Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Daytime Heroes: Battle of the Planets (1978)

A year after "Star Wars" became a box office phenomenon, science fiction was back in vogue on television, and not just on Saturday mornings. ABC, for example, went to two different extremes, with the sitcom Mork & Mindy, which made Robin Williams a superstar, and the adventure series, Battlestar Galactica.

Syndicator Sandy Frank acquired the rights to translate the 1972 Japanese anime, Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, into English. The end result was Battle of the Planets, which actually was an edited version of Gatchaman, removing some more mature aspects of the series to better market the show to young American audiences. Watered down? If you had been able to see the original Gatchaman, you might think so. As it was clearly implied in the Image Comics' revival of the series a few years ago, Zoltar was actually a hermaphrodite, but that couldn't be conveyed to the audience without certain focus groups weighing in and complaining.

Battle of the Planets had a decided Hanna-Barbera touch to it, though. Long time H-B composer Hoyt Curtin was the series' musical director, and composed the score, which may in fact be a wee bit derivative of his All New Super Friends Hour theme from a year earlier. Super Friends narrator Bill Woodson was the uncredited announcer. The voice cast included some more familiar names, most of whom had been or were still associated with H-B, including Keye Luke (ex-Amazing Chan & the Chan Clan) as Zoltar, Ronnie Schell (ex-Goober & the Ghost Chasers), Casey Kasem (Super Friends, Scooby-Doo), and H-B's first lady of voices, Janet Waldo (ex-The Jetsons, Josie & the Pussycats, Wacky Races, etc.). Alan Young (ex-Mister Ed) voiced 7-Zark-7, the robotic aide for G-Force. It should be pointed out that Schell was originally cast as Tiny, the pilot of the Phoenix, but was switched to Jason after the 1st episode. Alan Dinehart took over the role of Tiny, but most sources credit his son, Alan, Jr., as Tiny. David Jolliffe (Clue Club) may have been Jason in the 1st episode.

Battle merits mention in the archives because in some cities, including Albany, the show aired on Saturdays ahead of or, depending on where you lived, in place of network programming. In Albany, it aired 6 days a week, in the era B. O. (Before Oprah, of course). UrbanGuy uploaded the open to YouTube. As Mark (Casey Kasem) would ask before a mission, "Anyone for outer space?".....

In 1986, Ted Turner took over the rights to Gatchaman, in conjunction with Hearst Entertainment, and restored the original prints, resulting in G-Force: Guardians of Space. 10 years later, Saban adapted two follow-up series into Eagle Riders, which aired as a weekly series in the US because by then, there was little room for 1st run syndicated animation on weekdays (Fox & Kids' WB! had daily toon schedules at the time). Consequently, Eagle Riders, like G-Force before it, flopped badly and was cancelled after 1 season. Clearly, Battle of the Planets is the most popular US adaptation, as it was also the most successful, remaining in most US markets for 7 seasons (1978-85).

Rating: A-.

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