Thursday, February 7, 2013

45 years of Archie cartoons---a retrospective

September will mark the 45th anniversary of The Archie Show, which finally brought Archie Andrews and friends to television after a failed and unsold live-action pilot a few years earlier. I thought we would take some time to look back at the franchise through its glory years at Filmation (1968-78), and then the subsequent revivals and reboots.

*The Archie Show (1968-9): Filmation was riding high on the success they had with DC's superheroes, so it wouldn't hurt to do business with one of DC's competitors, right? Of course not.

The format was simple. Two 10+ minute featurettes, wrapped around a Dance of the Week and Song of the Week, both introduced by Archie himself (Dallas McKennon, Daniel Boone). The characters were easily defined if you hadn't already read the comics. Archie was torn between sexy Veronica and girl-next-door Betty, both voiced by Jane Webb, who gave Veronica a Southern accent if only to differentiate her from Betty, who was given a voice similar to that of Batgirl over on The Batman-Superman Hour. Webb voiced virtually all of the female characters, or at least was the only woman credited. Howard Morris (ex-Your Show of Shows, The Andy Griffith Show) voiced Jughead and some of the other characters, but there was one instance where Morris had missed a recording and Hanna-Barbera icon Don Messick filled in as Jughead. I'll have that particular episode up soon.

*The Archie Comedy Hour (1969-70): As they had done with Superman two years earlier, Filmation & CBS expanded The Archie Show to a full hour, presumably to better compete with the returning Banana Splits on NBC and its stablemate at H-B, The Cattanooga Cats, over on ABC. The Giant Jukebox was introduced, along with some quick jokes & gags, a la Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. There was greater emphasis on Big Ethel's eternal pursuit of Jughead, whose fear of commitment put him right up there with Maynard G. Krebs (Bob Denver's 1st iconic role, from The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis). The format change was prefaced with a primetime special, Archie & His New Pals, which set the table for the entire season, and not just for Archie, but also CBS' freshman class of '69, if memory serves.

*Archie's Funhouse (1970-1): Another year, another title change. This time, the gang was set up as if they were playing in front of a studio audience full of kids. It was Filmation's most ambitious project to date, and they had experimented with live-action a year earlier with the open & close to ABC's short-lived Hardy Boys series. Otherwise, it really was more of the same, but with greater emphasis on the Jukebox.

*Archie's TV Funnies (1971-3): My personal favorite of all the incarnations. Archie and company now had the run of a Riverdale television station, presenting adaptations of other comic strips. The lineup:

Dick Tracy, whom we featured yesterday. John Erwin, normally the voice of Reggie Mantle, voiced Tracy, and would recycle that heroic voice for He-Man 12 years later. Tracy had the full complement of supporting characters crossing over from the newspapers, as opposed to the made-for-TV crew UPA gave him 10 years earlier.

Nancy: Ernie Bushmiller's legendary strip, which on TV gave Sluggo equal billing.

The Dropouts: Howard Post's strip was on its last legs when they made their TV debut, and when the series ended, so did the strip.

Moon Mullins: Moon & Kayo were regulars back in the day in the New York Daily News and its sister publications under the Tribune banner.

Emmy Lou: I hadn't seen the strip at all, so this was my first exposure.

Smokey Stover: Another longtime Daily News regular, Smokey was used for the quick blackout gags Archie and his pals had done the previous two seasons.

Broom-Hilda: Russell Myers' green-skinned witch with a heart of gold was another Daily News star, and, along with Nancy, would return in The Fabulous Funnies 7 years later. June Foray was credited as the voice of Hilda in the 1978 series, not sure if it was her or Webb here.

*Everything's Archie (1973-4): Reruns from the first three seasons. The title comes from the lyrics to the theme to the first season.

*US Of Archie (1974-6): The last CBS series, as the franchise was giving way, gradually, to Bill Cosby's award-winning Fat Albert & The Cosby Kids. Archie, Betty, Reggie, & company were now reading up on their lookalike ancestors, who supposedly were present for some historical events. Tom McKenzie, of the Doodletown Pipers, took over as the singing voice of Archie from Ron Dante, who was now working with Barry Manilow. Reruns, as memory serves, aired on Sundays.

*The New Archie-Sabrina Hour (September-October 1977): After a year off, the gang were back, but on NBC, as CBS was apparently no longer interested. In the interim, James Komack (Welcome Back, Kotter & Chico & The Man) had produced a 1-hour live-action pilot for ABC that at least made the air but didn't sell. However, the time away didn't change the decline in ratings. The landscape was changing, and Archie was no longer relevant to Saturday audiences. ABC owned the morning now. After a month, the 1 hour format was split into two component features--Super Witch for Sabrina, and The Bang Shang Lallapalooza Show for Archie. This season saw the debut of Carlos, a Hispanic teen who unfortunately was never seen again, as I don't think he ever appeared in the comics. The two shows were cancelled in April 1978, ending Archie's run at Filmation after 10 years.

*The New Archies (1989-90): DIC took over the franchise and tried to resurrect it with this series, which was basically the Little Archie book rebooted for a new generation. Didn't work, but DIC, undaunted, tried again a couple of years later. A companion comic book crashed & burned as well.

*Archie's Weird Mysteries (1999-2000): This was the result of a hybrid mix of Archie being crossed with one of his contemporaries, Scooby-Doo, & The X-Files. 40 episodes were produced for PAX (now Ion), but has been in and out of syndication ever since. The accompanying comic book was later rebooted as an analogue to CBS' popular CSI franchise, but was still cancelled after 3 years.

Should Archie return? Dreamworks Classic, formerly Classic Media, holds the rights to the cartoons. After seeing how Josie & The Pussycats tanked at the box office 12 years ago, it would require the right personnel and format to enable a TV revival. I should note that there was a live-action TV movie that envisioned the gang all grown-up back in 1990, which was produced for NBC (which was home to the ill-fated New Archies, and I think was a DIC production. Unfortunately, it hasn't seen the light of day in over 20 years, probably because it was not so well received.

Currently, Archie Comics has made some interesting moves. They've created alternate futures where Archie is married to either Veronica or Betty, and those stories are housed in a magazine sized revival of Life With Archie. They've also taken a chance on pairing ol' Arch with Valerie (from Josie & The Pussycats) in a short-term storyline. This is the sort of outside-the-box thinking that a lot of writers at DC and/or Marvel are afraid to try, as opposed to the let's-do-something-for-a-headline mentality that has gripped Marvel in recent years. If the suits at Archie can sell one of the above storylines to a studio (i.e. Hasbro, Cookie Jar), they could bring some fresh air to the toon landscape all over again, and in this day and age, we could use it.


magicdog said...

I wouldn't mind if Archie came back but it depends on the format. Would it be more like his comic adventures? Perhaps a sitcom like format in which other Riverdale residents (like Sabrina & Josie) would pop in now and then?

KTV is currently airing the Everything's Archie incarnation and quite frankly it doesn't hold up well due to most of the gags being the sort we all stopped telling after third grade!

I used to like US of Archie since a history lesson was doled out mixed up with Archie style humor.

The TV Funnies was also a fave since we got so many comic strip characters, Dick Tracey being among the better ones.

I also enjoyed Archie's Weird Mysteries because Archie & the gang had something more to do and it was fun to see them getting involved with monsters and other mysterious happenings. I figured it was closer to X-Files than SD since SD rarely dealt with the true supernatural and at episode's end, Archie was recording his experiences in his column.

hobbyfan said...

Methinks DIC (Cookie Jar) gave up on Weird Mysteries a wee bit too soon. They ordered 40 eps for the first season, as if they expected it to air, oh, maybe, twice a week, on PAX (Ion).

As I've noted elsewhere, my cable system lost Retro last year, and, then, I find out there's a low power VHF channel at Windham Mountain which carries PBJ (Luken's other channel) and a few others. I've seen an ad on YouTube that featured Archie clips, among others. In other words, more of the same as on Retro & Qubo.

I will have a review on Sabrina's later series coming soon.