Thursday, August 30, 2012

Filmation at CBS: A look back

After chronicling Filmation's body of works at ABC & NBC, we might as well consider their greater output at CBS, which for all intents & purposes was their primary network partner from 1966-83. Not everything they sold to the "Tiffany of the Networks" turned to gold, however. I think you can figure it out as we go along....

*The New Adventures of Superman (1966-70): This was the ice-breaker for the studio, as their deal with DC enabled them to get their foot in the door at CBS, and, eventually, with the other networks. Superboy got the backup slot, with Bob Hastings (ex-McHale's Navy) cast as the Boy of Steel, while radio stars Bud Collyer (To Tell The Truth), Joan Alexander, & Jackson Beck were heard in the main feature. The Superboy shorts, narrated by Ted Knight and introduced by Beck, marked the only Filmation work of Hanna-Barbera's grande dame, Janet Waldo (as Lana Lang). Alexander left after the first season, with Julie Bennett taking her place as Lois Lane. I have no clue why.

Season 2 brought a significant change, as Aquaman was added to the mix to create the Superman-Aquaman Hour of Adventure, which also included shorts with Flash, Hawkman, Atom, Green Lantern, & the Justice League of America (sans Aquaman, strangely), plus the Teen Titans. 20th Century Fox had the rights to Batman & Wonder Woman at the time, which is why they were not included in the JLA shorts, and by the same token, Robin was left out of the Titans' adventures. The Dynamic Duo finally arrived the next year, with Aquaman booted to the little-seen Sunday block. Thinking in hindsight, had DC & Filmation waited a year, they could've gone for the downs with a 90 minute block that would've allowed Filmation to go forward with Wonder Woman as well as the rumored Metamorpho project. Oh, well....!

*The Archie Show (1968-71): Archie Comics wanted a piece of the pie, so they forged their own deal with Filmation. Even though Bob Hastings, the radio voice of Archie, was on the Filmation roster at the time, the studio instead hired Dallas McKennon (Daniel Boone), the voice of Courageous Cat, as Archie. As with Superman, the series underwent format changes, including expanding to an hour, in seasons 2 & 3, including title changes to the Archie Comedy Hour (season 2) & Archie's Funhouse (season 3). Viewers were so entranced by Sabrina that the Teenage Witch was spun off into her own series in 1971, after sharing a half hour with her made-for-TV cousins, the Groovie Goolies in 1970. Unfortunately, the singular Goolies & Sabrina series were cancelled after 1 season.

*Archie's TV Funnies (1971-3): The gang began moonlighting, running a TV station in Riverdale that featured adaptations of Dick Tracy, Broom-Hilda, Moon Mullins, Smokey Stover, The Dropouts, & Emmy Lou. Of these, only Broom-Hilda would return, a few years later, in NBC's ill-fated Fabulous Funnies. Sad to say, clips of these features are as of now not available on YouTube, but they may turn up at some point.....

*Fat Albert & The Cosby Kids (1972-84): Easily Filmation's biggest success, by a wide margin. Emmy winner Bill Cosby (ex-I Spy) shifted his focus to family-oriented projects, beginning with the 1971 TV-movie, "To All My Friends On Shore", and had introduced viewers to Albert and the gang in a pair of specials on NBC. When the Peacock Network opted out committing to a series, CBS jumped in, and the rest, as they say, is history. The series moved to syndication for its 13th and final season in 1984. I'm not sure if the show was officially sponsored by Jell-O (which Cosby began hawking around the time the series started)........

*My Favorite Martians (1973-4): Loose adaptation of the 60's sitcom, with Jonathan Harris (ex-Lost in Space) taking over the role of Uncle Martin, originally played by Ray Walston. Unfortunately, viewers in my district would have to wait until the syndicated Groovie Goolies & Friends rerun package to see this show, as it was blacked out during its initial run.

*US Of Archie (1974-6): The last Archie series on CBS reimagined the gang as their own ancestors at various historical points.

*Shazam! (1974-7): After using live-action footage of a studio audience on Archie's Funhouse, and experimenting with the Goolies in an ABC Saturday Superstar Movie, Filmation forged a new deal with DC, which had acquired the original Captain Marvel from Fawcett some years earlier, and moved forward with a full-on live-action series. Michael Gray might've been too old to be Billy Batson, but then the producers felt making Billy older, say, somewhere between 17-20, by my best guess, made the show more marketable to teens & tweens.

*Ghost Busters (1975-6): Former F-Troop stars Forrest Tucker & Larry Storch were reunited in this comedy-adventure series, which suffered from inconsistent writing, more than anything else. Filmation would revisit the concept with a 2nd generation animated series 11 years later.

*The Secrets of Isis (1975-8): The series launched as 1/2 of the Shazam!-Isis Hour, and was in said format for its first two seasons. In season 3, it finally stood alone, but was buried at the bottom of the lineup, with production having long since ended. Series star Joanna Cameron was Filmation's answer to Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman) in every way imaginable, but has faded into obscurity since Isis ended.

*Ark II (1976-7): Soap star Terry Lester (Young & the Restless) was cast in the lead of this science fiction series that replaced Ghost Busters on the schedule, but met the same fate, as Ark II was sent back to the shop after 1 season. The problem to me might be its time slot, airing around 11 (ET), when an earlier slot would've made more sense.

*Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle (1976-82): Edgar Rice Burroughs' iconic jungle hero returned to television, but even though the series lasted for 6 seasons, only 1-2 seasons' worth of episodes were produced. For many of us accustomed to the broken English of the Ape Man in movies, hearing Tarzan speak perfect English (voiced by Robert Ridgely) was a welcome relief. Of course, if you'd read the comic strip or books, you'd have known all along that Hollywood made the mistake with the stereotyping of Tarzan as a illiterate savage.

*The New Adventures of Batman (1977-80): Added to the lineup as a mid-season replacement in February, the Dark Knight could now be seen on two different networks, in two distinctly different series (Super Friends reruns were airing on ABC when this series launched), at the same time. Weird. This would also mark the end of Filmation's association with DC, once production on this series ended. Adam West & Burt Ward, who'd starred in the live-action Batman, were brought in, since Olan Soule & Casey Kasem were over at Hanna-Barbera. The rights were split between the two studios, and that meant that not all of the classic villains would appear, so Filmation created some new enemies, while allowing Clayface to make his TV debut. Some will snipe that the moral messages that were now part of Filmation's programming, like it or not, didn't belong, but in truth, it did.

*Space Academy (1977-8): Jonathan Harris returned after the Uncle Croc's Block debacle to headline this series, which was clearly ahead of its time. Pamelyn Ferdin (ex-Curiosity Shop), a former Peanuts cast member, was the only other name in the cast. Lasted one season, but begat a spin-off anyway......!

*Tarzan & The Super 7 (1978-80): Tarzan & Batman reruns were mixed with five brand new features, all of which have been reviewed here previously: Jason of Star Command (spun off from Space Academy), Web Woman, Freedom Force, Superstretch & Micro Woman, & Manta & Moray. To fit every feature into each show, the Tarzan & Batman repeats were edited heavily, with the original half-hours split into two parts, if memory serves me correctly. While the cartoons ended production after the 1st season, Jason soldiered on to a 2nd, switching from serial format to a more done-in-one episodic set-up.

*The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse & Heckle & Jeckle (1979-80): Filmation obtained a license to adapt the Terrytoons icons, while creating their own star in Quackula. The hour long format allowed for a Mighty Mouse serial, "The Great Space Chase", in the middle. Unfortunately, it didn't work, and the show was cancelled, largely because it was on in the leadoff spot (8 ET), opposite the Super Friends over on ABC. Not a good idea by the CBS programmers.

*The Tom & Jerry Comedy Show (1980-1): Exit Mighty Mouse and Heckle & Jeckle, and enter Tom & Jerry, whose rights at the time were held by MGM. Droopy and Spike & Tyke tagged along, but this also lasted one season, which meant this was worse in terms of performance than Hanna-Barbera's revival 5 years earlier! Go figure. Oh, yeah, it inherited that troublesome 8 am slot, too.

*The New Adventures of the Lone Ranger (1980-2): CBS ditched the Super 7, keeping Tarzan & Jason while Batman and the others went to NBC to finish out the run. Filmation then acquired the rights to the Lone Ranger, while hiring William Conrad (ex-Cannon) to voice the title hero. Conrad, of course, was no stranger to toons, having narrated Rocky & Bullwinkle years earlier. Zorro (voiced by Henry Darrow) joined the Ranger & Tarzan the next year, and once again the reruns were edited down because they only had an hour to play with.

*Blackstar (1981-2): Some say this was a precursor to the adaptation of Mattel's He-Man that would come along 2 years later, but only because of the science fiction elements involved. This would mark the end of Norm Prescott & Lou Scheimer's partnership after 16 seasons of network programs.

*Gilligan's Planet (1982-3): Rehash of the 1974 New Adventures of Gilligan series, right down to the theme song, with the castaways now on a distant planet. First series with Lou Scheimer as sole producer. Coming as it did after 3 TV-movies aired on NBC, you wonder why CBS landed this show and not NBC.

Isis falls into the category of being part of the DC connection, only because the publisher gained the license to do a comic book based on the show, and later integrated the character into the DC Universe. Shows like Ark II & Blackstar deserved a better fate than they did, but not every programming decision makes sense or works the way the network thinks it will. Frequent correspondent Geed brought my attention to a pending hardcover book on Filmation by historian Andy Mangels that should make a perfect Christmas gift for the discerning toon fanatic. You'll be glad you did. Now, let's see about getting more of these toons on YouTube, if not on DVD.........!

6 comments:

magicdog said...

The early Filmation DC hero toons were OK for their time, but they're harder to watch now (at least for me). Probably because so much story potential is wasted on 6 minute shorts rather than making a full 1/2 hour cartoon. I know it was likely for budget reasons (and boy did Lou Scheimer know all about that!), but it really hurt the rewatchability of the toons once we got past age 8.

The Archie Show has turned up on KTV and I've caught eps I hadn't seen in 30 years! The voices were stil good fits for the characters (and Howard Morris will always be my favorite Jughead!) but the real adventures didn't seem to get started until "Archie's Weird Mysteries" debuted. The show is still OK for little ones though, and some of the music is still great to listen to like "Sugar, Sugar" & "Little By Little".

TV Funnies I enjoyed at the time - largely because I saw comic characters long since disappeared from my local newspaper.

Fat Albert was a great show! Always a lesson to be learned but you didn't feel like it was being forced on you. Bill Cosby did a good job making any kid in the US identify to some degree with the Cosby Kids of West Philly!

My Favorite Martians was a fun toon to watch at the time but seems horribly dated now. Ironically, I hadn't see the original series until Nick@Nite began airing them back in the 90s. That show was a bit silly but its lead actors (Ray Walston & Bill Bixby) had a lot of charm and chemistry together. It's shame neither could be brought back for the animated version but it's just as well.

magicdog said...

Addendum (it wouldn't let me post in one shot!):

Shazam & Isis: Loved these shows! They're cheesy now, but they had good intentions. It was my first exposure to "The Big Red Cheese" and it's nice to know that even in shows like Justice League & Young Justice, he's still considered as much a hero as the rest of them! I'd like to see a new series about him someday.

Isis was gorgeous and I coveted her powers! If given a better budget and stronger scripts, it could have been a great prime time show and given Wonder Woman a run for her money! IRL, Joanna Cameron quit the acting biz and became a nurse. I hear she's still at it, and I think it's great she found fulfillment beyond her time in Hollywood.

I remember Ghostbusters but just barely! I remembered the F-Troop combo of Forrest Tucker & Larry Storch teamed with a guy in a gorilla suit and little else. I was shocked to learn the 80s Filmation series was a followup of sorts to this show!

Ark II was great and I still think it has legs today if anyone wanted to try a reboot, live action or otherwise. But there would have to be more specifics as to what lead to the wasteland Ark II was built for.

Tarzan, as I had explained in an earlier post, was well done for the time (the rotoscoping seemed to make the Lord of the Jungle really come alive on screen) and suffice it to say, it was closer to the books than most other adaptations up to that point. Filmation took it more seriously than Hollywood did (and this from a person who LOVES the Johnny Weismuller films!). I enjoyed seeing the other characters from the Super 7, but
the stories don't hold up so well now.

The New Adventures of Batman gets thumbs up for bringing back Adam West & Burt Ward to voice their former alter egos, but Bat Mite annoyed me no end! I caught several eps on YT and the stories don't hold up well either. Bonus points for the end credits showing a joyous Batman swinging about Gotham City before driving off in the Batmobile!

Space Academy I never saw much of, but it wasn't bad. It has also turned up on KTV. It reminded me of "Star Trek" and the original "Battlestar Galactica" in a way. You forgot actor Brian Tochi, who later played Takashi, in the "Revenge of the Nerd" films.

Gilligan's Planet was at least as stupid as it's animated predecessor, if not moreso.

Lone Ranger & Zorro I liked, it was a nice touch that Conrad voiced the former while Henry Darrow got to voice the latter!
I'd love to see reboots of those shows too!

Blackstar was kind of cool too, but I was annoyed a resolution was never found. The Powerstar sword was made whole in one ep, but conveniently became spit again. To me that was manipulation of the audience! A cop out! Plus I couldn't help but ship Blackstar & Mara, and I wanted a dragon just like Warlock! You're right in comparing it to He-Man, the worlds seemed eerily similar.

Heckle & Jeckle & Tom & Jerry ... wasn't into them. I preferred their old adventures.

hobbyfan said...

Since I didn't see any of the "Nerds" movies, I wouldn't have known Brian Tochi had been in them with Curtis Armstrong & Robert Carradine.

Gilligan's Planet, the more I think about it, might've been a total rehash of New Advs., as they could've redone scripts from the earlier series and dumbed them down, if that was even possible. Given that I never saw "Planet", I can only speculate.

Zorro was later redone in the 90's, but I never saw that one, either.

magicdog said...

I definitely recommend the first "Nerds" movie! It's a hoot!

The subsequent ones I can take or leave.

Geed said...

YES! DC Filmation Superheroes are my favorite! I remember buying a videotape of the 16mm cartoons at a con in NYC, then subsequently on dvd and, of course, squeeing like a schoolgirl when I found out they were coming out on retail dvd. I wish more stuff would come out on dvd. DC itself still has the second season of Superman, all the Superboy (I heard the case was settled with the Seigel estate), and 60's Batman. I do know live action Shazam is coming through Warner Archive next month.

Thanks for the mention, hobbyfan. It's appreciated.

hobbyfan said...

I wish a lot of those Warner Archives DVDs weren't MOD (manufactured on demand). How cruel can you get?

Seasons 2 & 3 of Superman, the Superboy series, and the 60's Batman are all that remain, eh? Let's push WB a little harder, shall we?

Oh, and you're quite welcome, Geed.