Monday, October 31, 2011

Toon Legends: Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? (1969)

He is Hanna-Barbera's last iconic creation of the 60's, introduced in 1969. 42 years later, Scooby-Doo has logged plenty of miles with his Mystery, Inc. teammates, with no signs of slowing down.

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? was meant as a complement to The Archie Comedy Hour in luring teens & young adults to CBS, even though the two were produced by different studios. Originally conceived as a musical-mystery-adventure series in the same vein as Archie's Filmation stablemate, The Hardy Boys, over on ABC, the series underwent a number of revisions in pre-production before CBS finally bought the show. Scooby, in fact, got his name after Fred Silverman, then the head of programming at CBS, heard the scatting at the end of Frank Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night".

While the current Mystery, Incorporated series, presently on hiatus on Cartoon Network until the lamebrains there decide to begin the next slate of episodes, has rebooted the franchise and alienated some long-time fans in the process, it's good to know the classic series remains accessible, even if the formulaic plotting became tired rather quickly.

Titro99 uploaded the season 2 open, performed by singer-songwriter Austin Roberts, using a faux British accent.



The differences between the classic series and the current one are easily identifiable. Team leader Fred (Frank Welker) was clearly defined as such from day one. Beginning with the 2002 live-action movie, the character was gradually dumbed down such that the current reboot has him as a trap-happy knucklehead who took forever to realize his true love was his leggy teammate, Daphne Blake, not his obsession with traps. In contrast, Daphne has gone from being the prototypical damsel in distress to being more self-aware and savvy, and, as shown in the movies, can do her fair share of butt-kicking. Velma, Shaggy, & Scooby have remained basically the same straight through.

Luckily for old school fans, WB continues to produce a direct-to-video movie in the traditional format on an annual basis, so fans disenfranchised by the current series have a safe haven to turn to.

Scooby spent 7 seasons at CBS before moving to ABC in 1976, and spent 10 there before getting yanked off the air with the cancellation of the 13 Ghosts series in March 1986. The franchise was revived with A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, which lasted 3 seasons on ABC from 1988-91, and it would be 11 years before Scooby would return to Saturday mornings with all-new material.

Understandably, for Halloween, Boomerang scheduled a marathon of the classic series today. Hope you've had a chance to catch up.

Rating: B+.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Saturtainment: American Bandstand (1952)

Up until now, I've posted performance clips from the long running music series, American Bandstand, but never got around to discussing the show in general.

Bandstand launched as a weekday entry on ABC in 1952, and transitioned to a Saturday-only berth in the 60's, up until it left ABC in 1987. Dick Clark, the man most closely associated with Bandstand, took over as host in 1956, and built his production company around the franchise. The show's famous theme song, "Bandstand Boogie", was composed by Les & Larry Elgart, and the original instrumental remained in place until around 1975, when singer-songwriter Barry Manilow recorded a new, more up-tempo version that most fans are familiar with.

One of the most popular segments of Bandstand was the Rate-a-Record feature, in which three audience members would be chosen to judge two possible future hits. Grandmasterfunk92 uploaded this 1967 Rate-a-Record clip, which offers a little intra-network synergy, promoting the short-lived primetime sitcom, Rango, Tim Conway's first post-McHale's Navy series, by playing the theme song, sung by Frankie Laine ("High Noon", Rawhide).



As I've outlined in the past, for several years, Bandstand was inexplicably blacked out in my area as the then-ABC affiliate opted to run syndicated fare for the sole purpose of boosting local ad revenues. When the local broadcast channels shuffled network affiliations in 1977-78, Bandstand didn't benefit right away, but it ultimately was brought back to local screens until ABC cancelled the series in 1987. The series would continue in syndication, and then was picked up by USA Network for the 1988-89 season, but with Clark turning over hosting chores to someone named David Hirsch. Needless to say, without Clark, who by then was again a daytime fixture thanks to the on-again, off-again Pyramid franchise Bob Stewart had developed initially for ABC, Bandstand finally breathed its last in 1989. The series would later return in a clip show format that aired on VH1 in the 90's for a couple of years. Would that VH1 Classic would actually consider adding it to their roster, instead of recycling the same hand-me-downs from their sister networks.....

Rating: B.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sunday Funnies: F-Troop (1965)

The introduction of cable television in my area in the 70's meant fresh viewing options. Many a Sunday morning was spent watching reruns of the 1965-67 sitcom, F-Troop, which aired ahead of the weekly Abbott & Costello feature film du jour on WPIX. SpudTV uploaded the open & close from the 1st season.



F-Troop aspired to be Sgt. Bilko, relocated to the Old West, and embodied by Sgt. Morgan O'Rourke (Forrest Tucker), who negotiated more than just peace treaties with the local Native American tribe, the Hekawis. In fact, the Hekawis were often business partners with O'Rourke and his sidekick, Corporal Agarn (Larry Storch), unbeknownst to their clueless commanding officer, Colonel Wilton Parmenter (Ken Berry), who was a regular Inspector Cleuseau next to O'Rourke's Bilko-esque con man.

I barely remember seeing F-Troop during its network run on ABC, so in the 70's, it was rather new to me. Guest stars included Paul Lynde as a duplicitous singing Mountie, Harvey Korman (by this time the voice of the Great Gazoo on The Flintstones) as a German balloonist, and Vincent Price. Good, escapist fun.

Rating: A-.

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Star Wars' Droids (1985)

By the mid-80's, George Lucas had completed the original "Star Wars" trilogy of films, with "Return of the Jedi" having been released a year or so earlier. Well, at least we thought this would be the end, but of course we know by now that there would be more to come.

Knowing that some fans still had a bitter taste in their mouths from an ill-received primetime "Holiday Special" that included the first animated "Star Wars" cartoon, Lucas decided to license two of his central characters, the droids R2D2 & C3PO, for a spinoff series of their own. Droids, produced by Canada's Nelvana Studios, aired on ABC, coupled with another "Star Wars" spinoff starring the Ewoks. Actor Anthony Daniels, who'd played C3PO in every "Star Wars" movie, reprises here as well.

Just as interesting is that the music for this series was composed in part by Stewart Copeland, formerly of The Police, and representing some of his first work for television.

I never watched the show, as I'm not that big a "Star Wars" fan ("Jedi" being the only one of the 6 feature films I've seen in the series), but as a pre-Halloween treat, here's the series opener, "The White Witch":

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Spooktober: Eerie, Indiana (1991)

Eerie, Indiana started as a Sunday night primetime series that aired on  NBC in 1991. It lasted just one season, but that didn't deter Fox from picking up the show as a fill-in for their Saturday morning lineup 6 years later.

Here's the intro:




Filmmaker Joe Dante ("Gremlins") directed the series opener, and had a small hand in developing the series. The ratings must've improved enough when it moved to Fox, such that it enabled the network to commission a new series, Eerie, Indiana: The Other Dimension, which was a mid-season replacement in the winter of 1998, but also lasted just one season. The original Eerie has also aired on Disney Channel, but hasn't been seen anywhere since the end of its Fox run.

Rating: None. Never saw enough of the show to form an opinion.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Spooktober: Goosebumps (1995)

Author R. L. Stine introduced a modern day horror franchise in 1992 with the launch of his Goosebumps series of horror stories for youngsters. Three years later, Scholastic, the publisher, entered into a licensing agreement with Fox to adapt the books for television. Goosebumps at one point aired six days a week on Fox, and spent three years as a cornerstone of the network's lineup.

In recent years, Goosebumps has resurfaced on cable. A few years ago, Cartoon Network experimented with live-action programming, and one of the first series picked up was Goosebumps, initially as a Halloween stunt, but the series lingered around a couple of extra months if but for the simple fact that word of mouth had spread that the series had returned and people were interested. Today, cable rights belong to The Hub (formerly Discovery Kids), which is trying to posit itself as a competitor to CN, Nickelodeon, and Disney Channel, leaning more toward the latter pair in terms of diversity of programming.

Now, let's revisit the series opener, "The Haunted Mask". The show open has been edited off.:



The Hub is also home to a new series based on some of Stine's other works, The Haunting Hour, which is posited as a primetime series on weekends, and has started its 2nd season. Stine also wrote a similar series for teens, Fear Street, which amazingly has never been picked up for television. Just as odd is the fact that none of Stine's Goosebumps books, despite their popularity, haven't made the transition to feature films. It would surely beat another zillion variations on the tired slasher movie format.....

Rating: B.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tooniversary: Cave Kids (1996)

One of Cartoon Network's first original series came from the Flintstones franchise. Cave Kids starred Pebbles & Bamm-Bamm, this time as pre-schoolers, in what amounted to the network's answer to Nickelodeon's smash hit, Rugrats. The two shows had one thing in common. Actress-singer Elizabeth "EG" Daily worked on both shows, as she was the singing voice for Bamm-Bamm (Christine Cavanaugh, from Dexter's Laboratory, spoke for Bamm-Bamm otherwise), and duets with Aria Curzon, the voice of Pebbles, on the theme song......



Regrettably, I never got to see the show, as I believe CN had cancelled it before my cable system picked up the network at the end of '96.

A little history lesson. Cave Kids actually started as a comic book, produced by Gold Key some 30-odd years earlier, toward the end of the Flintstones' initial network run. Obviously, this version was much different, but only 8 episodes were produced before CN & Hanna-Barbera pulled the plug.

Rating: None.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Saturday School: Don't Drown Your Food (late 70's)

I don't have the exact year on this short piece produced by DePatie-Freleng for ABC in the late 1970's, but its message should still resonate in today's health-conscious society.

"Don't Drown Your Food" suggests that it's better not to flood your foods with milk (for breakfast cereal) or condiments such as ketchup, salad dressing, or sour cream. The "lifeguard" serving as our narrator is voiced by Arnold Stang (ex-Top Cat). Uploaded by SatAMBrainFood.



Rating: A.

You Know The Voice: Tom Kenny, "heart salesman" (1992)

Before he achieved his greatest success as an in-demand voice actor, comedian Tom Kenny had his first brush with television fame in the short-lived Fox series, The Edge, a Sunday night sketch comedy series that was supposed to be a complement to the more popular and successful In Living Color, but couldn't hold the audience. Kenny was part of an ensemble that also included future sitcom stars Wayne Knight (Seinfeld, 3rd Rock From the Sun) & Jennifer Aniston (Friends) and ex-MTV personality Julie Brown (ex-Just Say Julie), whom the show was supposedly built around in the first place. Here's Tom as heart salesman Tex Worthy in this clip from 1992, uploaded by BrianHamiltonTV:



Thanks to SpongeBob Squarepants, as well as a stint as narrator of The Powerpuff Girls, Kenny has become a star in his own right. These days, in addition to SpongeBob, Tom is also the voice of Plastic Man on Batman: The Brave & The Bold on Cartoon Network, and worked on the Winnie The Pooh feature film that was released earlier this year.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

From Comics to Toons: The Incredible Hulk (1982)

The live-action Incredible Hulk, with Lou Ferrigno & the late Bill Bixby, had come to an end. Much like Batman 14 years earlier, the green goliath moved to animated form and to Saturday mornings, changing networks along the way. Only in this case, it was from CBS to NBC.

NBC had overhauled their Saturday slate a year earlier, producing only 2 legitimate hits: Smurfs & Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends. For the latter series, Marvel frontman Stan Lee came on board to serve as narrator, as if that was really necessary, and would have the same chores for this animated incarnation of Hulk. Hewey1972 uploaded the open to YouTube:



Veteran voice actor Bob Holt provided the Hulk's growls, while ever-busy Michael Bell voiced Bruce Banner (no longer David, as was the case in the primetime series). Only 13 episodes were produced, and NBC kept the series around for an extra year or two, as they got caught short on new material the following year. It's notable also for the toon debut of ol' greenskin's cousin, She-Hulk, who would also resurface in the 1996 revival of the series on UPN. Was Lee's narration a deterrent? It all depends on your point of view. I get he was trying to create the same kind of atmosphere for the series, a la The Fugitive, that the live-action show did, but it was unnecessary.

Rating: B.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Spooktober: The Super Friends encounter a "Universe of Evil" (1979)

Remember the classic Star Trek episode, "Mirror, Mirror", which was later adapted into a comic book? Well, that was the inspiration, one could guess, for the World's Greatest Super Friends episode, "Universe of Evil". Conveinently, the Wonder Twins had gone on vacation at the start of this adventure. Their evil counterparts make a cameo appearance early, but are not heard from again.



 Too bad this couldn't be a 2-part episode.

Rating: A.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Saturday School: Ask NBC News (1979)

Seeing how CBS had succeeded with its In The News micro-segments on Saturdays, NBC decided to get into the act, but in a different way.

Ask NBC News aired within the confines of the network's Saturday morning lineup for a few years, airing as late as 1983, before being phased out in favor of the celebrity-driven One To Grow On. Here, in this clip from October, 1979, the late John Chancellor, then the anchor of NBC Nightly News, answers a young boy's question about Presidential term limits. The clip is prefaced by an intro featuring The New Shmoo. Uploaded by Seanmc31076.



Rating: A.

Spooktober: Frankenstein, Jr. vs. "Alien Brain From Outer Space" (1966)

Even though he was the headline star of his show, Frankenstein, Jr. only appeared in one episode per week, bracketed by co-stars, The Impossibles. Now, go figure that one out. The common link between the two segments being the campy dialogue, a la Batman, and the odd villains.

Boy scientist Buzz Conroy (Dick Beals) was a bit of a prodigy, and his father (John Stephenson) certainly had him going in the right direction, using his genius for the benefit of others. His greatest invention was his robot crimestopper, Frankenstein, Jr. (Ted Cassidy, ex-The Addams Family), who seemed nearly unstoppable. Here, Frankie & Buzz defend Civic City from the "Alien Brain From Outer Space".

Unfortunately, this has been deleted by YouTube.

Too much expository dialogue is not a good thing.

Rating: B-.

Saturday School: The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine (1974)

Two years had passed after their cartoon series had been cancelled, and they were making annual appearances on ABC's Wide World of Sports, but the Harlem Globetrotters returned to CBS in 1974 to host a half hour variety show from the producers of Hee Haw.

The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine lasted just the one season, unfortunately, and that can be blamed on its time slot, airing as it did at 11 am (ET). In those days, it was common for local stations to black out selected programs in favor of syndicated shows that would bring the affiliates some added revenue. The Trotters were joined by child star Rodney Allen Rippy, who otherwise was known for a series of ads for Jack In The Box restaurants, and actor-comedian Avery Schreiber (ex-My Mother The Car), whose regular comedy partner, Jack Burns (ex-The Andy Griffith Show) was one of the show's writers. Schreiber was cast as the colorfully costumed Mr. Evil, acting as a foil for Rippy & the Trotters.

Sadly, the following video, uploaded by 70sKidVid, is in black & white, as apparently all the color prints no longer exist. Yeah, the announcer's the same guy who had the gig on Hee Haw, which was in syndication by this time, and doing pretty well.



This was the 2nd of 3 Saturday go-rounds for the Globetrotters. They would return to animated form, and to Hanna-Barbera, in 1979, a move that I think they might regret, although the players didn't have any real input in the cartoon.......

Rating: A.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Saturtainment: Blast Off Buzzard (1977)

This segment of CB Bears was Hanna-Barbera's answer to the wildly popular Road Runner, who at the time was co-headlining with Bugs Bunny on CBS. Blast Off Buzzard was like the Coyote, forever pursuing a snake named Crazy Legs (don't ask), and, of course, destined to forever fail. Here's an example, "Ho, Ho, Ho! It's the Buzzard's Birthday!":



What I don't get is why a snake needs a helmet in the first place!

Rating: B-.

Spooktober: Bump In the Night (1993)

I think it's fair to say that ABC was willing to take some chances in the early 90's with their Saturday morning lineup. The 2nd animated incarnation of The Addams Family was in its 2nd season. Beetlejuice was gone, so the network needed something to complement the Addamses to draw the same kind of audience.

Enter a bizarre bogeyman named Mr. Bumpy, the star of Bump In The Night, a claymation series that spent two seasons on ABC, and merited a primetime Christmas special. Bumpy (Jim Cummings) seems to fancy himself to be quite the showman, as this intro suggests:



The idea was, I think, to try to make the scary types that children thought inhabited space in their bedrooms seem less of a threat and more needing of friendship. However, Bumpy and his pals have not seen the light of day since the series was cancelled, and the series is now considered more of a cult classic.

Rating: None. Never saw the show.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Spooktober: Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles (1996)

Gargoyles was Disney's attempt at a "toon noir" adventure series as part of the Disney Afternoon programming block when it first launched in 1994. Two years later, after Disney had acquired ABC, the latter network picked up the series' 3rd season, and added the subtitle, The Goliath Chronicles, in reference to the show's lead protagonist.

However, series co-creator Greg Weisman wasn't too thrilled with the corporate meddling that ultimately doomed the show, resulting in Goliath Chronicles being cancelled after its only ABC season. Reruns of the entire Gargoyles series currently air overnights on DisneyXD, but at this time of year, the series deserves a more pristine airtime.

Gargoyles' cast was loaded with star power, especially from the Star Trek franchise. Next Generation regulars Jonathan Frakes & Marina Sirtis were in the cast of Gargoyles virtually from the start, with Frakes cast as villainous businessman David Xanatos, who was meant to be to the Gargoyles what Lex Luthor was to Superman, an arch-foe that was hard to take down because of his carefully created public persona as a philanthropist.

Here's the open to the Goliath Chronicles, uploaded by ChopstickSH to YouTube:



While I followed the weekday series with some regularity, I didn't watch the Saturday series, so I can't give it a fair rating.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Spooktober: W.I.T.C.H. (2004)

W.I.T.C.H. arrived on ABC in the winter of 2004-5 with a great deal of fanfare and hype, imported as it was from Italy. Unfortunately, because it didn't meet the FCC E/I requirements, ABC placed the series in the dreaded "death slot" at 12 noon (ET), where it replaced Kim Possible. The two series would alternate in the slot for the rest of the season, but, sorry to say. W.I.T.C.H. was cancelled after 1 season in the US.

The titular acronym comes from the five protagonists: Will, Irma, Taranee, Cornelia, & Hay Lin, and the series was a spin-off from an Italian comic book of the same name, which, if I remember correctly, was brought to the US by another Disney subsidiary, Hyperion, for publication here, in trade paperback form, although I could be wrong. I tried to watch the first episode, but just couldn't get into it. Winxeva uploaded the open to YouTube:



Realizing that ABC programmers' hands were tied, cable cousin ABC Family aired the series about 3 hours before the ABC broadcast, but about a week or so behind. Not that it would matter in the long run. Not to be outdone, Fox trotted out the similarly themed Winx Club that same winter, and was able to sustain it for at least a full year or two.

Yet, ever since it was cancelled here in the US, there's been no W.I.T.C.H. merchandise to be had, even second or third hand. Go figure.

Rating: C.

Dept. of Shameless Plugs: Noblemania

This one goes out to the hardcore Super Friends fans who've never had the opportunity to learn about the actors behind their favorite heroes.

A few weeks ago, I discovered a blog that has become like manna from Heaven for SF fans. Marc Tyler Nobleman's Noblemania blog recently concluded a series of interviews with some of the cast members from Super Friends from its glory years (1977-86), but not everyone. You can access Marc's "Super 70's & 80's" series at this link:

http://noblemania.blogspot.com/2011/07/super-70s-and-80s-super.html

As Dr. Seuss once wrote, "oh, the places you'll go!".

Marc is currently doing a series related to the original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, and has an interview with season 1 theme vocalist Larry Marks up now. Thanks, Marc, for solving that age-old mystery.

Check it out. You'll be glad you did.

Spooktober: Super Friends vs. the Voodoo Vampire (1980)

2 years after an encounter with Hanna-Barbera's 1st incarnation of Dracula, Wonder Woman & Black Vulcan tangle with a "Voodoo Vampire" in this 1980 Super Friends short.



This illustrates the problem H-B had with the shorts format. Trying to cram 3 stories into a 30 minute program might've worked in the 60's, but as we entered the 80's, what was potentially a decent story was cut short by a contrived ending.

Rating: C.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Spooktober: The Galloping Ghost (1978)

Originally a part of Yogi's Space Race, the Galloping Ghost was paired with The Buford Files and spun off into its own half-hour series in February, 1979, when NBC decided to chop the 90-minute anthology into three separate half-hours. We've previously covered Buford and the Space Race itself, so now's the time to say hello to Nugget Nose, aka the Galloping Ghost, an Old West miner who winds up in 1978 to help the owners of a dude ranch. Well, at least two of them.

Muttley16 uploaded the open:



What worked against Nugget Nose was the fact that over on CBS, Hanna-Barbera had introduced Dinky Dog as a backup feature on The All-New Popeye Hour that same season. While the setting and central character were different, the basic concept was the same, and viewers were voting with their remotes.

Rating: B.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Spooktober: Shake, Rattle, & Roll (1977)

From CB Bears comes a goofy trio of spooks who at least are making a living, which is more that could've been said for Casper's uncles, the Ghostly Trio.

Shake, Rattle, & Roll happen to manage a hotel whose clientele, understandably, consists of other ghosts and things that go bump in the night. Roll (Joe E. Ross, ex-Hong Kong Phooey) is the chief cook. Shake (Paul Winchell) & Rattle (Len Weinrib) man the switchboard and the desk, though both are at the switchboard as "Guess What's Coming to Dinner" starts. It's a variant on the age-old plot of days gone by, in which our ghosts babysit........well, I wish I could tell you.

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

If any one story defined the term, suspension of disbelief, this might qualify.

Rating: C.