Thursday, December 16, 2010

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: The Nitwits (1977)

To illustrate just how bad things were at NBC in the late 70's, the network's idea of a superhero cartoon in 1977 was, like the Robonic Stooges of CBS' Skatebirds, a satire on the genre, grafted from one of the network's most successful prime-time shows of the late 60's.

The Nitwits were a revival of a popular skit from Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In involving Tyrone, the "Dirty Old Man" (Arte Johnson), and Gladys (Ruth Buzzi, ex-The Lost Saucer), who was so popular with viewers, she also appeared regularly on the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast after Laugh-In ended its original run. In the cartoons, Tyrone had finally married Gladys, and they were now the most unlikely of superheroes. The Nitwits was one-half of a half-hour show near the bottom of NBC's lineup, sharing space with a feline sendup of Charlie Chaplin's famed "Tramp" persona, Baggy Pants.

Individual episodes of The Nitwits are not available right now, but the show open, featuring both features, is, uploaded by Muttley16 to YouTube:

Of course, Arte Johnson was already well-established at DePatie-Freleng, which produced this series, having previously worked on Misterjaw, The Houndcats, and other DFE series and specials, even while also appearing on Laugh-In. Regrettably, the lunch hour time slot, coupled with a poor attempt at recapturing the campy spirit of the 60's, doomed The Nitwits (and Baggy Pants, for that matter), as the series was cancelled after 1 season, and was the next-to-last series DFE sold to NBC. The last? A revival of Fantastic Four the next season. While Baggy Pants was laugh-out-loud funny, The Nitwits were flatter than a set of 10 year old tires.

Rating: C.

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