Friday, January 4, 2013

DePatie-Freleng: A Chronology (1966-80)

A few months back, I did a pair of essays recalling Filmation's difficulties in scoring hit series on NBC & ABC, as opposed to CBS, which was their "home network". A similar principle might apply to another secondary player in the cartoon sweepstakes of our youth, DePatie-Freleng.

DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, or, DFE, first entered the Saturday morning wars the same time Filmation did, in 1966. NBC was their "home network" for most of its 14 seasons, but, with the exception of a certain franchise feline, DFE couldn't find any footing on any of the three networks. Let's take a look, and bear in mind that virtually all of DFE's programs have previously been reviewed here in the Archives.

*The Super Six (NBC, 1966): With the camp superhero phenomenon in full bloom, the Six were one of two comedy crimefighting teams on the schedule (Terrytoons' Mighty Heroes were on CBS), but, as was the practice of the time, only one season's worth of episodes were produced. The only thing the show had going for it, though, was a kickin' theme song by Gary Lewis & the Playboys.

*Super President (NBC, 1967): Even cartoon historian Jerry Beck regards this as one of the worst ideas in human history. A sitting President moonlighting as a superhero? Ridiculous. Paul Frees was not only the voice of the title hero, but also the announcer-narrator. The backup segment, Spy Shadow, featured Ted Cassidy (ex-The Addams Family), who was also involved in the Galaxy Trio portion of Birdman, also on NBC. Well, it was a step up from Frankenstein, Jr......

*Here Comes the Grump (NBC, 1969): A young boy (Jay North, ex-Dennis the Menace) is transported to another dimension, where he has to help a princess rescue her kingdom from the title villain (Rip Taylor). Of course, the Grump is a bumbler in the tradition of Yosemite Sam, but hiring Mel Blanc would've made it too obvious.......

*The Pink Panther (various titles, NBC, 1969-78, ABC, 1978-80): Theatrical shorts, likely edited by network censors, coupled with various backup features, including The Inspector, Misterjaw, & the Texas (nee Tiujana) Toads, who were all left behind when the Panther jumped to ABC and was introduced to Crazylegs Crane. They'd have been better off if the popular Ant & the Aardvark had jumped along with the Panther, to tell you the truth. NBC maxed out at 90 minutes, trying to program opposite The Bugs Bunny-Road Runner Show on CBS, and that, I think, led to the network switch.

*Doctor Doolittle (NBC, 1970): Trying to pick up where Rex Harrison left off in a feature film was hard enough, but they tried. Unfortunately, it was cancelled after 1 season. Actor Len Weinrib also served as a writer and producer.

*The Barkleys (NBC, 1972): Canine satire of CBS' All In The Family, though Arnie Barkley was, like Ralph Kramden in The Honeymooners and Dom DeLuise's character on Lotsa Luck, a bus driver. Should've lasted longer, but viewers weren't buying.

*The Houndcats (NBC, 1972): Along with The Barkleys, the first project from Joe Ruby & Ken Spears, coming over from Hanna-Barbera. Funny animal send-up of another CBS franchise, Mission: Impossible, though Stutz, the team leader (Michael Bell), was more like Maxwell Smart than Jim Phelps.

*Bailey's Comets (CBS, 1973): The first series that didn't go to NBC, but wasn't seen all that much, if at all, in my area due to affiliate preference for syndicated fare. Ahead of its time, the Comets were a traveling roller derby style team that competed around the world.

*Return to the Planet of the Apes (NBC, 1975): Oh, you'd think this would've been a hit. The Apes franchise took a hit when a primetime, live-action series for CBS tanked a year earlier, despite having movie regular Roddy McDowell in the cast. Ruby & Spears, who'd worked on the live-action series a year earlier for 20th Century Fox & CBS, were not involved in this show, but Jonny Quest creator Doug Wildey did the character designs and served as a producer.

*The Oddball Couple (ABC, 1975): First series sold to ABC, after having introduced Timer to audiences in a pair of Afterschool Specials. Parody of The Odd Couple, which had just ended its run.

*What's New, Mr. Magoo? (CBS, 1977): DFE obtained a license to bring back the nearsighted Magoo (Jim Backus) back to television. Unfortunately, the landscape was such that Magoo couldn't find an audience. Curious casting in that cartoon icon Casey Kasem was cast as Magoo's nephew, Waldo.

*Baggy Pants & The Nitwits (NBC, 1977): Buried in the lunch hour wasteland. The Nitwits were a spinoff from Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, only Tyrone (Arte Johnson) & Gladys (Ruth Buzzi) were now superheroes of a sort. Buzzi had kept Gladys in play with frequent appearances on the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast. Meanwhile, Baggy Pants was a feline tribute to Charlie Chaplin. It's too bad there are no episodes available on YouTube to review. In hindsight, this series should've had a cushier, earlier timeslot, like, as a lead-in to the 90 minute Pink Panther package.

*The New Fantastic Four (NBC, 1978): DFE obtained the license to do a fresh adaptation of Marvel's "First Family", but with a twist. Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, was left out due to licensing conflicts, rather than urban legends, and replaced with H.E.R.B.I.E. (Frank Welker), who would later appear in the comics. This was so bad, the hometown NBC affiliate refused to carry the show, and at the time, cable systems in upstate NY were able to carry a second affiliate, this one from Utica. Mike Road (ex-Jonny Quest, Herculoids) & Ginny Tyler (ex-Space Ghost) voiced Reed & Sue Richards, respectively, while Ted Cassidy returned to the DFE fold to voice Ben "The Thing" Grimm. Cassidy also worked on H-B's Godzilla Power Hour that same season, also on NBC.

*Spider-Woman (ABC, 1979): The final DFE offering was a return to superhero adventure, and a transition, as Marvel bought the studio and it would return as Marvel Productions just 2 years later. Joan Van Ark (Knots Landing) voiced the title heroine, whose supporting cast was made for TV and didn't come from the comics. Fatal mistake, that.

Ok, so DFE sold 2 series apiece to CBS & ABC, and all four bombed, though two of them should've been retained an extra year. In defense of Spider-Woman, the programming genius at ABC who slotted her in the vicinity of Scooby & Scrappy-Doo made a fatal error. Putting the show in between Super Friends  & Plastic Man would've made more sense.

Aside from their Saturday endeavors, DFE held the license for the Dr. Seuss specials, which carried over to Marvel as part of the transition, and there were a few Christmas toons mixed in as well. At least their body of Saturday morning work was greater than that of holiday specialists Rankin-Bass, whom we'll look at another time.


SaturdayMorningFan said...

You mentioned the Timer specials, but not the PSAs. Those Timer PSAs were probably DFE's second biggest Saturday morning hit.

hobbyfan said...

Only because the PSAs weren't a regular series per se. ABC didn't have them in a steady spot, dropping them randomly during the morning. I don't think you ever saw them in the same slot two weeks in a row.

Gregory Duffell said...

You left out the Dr. Doolittle series.

hobbyfan said...

So I did. Just fixed it.