Friday, December 31, 2010

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Jason of Star Command (1978)

Originally created as a component of Tarzan & the Super 7, Jason of Star Command was the last live-action series produced by Filmation. Let's go to the series opener.

Jason was spun off from Space Academy, which had been cancelled after 1 season. In fact, one of Academy's stars, Jonathan Harris (ex-Uncle Croc's Block, Lost in Space) reportedly had a falling out with the producers and left the studio, which created an opening for James Doohan. Doohan, in turn, left the series after 1 season to begin work on "Star Trek: The Motion Picture", and was replaced by John Russell when Star Command was spun out of Super 7 and into a stand-alone series which served as a lead-in to Super 7 the next year. Season 2 also saw actress Tamara Dobson ("Cleopatra Jones") join the series for her only television role to date.

Filmation would repeat the cliffhanger format for a pair of animated series. Flash Gordon on NBC, and, The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse & Heckle and Jeckle on CBS. On the latter, Mighty Mouse starred in a serial of his own, "The Great Space Chase", which was later repackaged as a feature film. In Flash's case, the series, like Star Command, was renewed for a 2nd season, and went to stand-alone stories for the 2nd year.

Jason star Craig Littler has hardly been heard from in the intervening years. His series may be largely forgotten because it came along around the same time as the original Battlestar Galactica, which drew more attention from sci-fi fans, and season 2 of Star Command was also in the same season as season 1 of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Now, if only someone would actually have the onions to bring Jason back, just for kicks......

Rating: B.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Literary Toons: The Hardy Boys (1969)

Ok, I gave you a taste of the music. Now, check out the opening to Filmation's interpretation of the Hardy Boys, once again uploaded by Skeebwilcox to YouTube:

I cannot identify the studio musicians appearing as the band in the clip. However, we do know the voices behind the characters. The bulk of the male voices were done by Dallas McKennon (Daniel Boone, Archie's Funhouse). Jane Webb, of course, voiced the Hardys' made-for-TV female sidekick, Wanda Kay. Wanda and drummer Pete Jones, the first African American character to appear in a cartoon, didn't appear in the original books. Chet "Chubby" Morton did, however, and, aside from the Hardys' father, Det. Fenton Hardy, was the only supporting character from the novels to make the transition to the cartoon. Byron Kane, who was previously a producer on shows like Peter Gunn, was the only other actor credited.

RCA released 2 albums spun off from the series. I recall seeing one of them at a record convention several years ago, but by then I no longer owned a turntable, so I passed. Neither record has been reissued on CD as yet. Hardy Boys lasted for 2 seasons, but hasn't seen the light of day since a brief syndicated run in the 70's, presumably to cash in on the live-action series (which lasted 3 years).

Rating: B-.

Teenage Toons: Archie's Funhouse (1970)

If there was one consistent theme to The Archies' 8 year run on CBS, it was the format, which changed every year. For the 2nd season, The Archie Show became The Archie Comedy Hour. The next year, it remained a 1 hour show, but the title changed again, this time to Archie's Funhouse, and as the opening shows, Filmation was willing to experiment with live action footage, which was also the case with their 1969 entry on ABC, The Hardy Boys. Hewey1972 offers the intro:

Funhouse, with its rapid fire skits, gags, and short stories, aspired to be an animated clone of NBC's popular Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. Filmation would use Laugh-In as a template for The Groovie Goolies when they were split from Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, the next year. As a nod to the comics, there was also a loose adaptation of the Little Archie books. Problem with that was the younger versions of the characters dressed the same as their teenage selves (and were voiced by the same actors; Filmation wasn't willing to spend extra money to hire additional actors), which was not the case in the books. No wonder, then, that these segments were discontinued when they moved on to Archie's TV Funnies the next year.

Rating: B.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Krofftverse: Lidsville (1971)

With H. R. Pufnstuf & The Bugaloos in perpetual rerun, producers Sid & Marty Krofft moved to ABC with their next series, Lidsville. Charles Nelson Reilly (ex-The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, and 2 years away from Match Game) toplines as the vile HooDoo. We also see Reilly in the open as HooDoo's alter-ego, Merlo the Great, who otherwise doesn't appear in the series. Butch Patrick (ex-The Munsters) and Billie Hayes (H. R. Pufnstuf), this time on the side of good, co-star. The Stonerist uploaded the open, complete with the obligatory over-expository theme song:

Hayes would reprise her Pufnstuf role as Witchiepoo in a cameo appearance, but like the others, Lidsville would be in perpetual rerun for its 2nd and final season before ABC cancelled the series in 1973. The network even acquired Pufnstuf from NBC, but there wasn't much life left in that series. After ABC axed both Pufnstuf & Lidsville, it would be another 2 years before they'd buy another series from the Kroffts, although they would air a special or two in prime time.

Rating: B--

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Animated World of DC Comics: The Marvel Family vs. "The Return of Black Adam" (1981)

From the short-lived Kid Super Power Hour with Shazam!, here's an adventure of the Marvel Family and the first television appearance of one of their classic foes, in "The Return of Black Adam", uploaded by Nightman1963 to YouTube:

Black Adam would eventually court Mary Marvel in a return appearance just a few weeks later, something the writers at DC must've known about, since nearly 25 years later, there would be a brief alliance between Mary & Adam, but another villain unrelated to the Marvel Family's continuity would corrupt Mary a short time after that.

The only familiar voice you hear in this story is veteran actor Barry Gordon (ex-Fish), who, like a number of others, forged a second career as a voice artist. Barry's other credits have included Jabberjaw, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, & SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron. To my knowledge, this may have been Barry's only gig for Filmation.

Rating: A.

Saturday Morning's Greatest Hits: I'm In Love (1968)

Here's another track from the original Archie Show (1968). Windsorbear uploaded "I'm In Love", along with the "Dance of the Week", "The Weatherbee", which I don't think went over too well in schools..........

Rein-toon-ation: The New Archies (1987)

It had been 9 years since Archie Andrews and his friends last appeared on network television. By the end of the 80's, DIC (now part of Cookie Jar) acquired the distribution rights to the original Filmation cartoons from the 60's & 70's, and those shows were running on cable. DIC & Archie Comics thought that it might be a good idea to reboot the Little Archie comics by setting them in the present time, virtually parallel to the familiar teenage exploits of Archie and company, hence The New Archies, which wound up on NBC in 1987.

Following is "Last Laugh" & "Thief of Hearts":

Ultimately, the series didn't take, and was cancelled after 1 season, but, for some odd reason, NBC brought it back in 1989 as a time-filler. In between, Archie released a comics version of the series, which also came & went very quickly. The New Archies would not be the last Archie project, though, from DIC.......

Rating: C.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Literary Toons: The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo (1964)

The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo originally aired in prime time on NBC as a Saturday night entry in 1964, sponsored, no doubt, by General Electric, for whom Magoo (Jim Backus, Gilligan's Island) was a spokesman in commercials for a number of years. I include this series in the Archives because some stations, like WRGB in Schenectady, aired the show after their network Saturday morning lineup for a time in the 70's. Here's a sample of Magoo's portrayal of Captain Kidd:

A while back, I purchased a trio of VHS tapes of the series, released under the title, Mr. Magoo's Literary Classics.. Paramount issued the tapes in 1984, but Classic Media currently owns the rights to the series. I had adaptations of "Robin Hood", "The Three Musketeers", & "Don Quixote", the latter of which seemed more in line with Magoo himself, as the adaptation by writer True Boardman played up Magoo's near-sighted vision in line with Quixote's delusions of grandeur. However, this episode is actually an exception, rather than the rule, because Magoo's visual disability is ignored for most of the series, except for the skits at the beginning of each episode, as demonstrated in the clip above. Regrettably, Famous Adventures lasted just one season, and followed the earlier theatrical shorts into syndication soon after.

Rating: B.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Celebrity Toons: Mork & Mindy (1982)

After 4 live-action seasons, Mork & Mindy had been cancelled. Emphasize the "had". ABC decided to bring the series back, this time as a Saturday morning cartoon, coupled with Laverne & Shirley in the Army, which now co-starred The Fonz (Henry Winkler, of course). Ruby-Spears collaborated with Paramount for this series, which retains stars Robin Williams & Pam Dawber. For those of you scoring at home, this is a sort-of prequel to the 1978-82 live-action series, in which Mork travels further back in time to when Mindy is a high school student. Predictably, the producers gave Mork a pet for comic relief, which doomed the series. William LaRochelle uploaded the open:

Only two supporting characters were retained. Mindy's dad, Fred (Conrad Janis), & Eugene (Shavar Ross, Silver Spoons), Mork's juvenile pal from the first season, appeared regularly in the cartoon. Despite Williams' considerable talents, Mork & Mindy was laid to rest, for good this time, at the end of the season. CBS-Paramount owns the rights to the series, which is why it hasn't seen the light of day in nearly 30 years. To paraphrase the GEICO guy, was making Mork & Mindy into a cartoon a bad idea? Yep.

Rating: C.

From Comics to Toons: Richie Rich (1980)

A year after Casper & the Angels bombed out on NBC, Harvey Comics & Hanna-Barbera tried again, this time adapting another of Harvey's stars, Richie Rich, the world's richest boy.

One big difference between the comics and the TV series was how they used Irona, the robot maid of the Rich family. While Irona did her fair share of protecting Richie in the books, here she was rebooted as a shapeshifter, usually to rescue Richie and either faithful butler/sidekick Cadbury or any of Richie's pals from a villain. Irona turned into a rocket on at least one or two occasions, something that was never done in the books. And, remember, this predated the Transformers by a good 4 years!

Here's a sample episode:

Richie was included in a block with the returning Scooby & Scrappy Doo, largely because ABC figured more kids would tune in if they were led to believe there would be some interaction between the two series. There wasn't. Richie lasted 4 seasons before fading out, and would return, 12 years later, with Harvey producing the new show themselves, this time in a syndicated series that few actually saw, because it wasn't available in some parts of the country.

Today, with Harvey Comics a distant memory, you can't find Richie on the comics shelves anymore. However, that's about to change. An independent publisher plans to revive Richie next year.

Rating: B.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Celebrity Toons: Star Trek (1973)

While the live-action Star Trek and its spinoffs continue to air on cable (and in syndication in some markets), the animated follow-up that Filmation produced in conjunction with Paramount for NBC in 1973 hasn't seen the light of day since a brief cable run on TV Land a few years ago.

It turns out that Filmation suits proposed that children be added to the Enterprise, to be mentored by Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), et al, but series creator Gene Roddenberry would have none of that. Filmation eventually created a teen-populated space series, Space Academy, starring Jonathan Harris & Pamelyn Ferdin, 4 years later.

Right now, let's scope a sample of the episode, "Mudd's Passion", as Roger C. Carmel reprises his role as con man Harry Mudd:

The animated Trek lasted two seasons. Being that it was the first series that Filmation had sold to NBC, it set a high standard that the studio was rarely able to match. Only two other series lasted as long on the network----Flash Gordon and Sport Billy, the latter a midseason replacement series that seemed to hang around in the 80's. The late James Doohan (Scotty) would do some additional work for Filmation, particularly a supporting role in the live-action serial, Jason of Star Command, a component of Tarzan & the Super Seven, in 1978.

Rating: A.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Goldie Gold & Action Jack (1981)

This was originally published in my other blog, The Land of Whatever, back on August 18:
Producers Joe Ruby & Ken Spears had built a successful track record with ABC after launching their own studio in 1978 with Fangface. 3 years later, Ruby-Spears hit its first speed bump.

With Plastic Man having ended a 2-year run, and with Thundarr the Barbarian and Heathcliff entering their 2nd seasons, ABC asked Ruby-Spears for another adventure series to replace Plastic Man. The result was Goldie Gold & Action Jack, which, like Fangface & Thundarr, was an original creation, as opposed to licensed properties like Plastic Man and Heathcliff. Goldie Gold, billed as "the world's richest girl", was a cross between 60's private eye Honey West and comic book boy millionaire Richie Rich, who, oh by the way, was also part of the ABC Saturday morning block by this point. And, then, there's the matter of Goldie (voice of Judy Strangis, ex-Electra Woman & Dynagirl) also owning a newspaper, the Gold St. Journal, so factor in a little Britt Reid (Green Hornet), but without the secret identity. Goldie accompanied her ace investigative reporter, "Action" Jack Travis, all over the globe, encountering the usual variety of would-be world conquerors and the occasional minor menace.

Unfortunately, as with Spider-Woman, Saturday morning audiences weren't quite ready to accept an animated series with a female lead, and Goldie Gold was cancelled after just one season. Ruby-Spears had previously discarded another original creation, Dingbat & the Creeps, as the back-up segment on Heathcliff, bringing in another comic strip, Marmaduke, but Brad Anderson's great dane also was gone after one season, with Heathcliff's cancellation.

So I ask the question again. Is it possible to reboot Goldie for today's audience? Warner Bros. holds the rights to the series, and with the 30th anniversary due next year, the time may actually be right for a change, but don't hold your breath. Goldie isn't held in high esteem at Boomerang and Cartoon Network these days, buried in their vaults. Their loss.

Rating: C.

Edit, 2/20/2020: Had to change the video. This one has the opening & closing:

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Fearless Fly (1965)

Fearless Fly was the back-up feature on Hal Seeger's ABC series, Milton the Monster. In fact, Milton's creator, Professor Weirdo, was Fearless' nemesis.

Unfortunately, all we have now is this intro:

Seeger, of course, didn't have the market cornered on insect superheroes. Marvel Comics was home to Ant-Man & the Wasp, and Hanna-Barbera introduced Atom Ant in 1965. And, then, there was the Fly & Flygirl at Archie Comics. In comparison, Fearless must've felt like a winged Rodney Dangerfield, getting no respect.

Rating: B.

You know the voice, but.......!: Arthur Q. Bryan

A lot of you probably assume that, since he got all the credit in a zillion Merrie Melodies & Looney Tunes, Mel Blanc did all the voices. That's not really true, especially with the elocution-challenged Elmer Fudd. Blanc only took over the role after the passing of radio comic Arthur Q. Bryan, who originated the distinctive voice of everyone's favorite everyman loser. Here's Arthur in a different setting, more along the lines of his other work in radio. The character's different, but the voice isn't. 

Earlier this year, GEICO used Elmer, without the permission of Warner Bros., as part of their current ad campaign. Radio personality and ace voice artist Billy West (Futurama) essayed the part, as well as that of the director.

Having seen the above clip, we now get an idea that Elmer's original plus-sized incarnation was in fact based on Bryan himself. Mel Blanc had it written into his contract that he got all the credit, leaving an unsung hero like Bryan in the lurch, rather unfairly. It's too bad no one thought to have Elmer meet with a speech therapist, then or now, to address the seriousness of his vocal disorder. Same goes for Tweety, by the way.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Saturtainment: Mad, Mad, Mad Monsters (1972)

From the ABC Saturday Superstar Movie comes this Rankin-Bass offering. Mad, Mad, Mad Monsters is a sort-of-unofficial sequel to the Animagic feature film, "Mad Monster Party". Amazingly, this is a rare R-B project that doesn't involve one of their most prolific talents, Paul Frees, who at the time was working on their series based on the Osmonds and Jackson 5ive, which also aired on ABC. Instead, the primary voice talent includes Bob McFadden (ex-Milton the Monster), Bradley Bolke (ex-Tennessee Tuxedo), and Allen Swift (ex-Underdog).

Here's a sample clip:

I wish I'd thought of pulling this back during October, but, ah, what the heck. Dr. Frankenstein comes off as being a well-meaning, but bumbling sort, worried about damages to his two main monsters. This hasn't seen the light of day in nearly 40 years, but you'd think someone would have the good sense to pair it up with "Mad Monster Party" to liven up the usually stale Halloween fare on certain cable channels.....!

Rating: B-.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: The Nitwits (1977)

To illustrate just how bad things were at NBC in the late 70's, the network's idea of a superhero cartoon in 1977 was, like the Robonic Stooges of CBS' Skatebirds, a satire on the genre, grafted from one of the network's most successful prime-time shows of the late 60's.

The Nitwits were a revival of a popular skit from Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In involving Tyrone, the "Dirty Old Man" (Arte Johnson), and Gladys (Ruth Buzzi, ex-The Lost Saucer), who was so popular with viewers, she also appeared regularly on the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast after Laugh-In ended its original run. In the cartoons, Tyrone had finally married Gladys, and they were now the most unlikely of superheroes. The Nitwits was one-half of a half-hour show near the bottom of NBC's lineup, sharing space with a feline sendup of Charlie Chaplin's famed "Tramp" persona, Baggy Pants.

Individual episodes of The Nitwits are not available right now, but the show open, featuring both features, is, uploaded by Muttley16 to YouTube:

Of course, Arte Johnson was already well-established at DePatie-Freleng, which produced this series, having previously worked on Misterjaw, The Houndcats, and other DFE series and specials, even while also appearing on Laugh-In. Regrettably, the lunch hour time slot, coupled with a poor attempt at recapturing the campy spirit of the 60's, doomed The Nitwits (and Baggy Pants, for that matter), as the series was cancelled after 1 season, and was the next-to-last series DFE sold to NBC. The last? A revival of Fantastic Four the next season. While Baggy Pants was laugh-out-loud funny, The Nitwits were flatter than a set of 10 year old tires.

Rating: C.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Toon Legends: The Pink Panther (1969)

The Pink Panther made his debut in the opening title sequence to the 1963 movie of the same name, which became a huge hit, such that legendary Warner Bros. animator-director Friz Freleng and his new business partner, David DePatie, were commissioned to produce a series of theatrical shorts starring the Panther. That success was later transferred to television, as the Panther was one of two new entries from DePatie-Freleng to debut on NBC in 1969 (Here Comes the Grump was the other).

The theme song for the series was composed and performed by studio tunesmith Doug Goodwin, but the shorts themselves retained Henry Mancini's iconic score, under the direction of Walter Greene or William Lava. The Panther would remain a staple of NBC's Saturday lineup for 9 seasons before moving to ABC in 1978, and along the way, introduced viewers to other DFE theatrical stars, such as The Ant & the Aardvark (impressionist-actor John Byner based his voices for the characters on Dean Martin & Jackie Mason), and, also inspired by the "Panther" movies, The Inspector (Pat Harrington, later of One Day at a Time, who also voiced the title lawman's sidekick, a French officer named Deux Deux). In the mid-70's, at the height of fan frenzy over "Jaws", DFE added Misterjaw to the mix, with Arte Johnson (Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In) in the title role.

Here's the opening theme, uploaded by Club1981channel:

However, the Panther left his friends behind when he moved to ABC, and had a new back-up feature, Crazylegs Crane, who, like Misterjaw before him, apparently was made strictly for television. Unfortunately, the Panther's stay at ABC was a short one, as the series was cancelled after 2 seasons there, ending a 11 year run overall, and this was despite having Scooby-Doo as a lead-in.

By 1984, DFE had become a thing of the past, as the studio was purchased by Marvel Comics and rechristened, Marvel Productions. The Panther, however, found a new home at Hanna-Barbera with Pink Panther & Sons, which also lasted just one season. However, the classic shorts were now available in syndication for weekday use, and in 1993, a new Pink Panther series debuted in syndication, produced by MGM, and for the first time since his earliest shorts, the Panther spoke, courtesy of actor Matt Frewer (ex-Max Headroom). Impressionist Rich Little had been the previous voice of the Panther.

Given the less-than-stellar returns on the remake of the original "Panther", starring Steve Martin, and its sequel, it doesn't surprise anyone that there hasn't been a call for some new Pink Panther cartoons. Currently, the 1993 series airs on This (check local listings) and the classic shorts are airing on Boomerang. Is it time for the Panther to prowl again? We'll see.

Rating: A.

Literary Toons: Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle (1976)

Filmation had gotten back into the business of producing adventure cartoons with the short-lived Lassie's Rescue Rangers in 1973. After that, they experimented with live-action series, and found a gold mine with Shazam!, and, a year later, The Secrets of Isis. In 1976, the studio obtained a license from the estate of author Edgar Rice Burroughs to produce an animated series featuring Burroughs' most famous hero, Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle.

As memory serves, Tarzan was part of a Filmation block in the midst of CBS' Saturday lineup that also included the returning Isis (2nd season) & Shazam! (3rd), and the debuting Ark II.

Fabster3333 uploaded the open, narrated by actor Robert Ridgely (who'd later top-line another Filmation adaptation, Flash Gordon):

Ridgely's characterization of Tarzan was more faithful to the books, which were adapted for television. There weren't that many episodes made, but they managed to last for 6 seasons, ending in 1982. The Burroughs estate holds the rights to the series, although Warner Bros. may have a partial license, since an episode of the series was included in one of their "Saturday Morning Cartoons" DVD compilations. Disney's looser adaptation pales by comparison.

Rating: A+.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Saturtainment: Hang Time (1995)

By the mid-90's, NBC's Saturday morning lineup was devoid of animated programming, and as the network had the rights to NBA basketball at the time, it made sense to have a "teen-com" devoted to the game, hence Hang Time, from producer Peter Engel (Saved By The Bell, California Dreams).

Following is a collection of intros. Two cast members are currently prominent primetime stars---Jay Hernandez (Magnum PI) and majorly busy Anthony Anderson (black-ish, To Tell The Truth, Law & Order):

Reggie Theus, a former NBA star, landed his first TV acting job, but it didn't last long. This was the first series in more than a decade for NFL Hall of Famer Dick Butkus, who at least had past acting experience (Blue Thunder). Butkus lasted until Hang Time was cancelled.

No rating, as I never saw the show.

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Secret Lives of Waldo Kitty (1975)

Filmation's 1975 freshman class consisted of Uncle Croc's Block for ABC, Isis & Ghost Busters for CBS, and The Secret Lives of Waldo Kitty for NBC. Waldo Kitty is loosely based on James Thurber's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which was a feature film vehicle for entertainer Danny Kaye a few years earlier. This time, each episode was bracketed with a live-action sequence featuring Waldo and his girlfriend, Felecia, who were being hassled by a neighborhood dog, Tyrone. Next thing you know, well........! Mrskipling uploaded the open to YouTube:

Waldo Kitty would be one of the last series for studio veteran Jane Webb, working once more with comic Howard Morris, who voiced the title character. For what it's worth, Allan Melvin, who was appearing on All In The Family at the time, was the only other actor credited. Unfortunately, as with most Filmation series on NBC at the time, Waldo Kitty lasted just one season, but was brought back, with the title changed to The New Adventures of Waldo Kitty, for the Groovie Goolies & Friends syndicated package in 1977. Ironically, one of the characters parodied on the show would be adapted by Filmation the very next year-----Tarzan!

Rating: C.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Animated World of DC Comics: Plastic Man & Baby Plas (1980)

When ABC decided to renew Plastic Man for a 2nd season, they trimmed the show down to a half hour, dumping all three backup features: Rickety Rocket, Mighty Man & Yukk, & Fangface. As we documented previously, Plastic Man (Michael Bell) wed his sexy sidekick, Penny, in between seasons 1 & 2, and found the time to have Baby Plas, who is not your ordinary newborn by any, ah, stretch of the imagination. Here's the open to season 2, plus the episode, "Babysitter Blues":

As comics fans know, Plas is married (or remarried, if you count this union as part of the canon) these days, but not the most reliable of spouses. Too bad Penny didn't make the transition to comics. She's easier on the eyes.

Rating: C-

Celebrity Toons: Punky Brewster (1985)

NBC had a surprise hit on their hands with the Sunday night sitcom Punky Brewster, so the network decided it would have a companion series airing on Saturday mornings. Most sites claim the toon is titled, It's Punky Brewster, although as you'll see when you look at the clip below, the word "It's" doesn't really appear on the title card.

Smartly, the series cast, including Soleil Moon Frye and George Gaynes, crossed over from the live-action series. Predictably, Ruby-Spears, which produced the cartoon with the network, added a cute funny animal character, a leprechaun-gopher, Glomer (Frank Welker), who got Punky in & out of all kinds of situations. 26 episodes of the cartoon were produced, and lasted 4 seasons as a result, factoring in reruns and NBC's need to keep the show on the air to recoup production costs.

Rating: B.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Kim Possible (2002)

The NBC prime-time series, Heroes (2006-10), used the tagline, "Save the cheerleader, save the world". Problem was, Disney had already done them one better. They had a cheerleader who routinely saved the world.

Kim Possible debuted on the Disney Channel in 2002, and added a Saturday morning run on ABC shortly thereafter. Kim (Christy Carlson Romano, Even Stevens) is not only the captain of her cheerleading team at Middleton High, but also a globe-trotting adventurer who uses her athletic abilities as well as her brains to outwit and defeat the bad guys. Everyone knows the theme song, "Call Me, Beep Me", sung by singer-actress Christina Milian. Here's the open:

Disney had intended to end Kim's adventures after three seasons and 2 made-for-TV movies, but the series had developed such a strong fan following, a fourth and final season hit the air in 2007. By then, Kim's dumber-than-a-bag-of-nachos partner, Ron Stoppable (Will Friedle, ex-Boy Meets World), was now her boyfriend as well, a development that fans had anticipated virtually from day one. If there was a flaw to the series, it was the excessive use of arch enemy Dr. Drakken (John DiMaggio, Futurama) and his sultry, sassy sidekick, Shego (Nicole Sullivan, ex-MadTV), which left little room for the rest of Kim's rogues gallery toward the end of the series. Series creators Bob Schooley & Mark MacCorkle also were responsible for the 2005 feature film, "Sky High" with Kurt Russell & Kelly Preston, which suggested that they were ready to move on, thinking they'd gone as far as they wanted with Kim. "Sky", however, was not a success at the box office, and the two creators have not tried a movie project since. Maybe the next one will work----if it means Kim & Ron getting married, that is.......

Rating: A-.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Saturday School: Jot (1965)

Jot was created mostly to air on Sundays instead of Saturdays, but my earliest memory of these shorts is that it did air locally on Saturdays. 30 episodes were produced between 1965-1974 by an independent animation studio in Texas, with additional episodes produced in 1981. Batman1971 uploaded this short to YouTube:

Jot currently appears on the FamilyNet channel (which is not available in some areas), serving more as a mascot for the network. It wouldn't hurt for those old shorts to be brought back into general syndication, a reminder of simpler, happier times.

Rating: A-.

Rein-Toon-Ation: Super Globetrotters (1979)

In the archives of Hanna-Barbera, this would be filed under, "What were they thinking?!". H-B forged a new deal with the Harlem Globetrotters for another animated series, but this time, the basketball team would be transformed into superheroes, hence, Super Globetrotters.

Here's the intro:

As you can tell, three of the 'Trotters were given the powers of the 1960's heroes, The Impossibles, although James "Twiggy" Sanders was given the ID of Spaghetti Man instead of Coil Man, largely because of his being taller. Of the voice talent from the 1970 Harlem Globetrotters series, Stu Gilliam (ex-Roll Out!) and Scatman Crothers (ex-Hong Kong Phooey, Chico & the Man) returned for this show, and maybe wish they hadn't. The plots ultimately followed the formula of the original series, using a impromptu basketball game to settle the issues. Unfortunately, NBC slotted Super Globetrotters directly opposite World's Greatest Super Friends over on ABC, which sealed the 'Trotters' fate.

Rating: C.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On DVD: The Batman/Superman Movie, aka "World's Finest" (1998)

Before we begin, let me start with the trailer for the DVD release, uploaded by Batmanskiv1 to YouTube:

Factoring in commercials, this aired as a 90 minute special on Kids' WB!, a sort of expanded edition of The New Batman-Superman Adventures (so titled because the first series to use that title was Time-Warner's made-for-cable compilation of Filmation shorts and selected Super Friends cartoons that aired on USA and later Cartoon Network).

The plot is rather simple. After stealing a 20 pound dragon statue made of kryptonite, the Joker (Mark Hamill) decides to go after Superman rather than tangle again with the Batman. He has Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin, Days of Our Lives) carjack the personal limo of Metropolis' most prominent businessman (and a corrupt one at that), Lex Luthor (Clancy Brown), and forges a deal with Luthor to eliminate the Man of Steel once and for all.

Coincidentally, of course, Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy) is in Metropolis on business, as he's entered into a deal with Luthor to build weapons, which Luthor wants to use for domestic defense. Reporter Lois Lane (Dana Delany, ex-China Beach) is smitten with Wayne, and finds the affection is mutual, at least for now. That doesn't sit well with Superman (Tim Daly, ex-Wings), who's not too fond of the Dark Knight visiting his town, either.

As for the villains of the piece, all is not well, either. Quinn can't get along with Luthor's personal chauffeur/bodyguard, Mercy Graves (Lisa Edelstein, now on House), and Luthor's deal with the Joker is tenuous at best (what a shock). If you follow the comics, you have a pretty good idea on how this is all going to end.

Rating: A.

Celebrity Toons: The Dukes (1983)

As The Dukes of Hazzard was a mid-season replacement when it debuted in 1979, it seemed fitting that a Saturday morning version of the series would start the same way four years later. Thus, The Dukes was added to CBS' Saturday lineup in the winter of '83, during the period when the second set of Duke cousins, Coy & Vance (Byron Cherry & Christopher Mayer), were the stars (John Schneider & Tom Wopat had left in a contract dispute). When the series was renewed for the fall '83-84 season, Schneider & Wopat had by then returned to the parent Dukes of Hazzard, and thus joined the cartoon while Cherry & Mayer departed and were hardly heard from again. Here's the open & close to seasons 1 & 2, with Uncle Jesse (Denver Pyle) narrating the opens:

Now, I didn't watch the cartoon as regularly as I followed the live-action Dukes, but one has to assume that Pyle was the show's narrator, subbing for country singer and Dukes of Hazzard narrator Waylon Jennings. I can picture that, if you will. Catherine Bach, James Best, & Sorrell Booke also lent their voices to their toon likenesses. Unfortunately, the animated series ended a year before the live-action one did, as the shelf life of most cartoons is more cyclical than that of their live-action counterparts. The singular, simple premise of a road race around the world to save the Duke farm smacked of a ripoff of Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days, and as the Dukes were gradually losing popularity, well.....!

Rating: C.

Animated World of DC Comics: Shazam! (1981)

4 years after the live-action Shazam! had ended its run on CBS, Captain Marvel was back, but this time on NBC as part of the Kid Super Power Hour. Here's the open, which uses the theme from the 1974-77 series, and as with that show, the narration is by co-producer Norm Prescott, uploaded by superherocartoonsite to YouTube:

As I noted in reviewing the live-action Shazam! the other day, Captain Marvel was joined by his sister, Mary, and Captain Marvel, Jr.. In addition, familiar villains such as Black Adam and the Sivanas appeared to menace the "Mighty Marvels". The character designs were based on C. C. Beck's original designs, which more than made up for the casting error in the earlier series, using an older actor (Michael Gray) as Billy Batson when, in the comics, Billy hadn't aged all that much. As I noted before, Kid Super Power Hour was cancelled after 1 season, and was the next-to-last series NBC would obtain from Filmation.

Rating: B-.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Tooniversary: Thundarr The Barbarian (1980)

In 1980, Ruby-Spears unveiled a futuristic science-fiction cartoon that combined elements of Robert E. Howard's "Conan the Barbarian" with "Star Wars", and maybe a little of Alex Raymond's "Flash Gordon". Thundarr The Barbarian was right in the heart of ABC's Saturday lineup. Set in the 40th century, it's hard to imagine how some of the "ruins" of a supposed cataclysm 2000 years earlier could still be preserved that much later, but, then, this is a cartoon, after all. Superherocartoonsite uploaded the open to YouTube:

Thundarr's creative personnel are better known for their work in comic books, including series creator Steve Gerber (Howard the Duck, Man-Thing) and the inestimable Jack Kirby, who created many of Marvel's cherished, iconic characters, as well as the 4th World for DC Comics, among others. Only 21 episodes, produced over 2 seasons, were made, a clear case of the network giving up too soon. After its ABC run ended, Thundarr resurfaced briefly on NBC (1983) before fading into the vaults. Since then, it has appeared periodically on Cartoon Network and its sister channel, Boomerang, and was recently released on DVD by Warner Home Video.

Rating: A.

Saturday School: Timer "hankers for a hunka cheese" (1970's)

I can't pinpoint an exact year when ABC began running the Time For Timer spots that were spun off from a pair of Afterschool Special episodes that introduced the character. Timer debuted in the 1973 episode, The Incredible, Indelible, Magical Mystery Trip, voiced by Len Maxwell (Batfink, later of Celebrity Deathmatch), but another Len, Weinrib, that is (Magic Mongo) took over the gig a year later for the sequel, The Incredible, Indelible Magical Trip Through Little Red's Head (about Little Red Riding Hood, of course). Weinrib went on to do the Time For Timer shorts that debuted as part of ABC's Funshine (later All-Star) Saturday block about a year or so later, including this gem, in which Timer imagines himself as a cowboy, all to demonstrate how to make cheese & cracker sandwiches. Enjoy.

DePatie-Freleng produced the Timer shorts, as well as the two Magical Mystery Trip episodes, and ABC kept Time For Timer in rotation well into the 80's, well after DFE had been bought out by Marvel. Now if they could just take the time to release a DVD........

Rating: A.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Saturtainment: Soul Train (1971)

Soul Train was created as the inner-city answer to the more established ABC series, American Bandstand. Host-executive producer Don Cornelius became as much of an icon as his counterpart, Dick Clark, but wisely shied away from doing game shows.

Here's the open to an episode from the 80's:

True story. During Soul Train's early years, American Bandstand was kept off local airwaves in my area. I'm not certain as to why, because at the time Soul Train launched in 1971, the local affiliate carrying the show was linked with CBS. Just 6 years later, that affiliate switched network affiliations to ABC, which presented the daunting prospect of Bandstand & Soul Train airing together in a powerhouse 2 hour music block. Unfortunately, that never took place. The affiliate opted to stick with Soul Train for a few more years before dropping it in favor of---wait for it----Bandstand.

As we all know, Bandstand didn't last too much longer as a Saturday staple on ABC, and ended its run on cable in the late 80's. Soul Train rolled on into the last decade, and Cornelius had retired to a off-camera role, turning over the hosting duties to actors Shemar Moore (most recently on Criminal Minds) & Dorian Gregory (ex-Charmed) before the Train was retired last year after 38 years on the air.

By the way, you might recognize actor-dancer Fred Berry (later of What's Happening!) among the dancers in the above clip. Before turning to acting, Berry was a member of the Lockers dance troupe in the 70's.

Rating: A.

Teenage Toons: Sabrina, The Teenage Witch (1971)

After sharing a half-hour with her made-for-TV cousins, the Groovie Goolies, Sabrina was granted her own solo series in 1971, while the Goolies were given one of their own. Here's the open:

As was the case when she was on The Archie Show, Sabrina had to conceal her witchcraft from her friends, but, unfortunately, Reggie Mantle was determined to expose her secret, no matter what the cost, usually in the form of his own public embarrassment. Just as unfortunate, though, was the fact that Sabrina felt the sting of cancellation after one season on her own. Filmation would replace her the next season with the iconic Fat Albert & the Cosby Kids.

More than 25 years later, after she'd been revived first in a live-action sitcom starring Melissa Joan Hart, Sabrina was granted a new animated series, but this time, it was a prequel to the live-action show, in that Sabrina (voiced by Emily Hart, Melissa's sister) was now a pre-teen. A second series, Sabrina's Secret Life, was added. Both series were produced by DIC, now part of Cookie Jar Entertainment. We'll cover those later toons down the road.

While I didn't read the Archie comics all that much back in those days, I might have been one of the few boys that preferred Sabrina over Betty AND Veronica (although all three were voiced by the same actress, Jane Webb). Go figure. And there haven't been too many platinum blonde cartoon heroines since.......

Rating: B+.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Celebrity Toons: Harlem Globetrotters (1970)

Hanna-Barbera acquired a license to produce an animated series based on the Harlem Globetrotters in 1970, one of two licensed series the studio sold to CBS (Josie & the Pussycats being the other). The intro & closing don't have the team's famous theme song, "Sweet Georgia Brown", save for a sample of the iconic whistling:

H-B got a lot of mileage out of the 'Trotters, moreso than you'd think. However, save for Meadowlark Lemon, who was given screen credit, none of the players actually voiced their own animated alter-egos. After the series had run its course and was cancelled in 1972, the team appeared on the initial episode of the New Scooby-Doo Movies, and would appear again during the series' 2 year run (1972-74). H-B also crafted an animated TV-movie, "The Harlem Globetrotters Meet Snow White", which I'll post at a later date.

Considering his hire as a music supervisor for this series and Josie (and presumably also Scooby-Doo, which adopted a rock soundtrack for season 2), you'd think Don Kirshner, who'd also helmed The Archies and The Monkees (whose reruns also aired on CBS for a time), was also a programmer for CBS, what with all the shows bearing his name in the credits on the schedule. Frequent collaborator Jeff Barry composed the theme song, but the rest of the music was the usual H-B house music composed by Ted Nichols (Hoyt Curtin would return to H-B the next year). Aside from a short run on TV Land 11 years ago, Harlem Globetrotters hasn't turned up anywhere in a long time. CBS-Paramount owns the rights to the show, which is why you haven't seen it on Boomerang (though their team-ups with Scooby-Doo have aired).

Rating: B.

Animated World of DC Comics: Batgirl vs. Clayface (1997)

From the "Holiday Knights" episode of the New Batman-Superman Adventures comes this vignette. While Detectives Bullock & Montoya are posing as Santa and his helper, Batgirl faces off against one of Batman's most dangerous enemies.

Unfortunately, this is the only segment of the episode that I've found intact so far, but it's a fun treat just the same.

Rating: A+.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Shazam! (1974)

After experimenting with live-action with the Groovie Goolies and transposing The Archies to make them appear to be in front of a live audience, Filmation felt the time was right to try a full live-action series. In fact, there was virtually a live-action revolution in 1974. Hanna-Barbera had Korg: 70,000 B. C. on ABC, and over on NBC, independent producer William D'Angelo and his partners introduced Run, Joe, Run, a canine take on The Fugitive. Of course, the Kroffts had Sigmund & the Sea Monsters, also on NBC, back for a 2nd season. Filmation & CBS offered up Shazam!, which brought the former Fawcett hero Captain Marvel to the small screen for the first time. Here's the open that most of you might remember, narrated by co-producer Norm Prescott, uploaded by 70skidvid to YouTube:

Jackson Bostwick lasted just one season as Captain Marvel. After a dispute with the producers, he was replaced by John Davey for the series' final 2 seasons, in which Shazam! was part of a 1 hour block with The Secrets of Isis. Aside from a brief run on TV Land a few years back, Shazam! has been consigned to limbo, largely ignored for whatever reason. WB did include an episode of the series as part of a Wonder Woman DVD set a while back, as I understand it, and, understandably, there has been a demand among fans for Shazam! to be granted a DVD release of its own. 70skidvid provided a clue as to the reason for the delay, as they noted that their clip contained material from Classic Media, which owns most of Filmation's library these days, but you'd think, especially with the previous tease, that WB would hold the rights, as they do for every other DC Comics property adapted for television.

Captain Marvel would return to television 4 years after the end of his live-action run, this time as part of the short-lived NBC series, Kid Super Power Hour with Shazam!. In it, the Captain was joined by Mary Marvel and Capt. Marvel, Jr., but as we've documented previously, that series lasted just one year, part of Filmation's amazingly bad luck with NBC.

Count me among those who'd like to see a full DVD release.

Rating: A.

Toon Sports: Speed Buggy (1973)

His guest appearance on The New Scooby-Doo Movies may have had fans classifying his show as a purveyor of the "Scooby Formula", sans rock music, but Speed Buggy falls into a different classification simply because he & his human owners competed in races, although it would seem a wee bit out of place for a talking dune buggy to be competing against race cars.

Here's the intro & close:

Speedy's voice & sound effects were done, of course, by the legendary Mel Blanc, who used the same sound effects for Jack Benny's Maxwell on Benny's radio show in the Golden Age. You might recognize Debbie's voice as that of Arlene Golonka (ex-Mayberry RFD), in what would be Ms. Golonka's only cartoon credit of major significance.

After a couple of years on CBS, Speed Buggy moved over to ABC as a mid-season replacement in 1976, and I believe completed the then-trifecta by turning up on NBC later on. While at ABC, Speedy, along with owner-driver-mechanic Tinker, competed in the Laff-a-Lympics on Scooby-Doo's team. Unfortunately, that would also be the last we'd see of Speedy, as after Laff-a-Lympics was cancelled in 1979, Speedy was consigned to toon limbo.

The format was similar moreso to Josie & the Pussycats in that Team Speed Buggy was mixed up in battling various small time thugs and the occasional supervillain.

Rating: B-.