Thursday, August 23, 2012

Why did Filmation fail at NBC? A look back

Much has been made of ABC severing business ties with Filmation after the dismal ratings of Uncle Croc's Block in 1975. Considering that the studio's greatest success was for CBS, it's very strange that they did not generate as many hits for the other networks. As it turned out, their fortunes at NBC were actually worse.

Let us consider the body of work Filmation supplied to the "Peacock Network".

*Star Trek (1973-5; co-produced by Paramount, which owns the rights): The original crew came back together, save for Walter Koenig (Chekov), for this critically acclaimed series, which lasted two seasons, but hasn't been seen since a brief run on TV Land a few years ago. To say that it would be a hard act to follow would be an understatement.

*The Secret Lives of Waldo Kitty (1975-6): Loosely based on James Thurber's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the film version of which is being remade for next year with Ben Stiller inheriting the role played by Danny Kaye in the original movie, using animals. NBC slotted this in the leadoff slot (8 am ET), but didn't really do enough to promote it, considering they had a live-action block on the back end of the lineup that got more hype. Reruns were included in a Groovie Goolies compilation package 2 years later, and haven't been seen since.

*The Archie-Sabrina Hour (Sept.-Nov. 1977): The Archies, after a year off following a 8 year run on CBS, moved to NBC, but got blown off the tracks by ABC's powerhouse lineup. 2 months in, the format was tweaked, with the show split into two components---Super Witch (Sabrina) & The Bang Shang Lallapalooza Show (Archie). It didn't help, as both series were cancelled by April '78.

*The Young Sentinels (aka Space Sentinels)(1977-8): Contrary to what most people assume, the Hercules & Mercury characters used on this show were not the same ones that became part of the Freedom Force a year later as part of Tarzan & The Super 7 on CBS. The title was changed a few weeks into the season to cash in on the sudden popularity of "Star Wars", for all the good that did Filmation & NBC.

*The Fabulous Funnies (1978-9): Basically a retooling of Archie's TV Funnies from 7 years earlier, but without the Archies and some more popular strips, such as Dick Tracy. Buried in the lunch hour death slot, a fate that would befall most future Filmation series at NBC.

*Flash Gordon (1979-81): The first series since Star Trek to be renewed, and that was mostly to cash in on the feature film that came out between seasons. Shifting from a serial to an episodic format should've extended the life of the show, but it didn't.

*Tarzan & The Super 7 became Batman & The Super 7 when it moved to NBC in 1980, but that was mostly to kill off the components that CBS no longer wanted, as Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle & Jason of Star Command remained at CBS, but would soon be cancelled as well.

*The Kid Super Power Hour with Shazam! (1981-2): Partially live-action, partially animated. Filmation had to create their own band after plans to bring the Archies' superhero personas to television failed. That might also explain the return of Shazam! after a 4 year absence, this time in animated form, with Mary Marvel, Capt. Marvel, Jr., Talky Tawny, & Uncle Dudley (aka Uncle Marvel) joining Capt. Marvel. This would mark the end of Filmation's association with DC. The Hero High gang's band is best left forgotten.

*Sport Billy (1980-1): A largely forgotten series that managed to fill time in parts of 2 seasons. With Filmation transitioning to syndicated first-run fare, Sport Billy would be the last series sold to NBC. Amazingly, despite the themes of good sportsmanship, it's amazing that no one has picked up the show in recent years.

The common thread in the cancellations would be, in this writer's opinion, poor time slot placement. Kid Super Power Hour aired at a decent hour, smack dab in a block that also included Space Stars & Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends, but compared to the established heroes on those shows, the Hero High series came off as being, well, rather amateur. Sport Billy & Flash Gordon were both placed at the bottom of the lineup, yet each managed to last beyond one year.

8 first-run series, but only 3 last beyond one season. Not a good percentage. Not even close. In case you wonder, Filmation's track record at ABC wasn't much better, as we'll find out next time.


Geed said...

I remember a lot of the Filmation stuff on NBC (some due to memory, most due to dvd's and YouTube) and I know many of those toons you mention..sadly, never saw Uncle Croc's Block outside of YouTube (Oh, Dr. Smith from Lost In Space, what have you done!) and yeah, it's was extraordinarily bad. Loved Star Trek and Flash Gordon. The Super 7...well, we know the problems with them. I did like Freedom Force & Space Sentinels before Filmation degraded totally in "We must teach you a lesson!" mode. Archie & Sabrina had a good run but they could only rehash them so many times. I have a lot of that stuff on DVD (turns out some are actually quite expensive now since the company making them went out). I'm looking forward to the Filmation book being done by TwoMorrows and Andy Mangels coming out in September since Filmation has never had a historical take done in print.

hobbyfan said...

Actually, Geed, there was a book, "Animation by Filmation", written by Darrell McNeil, that came out a number of years ago, but that too is out of print. LMK when that Mangels book on Filmation comes out, because I'd be more than happy to score a copy.

Of course, since it is TwoMorrows putting it out, and they charge, last I remember, 8 bucks for their monthly mags (i.e. Back Issue, Alter Ego), they probably want a fortune for the Filmation book....

Geed said...

I think Animation by Filmation was mostly model sheets, like Darren did for Alex Toth by design but unsure how much text was in it because that book is insanely expensive these days.

magicdog said...

I watched many of these shows, the strongest of which being Flash Gordon, Star Trek, and Tarzan of the Jungle.

Star Trek has been a source of contention among Trekkies/Trekkers as to whether or not they are cannon since some disavow the animated series. I liked it because it was a form of continuation of TOS and animation could allow for alien characters and situations live action [at the time] could not. I was bummed Checkov wasn't there, although I believe Walter Koenig did write one episode of this show. Plus, DC Fontana was also a part of the writing team, a definite plus! Definitely above average Saturday morning fare at the time.

Tarzan & Flash Gordon were faithful in many ways to their roots. The original season of Flash was definitely the best and well drawn for the time. Tarzan was good, but I'd like to think we could get even better adventures now!

Archie & Sabrina were OK but there was only so many ways to repackage them.

Waldo Kitty I enjoyed as a kid but didn't really get it until I saw the Walter Mitty film and later read Thurber's original story. To me, Waldo was like any kid (thinke Looney Tunes' Ralph) who was bullied and fantasized about how he'd take back control.

Fabulous Funnies introduced me to comic characters I'd never heard of, and unfortunately they were not running in my local Sunday comics. Personally I'd love a rebooted Dick Tracy series!

The Super 7/Space Sentinels was OK for me, but with violence restrictions lifted, we could get some rollicking adventures now couldn't we?

Kids' Super Power Hour - The less said, the better! They should have held out for the Archie characters!

hobbyfan said...

Yes, as memory serves, Koenig did script one episode of the Trek cartoon. As far as it being canon, it depends on who you talk to and how deep they are into their fandom of the franchise. There was a sequel to the "Trouble With Tribbles", and, IIRC, Harry Mudd was brought back, but I don't think Roger C. Carmel came along for the ride, if you get my drift.

Seeing as how Classic Media owns most of the Filmation library, rebooting is up to them. They also own the 1961 Dick Tracy cartoon, and yes, that could stand being rebooted. Severely.

JOE S HILL said...

In Filmation Associates all too short history, their Network TV history varies, but between CBS and NBC, the studio was able to thrive with great material, and nowhere was that more obvious with their impressive "FLASH GORDON" series that they made with King Features Syndicate that was part of NBC's Fall 1979 line-up, and some two years later, NBC Primetime aired the magnificent "FLASH GORDON: THE GREATEST ADVENTURE OF THEM ALL" pilot movie in August 1982. while the studio is best remembered for bringing back "STAR TREK" to Television in Fall 1973 for NBC, they did leave a rather impressive performance for the Peacock Network after "THE KID SUPER POWER HOUR WITH SHAZAM" in Fall 1981, but as far as Filmation and NBC, the studio thrived more at CBS than any of the other networks, but their track record with ABC wasn't too bad either, given the success with the Three cartoon series that the studio, in association with Twentieth Century Fox Television had produced from 1967 to 1969 ("JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH", "FANTASTIC VOYAGE", and "THE HARDY BOYS") and by the 1970s also producing "LASSIE'S RESCUE RANGERS", "THE BRADY KIDS", "THE NEW ADVENTURES OF GILLIGAN", and "MISSION: MAGIC" for The Alphabet Network, their failure with the live action "UNCLE CROC'S BLOCK" in Fall 1975 still remains a big mystery because it was an impressive spoof of children's shows, and ABC pulled the plug in mid-season, replacing the show with reruns of their 1970 CBS series, "THE GROOVY GOOLIES" was how ABC ended their relationship with Filmation, which was their loss! Filmation's "swan song" from Network Saturday mornings was "GILLIGAN'S PLANET" in Fall 1982 for CBS, and the following year the studio began a new chapter by making 1st run syndicated animation starting with "HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE" for parent company Group W/Westinghouse in Fall 1983, where they thrived heavily for the remainder of their days until the curtain fell in early 1989 by Lou Scheimer's decision, since Group W wanted Filmation to go overseas to resume their cartoon productions-an idea, quickly rejected by Scheimer since Filmation was the last animation studio to produce cartoons in The United States.

AH3RD said...

Filmation's Archie franchise was kinda running out of steam at that point anyway.

hobbyfan said...

It was actually on fumes. There'd been a year's break between when US of Archie had been cancelled by CBS (after moving to Sundays for its final season), and the hour block on NBC. That it got steamrolled by Scooby's All-Star Laff-a-Lympics on ABC was the final nail in the coffin.