Saturday, November 27, 2010

Countdown to Christmas: Christmas Comes to Pacland (1982)

Hanna-Barbera figured, if we can turn a video game character into a sentient being, then let's let him meet Santa Claus. Such was the underlying premise behind this entry, Christmas Comes to Pacland, a prime time special spun-off, of course, from Pac-Man, which wasn't exactly chomping down ratings points on Saturday mornings.

Here's a sample clip:

Since Pac-Man was cancelled after its only season, this special didn't see the light of day again until the 90's, when Cartoon Network was launched. Not sure, though, if it will air this year......

Rating: C.

Toon Sports: Bailey's Comets (1973)

A couple of years after taking over the license to produce specials based on Dr. Seuss' books for the network, DePatie-Freleng sold their first series to CBS, Bailey's Comets, which can be generously described as Wacky Races crossed with roller derby.

Toontracker provides us with the open:

Basically, you have one heroic team, the Comets, while the rest of the teams are comprised of various degrees of vile villany. The announcers' voices have been credited in some source books as being those of Hanna-Barbera stalwarts Don Messick & Daws Butler, both of whom had previously done work for DFE as well. Butler, in particular, co-starred in the studio's initial Dr. Seuss adaptation, The Cat in the Hat, and had also worked on Super Six. However, it sounds to me as though those sources got it wrong somewhere, as one of the announcers sounds more like Frank Welker (Scooby-Doo) than either Messick or Butler. You be the judge, then get back to me, ok?

Regrettably, this is one of those cases where I'm going to refrain from giving a rating, as I don't recall ever seeing this show back in the day, probably because the then-affiliate may have blacked it out in favor of syndicated programming (i.e. Popeye), which was a common practice in those days.

Today, though, this might draw some comparisons to, or serve as the inspiration for, CBS' current series, The Amazing Race, but without the good vs. evil angle.

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: The Brothers Matzoriley (1966)

One of the rotating features of DePatie-Freleng's 1st series for NBC, The Super Six, was the Brothers Matzoriley, a 3-headed fellow with three distinct personalities, two of whom are voiced by the inestimable Paul Frees, who also serves as the narrator. Daws Butler voices the other head. This clip, supplied by Toontracker, also includes the opening & closing titles for the show, featuring a peppy theme song performed by Gary Lewis & the Playboys ("This Diamond Ring").:

DFE would continue to produce programming for NBC well into the 70's before being acquired by Marvel Comics. I'm hoping to find another complete story featuring one of the other characters down the road. I barely remember seeing this as a toddler back in the day.

Rating: B.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: The Lone Ranger (1966)

Last time, we presented to you an episode of the 1966 Lone Ranger animated series. Working backwards a wee bit this time, we present the long open, narrated by Marvin Miller (who would be the voice of Aquaman a year later), uploaded by superherocartoonsite to YouTube:

As was the custom in those days, there were three segments to each show, including a Tonto solo story in the middle. Those shorts, unfortunately, are no longer available on YouTube as of press time. As noted before, Michael Rye was the voice of the Ranger, with Shep Menkin (Clyde Crashcup on The Alvin Show) as Tonto. The series soldiered on for three seasons (1966-69).

In 1980, Filmation acquired the license to produce a new set of Lone Ranger cartoons, this time with radio & television veteran William Conrad, the narrator of The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle, serving as both the show's announcer and as the voice of the Ranger (billed as "J. Darnoc", Darnoc being Conrad spelled backwards). This incarnation lasted two seasons. Matiulita uploaded the open to this version:

The next season, when Zorro was shoehorned into a 1 hour block with the Ranger and Tarzan, the episodes were edited down due to time constraints. Oh, Filmation could've gotten Rye, who was over at Hanna-Barbera by then, working on Super Friends, but opted for some star power by hiring Conrad, who'd just finished a run in the prime-time drama, Cannon, some time before.

Rating: B for the 1966 series, A for the 1980 series.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Lone Ranger vs. "The Cult of the Black Widow" (1966)

The Lone Ranger was part of CBS' 1966 class of freshman adventure series, but most of the attention was given to the flashier adventures of Superman and Space Ghost.

Michael Rye, who formerly was the announcer for The Cisco Kid, was the voice of the Ranger. Most toon fans will recognize his voice as that of Green Lantern & Apache Chief from Super Friends during the 70's & 80's. Agnes Moorehead (Bewitched) guest stars at the titular villain in the episode, "Cult of the Black Widow".

Format Films (The Alvin Show) produced this version of the Ranger, who would return to Saturdays 14 years later, when Filmation acquired the license. Format's version used more science-fiction/horror elements in order to fit in with the superhero series that sprouted up that same season. We'll have more on both versions in a future post.

Rating: B.

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Secret Squirrel (1965)

Inasmuch as Atom Ant was a satire on superheroes, falling more toward Mighty Mouse than Superman, Secret Squirrel mined the same comic vein as the live-action Get Smart, sending up the secret agent genre that was hot at the time thanks to the James Bond movies.

Fabricio Jiminez uploaded the open:

To most observers, you'd think Secret Squirrel was mostly a showcase for two of the most well known and respected voice actors in the business--Mel Blanc (Secret) and Paul Frees (Morocco Mole, the Chief, others). In fact, Frees uses the same voice mannerisms for the Chief that he'd previously created for Inspector Fenwick in the Dudley Do-Right shorts for Jay Ward. Frees also was the man behind Secret's #1 nemesis, Yellow Pinkie, who, although a parody of "Goldfinger", had more in common with another Bond foe, Blofeld, with his recurring appearances.

When Hanna-Barbera decided to revive Secret Squirrel as the backup feature to 2 Stupid Dogs in 1993, they decided to repopulate the supporting cast with animals, turning the Chief into a yak, for example. I don't know about you, but nothing beats the original.

Rating: A-.

Toon Sports: Wacky Races (1968)

Many of Hanna-Barbera's earliest series were based on live-action concepts. The most famous example, of course, is The Flintstones, which was inspired in large part by Jackie Gleason's legendary Honeymooners. Top Cat, in turn, drew inspiration from Phil Silvers' conniving Sgt. Bilko. With this in mind, it is believed that the movie, "The Great Race", with Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and others, was the inspiration behind Wacky Races, which was the studio's first attempt at doing a sports cartoon.

Here's the opening, complete with narration by race announcer Dave Willock:

Only one season's worth of episodes was made, yet Wacky Races spawned a pair of spin-offs the following season. Funny thing is, Dastardly & Muttley In Their Flying Machines and Perils of Penelope Pitstop were set in much earlier periods than the Races.

Hanna-Barbera would revisit the Races format a few more times in the later years, starting with Scooby's All-Star Laff-a-Lympics (1977), which in turn indirectly spun off Yogi's Space Race the following season (Space Race aired on NBC, as opposed to Laff-a-Lympics being on ABC). Those shows had teams of competitors instead of individual competition. In 1990, Wake, Rattle, & Roll, a live-action weekday sitcom for kids, featured Fender Bender 500 as one of its two animated segments. Fender Bender has more of a direct link to Wacky Races as it marks the return of Dastardly & Muttley to the competition, this time in a monster truck. Radio & TV personality Shadoe Stevens (The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson) filled Dave Willock's role as narrator/race announcer. Finally, Races was parodied on Cartoon Network's Dexter's Laboratory, with hilarious results.

The closing credits of Wacky Races now lack Willock's narration, as it has been deleted by CN and Boomerang in recent years, largely because the cablers prefer to air the show on a daily schedule, rather than weekly as it was originally intended. A bad idea that continues to this day due to Boomerang programmers' general indifference. Game show titans Merrill Heatter & Bob Quigley (Hollywood Squares) co-produced Wacky Races, which, according to some sources, was originally intended to be part cartoon, part game show, but the live-action game show half was left out of the final mix. Ironically, ventriloquist/actor/scientist Paul Winchell (Dick Dastardly) would host H-Q's last Saturday morning game, Runaround, 4 years later, for NBC.

With Boomerang playing Races into the ground (airing twice daily, check listings), maybe now would be a good time to revisit the concept again, but this time with the game show format restored. Since Cartoon Network's been dabbling in live-action lately.........!

Rating: B.

Update, 4/6/18: An enterprising soul has posted the closing credits, complete with narration by Dave Willock.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Teenage Toons: Hero High (1981)

Filmation's track record at NBC was pretty bad. Aside from Star Trek, Flash Gordon, & Sport Billy, the average lifespan of a Filmation show at the "Peacock Network" was 1 year. Hero High, one component of The Kid Super Power Hour with Shazam!, was just one such show. Batmandingo007 uploaded this promo, narrated by Lou Scheimer, to YouTube:

One account I've since read says that this was originally intended as a vehicle to bring back The Archies, using their superhero personas from the comics back in the 60's. NBC had gotten burned once before with an Archie comeback series, during the 1977-78 season, and didn't want to go there again, it would seem. In fact, one of the Hero High kids, Rex Ruthless, appears to be partially based on Reggie Mantle (whose costumed alter-ego was Evilheart in the comics).

Slotted in between Smurfs and Space Stars, you'd think Kid Super Power Hour would've been a hit. It wasn't. Instead, it was a rare blemish on NBC's Saturday schedule in 1981.

Rating: C.

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Freakazoid! (1995)

Part of the WB's initial lineup of animated series was this ridiculously silly satire of superheroes, Freakazoid!, which was one of four series that Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment co-produced with Warner Bros. (the others were Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, & Pinky and the Brain). Since it hasn't been seen in a while, let's refresh everyone's memories with the opening theme.

Strangely, DC Comics, which published books spun from Animaniacs & Pinky, didn't do a Freakazoid! book, which might've actually increased the title character's profile. As it is, the series lasted just 2 seasons, but would feel right at home today if Cartoon Network could be bothered to dust it off and couple it with humor shows like Regular Show or Mad, or put it on [adult swim].

Rating: B.

Thanksgiving Toons: Linus the Lionhearted (1964)

Those of us who grew up during the 60's & 70's will fondly recall the Linus the Lionhearted balloon that appeared every year at Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. While the balloon was retired nearly 20 years ago, let's look back and see just how it came to be, or, at least, from the viewpoint of Linus himself (Sheldon Leonard). Toontracker uploaded the edited open, framing skits, and closing to this program to YouTube:

I freely admit that I barely remember seeing Linus the Lionhearted, if at all, as a toddler. We all know that Sugar Bear was the true breakout star, as he lasted the longest of Post Cereals' mascots. In fact, I'm not even sure if he's still around. Linus was ultimately booted off the air after a 3-year run on ABC after the FCC determined that it was little more than a glorified commercial for Post's line of cereals. Of those, only Alpha-Bits (represented by mailman Lovable Truly) and Super Golden Crisp (formerly Super Sugar Crisp, Sugar Bear's cereal) are still around. By the way, that's Carl Reiner (The Dick Van Dyke Show) as Billy Boid, Linus' sidekick.

Rating: B-.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: The Mighty Heroes (1966)

Lost amidst a freshman class of action series that included Space Ghost & Dino Boy, The Lone Ranger, & The New Adventures of Superman, CBS welcomed Ralph Bakshi's Mighty Heroes, who shared a half-hour with Mighty Mouse, returning for his 12th and final season, at least for now. Herschel Bernardi (ex-Peter Gunn) & Lionel Wilson supplied the voices for all the characters in the Mighty Heroes episodes, including this one, "The Shrinker", uploaded by bobp3586 to YouTube:

Unlike the other heroes, The Mighty Heroes were a 1 year wonder, cast aside to make room for more Hanna-Barbera adventure series (i.e. Shazzan). The Heroes would return in Bakshi's 1987 reboot of Mighty Mouse, having swapped their tights & capes for the firm of Man, Man, Man, Man, & Man. As previously documented, Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures also lasted just one season, but there were other factors involved besides ratings.

Could the Mighty Heroes be brought back in the 21st century? Only if someone has the right idea & vision to make it work.

Rating: B-.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Saturday Morning Ringside: Los Luchadores (2001)

Fox had a habit of shuffling its Saturday morning lineup every few weeks, rotating series in and out of the lineup in an effort to keep things fresh. Kids' WB! did the same thing, but it got annoying because neither could really keep a consistent lineup together.

Los Luchadores was one of those mid-season replacements that Fox would bring out, usually with a minimal amount of hype and advertising. Here's the opening:

What Los Luchadores aspired to be was a Latino version of Batman, what with its over-the-top villains. What it ended up being was, of course, cancelled. Fox's problem was scheduling Luchadores too early (8 am ET) in the lineup. I get that they wanted to find something that would be a lead-in for their more popular shows, and Luchadores certainly filled the bill. Unfortunately, the Nielsen ratings didn't seem to agree.

Rating: C.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Daytime Heroes: Bravestarr (1987)

Filmation's final series was the futuristic sci-fi western, Bravestarr, which replaced Ghostbusters in syndication in 1987. ExcelsiorUK uploaded the open to YouTube:

Bravestarr currently airs on RTV on Saturday mornings, and weeknights on Qubo (which now has its own channel in some cities; check local listings). From all indications, based on the improvements in animation, Filmation saved its best for last. Sadly, the studio closed its doors after the 1987-88 season, even though a proposed spinoff series was in production.

While Tonto (Lone Ranger) and Apache Chief (Super Friends) were the first Native American heroes on Saturday morning television, Bravestarr is the first one to headline his own show. Classic Media owns the rights to both Bravestarr and Lone Ranger currently, so what are the chances of making arrangements to bring these two heroes together, despite the large time difference? Something to think about down the line.

Rating: B.

Friday, November 19, 2010

From Comics to Toons: Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends (1981)

In 1981, Marvel Comics, having acquired DePatie-Freleng Enterprises (DFE), relaunched the studio as Marvel Productions, with their initial offering featuring their #1 star, in Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends. Marvel figured, DC has the Super Friends (airing on ABC at the time), so why not come up with something similar, but on a smaller scale?

Amazing Friends didn't have the overall staying power of Super Friends, however, as it lasted 3 seasons before departing NBC's lineup in 1984. For now, here's the series premiere, "Triumph of the Green Goblin":

If Iceman's voice sounds familiar, it should. Prolific voice actor Frank Welker, whose numerous credits include, of course, Scooby-Doo, and, yes, Super Friends (he was Marvin in the first series in 1973), was cast as the frosty X-Man. The rest of the X-Men would make a guest appearance later in the series' run. Mr. Marvel himself, Stan Lee, joined in on the fun in season 2 as narrator---as if they really needed one. Dick Tufeld served as the announcer, having done the same for DFE's last series, Spider-Woman, 2 years earlier. If Marvel was hoping for this show to break out as a monster hit, they were sorely disappointed. By the way, "Triumph of the Green Goblin" was adapted as a 1-shot comic book to coincide with the series' launch.

Rating: B-.

Animated World of DC Comics: The next generation of Super Friends? (1999)

You've probably seen this one a few zillion times on Cartoon Network during The Powerpuff Girls' glory years (now in perpetual rerun on Boomerang), but I figured, what the heck, we can all use a few laughs today.

This spot marked the return of Shannon Farnon as the voice of Wonder Woman, a role she essayed from 1973-84, and had largely been considered the definitive toon portrayal of the Amazing Amazon. Also, it sounded like they brought back Norman Alden as Aquaman. Alden had the gig from 1973-78, before giving way to Bill Calloway. Call it a passing of the torch, if you will, as I believe this was CN's intention with this ad, silly humor aside. Alden would do one or two more house ads for CN as Aquaman.

And, yes, DC has published a Powerpuff Girls comic book, but that has long since ended, like the TV show.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Family Toons: Valley of the Dinosaurs (1974)

It's not easy determining who had the idea first, but Hanna-Barbera's Valley of the Dinosaurs came along the same year that Sid & Marty Krofft's Land of the Lost did, in 1974. Valley aired on CBS, which put Shazam! directly opposite Land over on NBC, if my memory serves me correctly.

Here's the intro:

It's worth noting that Fred Freiberger, whose sci-fi cred includes writing and/or producing for Star Trek and Space: 1999, and who also created, produced and served as principal writer for another H-B frosh in '74, Korg: 70,000 B. C., which aired on ABC, was a writer on Valley. Freiberger would leave H-B to work on Space: 1999, ending a short but productive run with the studio. Alert viewers will recognize the voices of Mike Road (Jonny Quest, Herculoids) and Shannon Farnon (Super Friends) as John Butler and his wife. Don Markstein, in writing an entry on Valley for his Toonopedia site a week ago, got the notion that Jackie Earle Haley ("Watchmen", "Nightmare on Elm Street", Human Target) voiced John Butler. Impossible, considering Haley was just a kid back then, 2 years away from the original "Bad News Bears". Maybe if they remade the show today, or if they'd done a parody on Robot Chicken, but definitely not in 1974. Haley voiced the son.

As for which was the most successful dinosaur show of the period? That's easy. It was Land of the Lost (previously reviewed), which lasted 3 seasons in its initial run, and 2 more when ABC revived it in the 90's. Korg and Valley were both cancelled after 1 season.

Rating: B.

Animated World of DC Comics: Batman & Robin shop for healthy food (1977)

From the All-New Super Friends Hour comes this Health tip about the positives of fruits & veggies in your diet, courtesy of Batman & Robin. Namzso1 uploaded this clip to YouTube:

And you thought Popeye had the market cornered on healthy heroic eating......!

Rating: A.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Saturday Morning Ringside: Mucha Lucha (2002)

Pro wrestling had the infamous "Monday Night Wars" from 1996-2001. The unofficial "Saturday Morning Wars" began in 2002, but, in this case, it was one-sided from the go.

We previously reviewed Fox's entry, the Japanese import, Ultimate Muscle. Kids' WB! answered with the flash-animated Mucha Lucha!, which was set in a fictional Mexican village where Lucha Libre wrestling was the be-all and end-all to the entire community, such that, everyone who lived there wore a mask and tights and had a specific finishing move. Now, that would be a fun place to visit on vacation, no? If you can get past the gimmick of the characters' shape-shifting to illustrate their special moves, there's a lot to like. The focus is on three kids: Rikochet, who is the leader of this triad, Buena Girl, and The Flea, a criss-cross satire of The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) and Pig Pen from the Peanuts strip and TV specials. In this regard, Kids' WB! was aiming this series more against Teamo Supremo over on ABC, which also had a trio of juvenile protagonists.

Mucha Lucha! lasted three seasons, overall, with the final season seeing a title change to Mucha Lucha Gigante, which was really a cosmetic change, nothing more, which viewers translated into jumping the shark. Currently, Mucha Lucha! is buried deep in Cartoon Network's vaults, unlikely to return unless current management finds an excuse to bring it back.

Edit, 12/9/21: The video was deleted by Dailymotion. YouTube provides a short pilot clip:

Rating: B.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Animated World of DC Comics: Superman's Alphabetics (1969)

The last of our DC Comics-Filmation shorts from Sesame Street features Superman. As Jughead covered the letter "J", Superman does the same with the letter "S". Here's the clip:

It's been noted that the voice of Superman heard here is that of Len Weinrib, whose voice-over credits include H. R. Pufnstuf, Inch High Private Eye, Doctor Doolittle, and being the original voice of Scrappy-Doo. Clayton "Bud" Collyer, who'd essayed the role of Superman beginning in the Golden Age, passed away in 1969, right before Sesame launched. Weinrib did his best to replicate Collyer's distinctive vocal style for the Man of Steel, enough where fans might've been easily fooled.

Rating: A.

Animated World of DC Comics: Batman & Robin go up, around, & through to catch a crook (1969)

Here's a 2nd Batman & Robin short from Sesame Street's 1st season.

This clip, and the "Crossing the Street" short posted the other day, represent the last Bat-toons from Filmation until CBS ordered up the New Adventures of Batman as a mid-season replacement in 1977. Maybe what's holding up the release of a DVD for the 1968-70 Bat-toon series is WB trying to acquire these shorts from Sesame Workshop (formerly Children's Television Workshop). Let's hope they do, and that DVD finally comes out.

Rating: A. (We'll forgive them for using a regular boomerang in place of the batarang.)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Saturday Morning Ringside: Ultimate Muscle (2002)

Ultimate Muscle was one of several series that 4Kids Entertainment imported to the United States for Fox from Japan. The series made its American debut in 2002, and lasted 2 seasons before Fox pulled the plug. Utaking uploaded the open to YouTube:

As a wrestling fan, I was insulted by the fact that part of Kid Muscle's repertoire required him to fart in the ring. Not funny. We know that they take their wrestling seriously in Japan. Shoot, they take everything seriously. Fox was lucky to find enough marks among the viewers to keep the series around, but it could only go so far.

Rating: D.

Teenage Toons: Jughead's Alphabetics (1969)

Today's classic Sesame Street lesson is taught by one Forsyth P. Jones of Riverdale, USA. You know him as Jughead. Love2Register2 uploaded this very short piece to YouTube:

I am not sure if Archie or any of the others did any similar bits, but this was one of a series that Filmation produced for Sesame Street.

Rating: A.

Friday, November 12, 2010

From Comics to Toons: Archie's TV Funnies (1971)

One of the things that kept The Archies on CBS for 8 seasons was Filmation's willingness to change formats from time to time. In 1971, the studio decided to shift the focus from Archie, Jughead, and company, and onto some of the stars of the newspaper's funny pages. Archie's TV Funnies lasted 2 seasons, and featured Emmy Lou, Broom-Hilda, Moon Mullins, Nancy, The Dropouts, Smokey Stover, and the return to animated adventure of Dick Tracy. Over the next few days, I'll be looking for clips of those features to post here. Until then, check out the intro:

It's worth noting that John Erwin, normally the voice of Reggie, also voiced Tracy this time around, and used the same vocal inflection for He-Man 12 years later. Some of the same comic strips would be brought back for another Filmation series, Fabulous Funnies, in 1978, 5 years after TV Funnies ended. Archie and friends would remain with CBS for another three years, then take a year off before moving to NBC (home to Fabulous Funnies) for a short-lived comeback in 1977.

Rating: B.

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Loonatics Unleashed (2005)

In the winter of 2005, preliminary plans for a new Looney Tunes-themed series on Kids' WB! courted not excitement from the fan base, but controversy and resentment.

Loonatics Unleashed presented 28th century descendants of the classic characters such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Wile E. Coyote, this time as superheroes. Critics blasted WB for making the characters too dark, and, oddly, the protest was fueled by an 11 year old boy who felt the Loonatics' initial designs made them too mean & scary-looking. By September of 2005, the Loonatics made their debut, their appearance slightly softened, and the credit for that could go to Christian & Yvan Tremblay (SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron), who were credited with "adapting" the characters.

I should note that funk legend Bootsy Collins recorded a new theme for season 2, and also guest-starred in one episode.

Following is a compilation of opens & closing credits for both seasons:

Regrettably, after Loonatics Unleashed was cancelled in 2007, the series has not been seen anywhere else in the US. Cartoon Network has not even bothered to pick up the show for airing, although it could find a new audience. Loonatics' creative staff also included producer Ron Myrick (Avengers: United We Stand), whose experience in superhero cartoons might explain how the Loonatics were presented as a cross between the Justice League and the X-Men, if that was even possible.

Rating: A-.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Animated World of DC Comics: Batman & Robin on "Sesame Street" (1969)

In the early years of PBS' longest running children's show, Sesame Street, Filmation provided the producers with some short clips. Here, Batman & Robin (voiced by Olan Soule & Casey Kasem, natch) are in pursuit of the Joker, but, in the spirit of the live-action series, public safety becomes a more paramount issue:

One would assume this was produced during the 1st season of Sesame Street, as were clips with Superman and Jughead (from The Archie Show). Casey Kasem would do some more voice overs for Sesame during those early years as well. I recall a bit where he voiced a housefly. Have to find that one someday.......!

Rating: A.

Tooniversary: The Bugs Bunny Show (1960)

In 1960, ABC experimented with not one, but two animated prime time series. The Bugs Bunny Show spent 2 seasons as a night-time series before shifting to Saturday mornings, where Bugs would be a mainstay for an amazing 38 years, easily the longest-running Saturday morning franchise. Everyone knows the equally legendary theme song, "This is It", as performed by Bugs & Daffy Duck (both voiced, of course, by Mel Blanc). Here's a black & white clip from the original 1960 series.

Bugs shifted back & forth between ABC & CBS throughout his 40 years on network television, with CBS adding a series of prime-time specials, even giving Bugs a prime-time series berth as a summer replacement one year. Veteran announcer Dick Tufeld was the series' original announcer, as he handled those duties for many of WB's live-action series of the period, including Hawaiian Eye.

In 1968, Bugs moved to CBS for the first time, as the "Tiffany of the Networks" fused his series together with that of the Road Runner to form a 1 hour series, which lasted initially until 1971, when the fast-feathered Road Runner moved to ABC. Bugs would return there in 1973 for 2 seasons, then back to CBS for 11 (1975-86), then back to ABC for the final 14 seasons. During his third & final ABC run, Tweety became the co-featured star, replacing the Road Runner, and this was even with Tweety starring in an all-new series on WB during the late 90's that was previously covered. Beginning with 1968's Bugs Bunny-Road Runner Hour, different announcers took over the introduction, including Danny Dark (Super Friends) during the early 80's.

I should mention that "This is It" was composed by WB's in-house songwriting team of Jerry Livingston & Mack David, who also composed themes to several of the studio's live-action shows.

After WB had shipped Bugs and pals over to Cartoon Network, the cabler decided to devote a 3 hour block at one point on Saturdays to try to recapture the magic, but it didn't last. As it is, there is a devoted fan base that is pleading in vain with CN's current programming head, Stuart Snyder, to put Bugs, Daffy, and company back on Saturdays or anywhere else on the schedule, but as of now, they'll have to settle for the forthcoming Looney Tunes Show, due to air in prime time soon.

Rating: A.

Game Time: Pac-Man (1982)

Video games were becoming all the rage in the early 80's. Not just the ones you could play at home, mind you, but the arcade games, too. Hanna-Barbera thought they saw a possible hit series in adapting Midway Games' Pac-Man into an animated cartoon for ABC in 1982. What they got was a colossal flop.

Following is the intro:

Actor Marty Ingels, by this point now working mostly as an agent, voiced the title character, 13 years after working on the Motormouse & Autocat feature of Cattanooga Cats, and as far as I know, it was his last voice-over job. Ingels also took part in ABC's sneak preview special that season, where he taught the kids to verbalize the sound effect made by Pac-Man in the video game (wocka, wocka). The novelty single, "Pac-Man Fever", a huge hit for Buckner & Garcia earlier in the year, was far more popular than this show, even though there was a merchandising tie-in with Chef Boy-ar-dee, and a Christmas special that served as a sort-of 14th episode to the series. Pac-Man was cancelled after 2 seasons, but the video game endures nearly 30 years later.

Rating: C--.

Saturday School: Sealab 2020 (1972)

On the original Star Trek, Captain Kirk (William Shatner) declared that space was the "final frontier". Apparently, the folks at Hanna-Barbera had other ideas, and in 1972, suggested that the seas represented the true final frontier. Sealab 2020 was part of NBC's "Terrific Ten" Saturday morning lineup, one of two freshman series from H-B (Roman Holidays was the other).

Here's the intro:

If the narrator's voice sounds familiar, it should. It's Ross Martin (ex-Wild Wild West), who voiced Dr. Paul Williams, the series' lead protagonist. Martin would also do some other work for H-B, culminating with the Robonic Stooges segment of Skatebirds just a few years later. Martin isn't the only prime-time player in the series' cast, though. Ron Pinkard, who was also appearing on Emergency! at the same time, was heard, along with Ann Jillian (a few years before It's A Living). Unfortunately, Sealab was a little ahead of its time, and was cancelled after 1 season. Apparently, viewers didn't like the idea of a weekly exploration of life under the sea, although Disney's Little Mermaid would change those opinions nearly 20 years later.

Cartoon Network, scouring its vaults, decided to "upgrade" Sealab, but at the expense of long-time cartoon fans. Sealab 2021 was a 15-minute [adult swim] series that poked fun at the original show, and sci-fi in general. The cut-&-paste, colorform-style animation was a turnoff, which is why you won't see a clip of it here. Better that the original series is treated with greater respect.

Rating: B.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Dynomutt & Blue Falcon (1976)

After spending 4 years working for DePatie-Freleng & 20th Century Fox, Joe Ruby & Ken Spears returned to Hanna-Barbera in 1976, and created two new series, both of which ended up on ABC. Dynomutt was a superhero parody that was a cross-satire of both Batman (represented by Dyno's owner/partner, the Blue Falcon) and The Six Million Dollar Man, a popular prime-time series on the network at the time. Superherocartoonsite uploaded the open, "sung", if you will, by the Falcon (Gary Owens, Space Ghost), to YouTube:

There were a few crossovers with Scooby-Doo, who came over to ABC from CBS that same year, and the very next year, Scooby, Dyno, & the Falcon were all on the same team for Scooby's All-Star Laff-a-Lympics.

Dynomutt & Blue Falcon experienced a bit of a comeback in the late 90's when they made a guest appearance on Cartoon Network's Dexter's Laboratory. I guess this was in response to Scooby & Mystery Inc. popping up on Johnny Bravo. Unfortunately, WB hasn't seen fit to have Scooby & Dyno meet again, even though Dyno's 35th anniversary is coming next year.

Rating: B-.

Monday, November 8, 2010

From Comics to Toons: Avengers: United They Stand (1999)

The Avengers are Marvel's answer to DC's Justice League, but oh, did Saban blow chunks trying to adapt the series to television for Fox in 1999. If you don't believe me, check out the opening.

I don't know who came up with the idea to cover the Wasp's pretty face with a retractable helmet-mask (they did the same thing with Ant-Man). I guess they figured, she's called the Wasp, so let's give her a bug-shaped mask to match. Morons. Fortunately, even though she was killed off in the comic books, Wasp has been, ah, "reincarnated" in the current Avengers series airing on DisneyXD (and reviewed over in The Land of Whatever), as gorgeous as ever. Unfortunately for this batch of Avengers, they never really had a chance to get going. Fox, obsessed with trying to derail the ratings express known as Pokemon over on Kids' WB!, delayed the debut of Avengers for a few weeks, then pulled it after a month when it finally aired.

Saban didn't try to screw up the X-Men, so why mess with other Marvel icons? I don't think that will ever be answered.

Rating: C.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Animated World of DC Comics: The Batman (2003)

The Batman purported to present the Dark Knight in his early days, and for 5 seasons, it served as the centerpiece of Kids' WB's lineup, even after the WB was absorbed into the CW network. TriviaFreak uploaded the intro:

Producer Duane Capizzi & storyboard artist Jeff Matsuda came over from Sony, where they'd worked on another Kids' WB series, Jackie Chan Adventures, and their rendition of Bruce Wayne fell somewhere between Chan's American cousin and Sylvester Stallone. Not good. Their rebooting of some of the Batman's foes was hit and miss as well. A dreadlocked, barefoot Joker? Bad idea!! Transforming a Gotham detective, who is also a pal of Wayne's, into the new Clayface? Questionable. While they tried to pick up a plot device from Tim Burton as it related to Penguin (circa "Batman Returns" in 1992), they messed that up by giving Pengy two kabuki masked, mute assistants. Seems they only got Catwoman (Gina Gershon, taking over for Adrienne Barbeau) right. Where they really hit a home run was with the awesome theme song, composed and performed by U2's The Edge. Not the first time there's been a U2 link to the Bat-franchise. The band contributed to the soundtrack of 1995's "Batman Forever".

Batgirl was de-aged into a teenager, as was Poison Ivy, and they were introduced before Robin, which was another mistake.

Currently, reruns of the first season, and maybe the second, are in continuous loop on Boomerang, which seemingly has no interest in acquiring seasons 3-5.

Rating: C.

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Road Rovers (1996)

The legacy of the now-defunct Kids' WB! is a litany of popular shows that simply didn't generate enough ratings to complement the fan following and earn renewals. One such case was Road Rovers, which was at the center of the network's 1996-97 schedule. Here's the open to the series:

I was one of those people who was a fan of the series, and wanted it to succeed. Unfortunately, it only lasted 13 episodes, and hasn't been seen since Cartoon Network pulled the reruns off their schedule 11 years ago. Road Rovers, as I'd later discover, does have a rabid fan following (pardon the pun), impatiently awaiting a DVD release, which WB is reluctant to do right at the moment.

Rating: A-.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Superhuman Samurai SyberSquad (1994)

In the wake of the runaway success of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers on Fox, ABC needed a similar series on their Saturday morning schedule, and they got it with this short-lived series, which, like the Rangers, was co-produced by a Japanese studio. Squeezecheese uploaded the open to Superhuman Samurai SyberSquad, with narration by Gary Owens (Space Ghost):

DIC had last experimented with a live-action science-fiction series a few years earlier with Photon, a syndicated entry that lasted a year or two before cancellation. ABC would've been better off picking that up instead of this Ranger knock-off. In fact, ABC would acquire the Ranger franchise from Fox just a few years later.

Rating: C.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries (1995)

While their classic shorts appeared on ABC, Sylvester & Tweety, who last headlined a series in 1976 on CBS, starred in a first-run series on the WB, The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries. On the surface, it was a cross-satire of Scooby-Doo (now a Warner Brothers stablemate) and Murder, She Wrote, since Granny (June Foray) did most of the detective work. Here's the open:

The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries has a sort-of hometown connection in that voice actor Joe Alaskey, a native of Watervliet, NY, voiced the title characters and several of the "Looney Tunes" crew when they made guest appearances. Reference guides claim the series lasted until 2001, but I'm having trouble recalling if this is true or not, especially considering how frequently the Kids' WB! lineup would change during the season. It would not be the last time WB would experiment with taking their Looney Tunes characters out of their familiar environs and into something different. Unfortunately, these days, it languishes in the Cartoon Network vaults when it should get some consideration for airtime on either CN or Boomerang.

Rating: B+.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Bad TV: WBF BodyStars (1992)

Every time WWE Chairman Vince McMahon tries to think outside the box, if you will, no matter how noble the effort, it always backfires on him and fails.

Take for example his attempt to cross into the world of professional bodybuilding. As McMahon is to wrestling, Joe Weider is to bodybuilding. In April 1992, McMahon launched WBF BodyStars, a weekly magazine series that promoted health & nutrition tips, as well as profiles of the men in McMahon's ill-fated World Bodybuilding Federation (WBF). Wrestler Lex Luger, sidelined with an injury in a motorcycle accident, would serve as co-host with Cameo Kneuer and, to a lesser extent, McMahon himself, during the series' 9 month run.

Matt Paolini uploaded this "Best of" slide show, which is the best we can do for right now:

If you were not into bodybuilding, this wasn't for you, even if the health tips applied to everyone's lifestyles. Once he recovered from his injuries, Luger would move on to the then-World Wrestling Federation (now WWE), only to leave after a less than stellar 2 1/2 year run in the ring, returning to WCW. The WBF folded by the end of '92, and BodyStars was cancelled right along with it, although McMahon would hold onto the mid-morning berth on Saturdays on the network for years to come.

Rating: D-.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Saturday Morning's Greatest Hits: Do The Bear (1965)

There were a number of occasions in the 60's when Hanna-Barbera poked fun at popular music, and this is one of them. The "Bear" in the song title is Paw Rugg, patriarch of the Hillbilly Bears. If that laugh at the end sounds familiar, that's because Rugg's distinctive mumble & laugh are done by Henry Corden, who would later inherit the iconic role of Fred Flintstone from Alan Reed after Reed passed away in the 70's. Hypnopump uploaded "Do The Bear" to YouTube:

The rationale behind this was that H-B wanted to show that just about anyone could be a rock star, even for the shortest amount of time. In the swinging 60's, that was certainly true.

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Atom Ant (1965)

Most cartoon experts will claim that Hanna-Barbera's "super adventure" era began with Space Ghost, Frankenstein, Jr., & The Impossibles debuting in 1966. They would be wrong. The studio's first true superhero was Atom Ant, who preceded the others by a year, debuting on NBC. Superherocartoonsite uploaded the open, including theme vocals by actor Ted Cassidy (The Addams Family), to YouTube:

Howard Morris, who is better known for his role as troublemaker Ernest T. Bass on The Andy Griffith Show, and later would be the voice for Jughead on The Archie Show, was the original voice of Atom, but when our atomic insect joined the cast of Yogi's Gang, studio ace voice artist Don Messick took over the part. Morris had gone over to Filmation by then, of course, but there wasn't much difference. It can be said that Atom Ant was a take-off on Mighty Mouse, who was still going strong over on CBS at the time. Hanna-Barbera figured, we can make a smaller superhero work, and they did. However, because Atom was mostly played for laughs, and had two comedy features supporting him (Precious Pupp & Hillbilly Bears), it would be hard to reboot him as a more serious superhero character, though I'd not be surprised if someone actually tried.

Rating: B.