Dog when you really needed him?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Toon Rock: (Open Your Heart &) Let the Sunshine In (1965)

Hanna-Barbera missed out on a golden opportunity to do a soundtrack album from The Flintstones, that much is clear.

Consider that in addition to Fred doing the occasional number (with either Henry Corden or Duke Mitchell as a singing double for Alan Reed), you had Barney & Betty (Mel Blanc & Bea Benaderet) doing a duet in one episode, Ann-Margret and the Beau Brummels as musical guest stars, and, to top it all, they had Pebbles & Bamm-Bamm doing their first number, 6 years before their elevation to teenagers and forming their band, the Bedrock Rockers.

And, so, we present our preschool pop stars, performing "(Open Your Heart &) Let The Sunshine In", which was used as a closing theme for some episodes in the final season.