Sunday, October 31, 2010

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Fillmore (2002)

Sometimes, you don't know a good thing when you see it until it's gone. Disney certainly knows this feeling. They had a real winner with Fillmore, which bowed as part of ABC's One Saturday Morning block in 2002. Series creator Scott Gimple developed the series as a homage to the crime dramas of his youth, particularly the Quinn Martin family of shows (i.e. Streets of San Francisco, Barnaby Jones) by breaking each episode down into acts. However, unlike those classics, which had individual "act" cards, the late announcer Don LaFontaine would be heard as each act began. Here's the open:



As a fan of detective dramas, I made it a point to make Fillmore appointment television on Saturdays whenever possible. Unfortunately, ABC pulled the plug in February 2005, rather abruptly, after 2 1/2 seasons. Fillmore has rarely been seen since, and currently languishes in Disney's vaults, as apparently they don't think it fits in with the boycentric DisneyXD channel (formerly Toon Disney), which actually serves as an outlet to repurpose shows also airing on Disney Channel (i.e. Suite Life on Deck, Phineas & Ferb), in addition to airing shows exclusive to the channel (at least for now). Their loss.

Rating: A.

Spooktober: The Nightmare Room (2001)

It had been three years since Fox had ended its adaptation of author R. L. Stine's Goosebumps. Looking to capture ratings lightning in a bottle all over again after acquiring Pokemon 2 years earlier, WB brought out another series based on another of Stine's youth horror book series, The Nightmare Room. A number of young actors familiar to today's audiences appeared on the show, including Amanda Bynes (ex-What I Like About You), who stars in the series opener, "Don't Forget Me".





Nightmare Room was one of the first WB series from producers Mike Tollin & Brian Robbins (Smallville), who had previously been working exclusively for Nickelodeon. Unfortunately, Nightmare Room didn't have the staying power of Goosebumps, as it was cancelled after just 1 season. WB would not attempt another live-action series on Saturdays after that.

Fans of Stine's work can now look forward to seeing another series based on his stories, as The Haunting Hour is due to debut on The Hub (formerly Discovery Kids) very soon.

Rating: B.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Spooktober: Casper (1963)

It would only be appropriate, with Halloween this weekend, to feature perhaps the most famous ghost of them all. The New Casper Cartoon Show, Harvey Comics' 1st foray into television, premiered on ABC in 1963, and continued until 1969. In truth, it was a spin-off from Matty's Funday Funnies, where Casper made his television debut four years earlier. Mlsgiant uploaded the open to YouTube:



Famed voice actress Norma McMillian (Davey & Goliath, Underdog) was the voice of Casper, and to date, the most definitive one. Casper would return to television 10 years after his first series ended, with the theatrical shorts that fueled the series now in syndication---which is how I first discovered Casper in the first place. I was but an infant when the show debuted! Anyway, Hanna-Barbera, having scored a year earlier with Popeye, and, to a lesser extent, Godzilla, went for another license, and obtained one for Casper, but his supporting cast was left behind. Some genius decided to send our hero to the far future in what amounted to a parody of a certain prime-time show on Casper's original network. Impressionist Julie McWhirter, best known as the Family Hour Fairy from The Rich Little Show, was the voice of Casper this time, in 1979's Casper & the Angels for NBC. TVTimeMachine3 uploaded the open:



Hairy Scary was created as an analog, if you will, for Spooky and/or the Ghostly Trio, but those beloved spooks were brought back when Fox picked up a new Casper series, spun from the live-action feature film starring Bill Pullman, Christina Ricci, & Eric Idle. Unfortunately, I can't find a clip to add. Suffice to say, the CGI animation put it on a par with the classic shorts. More recently, Cartoon Network has picked up an all-new series, Casper's Scare School, spun off from a DTV (direct to video) movie of the same name, and like the 1995 series, is done in CGI. Scare School airs at various times, and you have to check the listings, because CN changes their lineup on an almost-weekly basis. If you haven't seen it yet, RetroHeroes has uploaded the open:



I haven't seen it yet, so I can't comment. However, I will leave you with ratings for the other shows:

The New Casper Cartoon Show (1963-69)--A-.
Casper & the Angels (1979)--C.
Casper (1995)---A.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rein-toon-ation: Godzilla (1978)

"Those who fail to remember history are doomed to repeat it."--George Santayana.

12 years after Arthur Rankin, Jr. & Jules Bass had rebooted King Kong as a sort-of superhero for ABC, Hanna-Barbera decided to do the same with Godzilla. The studio made deals with Toho Ltd., the Japanese studio that produced all the Godzilla movies, and with former UPA frontman Henry Saperstein, to obtain a license to bring Godzilla to television. Nabuvi uploaded the theme song:



It was never explained how Capt. Majors was able to achieve any sort of communication with Godzilla. The crew of the Calico was stuck with Godzooky, Godzilla's nephew, as a mascot (read: comic relief, just as he was in the movies), creating some Scooby-Doo-esque comedy bits that really didn't belong. Something must've worked, though, as Scooby was introduced to his nephew, Scrappy, a year later, and, well, you know the rest of that particular story. I digress. The Godzilla Power Hour was morphed into Godzilla Super 90 2 months into the season when NBC acquired reruns of Jonny Quest to join Godzilla & Jana of the Jungle. The rationale was pretty obvious. Jonny's creator, Doug Wildey, also created Jana and served as a producer for the whole show. Unfortunately, by the end of the season, Jana was gone, and Jonny sent back to the vaults. Godzilla would linger around a bit longer before being cancelled.

Godzilla would return some 20 years later, this time on Fox, based on the 1998 feature film with Matthew Broderick & Jean Reno. This time, Godzilla crawled on all fours as most lizards do, instead of walking tall, breathing fire, and whupping other monsters like government mules. This version, unsurprisingly, bombed, just like the movie that spawned it. However, it's currently on Kabillion (check with your cable provider). The 1978 version remains in Cartoon Network's vaults, unless Sony or Classic Media obtained the rights.

Rating for Godzilla (1978): B+.

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Mighty Mouse (1955)

After a less than stellar run in theatres, Terrytoons took a chance on moving Mighty Mouse to television in 1955. Of course, they had their entire library of shorts to work from, and, at the time, they were a subsidiary of CBS, which was the home network for Mighty Mouse throughout his television run. Today, CBS-Paramount owns the rights to the Terrytoons library, but they don't seem to be in any hurry to reintroduce the "Mouse of Tomorrow" to viewers.

Following is a portion of a 1964 broadcast in black & white, including the short, "Swiss Cheese Family Robinson", with a made for TV title card, plus a commercial for Nestle's Quik with an earlier mascot who preceded the Quik Bunny!:





In 1979, Filmation obtained a license to bring our hero back in The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse. Heckle & Jeckle shared space with Mighty Mouse in this series, but since we're focusing on Mighty Mouse, Filmationarchive has the episode, "Haunted House Mouse":



Semmel uploaded the open to Bakshi's 1987 series, Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures, which was cut short after Rev. Donald Wildmon, head honcho of the American Family Association, made the baseless accusation that Mighty was snorting cocaine instead of flowers. Maverick animator John Kricfalusi (Ren & Stimpy) worked on this particular series.



Here, Mighty is finally given a dual identity, to complete the parody of Superman which he created as in the first place. Unfortunately, Wildmon's tunnel-vision-fueled rant forced CBS to pull the series.

The original, though, was the best. If only someone had the gumption to bring Mighty Mouse back for a new generation. Paging Nickelodeon.......!

Ratings:

Mighty Mouse Playhouse: A-.
The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse: B-.
Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures: B.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Saturtainment: Pee-Wee's Playhouse (1986)

CBS was looking for a hit to anchor its Saturday morning lineup in 1986. A year earlier, they tried Hulk Hogan's Rock & Wrestling, but once viewers realized that Hogan didn't voice his own animated alter ego (Brad Garrett did), they tuned out, and the series was cancelled.

Enter Pee-Wee Herman. The alter-ego of performance artist-comedian-actor Paul Reubens had entered the national conscience a year earlier in "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure", significant also because it also put director Tim Burton ("Beetlejuice", "Batman") on the map. "Big Adventure" was a huge enough hit that CBS decided that Pee-Wee would be the anchor they were counting on.

Here's the intro:



Pee-Wee's Playhouse boasted a pretty good supporting cast, too, including future Oscar winner Laurence Fishbourne (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation) as Cowboy Curtis, plus S. Epatha Merkerson (ex-Law & Order), and the late Phil Hartman (Saturday Night Live, Newsradio). The surreal imagery in the open had all the earmarks of video director Stephen R. Johnson, who won some MTV Video awards for his work on Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" & "Big Time".

Playhouse lasted 5 years, and reruns aired briefly on Cartoon Network's [adult swim] lineup last year. With Pee-Wee reviving his old off-Broadway show on Broadway, and set to appear on WWE's Monday Night Raw on November 1, could a rebooted Playhouse be far behind?

Rating: A.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Animated World of DC Comics: Super Friends vs. "The Invasion of the Gleeks" (1980)

If you thought the Wonder Twins' adopted pet, Gleek, was a handful, how about a whole army of Exorian monkeys, bent on conquest? This episode was edited for the Superman-Batman Adventures compilation series, which aired initially on USA before Time-Warner moved the cartoons to Cartoon Network and its sister channel, Boomerang, where the shorts were restored to their original formats (most of them, anyway). "Invasion of the Gleeks" initially aired in 1980.



Note I said that Gleek was adopted. It was explained in the Super Friends comics that he originally belonged to Ilik, the Laughmaker, which would be an equivalent to our circus clowns. Gleek accompanied Zan & Jayna to Earth (Super Friends 7-9, 1st series), but when Ilik arrived on Earth nearly 2 years later, it was assumed he had come to reclaim Gleek, but he allowed the Twins to keep the monkey. Ilik, in fact, had been sent to summon the Twins and the rest of the SF to Exor to deal with a problem there.

And, as the late Paul Harvey used to say, now you know the rest of the story.

Rating: A-.

Saturday Morning's Greatest Hits: Chick-A-Boom (1970)

From Sabrina & the Groovie Goolies comes this novelty classic, "Chick-A-Boom". Credited to "The Rolling Headstones" (A Rolling Stones parody, natch), the song was later re-issued by Daddy Dewdrop (Richard Monda) and hit the Hot 100 a year later.

Monday, October 25, 2010

On the Air: Generator Rex (2010)

From the creative team and producers of Cartoon Network's Ben 10 franchise comes Generator Rex, about a teenager who is half-human, half-Transformer. Yeah, it sure looks that way, doesn't it? Cartoonnetwork, which may or may not be representative of the network itself, uploaded a clip of the episode, "The Hunter", to YouTube. You are absolutely going to freak out once you recognize the voice of the title villain du jour, Hunter Cain.



Yeah, that is WWE's John Cena voicing Cain in his cartoon debut. With all the rumors of Cena turning into a bad guy in the ring, this gig could be a precursor. Oddly, WWE never clued its younger fans in, nor did they mention he was doing a TV-movie for Nickelodeon, which also aired last month.

As for Rex? The general concept of his show is a cross-section between X-Men (because of the anti-evo (mutant) sentiment present) and Incredible Hulk (because Rex's powers make him in the public's eye a menace, as demonstrated in the above clip, and there's the perception of his morphin' limbs making him some sort of monster). The animation's nice, but Agent Six reminds me too much of something out of the "Matrix" movies. Heh, maybe they can get Keanu Reeves to guest in an episode. It's not like he's doing anything these days......

Rating: B.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Saturday School: Pee-Wee Herman vs. crack

I'm not entirely sure when this PSA was made, but it gives folks a different side of performance artist-comedian Pee-Wee Herman (Paul Reubens):

Daytime Heroes: Ghostbusters (1986)

In response to DIC & Columbia adapting The Real Ghostbusters to television, Filmation decided to dust off their Ghostbusters franchise. Note the spelling change from the original live-action series that aired on CBS in 1975, which we covered yesterday. Dirkweismuller uploaded the open to YouTube:



This time around, Tracy has traded in his beanie, which obviously didn't look right, for a fedora, making him a sort of simian Indiana Jones for the sci-fi set. He has to serve as a mentor to the sons of his original partners. Eddie Spencer, Jr. doesn't appear to have missed too many meals, but the aviator goggles don't look any more right on him than Tracy's beanie did. Apparently he couldn't fit into his dad's suits. Jake Kong, Jr., on the other hand, inherited his father's charm, such that he has not one, but two girlfriends, reporter Jessica and time traveling Futura. Some guys have all the luck. Unfortunately, once DIC & Columbia decided to add a weekday version of Real Ghostbusters, Jake & Eddie's collective goose was cooked.

Rating: A-.

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: King Kong (1966)

After testing the waters with the syndicated Tales of the Wizard of Oz and Adventures of Pinocchio a few years earlier, Videocraft (Rankin-Bass) broke onto the Saturday morning landscape with a, ah, reimagining, if you will, of King Kong. One of the most fearsome monsters in cinematic history was being represented as a superhero of a different kind. ABC was home for Kong and his back-up feature, Tom of T.H.U.M.B., a spy parody that was to Kong like oil to water, if you get my drift. Here's the pilot episode, "A Friend in Need":



Classic Media owns the rights to the show presently, but don't expect it to resurface on television any time soon. Rankin-Bass would give Saturdays another try 4 years later, and would produce a grand total of 6 series, all but one airing on ABC. Sorry to say, but Kong would end up the worst of the lot.

Rating: C-.

Rein-toon-ation: The Karate Kid (1989)

While this year's remake of "The Karate Kid" with Jackie Chan & Jaden Smith marked the 25th anniversary of the original film's release, that original film launched a franchise that would see a total of 4 films, the last shifting the focus to a young woman (future Oscar winner Hilary Swank), and a short-lived NBC Saturday morning series.

Right now, let's take a look at the episode, "Over The Rainbow":



Karate Kid was the last collaboration between DIC and Sony, following the syndicated Dinosaucers, and another series adapted from a movie, The Real Ghostbusters (previously reviewed). Unlike the Ghostbusters, however, Daniel & Mr. Miyagi didn't make a successful transition to animation, and the series, soon to be released to DVD, was cancelled after 1 season, as NBC had lost its grip on the Saturday morning ratings wars. Pat Morita (ex-Happy Days) reprised his role as Miyagi, but that wasn't enough of a draw.

Rating: B-.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Saturtainment: Disney's House of Mouse (2001)

By the end of the 90's, Disney had begun programming ABC's Saturday morning lineup. House of Mouse was a lunch hour treat that aired from 2001-03, and was repurposed, of course, on the Disney Channel (until 2006) and Toon Disney (now DisneyXD) until last year. The Brian Setzer Orchestra performs the title song, and the talking microphone's voice belonged to the late game show announcer Rod Roddy (The Price is Right, ex-Soap).

Here's the intro:



House of Mouse served as a means for all of Disney's characters, including their licensed ones, to meet & mingle. It's too bad the series lasted just 2 seasons, but Disney did give fan-fiction fanatics plenty of material to work from for years to come.

Rating: A.

Spooktober: Ghost Busters (1975)

Ghost Busters was one of three first-year live-action series Filmation unveiled in 1975, and the last part of a 2-hour live-action block as part of CBS' Saturday lineup that year. Former F-Troop co-stars Forrest Tucker & Larry Storch were reunited for this series, which would also mark the end of Storch's association with the studio after 8 seasons. Tucker & Storch also performed the show's theme song.

Here's the open:



Unfortunately, Ghost Busters was a wee bit ahead of its time, and was cancelled after 1 season. Dick Rosenbloom, brought in as a co-executive producer that year, was gone the next, after seeing 2 of the 3 series under his watch cancelled. Rosenbloom was not involved with Filmation's lone animated newcomer that season, The Secret Lives of Waldo Kitty, which also bombed. The only series to go beyond one year of this group, The Secrets of Isis, would continue for 2 more years before departing in 1978.

10 years after the original series ended, and in response to Ivan Reitman's smash hit, "Ghostbusters", from 1984, Filmation decided to bring back their Ghostbusters (note the spelling change) in an animated weekday series for syndication in 1986. This show featured the sons of the originals, and currently airs Saturdays on RTV (check local listings). I'll have a review of that show before the end of the month.

Rating: B+.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Spooktober: Rick Moranis in Gravedale High (1990)

You would think that after fellow SCTV alumni Martin Short & Joe Flaherty had bombed just a couple of years earlier with The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley, Rick Moranis would've thought twice about doing a Saturday morning cartoon. Instead, he agreed to lend his voice and likeness to Gravedale High, which, like Ed Grimley and SCTV, aired on NBC. Umbrellagecko uploaded the open to YouTube, which features Rick joining the cast in singing the title song:



Gravedale High, like Ed Grimley, lasted just one season. Viewers just didn't warm up to an all-ghoul high school. Oh, by the way, Hanna-Barbera produced both Ed Grimley & Gravedale High, the latter in conjunction with NBC, which thought Gravedale might fit in with its developing line of live-action teen sitcoms. I believe NBC-Universal owns the show now, which is why you probably will never see it on Cartoon Network.

Rating: B.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Spooktober: The Addams Family (1973)

After a guest appearance on The New Scooby-Doo Movies in 1972, cartoonist Charles Addams' Addams Family were spun off into an all-new animated series the next year, but on NBC, instead of CBS (at the time home of Scooby-Doo) or their original network, ABC.

The series then returned in 1992, following the success of the first feature film with the late Raul Julia as Gomez. Machimina Wrestling uploaded the open:



This version lasted a little bit longer than its first animated incarnation, 3 years as opposed to 2 for the NBC series. With Halloween less than 2 weeks away, you'd think Boomerang would consider airing either version, but it may be a matter of rights that prevents it from happening. I actually watched the 1992 series and found it mildly entertaining. The '73 show I didn't get to see because it led off the lineup, as I recall, and I had other commitments. Where they fouled up with the '73 series was not being able to reassemble the original cast (only Jackie Coogan & Ted Cassidy worked on the '73 show, Astin on the '92 show) after the meeting with Scooby.

Ratings: 1st series (1973): Incomplete; 2nd series (1992): B.

Updated, 3/29/12: Cartoonsintros has uploaded the open for the 1973 series!:



Edit, 7/26/13: The PSA for the US Forest Service was taken off YouTube. If/when it returns, it'll be reposted.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Super Chicken (1967)

From the twisted mind of Jay Ward (Rocky & His Friends) comes a funny animal superhero satire, Super Chicken, one of two backup segments of George of the Jungle. Rosscarlson uploaded the opening episode, "The Oyster", to YouTube:



Only one season's worth of adventures was produced, cycled through for nearly 3 full years (1967-70). Super Chicken's super sauce will remind some of another superhero sendup from the same period, Mr. Terrific, who also needed some kind of potion to trigger his powers. However, most people will remember the name Super Chicken more readily than they would Mr. Terrific. It just happens that way.

Rating: B.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Spooktober: The Real Ghostbusters (1986)

In an effort to retool its Saturday morning lineup, ABC had retired the Super Friends after 13 seasons, and plugged the hole with The Real Ghostbusters.

2 years after the first movie, Real Ghostbusters picks up where the movie left off, but in order to attract the kids, the team now has a pet ghost, if you will, Slimer, which in truth was a deterrent. But, considering that this franchise managed to last 5 seasons on ABC, and Slimer was included in "Ghostbusters 2" (1989), DIC and Sony appeared to make the right call. Superherocartoonsite uploaded the open, with the theme sung by a Ray Parker, Jr. soundalike:



After the first season, the series added a weekday, syndicated run, and there were some cast changes. Lorenzo Music (ex-Rhoda), who'd been cast as Peter, left to work on Garfield & Friends, and the producers brought in Canadian comic Dave Coulier (Full House) to take his place. Voice-over vet Buster Jones stepped in as Winston, replacing-----wait for it----Arsenio Hall, who was still a year and a half away from his late night talk show.

One other note. As the series progressed, a relationship developed between Egon and Janine, the team's secretary. As we know from "Ghostbusters 2", Janine flirted with lawyer Louis Tully, but that didn't translate into the cartoons. A decade later, in the weekday series, Extreme Ghostbusters, there was the implication that Egon & Janine had in fact gotten married, or at least were working together in charge of training a new team of Ghostbusters. The Extreme series, however, lasted just 2 seasons. They're still planning a 3rd movie, so maybe another animated series will follow. Stress maybe.

Rating: A.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Celebrity Toons: I Am The Greatest: The Adventures of Muhammad Ali (1977)

By 1977, Muhammad Ali, the most recognizable boxer on the planet, was doing commercials for D-Con, and had dabbled in movies. But a Saturday morning cartoon? A noble idea, but the execution was just off. Here's a sample of I Am The Greatest: The Adventures of Muhammad Ali, uploaded to YouTube:



Independent producer Fred Calvert was responsible for this series, and it would be his last. NBC pulled the plug about halfway through the season, which amounted to, in boxing parlance, a TKO.

Rating: D.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

From Comics to Toons: Flash Gordon (1979)

One of the greatest assets of Filmation during their existence was in their licensed properties, from Superman to He-Man. One of the more successful of these was Flash Gordon, which debuted on NBC in 1979, predating the live-action feature film by almost a full year. Hewley1972 uploaded the open to YouTube:



Regarded as one of the more faithful adaptations of Alex Raymond's fabled comic strip, Flash Gordon became the first Filmation series since their adaptation of Star Trek to last more than one season at NBC. Their track record otherwise was not that great, as most of the series they sold to NBC usually ended up cancelled after 1 season. Robert Ridgely (Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle) voiced Flash, while character actor Alan Oppenheimer (ex-Six Million Dollar Man) was cast as Ming the Merciless. Oppenheimer began a long association with Filmation with this series, and would remain a mainstay at the studio until it closed after the cancellation of Bravestarr in 1988. King Features owns the rights to the series, I do believe.

Flash would return, this time in a weekday series, as one of Marvel's Defenders of the Earth, which the comics giant would co-produce with King, through Hearst Entertainment, in the late 80's.

Rating: A-.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Spooktober: The Funky Phantom (1971)

With Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? a huge hit for CBS, it wasn't long before the other networks wanted a piece of the action. Hanna-Barbera, of course, was willing to oblige, and served up The Funky Phantom, part of the freshman class of 1971-72 on ABC. ClassicTelevisionFan uploaded the familiar opening. Unfortunately, the print used here hasn't been preserved too well, it seems.......



Long time H-B voice artist Daws Butler applied his Snagglepuss voice to the title ghost, one Jonathan Muddlemore, a Revolutionary War spirit trapped in a grandfather clock with his pet cat, Boo. Ex-Monkee Micky Dolenz made his toon debut as Skip, one of the teens who found Muddlemore. The Funky Phantom was the first H-B series to be produced in Australia, in this case in conjunction with Air Programs International, which would strike out on its own the next year with Around the World in 80 Days for NBC, but is better remembered for initially launching Famous Classic Tales, a series of animated specials, for CBS (H-B would take over FCT within a couple of years of its launch). Funky lasted just 1 year on Saturdays, and currently languishes in Cartoon Network's vaults, as they are unwilling to run the series, especially with Halloween right around the corner. Their loss, as usual. It was fun while it lasted.

Rating: B.

Saturtainment: Here Come the Double Deckers (1970)

ABC took a chance on importing a British series, Here Come the Double Deckers, to the US in 1970 for their Saturday morning lineup. Well, actually, the importing was done by 20th Century Fox, which assigned David Gerber as executive producer. At the time, Gerber was overseeing the studio's sitcoms, such as Nanny & the Professor and The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, but would leave Fox for Columbia Pictures Television (nee Screen Gems, now Sony Pictures Television) and move to dramatic series like Police Woman. I digress.

A British program on American television was not uncommon back then, and ABC had their fair share of prime time imports from across the pond, including The Avengers and variety shows starring Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck. Unfortunately, the Double Deckers, presented to American audiences as a sort of British take on the beloved Our Gang (aka The Little Rascals), but with a pop soundtrack (the cast performed the title song), failed to click here, and was shunted off to Sundays after 1 season.

Following is a sample clip with a young Jane Seymour as the guest star:



Rating: B.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Saturtainment: ABC Weekend Special (1977)

Of the three first-year series ABC introduced to their Saturday morning lineup in 1977, their anthology series, Weekend Special, lasted the longest, remaining on the air for 20 seasons before it was unceremoniously dropped in 1997, after the network had been bought by Disney. Rhihorra uploaded the open to YouTube:



In the 80's, a puppet character, Captain OG Readmore (voiced by Frank Welker) became the series host, and starred in 5 animated adventures (with Neil Ross taking over the role), in a sort of left-handed salute to Mr. Magoo's Famous Adventures series of 1964. Weekend Special also provided an outlet for some other series on the schedule. For example, "Liberty & the Littles", a 3-part miniseries spun from The Littles, aired in the Special slot. Ironically, The Littles, in its final season, would air in back of Weekend Special. Acclaimed horror icon Vincent Price was a guest co-host for a couple of weeks in October 1985. Oddly enough, Price was working on another ABC Saturday series that year, The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, so this amounted to a bit of a cross-over, even if Price didn't plug the cartoon (I'm not sure if he did).

Recently, ABC bade farewell to another franchise, the Power Rangers, which it had acquired from Fox in 2002, and carried for 8 seasons. Instead of reviving Weekend Special, or doing something similar to recall those halcyon days of the late 70's & 80's, ABC opted to give the 12 noon (ET) hour back to local affiliates, another sign that broadcast networks are ceding Saturdays to cable.

We'll be posting selected episodes from the series in the days & weeks to come, so there's no rating to be had this time.

Game Time: Starcade (1982)

Ted Turner, at the time in charge of superstation TBS, wanted to offer an alternative to the Saturday morning fare airing on the networks. Apparently, Turner hadn't done his homework, else he'd have known that game shows don't have a long shelf life as an attraction for the breakfast cereal crowd. Starcade made its debut in December 1982 and lasted nearly 2 years.

AdamNedeff supplied this clip with the series' initial host, Marc Richards, to YouTube:



After 6 months, Richards was let go, replaced by TV vet Geoff Edwards, whose resume included
the original Jackpot! and the 70's revival of Treasure Hunt. While Richards showed no real enthusiasm toward video games, Edwards became a fan as a result of this gig. Unfortunately, Starcade was cancelled in 1984, after which TBS began airing wrestling in the morning, and never tried another game show on Saturday mornings.

Rating: B-.

Game Time: Secrets of the Cryptkeeper's Haunted House (1996)

It looked like something that belonged on Nickelodeon (which is now a corporate cousin), but Secrets of the Cryptkeeper's Haunted House haunted CBS' Saturday lineup in 1996. Bojibbles, who said he actually appeared on the show, uploaded this sample to YouTube:



By this time, though, with Nickelodeon playing their game shows into the ground with endless repeats weekdays & weekends, Secrets didn't stand even a ghost of a chance. I can imagine the Cryptkeeper himself (John Kassir) using that line in the post-mortem after the show was cancelled. Surprisingly, Nickelodeon didn't even consider picking up Secrets after the show ended, but then, Nickelodeon doesn't have much use for game shows nowadays themselves.

Bottom line is, if you've seen, say, Legends of the Hidden Temple on Nick, chances are this is along the same line, but a little creepier.

Rating: C.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bad TV: Big John, Little John (1976)

Famed producer Sherwood Schwartz decided to give Saturday mornings another try in 1976, this time with his first entry for NBC, Big John, Little John, a collaboration with the team of William D'Angelo, Harvey Bullock, & RA Allen (Monster Squad). 70skidvid provided the open & close to the show, uploaded to YouTube:



It was an odd concept. A middle-aged man (Herb Edelman, later of The Golden Girls) drinks from the fountain of youth, or so it would seem, leading to the unpredictable age-&-size-changing from adult to youth (with Robbie Rist, ex-The Brady Bunch, as the younger version) that formed the basis for this sitcom. However, airing opposite Krofft Supershow, and, I believe, Ark II, Big John couldn't find an audience. In hindsight, this whimsical comedy was meant for prime time consumption, but then, NBC couldn't buy a break at night, either, in those days.

Rating: D.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Spooktober: Tales From the Cryptkeeper (1993)

HBO's Tales From the Crypt was a huge hit for the pay-cable channel in the 90's. In order to get the Cryptkeeper exposed to a wider audience, the producers allowed Canada's Nelvana to produce an animated series, Tales From the Cryptkeeper, for ABC, which launched in 1993 and spent 3 years on the network. John Kassir reprised as the voice of the title character, serving as your ghoulish host with the most. However, in order to better sell the show for Saturday morning viewing, and to keep the usual watchdog groups at bay, the Cryptkeeper was given bluish green skin to cloak his skeletal form. The usual puns are in play, though. Mendelboaz uploaded this sample of the series opener, "While the Cat's Away...." to YouTube:



After the cartoon ended, the Cryptkeeper moved to CBS and fronted a game show, Secrets of the Cryptkeeper's Haunted House. Unfortunately, that lasted but one season. Tales From The Cryptkeeper was perhaps the best-animated series that Nelvana had ever produced, and that says something, considering that they went into the business of importing anime from Japan at the end of the decade.

Rating: A-.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

RTV hits & misses on Saturday mornings

The Retro Television Network (RTV) prides itself as the "best in classic television", but their fledgling Saturday morning lineup could use a little tweaking.

Only two series in the block actually aired on Saturdays in their original run. Fat Albert & The Cosby Kids, which leads off the block in some areas, including my home district, was the longest-running and most successful Filmation series ever, as it ran for 12 seasons on CBS before moving to weekday syndication in 1984. The Archie Show, from 1968, began a run of 8 seasons for Archie Andrews and his friends on CBS, ending when 1974's US of Archie was moved to Sunday mornings in 1975 for its 2nd & final season. The rest of the block all aired either in prime time (Lassie) or in weekday syndication. Here's the lineup as it is constituted in the Albany market. Your market may vary.

8 (ET): Fat Albert & the Cosby Kids (CBS 1972-84, syndicated 1984-5)
8:30: Ghostbusters (syndicated 1986-87)
9: The Archie Show (CBS 1968-69; the series would undergo several format changes over 8 seasons)
9:30: Bravestarr (syndicated 1987-88; the last Filmation series)
10: She-Ra: Princess of Power (syndicated 1985-87)
10:30: He-Man & the Masters of the Universe (syndicated 1983-86)
11: Lassie (CBS prime time through 1971, then syndicated; 2 back to back episodes)

The end-of-show moral lessons from the 80's toons have been edited off, enabling RTV to add some other features, including Gumby and the controversial, syndicated Dick Tracy shorts produced by UPA in the 60's. Classic Media owns the rights to the whole kit & kaboodle, and have committed the unpardonable sin of plastering their logo over the final Filmation logo (1983-88), at least on Bravestarr. Classic television fans prefer to have the original studio logos left intact. If Classic Media wants to be a player in the syndication market and reintroduce viewers to the properties under their control, they'd be well served to leave the logos as is.

Now, you have to hope there is a rotation that will allow for later Archie series and other Filmation properties to be added to the mix. They would have been well served to have chosen the original Ghost Busters (note the spelling) from 1975, before airing the animated follow-up.

Saturday morning television, as we know it, has changed for the worse in recent years. RTV is at least giving us a chance to see it the way it was.

Saturday Morning's Greatest Hits: Love Went Round (1970)

With the Archies now part of RTV's Saturday morning lineup (check local listings), you know that eventually they'll get to 1970's Archie's Funhouse, which introduced the Giant Jukebox in front of a live studio audience of kids. This was one of Filmation's first attempts at live-action programming, but they wouldn't go with a full live-action series for another 4 years. Here's another track from the Funhouse series, "Love Went Round". Keep an eye out for Marmaduke "Big Moose" Mason on mandolin in a brief bit with frenemy Reggie. Pterixa uploaded "Love Went Round" to YouTube:

Friday, October 8, 2010

Celebrity Toons: Lassie's Rescue Rangers (1973)

By 1973, Lassie was well established in syndication after a long run on CBS. Believing that the iconic collie could still draw viewers on network television, Filmation acquired a license to produce a Saturday morning series. Lassie's Rescue Rangers, however, lasted just 1 season as a Saturday series, and was moved to Sundays the next year. The pilot, "The Spirit of Thunder Mountain", aired as an installment of ABC's Saturday Superstar Movie. Here's the open, uploaded by Avatar3700 to YouTube, to Lassie's Rescue Rangers:



I remember watching this show as a 10 year old, and, yes, I also watched the live-action Lassie from time to time. Rescue Rangers marked the last Filmation work of Emmy winner Ted Knight (The Mary Tyler Moore Show), who also served as narrator for Hanna-Barbera's Super Friends, the centerpiece of ABC's 1973 Saturday morning lineup. With the original Lassie now on RTV (check local listings), and with RTV carrying a number of Filmation series, it's a matter of time before the Rescue Rangers ride again.

Rating: A.

Family Toons: The Barkleys (1972)

The Barkleys, one of two freshman series DePatie-Freleng supplied to NBC as part of their "Terrific Ten" in 1972, owes its existence not so much to the then-popular All In The Family, but rather The Honeymooners, largely because the patriarch, Arnie, like Ralph Kramden, was a bus driver.

Here's the open, sung by DFE's chief songwriter, Doug Goodwin, to YouTube:



The Barkleys were meant to be something the whole family could enjoy, something that couldn't be said about the Bunkers on All In The Family. Coincidentally, NBC had a sitcom that debuted a year later in prime time whose protagonist was also a bus driver. But, like The Barkleys, Lotsa Luck, with Dom DeLuise, lasted just one season.

Rating: B.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Spooktober: The Groovie Goolies (1970)

In 1970, CBS' Saturday morning lineup was loaded with bubblegum pop-rock. Archie's Funhouse was the 3rd incarnation of the Archie franchise in as many years, and, at the same time, spawned a spin-off, Sabrina & the Groovie Goolies, in which the comic book witch, who'd appeared with the Archies the previous two seasons, now was on her own with her aunts, Hilda & Zelda, and an extended family that included the Goolies, a made-for-TV clan of monsters whose three central characters were inspired by & modeled after Universal movie monsters.

Somehow, though, Dracula (voiced by Larry Storch, ex-F Troop) had lost his fangs, or so it would seem. Along with Frankie & Wolfie (both voiced by Howard Morris, the voice of Jughead), he formed a trio, playing the organ, while Frankie played the bongos, and Wolfie was on guitar. Here's the open to the Goolies' solo series from 1971. Unfortunately, the original open for Sabrina & the Groovie Goolies is at the moment unavailable, lost to the mists of time.



The Groovie Goolies, coupled with Archie's Funhouse & Josie & the Pussycats, plus rock music inserted into Harlem Globetrotters & Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? (in its 2nd season), gave CBS plenty of material to produce a soundtrack album themselves. In fact, songwriter Richard Monda, under the name Daddy Dewdrop, released his own version of a Goolies song, "Chick-A-Boom", as a single in 1972, and had a huge hit.

CBS split Sabrina & the Goolies up in 1971, thinking each could succeed on their own. It didn't happen, and both shows were cancelled. The Goolies, though, moved to ABC, and appeared with Looney Tunes stars Porky Pig & Daffy Duck in an episode of the Saturday Superstar Movie. 3 years later, ABC revived the Goolies as a mid-season replacement for Uncle Croc's Block, marking the end of their association with Filmation after 9 seasons. Filmation then packaged the Goolies in a syndicated anthology series similar to Hanna-Barbera's Fred Flintstone & Friends. Both were released in 1977.

Perhaps the best part of the show wasn't the music, but "Weird Window Time", derived from the live-action Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, but without the risque humor. It's too bad they don't make stuff like this anymore.

Rating: A-.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Toon Rock: The Beatles (1965)

As proof of their status as the most popular pop group on the planet, The Beatles granted a license to King Features Syndicate's television division to produce an animated series, which aired initially on ABC from 1965-69 (the final season, all repeats, aired on Sunday afternoons). The inestimable Paul Frees (Rocky & His Friends and a zillion other cartoons) spoke for John Lennon & George Harrison, but the flaw was that his vocal style for both singers was almost exactly the same! Actor Lance Percival of England's "Carry On" movie series voiced Ringo Starr & Paul McCartney, and actually came closest to nailing the parts.

Each episode title was named after a well known Beatles song, such as, for example, "Penny Lane" or "And Your Bird Can Sing", which was also the series' theme for the 3rd season. For now, scope out "I Saw Her Standing There":



The series found new life in the late 80's when it made its way to cable, airing first on MTV and its sister network, Nickelodeon, and was last seen on the Disney Channel some 20 years ago. At least MTV had the good sense to schedule it right back where it started, on Saturday mornings, back when MTV actually cared about music.

Rating: B.

Literary Toons: Around the World in 80 Days (1972)

Australia's Air Programs International was entrusted with adapting Jules Verne's novel, Around the World in 80 Days, into an animated series. However, the final product, picked up by NBC in 1972 as part of their Terrific Ten lineup, was a far cry from the actual story. Here's the open:



In the book, Fix is actually a detective with Scotland Yard, not a villain, and the wager of 20,000 pounds was actually over a debate over the improvements in transcontinental travel at the time of the novel (set in 1872, published a year later), but the producers wanted an ongoing antagonist who'd dog Phineas Fogg at every step, taking their cues from Hanna-Barbera's modern-day reworking of the story as Around the World in 79 Days, a segment of Cattanooga Cats 3 years earlier. Unfortunately, such creative liberties, coupled with a poor time slot, doomed this version of Around the World, which was cancelled after 1 season.

Rating: D.

Spooktober: Dingbat & the Creeps (1980)

Serving as a backup feature to Heathcliff in his first foray into television, Dingbat & the Creeps were a sort of bizarre sendup of classic comedy teams like the Three Stooges and the Ritz Brothers. The common theme in their stories was that the Creeps were always looking---for a job. Like, who'd actually be brave enough to hire a vampire dog, a disembodied pumpkin (wearing a hat and sneakers), and/or a walking skeleton?

The video was deleted by YouTube due to copyright infringement issues. If/when it returns, we'll bring it back.

Unlike the Ritzes and the Stooges, the Creeps didn't last very long. One season, and then gone. Ruby-Spears, perhaps under a directive from ABC, replaced them with Marmaduke as Heathcliff's backup the next year. Not that it made much difference, as the comic strip characters were gone soon after, although Heathcliff would make a comeback......

Rating: C.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Turbo Teen (1984)

In 1984, Knight Rider was nearing the end of the trail. Undaunted, Ruby-Spears saw an opportunity to have a little fun at the expense of the NBC series. The end result was Turbo Teen, which imagined what might've happened had Knight Rider been done a wee bit differently. Like, can you imagine KITT with David Hasselhoff's voice instead of William Daniels'? Of course not. It would've changed the course of television history. Anyway, Turbo Teen sped across TV screens on ABC for just one season. DaveMcFly uploaded the open to YouTube:



By this point, it can be said that Ruby-Spears was falling into the same trap as the other studios, green-lighting any concept that came along. Like, they even made a show about one of the most baffling fads of the 80's, Rubik's Cube. Now, if they really wanted to do Turbo Teen right, they'd have skipped the shape-shifting and come up with a cross between Knight and a 60's clunker, My Mother the Car, except that the female voice would be a little more flirtacious, if you know what I mean......

Rating: D.

Literary Toons: Doctor Doolittle (1970)

Three years after the original feature film musical with Rex Harrison, Doctor Doolittle moved to television, adapted by DePatie-Freleng for NBC. This time, the good doctor is traveling by boat all around the globe, pursued by pirate Sam Scurvy (Lennie Weinrib, who was also a writer-producer on this show, and contributed to the theme song). who covets the secret of Doolittle's uncanny ability to communicate with animals for his own agenda.

Honestly, I can't see how talking to animals can enable anyone to rule the world. Anyway, here's a sample of the episode, "The Grasshoppers Are Coming, Hooray, Hooray!", uploaded by TheManFromUNCLEIllya to YouTube:




Doolittle, sadly, lasted just 1 season, and I'm assuming 20th Century Fox, which made the movie, also holds the rights to this show, which means it's highly unlikely you'll see this on DVD any time soon.

Rating: B-.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Saturtainment: Benji, Zax, & the Alien Prince (1983)

Benji had starred in a series of feature films during the 70's, and so it was perhaps inevitable that someone would come along with an idea to bring him to television. Hanna-Barbera did just that, teaming with Joe Camp's Mulberry Square Productions to produce Benji, Zax, & the Alien Prince, a live-action sci-fi series that was part of CBS' Saturday lineup in 1983. Here's a sample, uploaded by magyartv to YouTube:



The series, unfortunately, did not last very long, cancelled after 1 season. Along with NBC's Going Bananas, it was one of the last live-action series that Hanna-Barbera would produce. In fact, none of H-B's live-action product ever went past 1 season. This was one of those cases where CBS could've done something radical to call attention to the show by airing it in prime time as well as on Saturdays, especially considering Benji's background in movies.

Rating: B.

Spooktober: Fangface (1978)

Fangface was the first series to come from Joe Ruby & Ken Spears' own production company, sold to ABC in 1978. Ruby & Spears, who helped develop Scooby-Doo into a Saturday morning icon nearly a decade earlier, tweaked the familiar formula by making the title hero a werewolf.

At first glance, given the chemistry between Sherman Fangsworth (aka Fangface) and best pal Puggsy, you'd assume that Ruby & Spears molded them in the images of "Bowery Boys" stars Huntz Hall & Leo Gorcey, respectively. However, that would be giving them too much credit. Here's the open, courtesy of Hewey1972 and YouTube:



Even in his Fangface ID, Sherm wasn't exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. Borrowing also from the original "Wolf Man", Sherm has no memory of what he did as Fangface once he reverts to human form. There was never any real explanation for why Fangface had an unsatiated obsession with eating Puggsy, which kind of ruined the show.

Fangface lasted just one season as a stand-alone series, and was incorporated into the Plastic Man Comedy-Adventure Show the next year as one of three backup features. However, the series jumped the shark by adding a nephew for Sherm, Fangpuss. It was the same year that Hanna-Barbera had introduced Scrappy-Doo to the world, a year after Godzooky was inserted into the studio's adaptation of Godzilla. Sometimes, these ideas work, but this was one that didn't. Fangface was laid to rest after 2 seasons, and reruns air periodically on Boomerang.

Rating: B-.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Spooktober: Milton the Monster (1965)

What do you get when you cross Frankenstein's monster with Gomer Pyle, USMC? You get Milton The Monster, a delightfully goofy sendup on ghouls, goblins & monsters created by producer Hal Seeger for ABC in 1965. Razorjin uploaded the episode, 'The Hearse Thief", which also includes one of the series' openings:



Seeger's animation style is similar to that of Famous Studios' Harveytoons line of theatrical shorts, which in turn led to Casper transitioning to television, also on ABC. Milton and all of his supporting characters were voiced by one man, Bob McFadden, who would also work on King Features' Cool McCool a year later for NBC. There was also a back-up feature, Fearless Fly, whom we'll discuss in a later post. Milton paved the way for other gentle cartoon monsters, including another Frankenstein parody in the Groovie Goolies, and network executives also saw the potential of turning more established monsters, such as King Kong and Godzilla, into more benevolent characters in animated form. Unfortunately, Milton didn't have a long shelf life. Just a couple of years, and then he was gone.

Could a revival happen? It depends on who holds the rights, be it Seeger's estate or someone else.

Rating: B.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Butch Cassidy (1973)

Hanna-Barbera hadn't quite given up on pre-fab bubblegum pop by 1973, even though Josie & the Pussycats in Outer Space was in perpetual rerun for its 2nd & final season on CBS, and the band made a visit to the Scooby-Doo Movies. NBC wanted back in, and H-B served up Butch Cassidy and his band, the Sundance Kids, who doubled as secret agents. Their "boss" was a sentient computer, Mr. Socrates (voiced by H-B regular John Stephenson), who had an odd affliction----an allergic reaction to the band's dog, Elvis. Ex-Monkee Micky Dolenz lent his voice to the band's drummer, Wally (who happened to be Elvis' owner). Butch and the band fought the usual assortment of garden variety would-be dictators and such, just as Josie did 3 years earlier, but unlike the Pussycats, the Sundance Kids drifted into the sunset after 1 season.

Pterixa uploaded this sample from the show to YouTube. In this scene, the Sundance Kids perform "Lookin' For Someone":



A revival of the series would be nice, but this time it'd have to have a harder edge and some much needed continuity in order to appeal to today's audience. Whaddya say, WB?

Rating: B-.