Wednesday, December 28, 2011

You Know The Voice: Don Messick goes primetime (1984)

The late Don Messick compiled a mammoth body of work in cartoons, mostly at Hanna-Barbera. You know most of the characters by heart. Boo-Boo & Ranger Smith opposite Yogi Bear. Astro, The Jetsons' family pet. And, of course, Scooby-Doo. In 1984, veteran comedy writer-producer Allan Burns co-created a sitcom for MTM Productions and NBC that was the perfect place for Don to finally appear in front of the cameras.

The Duck Factory was a typical MTM ensemble comedy, more on the order of, say for example, WKRP In Cincinnati, but didn't have the ratings that NBC wanted. On the show, Don played voice actor Wally Wooster, star of the Dinky Duck Show, and, as we'll see in the episode, "The Children's Half Hour", estranged from his daughter, Wendy.

Duck Factory was the first star vehicle for Jim Carrey, but the Canadian funnyman wouldn't really hit the big time until 6 years later with a little series for Fox you might've heard of. In Living Color. The cast also includes Clarence Gilyard, Jr. (later of Matlock & Walker, Texas Ranger) and former Cracker Jack pitchman Jack Gilford.

Courtesy of JimCarreyOnline, here's "The Children's Half Hour":

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Toon Legends: Davey & Goliath (1960)

Following up the success of his own creation, Gumby, Art Clokey was contracted by Lutheran Television to develop a children's series for them. Davey & Goliath, launched in 1960, has been cited as being possibly an inspiration for the [adult swim] series, Morel Orel, right down to its stop-motion, claymation format, but Orel's creators say that isn't the case. Its detractors might think otherwise, but there's no denying the fact that Davey, a classic series in its own right about a boy & his dog, was one of the earliest cartoons to use moral themes, well before Bill Cosby created Fat Albert in the 70's.

Davey, however, hasn't been consistently in production through the course of its 51 years on the air. It's ceased production several times, and there hasn't been any new material since the central characters were licensed for use in a commercial for Mountain Dew a few years ago. Currently, the series airs in syndication and on Saturday afternoons on TBN.

Dick Beals (Ralph Phillips in some WB shorts and the original voice of Alka-Seltzer mascot Speedy) was Davey. Hal Smith (The Andy Griffith Show) was Goliath & Davey's father, and Ginny Tyler (later of Space Ghost) voiced Davey's mother & sister. Here's the open:

Later episodes depicted an older Davey developing more rebellious attitudes, but learning his lessons at the end of each story, sort of in the mold of Leave It To Beaver, with Davey as an analogue for Beaver. That creative decision might be a reason why the series is out of production. I just can't be sure of that.

Rating: A-.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Daytime Heroes: Aladdin (1994)

The Disney Afternoon weekday block was on its last legs in the mid-90's, and one of its last hits was spun from an equally successful feature film.

Aladdin enchanted moviegoers in 1992, but the succeeding sequels went direct-to-video for reasons known only to Disney, perhaps lacking the faith in creating a modern day animated franchise at the time, although that wouldn't be the case a few years later with the introduction of "Toy Story". The series bowed in 1994, airing 6 days a week. Monday-Friday as part of the fading Disney Afternoon block, and Saturdays on CBS, leading off the network lineup.

Most of the cast, save for superstar Robin Williams, returned for the series. Dan Castelanetta (The Simpsons) stepped in for Williams beginning with the first DTV sequel, "The Return of Jafar", and while he didn't have Williams' manic energy, he was adequate enough. Scott Weinger (Full House) voiced Aladdin, who, when the series started, was now engaged to Princess Jasmine. Unfortunately, the series ended without the couple getting married. Gilbert Gottfried (ex-Saturday Night Live) voiced the cynical Iago, who had left Jafar behind to join Aladdin's crew. Well, he was there mostly for comic relief, actually.

Here's the open:

Aladdin lasted two seasons, followed by the second DTV, "Aladdin & the King of Thieves", which was the last we'd hear from Aladdin & company, save for an appearance or two on Disney's House of Mouse. Today, it sits in Disney's vaults, as neither Disney Channel nor DisneyXD is willing to air the show at an appropriate time suitable for its fanbase. Their loss.

Rating: B.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Celebrity Toons: Life With Louie (1994)

Comedian Louie Anderson hasn't been heard from much since he was dropped as host of Family Feud a few years back. Anderson tumbled into that gig after the demise of his Fox cartoon series, Life With Louie, which launched with a primetime Christmas special in 1994, then began a regular run in 1995, following a summer 1-shot.

Anderson lent his voice to his juvenile self and his father, which will be evident as you watch the pilot episode, "A Christmas Surprise For Mrs. Stillman".

In all, Life With Louie lasted three seasons, even though it was being rotated in and out of the Fox lineup, as they had more series than schedule space for their Saturday lineup. Unfortunately, while the series was released on DVD overseas, it hasn't been given that treatment here, even though there were plans as much as 5 years ago. Hmmmmm......

Rating: B.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Game Time: Sports Challenge (1971)

Occasionally, we will drift into afternoon programming. Such is the case with the syndicated game show, Sports Challenge, which originally aired from 1971-79. Sportscaster Dick Enberg, currently the play-by-play voice of the San Diego Padres, was calling games for the Los Angeles (now St. Louis) Rams & California Angels (now the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) when he was hired by independent producer Gerry Gross to emcee this series. TheWhammy83 uploaded this sample clip, which matched a trio of legendary jockeys, including Bill Shoemaker, who made the rounds of game shows back in those days, vs. three members of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Current Jeopardy! announcer Johnny Gilbert handled those duties on Challenge, which gives you an idea of how long he's been in the game show business. Producer Gerry Gross also helmed the PBS series, The Way It Was, which, along with Challenge, eventually landed in ESPN's vaults, and periodically airs on ESPN Classic.

Dick Enberg would later host Baffle for NBC & Heatter-Quigley, and has called NFL games, college basketball, & tennis for NBC & CBS over the years.

Rating: A.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

On the Air: Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness (2011)

With 2 movies under his belt, Po the panda makes the transition to television, along with the Furious Five, in the new Nickelodeon series, Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness, airing Saturday mornings after a weekday trial a couple of months back. TheUkeUkeable uploaded the trailer.

I caught part of one of the episodes during its trial run. Apparently, Jack Black wasn't interested in doing the series, so actor Mick Wingert was hired to take over as Po, and does a dead-on mimic of Black. Most kids probably wouldn't know the difference. The challenge for Dreamworks & Nick is to keep the viewers interested such that Legends can sustain itself over the long haul. I don't think that would be much of a problem.

Rating: A-.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Rein-Toon-ation: Fraggle Rock (1987)

Fraggle Rock was originally created for HBO back in the late 70's-early 80's, as memory serves. Today, reruns of that series have aired on The Hub (formerly Discovery Kids), so it stands to reason that The Hub is also the current home for the animated reboot of Fraggle, which spent one season on NBC in 1987.

The animated Fraggle was the 2nd collaboration between Jim Henson's production company and Marvel Television, the other being, of course, Jim Henson's Muppet Babies over on CBS. One wonders why fans of the original Fraggle never gravitated over to the cartoon, considering it had elements similar to the Smurfs, which was the centerpiece of NBC's lineup at the time.

HensonCompany (naturally) uploaded this sample from the episode, "Radish Fairy", to YouTube:

One reason why the series failed might've been because it was airing opposite Pee-Wee's Playhouse on CBS & Real Ghostbusters on ABC. Had it been slotted as a lead-in to Smurfs, maybe the Fraggles would've gained a greater foothold with the audience. But, I guess we'll never know.

I never saw the show, so I can't rate it fairly.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Saturtainment: Here Comes The Grump (1969)

While the Pink Panther gave DePatie-Freleng its first legitimate hit series for NBC in 1969, Here Comes The Grump, co-produced by Mirisch Films, with whom DFE had previously produced Super President & Super Six, wasn't quite so fortunate. Grump was also part of the freshman class of '69, and was last seen in a brief run on the Sci Fi Channel (now SyFy) several years back.

The Grump (Rip Taylor) is a wizard who has placed a spell of gloom over a fantasy kingdom that looks more like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, which would be rather appropriate considering that DFE would later obtain a license to produce animated specials based on Seuss' books for CBS. Princess Dawn, the rightful heir to the throne, needs to locate the Crystal Key in the Cave of the Whispering Orchids. To that end, she recruits a young boy from the "real world", Terry (Jay North, ex-Dennis the Menace) as her partner. It helps them that Grump isn't exactly as menacing as he's made out to be. Then again, most comic villains aren't by design.

Here is  the episode, "The Lemonade Sea":

Dawn's voice was done by Indira Stefanianna Christopherson, who was also the original voice for Daphne on Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, which was the crown jewel of the '69-'70 freshman class. Now known as Indira Stefanianna, she left show business to get married, but has since resumed her career as both an actress and singer. One must imagine what might've happened if she hadn't left so soon.......!

Could Grump work today? I don't know, but it'd be worth a shot, depending on if anyone got a license....

Rating: B.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Toon Legends: Tom & Jerry Tales (2006)

Tom & Jerry returned to Saturday mornings, this time on the CW, in 2006. The network, which was still using Kids' WB! as the umbrella title for their Saturday morning block, figured they needed another iconic cartoon to complement Shaggy & Scooby-Doo Get a Clue (previously reviewed), but the one mistake made was that Tom & Jerry Tales led off the block, rather than air in the middle where more viewers were likely to tune in.

Just the same, it was a return to the classic chases, and Tom forever creating gadgets (a la Wile E. Coyote) to capture Jerry, but without success. With WB now the rights holder for the franchise, and having released a couple of direct-to-video movies prior to this series, this to date is the only T & J series under the WB shield. Sadly, CW gave up on the show too early, and cancelled it after 2 seasons. Even more galling is Cartoon Network's refusal to pick up the series, unwilling to part with some coin to transfer laterally to its corporate sibling. Thus, Tom & Jerry Tales, the last series to feature the classic cat & mouse team, remains locked in the WB vaults, though I do believe it's out on DVD.

Here is the intro:

Sometimes, you don't know what you've got until it's gone, and, with their Saturday lineup now programmed by 4Kids exclusively, CW is just flat out clueless.

Rating: A.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Family Toons: Pink Panther & Sons (1984)

After 6 years away from the network, the Pink Panther returned to NBC in 1984, but this time, things were a little different.

With DePatie-Freleng having been absorbed by Marvel Comics and rechristened Marvel Productions, the Panther was looking for a new home for his animated adventures. At the time, MGM held his rights, and, without an animation studio of their own, sought to find a partner for a new Panther series. Former MGM employees William Hanna & Joseph Barbera came to the rescue, and, with help from Panther co-creator Friz Freleng, created Pink Panther & Sons, which spent a year on NBC, overshadowed by the network's current-at-the-time hits (Smurfs, Mr. T, & Alvin & the Chipmunks). While the Panther himself didn't talk, he did raise two chatty boys. Here's the open, with a teaser for an episode.....

I've never seen the show, so I can't rate it, nor can I fairly speculate on whether or not the Panther was married for the purposes of this show. What we do know, though, is that when the Panther returned in a syndicated series nearly a decade later, he was definitely single, and with no kids, as if MGM wanted to ret-con Pinky & Panky and their friends out of existence. Today, that wouldn't happen.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

On the Air: Sonic X (2003)

10 years after his television debut, Sonic the Hedgehog returned to television with a brand new series, Sonic X, the title likely marking the anniversary. The series aired concurrently in the US & Japan, and was produced in Japan, with 4Kids Entertainment importing the series to the US & abroad, airing here on Fox from 2003-09 before moving to the CW's 4Kids-programmed block, now known as Toonzai. Production actually ceased in 2006, so the series has been in perpetual rerun for the last 5 years and counting.

Believe it or else, the version airing here in the US is actually a watered down version of the original Japanese series, which has much more violence, and that may prompt fans of the Sonic franchise to hunt down the original Japanese episodes on DVD.

Archie Comics adapted Sonic X into a comic book, but it hasn't had the staying power of Sonic's core series, which has been going strong for 18 years and counting. Personally, I'd rather have the original Sonic from 1993, which we've previously discussed, than the anime version, but the fact that the current series soldiers on long after production has ended says something about how the franchise has sustained itself.

Savannah1743 uploaded the open:

With characters named Cream & Cheese, what's next? Shredded wheat & corn flakes? Just kidding.

Rating: B.

Saturtainment: Wacko (1977)

3 years after the Hudson Brothers' self-titled variety show had failed, CBS & producer Chris Bearde tried again, this time with Wacko, a comedy-variety show that required not one, not two, but three hosts. Impressionist Julie McWhirter had been on The Rich Little Show a year earlier, and had created the character of the Family Hour Fairy, perhaps the most notable recurring sketch on the show. Charles Fleischer came over from Welcome Back, Kotter, and Bo Kaprall hasn't been seen since the show was cancelled.

Buried at the bottom of CBS' lineup, Wacko aired on Sundays in some markets as a consolation, including in my home area. From what I remember, Fleischer had created a costumed character of his own in Funky Cat, but otherwise the show wasn't much to write home about, as it was another one-and-done, as in, cancelled after 1 season.

Wacko also featured musical guests, such as, in this sample, the Dwight Twilley Band, featuring a pre-Heartbreakers Tom Petty on bass, performing "Chance to Get Away".

After Wacko ended, Fleischer returned to Kotter for its final season in his recurring role as Carvelli. Julie McWhirter resumed her other vocation as a voice actress and married radio legend Rick Dees. Well, at least there was a happy ending, after all.

Rating: None. I only saw part of one episode, not enough to properly rate the show.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: The All New Popeye Hour (1978)

Having lost the top spot in the Saturday morning ratings race to ABC, CBS needed an extra tentpole for their lineup, backing up Tarzan & the Super 7, which merged Tarzan with New Adventures of Batman and tacked on some additional segments.

Hanna-Barbera, which shared a license for the Caped Crusader with Filmation, came to the rescue, acquiring a license for another cartoon hero, Popeye, who was given a 1 hour show of his own in 1978. The format was similar to the All New Super Friends Hour the previous year over at ABC, but with 2 backup features:

Dinky Dog (previously reviewed), about an oversized pooch and his beleaguered owners.
Popeye's Treasure Hunt, which has Popeye (Jack Mercer) & Bluto (Allan Melvin, ex-All In The Family) competing to find hidden fortunes across the globe.

In addition, there were the predictable health & safety tips, and 3 "regular" Popeye shorts. Here's the intro, uploaded by Muttley16:

Like Tom & Jerry three years earlier, Popeye & Bluto were more frenemies in this series, something that happened from time to time in the classic shorts, since both had served in the Navy. The anti-violence regulations in effect at the time had an adverse effect on this series, of course, as Popeye & Bluto couldn't directly assault each other, using various alternate means of combat.

After three seasons, the series was rechristened, The Popeye & Olive Comedy Show, buried at the bottom of CBS' lineup, and, sadly, things went from bad to worse. We've previously documented Olive & Alice the Goon's misadventures in the Army, one of the worst ideas, at least in execution, in history.

After 4 seasons, Popeye was shipped out, but would return a few years later, in Popeye & Son, which wasn't quite as successful, lasting but one year.

Rating: B.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Toonfomercial: Cartoon Network spoofs Pulp Fiction (1996)

Time Warner Cable in my home market added Cartoon Network at the end of 1996, and around that same time CN produced this clever in-house ad that was a sendup of a famous scene from the movie, "Pulp Fiction".  This happens to also be one of their best bits, as this pairs Norville "Shaggy" Rogers (Casey Kasem) with the one and only Droopy (Don Messick, in one of his last roles).

Enough said.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Toonfomercial: Two iconic hares get together (1985)

The Trix Rabbit is one of General Mills' few remaining cereal mascots, and every now and again, the hare's fruitless (no pun intended) quest for his namesake cereal required some special help. In this 1985 ad campaign, that help comes in the form of another famous rabbit----none other than Bugs Bunny!

Peetoons uploaded this introductory ad:

As we all know, 26 years later, the Trix Rabbit still can't savor the taste of Trix cereal, or even Trix yogurt, which came out a few years ago after General Mills acquired Yoplait. This once-in-a-lifetime meeting, however, needs to be preserved in our archives, and so it is.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Rein-toon-ation: Tom & Jerry Kids (1990)

Tom & Jerry Kids was the 3rd of Hanna-Barbera's 4 series that rebooted classic characters as youths. The madcap, slapstick chase is on again, and Jerry has his red bowtie back from the 1975 Tom & Jerry series. However, we won't be seeing Jerry in this sample, as "Wild World of Bowling" is, for all intents & purposes, a Tom solo story, in which he takes on a different mouse, one that, according to narrator Gary Owens (ex-Space Ghost), was raised by wolves.

Edit, 7/31/22: Had to change the video. We now have a 3 minute sampler of "Wild World of Bowling":

At one point, the series aired 6 days a week, as Fox wanted to maximize the availability of all of their children's shows, so the schedules were flexed out. Good thing.

Rating: A.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Celebrity Toons: Gilligan's Planet (1982)

It will go down in history as the last series produced by Filmation for CBS or any other network before the studio began concentrating on syndicated fare. In truth, Gilligan's Planet was simply a rehash of the 1974 New Adventures of Gilligan series, but this time, Dawn Wells (Mary Ann) was along for the ride, pulling double duty, as both Mary Ann & Ginger. Filmation's long time stalwart starlet, Jane Webb, handled both roles in the previous series, but had, for all intents & purposes, retired by the end of the 70's.

Even the theme song was a reboot from the earlier show, as you'll be able to tell.......

Unlike New Adventures, however, Gilligan's Planet lasted just one season. Never saw the show, so I can't give a fair rating.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

From Comics to Toons: Garfield & Friends (1988)

In the late 80's, CBS rebuilt their Saturday lineup, looking for an additional tentpole series to go with Jim Henson's Muppet Babies. They actually got two of them, both sprung from the comics. One of these days, we'll take a closer look at Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but today's subject is Jim Davis' ever-hungry feline, Garfield.

After a series of primetime specials produced high ratings for CBS, Davis was persuaded to license Garfield for a weekly series, which launched in 1988. Part of the deal allowed for Davis' other strip, U. S. Acres, to be the backup feature. In time, and most of you probably remember this, Garfield & Friends was expanded from a half-hour to an hour, airing 2 back-to-back episodes. The late Lorenzo Music (ex-Rhoda) moved over from Real Ghostbusters to work on the series full-time, voicing Garfield.

Here's the intro. Gary Owens is the announcer.

I should note that Desiree Goyette, who composed and performed some of the music on the show, originally had appeared on the revival of You Asked For It, with Rich Little, a few years prior, as a reporter. Who knew?

Rating: B.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Toon Legends: Tom & Jerry (1965)

CBS added some star power to its Saturday morning lineup in 1965 by picking up the classic Tom & Jerry shorts, with new, made-for-TV title cards created for the show, a practice that would be repeated a year later with the acquisition of The Road Runner, and subsequently, The Bugs Bunny-Road Runner Hour when Bugs arrived at CBS in 1968.

The newer material used on the show was created by legendary animator Chuck Jones, who was producing the Tom & Jerry theatrical shorts for MGM at the time, and had also produced the first two Dr. Seuss specials for the studio (How the Grinch Stole Christmas & Horton Hears a Who) & CBS. After two years, however, CBS moved Tom & Jerry to Sundays, where it would remain for the final five seasons of its run, ending in 1972.

As we all know, Tom & Jerry would subsequently return four more times. First, they were reunited with creators William Hanna & Joe Barbera for 2 seasons at ABC (1975-77), but as best buds instead of enemies due to non-violence sanctions imposed during their first network go-round, which would explain why they were moved to Sundays. The duo then returned to CBS for 2 more years, this time under Filmation's auspices, but with MGM co-producing, and back to the traditional chase format (1980-82). Then, H-B got the pair back, and, with Turner co-producing served up Tom & Jerry Kids, which aired as much as six days a week on Fox (1990-94), spawning a spin-off series for Droopy. Finally, the last series, Tom & Jerry Tales, aired on Kids' WB! on the CW network (2006-08). Over the next few days, we'll be reviewing the individual shows.

Edit: 7/9/14: "Rock 'N' Rodent", which was originally included, was deleted by YouTube. We'll repost it separately. Meantime, here's the intro to the CBS series, partially edited:

Rating: A+.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Celebrity Toons: The New Three Stooges (1965)

The Three Stooges' classic shorts were in television syndication in the early 60's when the famed comedy team began making feature films. Joe DeRita became the latest, and last, Stooge to team with Moe Howard & Larry Fine in films such as "Have Rocket, Will Travel" & "The Outlaws is Coming", the latter with a pre-Batman Adam West.

It was this same configuration of Stooges that in 1965 produced a series of animated cartoons under the title, The New Three Stooges, with each cartoon sandwiched by a two-part live-action sketch. Clearly, the years were catching up to Moe & Larry, especially Moe. Depending on where you lived, the films were shown either intact, or with the live-action skit edited out for time considerations. As you'll see, Moe subtly breaks the fourth wall to segue into the cartoon.

I've also discovered that the cartoons may have been meant to be part of a bigger Stooges TV project, which didn't get past the pilot stage. DeRita didn't have the charisma of either Curly or Shemp, but in this writer's opinion, he was an improvement over Joe Besser, who'd moved on to work with Abbott & Costello on their sitcom, among other projects.

Here's a sample of the animated Stooges, "The Noisy Silent Movie":

Cambria Studios was the same one that gave us the infamous Synchro-Vox method used on Clutch Cargo & Space Angel, but opted against it for the Stooges, which was the wisest move.

As we've previously discussed, the Stooges would later return, with Hanna-Barbera acquiring a license to use the likenesses of Moe, Larry, & Curly, first in a pair of episodes of The New Scooby-Doo Movies, and later as bionic comedy superheroes on The Skatebirds. The Robonic Stooges would be the last television incarnation of the fabled team, with Paul Winchell & Frank Welker voicing Moe & Curly, respectively. Clearly, animation weakened the Stooges' charm, instead of strengthening it.

Rating: B-.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Game Time: Great Pretenders (1999)

For all intents & purposes, the Fox Family music game show, Great Pretenders, was really a revival of an earlier, similarly formatted game show that aired in syndication over a decade earlier, Puttin' On The Hits. Both series had contestants lip-synching to their favorite songs (and you wonder why that has become common practice for a lot of current pop acts these days), and judged on talent & presentation.

The pop group Wild Orchid, which featured former Kids Incorporated cast members Renee Sandstrom & Stacy Ferguson (Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas), served as hosts for the series, which aired from 1999-2001. Following is a sample video uploaded by and featuring a contestant who appeared on the show.....

As is typical of cable networks, Great Pretenders fell victim to changing viewer interests, and Wild Orchid began to fade from the scene. Could this series be tried again? Maybe, albeit under another name (again), and even a regional version might be do-able, as a means of getting up-and-coming talents some exposure before hitting the big time.

Rating: B-.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Tom of T.H.U.M.B. (1966)

If you've ever wondered where Hanna-Barbera got at least an inspiration for their 1973 series, Inch High Private Eye, look no further than Videocraft (Rankin-Bass), which came up with the spy spoof, Tom of T.H.U.M.B. as a backup feature on King Kong in 1966. In fact, Tom may be meant to sound like a parody of Maxwell Smart (Get Smart), although the actor doesn't quite have Don Adams' vocal inflections down pat. The animosity between Tom and his boss is similar to that of Inch and his exasperated boss, Mr. Finkerton, 7 years later.

Here's the intro:

To these jaded eyes, most spy parodies now seem all the same.

Rating: B.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Saturtainment: All That! (1994)

It was designed as a tween version of Saturday Night Live, and, like SNL, has served as a launching pad for a number of current talents.

All That! was originally part of Nickelodeon's Snick Saturday night block when it launched in 1994. Of course, when the series took off and became a big hit, Nick began airing reruns in the Saturday AM block. Nothing new there, but suffice to say, it got more attention from ye scribe airing in the daytime.

All That!'s very recognizable theme song is performed by the R & B trio, TLC, with lead vocal by Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes. Its distinguished alumni include current SNL star Kenan Thompson, Amanda Bynes, Gabriel Iglesias, Lori Beth Denberg (later of The Steve Harvey Show), Nick Cannon (America's Got Talent), & Jamie Lynn Spears. Of this group, Thompson, Bynes, Cannon, & Spears were all spun off into other series on Nick or its sister networks within the MTV Networks family. That particularly applies to Cannon, who, in addition to being presently married to singer Mariah Carey, is also a NYC radio DJ these days, keeping busy in between seasons of Talent, and was hosting at least a couple of series on MTV before moving to NBC. Bynes famously announced her "retirement" from show business after her CW sitcom, What I Like About You, was cancelled.

The series' pedigree can be traced back to an 80's sitcom, Head of the Class. Co-stars Brian Robbins & Dan Schneider were among the show's producers, and a 3rd Class alumnus, Dan Frischman, would begin appearing on Kenan & Kel, the first spin-off series produced, particularly in the "Good Burger" skits that carried over from That!. I cannot recall whether or not he'd appeared on All That! prior to that point.

Following is a fan-made video that collects most of the cast members over the course of the series' 10 year run. Bear in mind that it actually encompasses 11 years, as there was a 1 year hiatus from 2001-02.

It's just too bad that Nick decided to end the series, when it has served as a proving ground for young talent. Then again, once early fan favorites like Thompson, Denberg, & Bynes began leaving, the wellspring was running dry, and Nick resorted to turning the series into more of a blatant SNL clone, with weekly guest stars in order to boost sagging ratings. Reruns have resurfaced on TeenNick as part of a late night block dedicated to classic Nick programming from the 90's.

Rating: B.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Electra Woman & DynaGirl (1976)

I previously have talked up, in brief, Electra Woman & DynaGirl, when discussing its parent series, The Krofft Supershow. Now, it's time to give it a little more depth.

From the start, it was obvious that Electra Woman was a distaff knock-off of Batman, which was quite the phenomenon 10 years earlier, right down to the diagonal camera angles, campy villains, and cliffhanger storylines. Appropriately, this also aired on the same network that was home to Batman, ABC.

Diedre Hall, who was appearing on NBC's Days of Our Lives at the time, and has been on and off that series in the 35 years since, played Electra Woman, with Judy Strangis, better known for commercials and voice-over work (i.e. Wheelie & the Chopper Bunch) as her Robin-esque sidekick, complete with puns. The series has another link to the voice-over biz with Norman Alden (Aquaman on Super Friends) as Frank Heflin, the duo's confidant. 

Here's the intro everyone knows:

10 years ago, the WB Network had commissioned a primetime pilot for a revival of the series. Even though Diedre Hall was still active, the producers opted for Markie Post (ex-Night Court) in the lead role. Subsequently, the pilot was rejected. Electra Woman was decommissioned after one season, so a revival 34 years later was, in fact, a major risk.

Could that be tried again? Maybe, depending on whether or not someone's willing to reset the series in modern times, with age-appropriate actresses.

Rating: B-.

You know the Voice: Ted Knight

During his Emmy Award winning run as knuckleheaded news anchor Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77), Ted Knight found the time to record a comedy album, "Hi, Guys", released in 1975. Better known for a novelty single devoted to TV news legend Barbara Walters, the album also included a cover of Barry Mann's "Who Put the Bomp?". This video was uploaded by njolnir to YouTube:

Yeah, Golden Throat territory, for sure.

Knight got his start in radio, and served in my market as a kid's show host, billed as "Windy" Knight, before going national in the mid-60's. As we all know, Knight is closely associated with the DC family of cartoons produced by Filmation, but also was the narrator/announcer for a short-lived CBS sitcom, Run, Buddy, Run, which lasted a season in 1966. Knight's last cartoon work came in 1973, narrating the original Super Friends for Hanna-Barbera, and returning to Filmation to star in Lassie's Rescue Rangers, both part of ABC's freshman class that year.

The man was taken away from us way too soon, that's all I can say.

Toonformercial: Do you remember this? (1971)

The Ad Council produced many a memorable PSA ad in the 70's. One of the coolest was a feature with a anti-littering superhero, Captain Cleanup. Mrmoore1970 uploaded this 11 second version, taken from the RetroJunk site:

Unfortunately, in the transition, the picture quality isn't as good as it should be.

Edit, 3/1/16: As you can see, we've filled in the blank.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sunday Funnies: Weinerville (1993)

Comic & puppeteer Marc Weiner created a throwback to the earliest days of children's television with Weinerville, which aired on Nickelodeon from 1993-97, with original episodes produced through 1994.

The basic concept was Weiner serving as host of a combination comedy-variety show that also contained some game show elements and old cartoons that hadn't seen the light of day in years. Weiner also contributed not just his voice but his face to the odd puppets used on the show. Thanks to the magic of videotape, Weiner could interact with some of his puppet alter-egos, including Mayor Dottie and bandleader Cocktail Frank.

Following is a sample episode:

Two seasons were produced, but the series continued in reruns for another three years because it was so popular. When it launched, Weinerville aired four back-to-back episodes on Sundays, but it wasn't long before Nickelodeon realized they had a huge hit on their hands and began airing it weekdays, as well as Saturdays. In hindsight, they gave up on the show way, way too soon. Compared to the product out now, Weinerville would always be welcome.

Rating: A.

Saturtainment: Coconut Fred's Fruit Salad Island (2005)

A cartoon show about sentient fruit? Yup. Somehow, some way, WB green-lighted Coconut Fred's Fruit Salad Island, a 1-season wonder that aired on Kids' WB! in 2005. KidsWBontheCW uploaded the open:

When I first heard about this show, the first thing I thought of was that it was a ripoff of Nickelodeon's mega-popular SpongeBob SquarePants, which, oh by the way, is still on the air 6 years later. Well, it'd actually be a rip-off if Fred (Rob Paulsen) and his pals were under the sea, just like SpongeBob. By this point, WB was searching for some innovative programming on Saturdays, and thought this flash-animated show might work out, especially if it was aimed at the right audience. Ultimately, it didn't happen, and the show was cancelled in June 2006 after 9 months on the air.

No rating, as I never watched the show.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Celebrity Toons: The Abbott & Costello Cartoon Show (1967)

If you thought that all Hanna-Barbera produced between 1966-68 were superhero cartoons, you'd be wrong. Granted, NBC had the juvenile comedy-adventure Space Kiddettes, but otherwise, the only other non-superhero programs the studio produced over that two year period featured a pair of teams of comedy legends. One was Laurel & Hardy. The other, which we'll focus on here, was Abbott & Costello.

Bud Abbott & Lou Costello were one of the preeminent comedy teams of the 20th century. Like, who hasn't heard or seen their legendary "Who's on First?" routine? They had conquered radio, movies, & television, and the latter medium wanted to welcome them back. One problem. Costello had passed on shortly after their live-action sitcom had ended. Well, that wasn't a problem for H-B, which, after signing Abbott, brought in comic Stan Irwin to stand in for Costello. The result was a one-season syndicated wonder, produced amidst all the super-action shows in 1967.

In concept, this was no different than an earlier venture that featured animated incarnations of Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy, and that duo would eventually get to meet Scooby-Doo. There would be 4 short cartoons for each half-hour show, each running about 5 minutes. Bud & Lou would be in one precarious misadventure after another. The lack of continuity allowed for creative flexibility that could put them anywhere at any time.

The real problem was that most stations didn't have a real place to put the show. Sure, it could be used on a Saturday to sub for a network program that the local affiliate didn't feel was a hit, and, for those who still had weekday kids' shows, the episodes could be broken up over the course of a week. I think it may have been that lack of station coverage that led to this show being cancelled after 1 season. I actually got to see some of these cartoons years later on cable, when channel 5 in New York brought the series back for a run.

2reelers uploaded this extended open & close, something rarely seen.

Not only was the animated Abbott & Costello no different than Laurel & Hardy, but you could plug any of H-B's funny animal characters, like, say for example, Huckleberry Hound, in the same situations, and there'd not be much difference.

Rating: B-.

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Time Warp Trio (2005)

Based on a series of children's books, the Time Warp Trio joined the NBC/Discovery Kids block in July 2005. Co-produced by PBS affiliate WGBH, the series is a rare entity in that it has never aired on PBS. The producers instead sold the series first to Discovery Communications, and the Trio would ultimately wind up on NBC.

The basic plot is this. One of the trio receives a mystic book from his uncle, a magician. Said uncle departs before he can explain the contents of the book, and that leaves our heroes to fend for themselves. It's not quite like the live-action primetime shows like Time Tunnel or Voyagers!, or even Cartoon Network's Time Squad, which predated the Trio to the air by 4 years. The boys do make it home after each adventure.

Here's the intro:

Unfortunately, Time Warp Trio was cancelled after 14 months on NBC, and continued in reruns on Discovery Kids until it was converted to The Hub last year. The flash animation used on the show is an easy culprit, but it's not at fault. The books on which the series is based weren't that well known to most viewers, and the series was not heavily promoted at all. The Hub hasn't retained very many DK properties since the conversion 13 months ago, but one can hope that if they are shopping the Trio, PBS can finally take a look.

Rating: B-.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Saturtainment: Kenny the Shark (2003)

Early in the last decade, NBC decided to end a 10+ year embargo on animated programming on Saturday mornings. Well, there's only so far you can go with an all-live-action lineup aimed at children, as ABC is finding out presently. The Peacock Network entered into a deal with Discovery Kids (now The Hub), enabling the latter channel to repurpose some of their shows on NBC, exposing them to a potentially wider audience.

Kenny the Shark was the first animated shark to happen along since Jabberjaw swam on ABC in 1976. Now, Kenny was a really odd one. He's a tiger shark who wanted to leave the ocean and live on land, making him, literally, a proverbial fish out of water. His best friend is a human pre-teen, Katarina "Kat" Cassidy. In this regard, this series is similar in format to another DK/NBC entry, Tutenstein, simply subbing a shark for a mummy.

Here's the intro:

Well, at least Kenny had something Jabber never got. Respect.

Rating: B-.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Kirby: Right Back at Ya! (2001)

Kirby: Right Back at Ya! originally debuted in Japan in 2001, and was brought to the US by 4Kids Entertainment and picked up by Fox in 2002. Kirby originally appeared in this country in a video game issued by Nintendo in the 80's, and had been largely forgotten until the launch of this cartoon, which ended production in 2003. I believe Fox managed to air the entire series before sending Kirby on his way.

In this series, Kirby is the protector of Dream Land, which is under the rule of a despotic king. I think that's about all you really need to know, as there are few, if any, video game elements included in the series. The fact that the series lasted only 2 years, total, speaks to the fact that as a largely forgotten video game hero, Kirby was facing an uphill battle in making a comeback.

Edit, 6/27/22: The video was deleted as Nintendo has banned all videos from forums such as YouTube.  

Rating: B-.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Toon Rock: HB-TV (1985)

An important but forgotten component of The Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera anthology block was the interstital feature known as HB-TV. What the producers did was mash together various clips and set them to a specific song.

For example, the following video features clips from Scooby-Doo and The Flintstones, among others, to the beat of "Somebody's Watching Me", by Rockwell & Michael Jackson, the actual video of which was posted over at The Land of Whatever recently. KanandaRhodes uploaded this video to YouTube:

In recent years, Cartoon Network has revived the concept, but instead of using established pop songs du jour, they've used original material or remixed archived music. However, they haven't tried anything like that in about 10 years, another example of the current regime having no clue.

Rating: A.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Daytime Heroes: Rod Rocket (1963)

Most of us have referenced 1966's New Adventures of Superman as the series that put Filmation Associates on the map. However, 3 years earlier, Lou Scheimer & Hal Sutherland co-directed a serial that had episodes running 4-5 minutes per day.

Rod Rocket was developed at True Line, the California studio headed by Scheimer & Sutherland, who'd met while working with Larry Harmon 3 years earlier on his Bozo the Clown & Popeye shorts for syndication. True Line produced Rod Rocket in conjunction with Sib, a Japanese company, and the CBS network, which would pick up Superman and start the Filmation ball rolling. Rocket was included in locally produced packages across the country. I was but an infant when Rod Rocket debuted, and the series was long gone by the time I actually started watching television.

Toontracker uploaded this sample, which unfortunately is in black & white, kicking off one long story arc.

Hal Smith (The Andy Griffith Show) voiced the Professor, but it sounds to me like Sam Edwards (Rod) may have also worked for the Harmon studio. I seem to recall him doing the voice of a talking dog for a Popeye cartoon from that period. Just as unfortunate is the fact that as of now, Rod Rocket is not yet available on DVD, and the above clip is all we have of the show.

Rating: B.

Saturday Morning Ringside: Championship Wrestling (1972)

I was introduced to the world of pro wrestling in the 70's. At first, it was airing on Sunday mornings on WRGB for a time. With the advent of cable television, the landscape expanded. The World Wide Wrestling Federation, the forerunner to today's WWE, had two programs in syndication. All-Star Wrestling would evolve into Wrestling Challenge in the mid-80's. At the same time, Championship Wrestling would morph into the 1st incarnation of Superstars of Wrestling (or, as it's now known, WWE Superstars). Vince McMahon himself was at the mic on both shows until the 80's, when he turned over one show to newly retired grappler-turned-commentator Gorilla Monsoon, who turned out to be a much more articulate and enjoyable announcer than McMahon!

Championship Wrestling, thanks to cable, aired on 3 different channels in my market. Locally, it aired on WNYT (then known as WAST for most of the 70's). On cable, it was on WSBK in Boston and WOR in New York. Tapthatt12 uploaded this sample open from 1978, during Bob Backlund's 1st reign as champion, with a station ID tacked on for good measure.

Both 3WF shows followed a standard format. Squash matches were the order of the day, with the bigger stars beating a roster of jobbers who've earned their own piece of immortality. People like Frank Williams, Silvano Sousa, & Lee Wong. Once in a while, one of the promotion's titles would be defended on television. Today, the WWE still employs jobbers, but not on the company payroll. Instead, they recruit regional talent to fill some space at their weekly television tapings. With all of their programming now on cable, the days of WWE syndicating their programming are over.

Rating: B.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Sunday Funnies: Super Secret Secret Squirrel (1993)

Hanna-Barbera needed a backup feature to support 2 Stupid Dogs when it bowed in 1993, so someone decided to revive Secret Squirrel, two years shy of his 30th anniversary. However, there would be changes.

For one thing, it was now with an all-animal cast. The Chief was now a yak, for example, and Secret's classic arch-nemesis, Yellow Pinky, was now Goldflipper. Most tellingly, there would be a little girl power added to the mix in the form of Penny, the Chief's personal assistant, who also happens to be a squirrel, and perhaps meant to inherit Secret's job down the line.

When Secret Squirrel premiered in 1965, he happened to be on the same network as Get Smart, so it made sense that he'd finally be given his own Agent 99, which made Morocco Mole to be more like Larrabee this time around. Not only that, but, as we'll see, it turns out Morocco isn't exactly the sharpest tool in the shed if he isn't in the field. Yeah, just like Larrabee.........!

For now, check out Secret & Morocco vs. "Chameleon". Maurice LaMarche is heard doing his Orson Welles impersonation as a museum curator, which happens to be an owl.

Rating: B.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Saturday Morning's Greatest Hits: Wimpbusters (1984)

Long before he signed with the WWE as mostly a commentator than a wrestler, Jerry Lawler was a legend in his hometown of Memphis. Oh, sure, he's turned his back on the homies a few times over the years, but would always smooth things over in due course.

WWE fans have Lawler to thank for sending singer-turned-wrestling manager Jimmy Hart into Vince McMahon's employ in the mid-80's. Hart's feud with Lawler had peaked when Hart seconded the late actor-comedian Andy Kaufman in matches vs. "The King", a good chunk of the feud having been documented in the movie, "I'm From Hollywood". In 1984, Lawler ratcheted things up by sending up a certain movie blockbuster of the period, characterizing the former Gentrys vocalist as a wimp, hence, "Wimpbusters", which uses the actual instrumental from the theme to "Ghostbusters", but with new lyrics by Lawler, a former radio personality before turning to the mat game. Lawler succeeded in running Hart out of Memphis and sending him up north, but isn't it a little convienent that by the time Lawler went north himself nearly a decade later, Hart had long since left WWE?

"Wimpbusters", introduced by Lance Russell, was uploaded by rolochoshu to YouTube:

Animated World of DC Comics: A tribute to times past: Batman & Robin team with Scooby-Doo (2011)

One of the cool things about Batman: The Brave & the Bold on Cartoon Network is that the producers have been willing to go the extra mile in terms of fanservice.

One such example comes in the episode, "Batmite Presents: Batman's Strangest Cases", which allows the producers a chance to pay homage to the Caped Crusader's two previous meetings with the teens of Mystery Incorporated on The New Scooby-Doo Movies nearly 40 years ago. In this flashback, Frank Welker pulls triple duty, as he subs for Diedrich Bader as the voice of Batman, in addition to his regular roles as Fred & Scooby. As was the case back in 1972, the Joker & the Penguin provide the opposition, plus, in a total homage to the series proper, song satirist Weird Al Yankovic is added to the mix.

Edit: 4/9/14: Unfortunately, the original video was deleted by YouTube due to copyright concerns. All we have now is a "Weird" Al-less teaser.

Admittedly, I wanted to post this sooner, like, around Halloween, but never got to it in time. Trying to compress a 1 hour drama into 8-9 minutes, though, isn't my cup of tea. Take it however you wish.

Rating: B.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Toon Legends: Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? (1969)

He is Hanna-Barbera's last iconic creation of the 60's, introduced in 1969. 42 years later, Scooby-Doo has logged plenty of miles with his Mystery, Inc. teammates, with no signs of slowing down.

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? was meant as a complement to The Archie Comedy Hour in luring teens & young adults to CBS, even though the two were produced by different studios. Originally conceived as a musical-mystery-adventure series in the same vein as Archie's Filmation stablemate, The Hardy Boys, over on ABC, the series underwent a number of revisions in pre-production before CBS finally bought the show. Scooby, in fact, got his name after Fred Silverman, then the head of programming at CBS, heard the scatting at the end of Frank Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night".

While the current Mystery, Incorporated series, presently on hiatus on Cartoon Network until the lamebrains there decide to begin the next slate of episodes, has rebooted the franchise and alienated some long-time fans in the process, it's good to know the classic series remains accessible, even if the formulaic plotting became tired rather quickly.

Titro99 uploaded the season 2 open, performed by singer-songwriter Austin Roberts, using a faux British accent.

The differences between the classic series and the current one are easily identifiable. Team leader Fred (Frank Welker) was clearly defined as such from day one. Beginning with the 2002 live-action movie, the character was gradually dumbed down such that the current reboot has him as a trap-happy knucklehead who took forever to realize his true love was his leggy teammate, Daphne Blake, not his obsession with traps. In contrast, Daphne has gone from being the prototypical damsel in distress to being more self-aware and savvy, and, as shown in the movies, can do her fair share of butt-kicking. Velma, Shaggy, & Scooby have remained basically the same straight through.

Luckily for old school fans, WB continues to produce a direct-to-video movie in the traditional format on an annual basis, so fans disenfranchised by the current series have a safe haven to turn to.

Scooby spent 7 seasons at CBS before moving to ABC in 1976, and spent 10 there before getting yanked off the air with the cancellation of the 13 Ghosts series in March 1986. The franchise was revived with A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, which lasted 3 seasons on ABC from 1988-91, and it would be 11 years before Scooby would return to Saturday mornings with all-new material.

Understandably, for Halloween, Boomerang scheduled a marathon of the classic series today. Hope you've had a chance to catch up.

Rating: B+.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Saturtainment: American Bandstand (1952)

Up until now, I've posted performance clips from the long running music series, American Bandstand, but never got around to discussing the show in general.

Bandstand launched as a weekday entry on ABC in 1952, and transitioned to a Saturday-only berth in the 60's, up until it left ABC in 1987. Dick Clark, the man most closely associated with Bandstand, took over as host in 1956, and built his production company around the franchise. The show's famous theme song, "Bandstand Boogie", was composed by Les & Larry Elgart, and the original instrumental remained in place until around 1975, when singer-songwriter Barry Manilow recorded a new, more up-tempo version that most fans are familiar with.

One of the most popular segments of Bandstand was the Rate-a-Record feature, in which three audience members would be chosen to judge two possible future hits. Grandmasterfunk92 uploaded this 1967 Rate-a-Record clip, which offers a little intra-network synergy, promoting the short-lived primetime sitcom, Rango, Tim Conway's first post-McHale's Navy series, by playing the theme song, sung by Frankie Laine ("High Noon", Rawhide).

As I've outlined in the past, for several years, Bandstand was inexplicably blacked out in my area as the then-ABC affiliate opted to run syndicated fare for the sole purpose of boosting local ad revenues. When the local broadcast channels shuffled network affiliations in 1977-78, Bandstand didn't benefit right away, but it ultimately was brought back to local screens until ABC cancelled the series in 1987. The series would continue in syndication, and then was picked up by USA Network for the 1988-89 season, but with Clark turning over hosting chores to someone named David Hirsch. Needless to say, without Clark, who by then was again a daytime fixture thanks to the on-again, off-again Pyramid franchise Bob Stewart had developed initially for ABC, Bandstand finally breathed its last in 1989. The series would later return in a clip show format that aired on VH1 in the 90's for a couple of years. Would that VH1 Classic would actually consider adding it to their roster, instead of recycling the same hand-me-downs from their sister networks.....

Rating: B.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sunday Funnies: F-Troop (1965)

The introduction of cable television in my area in the 70's meant fresh viewing options. Many a Sunday morning was spent watching reruns of the 1965-67 sitcom, F-Troop, which aired ahead of the weekly Abbott & Costello feature film du jour on WPIX. SpudTV uploaded the open & close from the 1st season.

F-Troop aspired to be Sgt. Bilko, relocated to the Old West, and embodied by Sgt. Morgan O'Rourke (Forrest Tucker), who negotiated more than just peace treaties with the local Native American tribe, the Hekawis. In fact, the Hekawis were often business partners with O'Rourke and his sidekick, Corporal Agarn (Larry Storch), unbeknownst to their clueless commanding officer, Colonel Wilton Parmenter (Ken Berry), who was a regular Inspector Cleuseau next to O'Rourke's Bilko-esque con man.

I barely remember seeing F-Troop during its network run on ABC, so in the 70's, it was rather new to me. Guest stars included Paul Lynde as a duplicitous singing Mountie, Harvey Korman (by this time the voice of the Great Gazoo on The Flintstones) as a German balloonist, and Vincent Price. Good, escapist fun.

Rating: A-.

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Star Wars' Droids (1985)

By the mid-80's, George Lucas had completed the original "Star Wars" trilogy of films, with "Return of the Jedi" having been released a year or so earlier. Well, at least we thought this would be the end, but of course we know by now that there would be more to come.

Knowing that some fans still had a bitter taste in their mouths from an ill-received primetime "Holiday Special" that included the first animated "Star Wars" cartoon, Lucas decided to license two of his central characters, the droids R2D2 & C3PO, for a spinoff series of their own. Droids, produced by Canada's Nelvana Studios, aired on ABC, coupled with another "Star Wars" spinoff starring the Ewoks. Actor Anthony Daniels, who'd played C3PO in every "Star Wars" movie, reprises here as well.

Just as interesting is that the music for this series was composed in part by Stewart Copeland, formerly of The Police, and representing some of his first work for television.

I never watched the show, as I'm not that big a "Star Wars" fan ("Jedi" being the only one of the 6 feature films I've seen in the series), but as a pre-Halloween treat, here's the series opener, "The White Witch":

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Spooktober: Eerie, Indiana (1991)

Eerie, Indiana started as a Sunday night primetime series that aired on  NBC in 1991. It lasted just one season, but that didn't deter Fox from picking up the show as a fill-in for their Saturday morning lineup 6 years later.

Here's the intro:

Filmmaker Joe Dante ("Gremlins") directed the series opener, and had a small hand in developing the series. The ratings must've improved enough when it moved to Fox, such that it enabled the network to commission a new series, Eerie, Indiana: The Other Dimension, which was a mid-season replacement in the winter of 1998, but also lasted just one season. The original Eerie has also aired on Disney Channel, but hasn't been seen anywhere since the end of its Fox run.

Rating: None. Never saw enough of the show to form an opinion.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Spooktober: Goosebumps (1995)

Author R. L. Stine introduced a modern day horror franchise in 1992 with the launch of his Goosebumps series of horror stories for youngsters. Three years later, Scholastic, the publisher, entered into a licensing agreement with Fox to adapt the books for television. Goosebumps at one point aired six days a week on Fox, and spent three years as a cornerstone of the network's lineup.

In recent years, Goosebumps has resurfaced on cable. A few years ago, Cartoon Network experimented with live-action programming, and one of the first series picked up was Goosebumps, initially as a Halloween stunt, but the series lingered around a couple of extra months if but for the simple fact that word of mouth had spread that the series had returned and people were interested. Today, cable rights belong to The Hub (formerly Discovery Kids), which is trying to posit itself as a competitor to CN, Nickelodeon, and Disney Channel, leaning more toward the latter pair in terms of diversity of programming.

Now, let's revisit the series opener, "The Haunted Mask".

The Hub is also home to a new series based on some of Stine's other works, The Haunting Hour, which is posited as a primetime series on weekends, and has started its 2nd season. Stine also wrote a similar series for teens, Fear Street, which amazingly has never been picked up for television. Just as odd is the fact that none of Stine's Goosebumps books, despite their popularity, haven't made the transition to feature films. It would surely beat another zillion variations on the tired slasher movie format.....

Rating: B.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tooniversary: Cave Kids (1996)

One of Cartoon Network's first original series came from the Flintstones franchise. Cave Kids starred Pebbles & Bamm-Bamm, this time as pre-schoolers, in what amounted to the network's answer to Nickelodeon's smash hit, Rugrats. The two shows had one thing in common. Actress-singer Elizabeth "EG" Daily worked on both shows, as she was the singing voice for Bamm-Bamm (Christine Cavanaugh, from Dexter's Laboratory, spoke for Bamm-Bamm otherwise), and duets with Aria Curzon, the voice of Pebbles, on the theme song......

Regrettably, I never got to see the show, as I believe CN had cancelled it before my cable system picked up the network at the end of '96.

A little history lesson. Cave Kids actually started as a comic book, produced by Gold Key some 30-odd years earlier, toward the end of the Flintstones' initial network run. Obviously, this version was much different, but only 8 episodes were produced before CN & Hanna-Barbera pulled the plug.

Rating: None.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Saturday School: Don't Drown Your Food (1977)

I don't have the exact year on this short piece produced by DePatie-Freleng for ABC in the late 1970's, but its message should still resonate in today's health-conscious society.

"Don't Drown Your Food" suggests that it's better not to flood your foods with milk (for breakfast cereal) or condiments such as ketchup, salad dressing, or sour cream. The "lifeguard" serving as our narrator is voiced by Arnold Stang (ex-Top Cat). Uploaded by SatAMBrainFood.

Rating: A.

You Know The Voice: Tom Kenny, "heart salesman" (1992)

Before he achieved his greatest success as an in-demand voice actor, comedian Tom Kenny had his first brush with television fame in the short-lived Fox series, The Edge, a Sunday night sketch comedy series that was supposed to be a complement to the more popular and successful In Living Color, but couldn't hold the audience. Kenny was part of an ensemble that also included future sitcom stars Wayne Knight (Seinfeld, 3rd Rock From the Sun) & Jennifer Aniston (Friends) and ex-MTV personality Julie Brown (ex-Just Say Julie), whom the show was supposedly built around in the first place. Here's Tom as heart salesman Tex Worthy in this clip from 1992, uploaded by BrianHamiltonTV:

Thanks to SpongeBob Squarepants, as well as a stint as narrator of The Powerpuff Girls, Kenny has become a star in his own right. These days, in addition to SpongeBob, Tom is also the voice of Plastic Man on Batman: The Brave & The Bold on Cartoon Network, and worked on the Winnie The Pooh feature film that was released earlier this year.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

From Comics to Toons: The Incredible Hulk (1982)

The live-action Incredible Hulk, with Lou Ferrigno & the late Bill Bixby, had come to an end. Much like Batman 14 years earlier, the green goliath moved to animated form and to Saturday mornings, changing networks along the way. Only in this case, it was from CBS to NBC.

NBC had overhauled their Saturday slate a year earlier, producing only 2 legitimate hits: Smurfs & Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends. For the latter series, Marvel frontman Stan Lee came on board to serve as narrator, as if that was really necessary, and would have the same chores for this animated incarnation of Hulk. Hewey1972 uploaded the open to YouTube:

Veteran voice actor Bob Holt provided the Hulk's growls, while ever-busy Michael Bell voiced Bruce Banner (no longer David, as was the case in the primetime series). Only 13 episodes were produced, and NBC kept the series around for an extra year or two, as they got caught short on new material the following year. It's notable also for the toon debut of ol' greenskin's cousin, She-Hulk, who would also resurface in the 1996 revival of the series on UPN. Was Lee's narration a deterrent? It all depends on your point of view. I get he was trying to create the same kind of atmosphere for the series, a la The Fugitive, that the live-action show did, but it was unnecessary.

Rating: B.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Spooktober: The Super Friends encounter a "Universe of Evil" (1979)

Remember the classic Star Trek episode, "Mirror, Mirror", which was later adapted into a comic book? Well, that was the inspiration, one could guess, for the World's Greatest Super Friends episode, "Universe of Evil". Convieniently, the Wonder Twins had gone on vacation at the start of this adventure. Their evil counterparts make a cameo appearance early, but are not heard from again.

Edit, 6/17/22: I've found an excerpt from the episode:

 Too bad this couldn't be a 2-part episode.

Rating: A.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Saturday School: Ask NBC News (1979)

Seeing how CBS had succeeded with its In The News micro-segments on Saturdays, NBC decided to get into the act, but in a different way.

Ask NBC News aired within the confines of the network's Saturday morning lineup for a few years, airing as late as 1983, before being phased out in favor of the celebrity-driven One To Grow On. Here, in this clip from October, 1979, the late John Chancellor, then the anchor of NBC Nightly News, answers a young boy's question about Presidential term limits. The clip is prefaced by an intro featuring The New Shmoo. Uploaded by Seanmc.

Rating: A.

Spooktober: Frankenstein, Jr. vs. "Alien Brain From Outer Space" (1966)

Even though he was the headline star of his show, Frankenstein, Jr. only appeared in one episode per week, bracketed by co-stars, The Impossibles. Now, go figure that one out. The common link between the two segments being the campy dialogue, a la Batman, and the odd villains.

Boy scientist Buzz Conroy (Dick Beals) was a bit of a prodigy, and his father (John Stephenson) certainly had him going in the right direction, using his genius for the benefit of others. His greatest invention was his robot crimestopper, Frankenstein, Jr. (Ted Cassidy, ex-The Addams Family), who seemed nearly unstoppable. Here, Frankie & Buzz defend Civic City from the "Alien Brain From Outer Space".

Too much expository dialogue is not a good thing.

Rating: B-.

Saturday School: The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine (1974)

Two years had passed after their cartoon series had been cancelled, and they were making annual appearances on ABC's Wide World of Sports, but the Harlem Globetrotters returned to CBS in 1974 to host a half hour variety show from the producers of Hee Haw.

The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine lasted just the one season, unfortunately, and that can be blamed on its time slot, airing as it did at 11 am (ET). In those days, it was common for local stations to black out selected programs in favor of syndicated shows that would bring the affiliates some added revenue. The Trotters were joined by child star Rodney Allen Rippy, who otherwise was known for a series of ads for Jack In The Box restaurants, and actor-comedian Avery Schreiber (ex-My Mother The Car), whose regular comedy partner, Jack Burns (ex-The Andy Griffith Show) was one of the show's writers. Schreiber was cast as the colorfully costumed Mr. Evil, acting as a foil for Rippy & the Trotters.

Sadly, the following video, uploaded by 70sKidVid, is in black & white, as apparently all the color prints no longer exist. Yeah, the announcer's the same guy who had the gig on Hee Haw, which was in syndication by this time, and doing pretty well.

This was the 2nd of 3 Saturday go-rounds for the Globetrotters. They would return to animated form, and to Hanna-Barbera, in 1979, a move that I think they might regret, although the players didn't have any real input in the cartoon.......

Rating: A.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Saturtainment: Blast Off Buzzard (1977)

This segment of CB Bears was Hanna-Barbera's answer to the wildly popular Road Runner, who at the time was co-headlining with Bugs Bunny on CBS. Blast Off Buzzard was like the Coyote, forever pursuing a snake named Crazy Legs (don't ask), and, of course, destined to forever fail. Here's an example, "Ho, Ho, Ho! It's the Buzzard's Birthday!":

What I don't get is why a snake needs a helmet in the first place!

Rating: B-.

Spooktober: Bump In the Night (1993)

I think it's fair to say that ABC was willing to take some chances in the early 90's with their Saturday morning lineup. The 2nd animated incarnation of The Addams Family was in its 2nd season. Beetlejuice was gone, so the network needed something to complement the Addamses to draw the same kind of audience.

Enter a bizarre bogeyman named Mr. Bumpy, the star of Bump In The Night, a claymation series that spent two seasons on ABC, and merited a primetime Christmas special. Bumpy (Jim Cummings) seems to fancy himself to be quite the showman, as this intro suggests:

The idea was, I think, to try to make the scary types that children thought inhabited space in their bedrooms seem less of a threat and more needing of friendship. However, Bumpy and his pals have not seen the light of day since the series was cancelled, and the series is now considered more of a cult classic.

Rating: None. Never saw the show.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Spooktober: Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles (1996)

Gargoyles was Disney's attempt at a "toon noir" adventure series as part of the Disney Afternoon programming block when it first launched in 1994. Two years later, after Disney had acquired ABC, the latter network picked up the series' 3rd season, and added the subtitle, The Goliath Chronicles, in reference to the show's lead protagonist.

However, series co-creator Greg Weisman wasn't too thrilled with the corporate meddling that ultimately doomed the show, resulting in Goliath Chronicles being cancelled after its only ABC season. Reruns of the entire Gargoyles series currently air overnights on DisneyXD, but at this time of year, the series deserves a more pristine airtime.

Gargoyles' cast was loaded with star power, especially from the Star Trek franchise. Next Generation regulars Jonathan Frakes & Marina Sirtis were in the cast of Gargoyles virtually from the start, with Frakes cast as villainous businessman David Xanatos, who was meant to be to the Gargoyles what Lex Luthor was to Superman, an arch-foe that was hard to take down because of his carefully created public persona as a philanthropist.

Here's the open to the Goliath Chronicles, uploaded by ChopstickSH to YouTube:

While I followed the weekday series with some regularity, I didn't watch the Saturday series, so I can't give it a fair rating.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Spooktober: W.I.T.C.H. (2004)

W.I.T.C.H. arrived on ABC in the winter of 2004-5 with a great deal of fanfare and hype, imported as it was from Italy. Unfortunately, because it didn't meet the FCC E/I requirements, ABC placed the series in the dreaded "death slot" at 12 noon (ET), where it replaced Kim Possible. The two series would alternate in the slot for the rest of the season, but, sorry to say. W.I.T.C.H. was cancelled after 1 season in the US.

The titular acronym comes from the five protagonists: Will, Irma, Taranee, Cornelia, & Hay Lin, and the series was a spin-off from an Italian comic book of the same name, which, if I remember correctly, was brought to the US by another Disney subsidiary, Hyperion, for publication here, in trade paperback form, although I could be wrong. I tried to watch the first episode, but just couldn't get into it. Winxeva uploaded the open to YouTube:

Realizing that ABC programmers' hands were tied, cable cousin ABC Family aired the series about 3 hours before the ABC broadcast, but about a week or so behind. Not that it would matter in the long run. Not to be outdone, Fox trotted out the similarly themed Winx Club that same winter, and was able to sustain it for at least a full year or two.

Yet, ever since it was cancelled here in the US, there's been no W.I.T.C.H. merchandise to be had, even second or third hand. Go figure.

Rating: C.

Dept. of Shameless Plugs: Noblemania

This one goes out to the hardcore Super Friends fans who've never had the opportunity to learn about the actors behind their favorite heroes.

A few weeks ago, I discovered a blog that has become like manna from Heaven for SF fans. Marc Tyler Nobleman's Noblemania blog recently concluded a series of interviews with some of the cast members from Super Friends from its glory years (1977-86), but not everyone. You can access Marc's "Super 70's & 80's" series at this link:

As Dr. Seuss once wrote, "oh, the places you'll go!".

Marc is currently doing a series related to the original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, and has an interview with season 1 theme vocalist Larry Marks up now. Thanks, Marc, for solving that age-old mystery.

Check it out. You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Spooktober: The Galloping Ghost (1978)

Originally a part of Yogi's Space Race, the Galloping Ghost was paired with The Buford Files and spun off into its own half-hour series in February, 1979, when NBC decided to chop the 90-minute anthology into three separate half-hours. We've previously covered Buford and the Space Race itself, so now's the time to say hello to Nugget Nose, aka the Galloping Ghost, an Old West miner who winds up in 1978 to help the owners of a dude ranch. Well, at least two of them.

Muttley16 uploaded the open:

What worked against Nugget Nose was the fact that over on CBS, Hanna-Barbera had introduced Dinky Dog as a backup feature on The All-New Popeye Hour that same season. While the setting and central character were different, the basic concept was the same, and viewers were voting with their remotes.

Rating: B.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Spooktober: Shake, Rattle, & Roll (1977)

From CB Bears comes a goofy trio of spooks who at least are making a living, which is more that could've been said for Casper's uncles, the Ghostly Trio.

Shake, Rattle, & Roll happen to manage a hotel whose clientele, understandably, consists of other ghosts and things that go bump in the night. Roll (Joe E. Ross, ex-Hong Kong Phooey) is the chief cook. Shake (Paul Winchell) & Rattle (Len Weinrib) man the switchboard and the desk, though both are at the switchboard as "Guess What's Coming to Dinner" starts. It's a variant on the age-old plot of days gone by, in which our ghosts babysit........well, I wish I could tell you.

Edit, 6/1/22: The video has been privatized. In its place is the title card:

If any one story defined the term, suspension of disbelief, this might qualify.

Rating: C.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: The Inspector (1965)

Loosely based on Peter Sellers' legendary Inspector Clouseau in the "Pink Panther" movies, The Inspector starred in his own series of DePatie-Freleng theatrical shorts, beginning in 1965. 4 years later, the series was used as the backup feature when Pink Panther debuted on NBC.

Comic Pat Harrington (later of One Day at a Time) voices both the Inspector and his aide, Sgt. Deux-Deux. In addition, taking his cue from Dragnet's Jack Webb, the Inspector narrates his own adventures.

"Le Quiet Squad", produced in 1967, uses an old plot that was used in other shorts years earlier. In this case, the Inspector must ensure that his boss gets some much needed peace & quiet. When this aired on NBC, the intro music used for the Panther's shorts was also used here.

Interestingly, when DFE produced new bumpers for The Pink Panther Show, Harrington was not brought back, as the shorts had come to an end. Instead, actor Marvin Miller, who was the 3rd man to essay the voice of the Commissioner, a role more commonly associated with Paul Frees in the minds of most fans, took over as the Inspector, in pursuit of the Panther, in a way tying this to the movie series.

Rating: B.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

From Primetime to Daytime: Batman (1966)

To think that it started as a mid-season replacement series in January, 1966, then became a pop culture phenomenon.

Indeed, Batman captured the public's attention when ABC introduced the series in the 2nd half of the 1965-6 season, and it became a to-do stop for a number of celebrities, whether it was to be a villain of the week, or just to stop by.

Oh, and here's the open everyone knows from seasons 1 & 2.

In season 3, with ratings slipping, ABC opted against a spin-off pilot and added Batgirl (Yvonne Craig) to the mix. Unfortunately, the series ended six months later.

Death was a rarity on this show, and the only known fatality came in the opening two-parter as Molly (Jill St. John) was killed off, leading Batman (Adam West, ex-The Detectives) to utter the famous line, "What a way to go-go.".

It is well known, of course, that in the course of the series' 26 month history, 3 actors played Mr. Freeze, including filmmaker Otto Preminger. Even the late Frank Gorshin, who won an Emmy as The Riddler, was subbed out for one storyline, with John Astin (ex-The Addams Family) filling in. When the feature film version of the series was shot during the season, Julie Newmar, at the time the definitive Catwoman, had a previous commitment, so former Miss America Lee Meriweather, later of Time Tunnel & Barnaby Jones, subbed. Broadway star Eartha Kitt took over in season 3, which might've given the producers of the 2004 "Catwoman" feature film an excuse to use another African-American, Halle Berry ("X-Men") in the title role.

Batman merits inclusion in our archives because after the series ended, some stations, including WRGB in Schenectady, aired the show on Saturdays after the network cartoons. WRGB aired the show 6 days a week at one point, before passing the show to another station in the market.

This weekend, Batman will be returning, as the series joins the Me-TV lineup (check local listings)

These days, Adam West is keeping busy voicing his animated likeness as the mayor of Quahog, home of Fox's Family Guy. Series creator Seth MacFarlane must be a fan......

Rating: B+.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Rubik the Amazing Cube (1983)

Rubik's Cube was a popular game in the early 80's. In fact, it was so big, one local player adopted the handle of "Professor Rubik" when he called into an area radio station's primetime show on a regular basis.

In 1983, Ruby-Spears Productions was given a license to adapt the game into a cartoon----by making the cube a sentient entity! Now, that's enough to make you go completely loco, don't ya think?

As it was, Rubik the Amazing Cube lasted one season. It was touted as the first cartoon to use Latino protagonists as lead characters. Two years earlier, the Super Friends had welcomed a Latino hero, El Dorado, but he was meant to be a supporting player all along, and was written out of the show within 3 years time. As for Rubik, his voice was done by actor Ron Palillo (ex-Welcome Back, Kotter), who'd made his toon debut two years earlier as well, as a porcine drill sergeant (literally) in Laverne & Shirley's animated series. The Latino teen group, Menudo, recorded the show's theme song.

Here's the open, uploaded by crakkerjakk:

It's easy to suggest that whomever pitched this idea to the network, or even to the producers in the first place, might've been a few fries shy of a happy meal.

Rating: D.

What's in a name?: The Hanna-Barbera idea machine

Bear with me, gang, while I indulge in a little rant here.

Now, as we all know, a lot of Hanna-Barbera's earliest successes were derived from other sources, be it other television shows or movies. I thought I'd compose a little list.

The Flintstones: It's common knowledge, of course, that the first H-B icon of the 60's was inspired by a 50's icon, that being Jackie Gleason's Honeymooners. In turn, the travails of Fred & Wilma and their friends would become a template for future H-B domestic sitcoms, such as The Jetsons, and, much later, The Roman Holidays.

Top Cat: As I outlined when I reviewed this show, ol' TC was based on one Master Sgt. Ernest Bilko (Phil Silvers), so maybe it wasn't so much of a coincidence that Maurice Gosfeld, who played Private Doberman opposite Silvers, was part of the supporting cast.

Wacky Races: It's been said that this first H-B sports series was inspired by the movie, "The Great Race", which had an ensemble cast that included the likes of Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. In turn, the two Races spin-offs, The Perils of Penelope Pitstop & Dastardly & Muttley in Their Flying Machines, were based on films. Perils was a left-handed homage to the silent melodramas of the 20's, while Dastardly drew inspiration from "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines", I believe.

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?: The last H-B icon of the 60's got his name from a little scatting by Frank Sinatra in his song, "Strangers in the Night".

It's pretty much a given that Dynomutt, Dog Wonder and his human owner-partner, Blue Falcon, were a throwback to the campy, mid-60's live-action Batman, which was ironic in that by the time creators Joe Ruby & Ken Spears introduced Dyno in 1976, Batman was part of the H-B family, as he & the Super Friends had been licensed to the studio and the original series was in reruns at that point.

Sticking with the SF, most of us have known for years that the Wonder Twins, Zan & Jayna, were modeled after singers Donny & Marie Osmond, whose variety series was airing on ABC when The All-New Super Friends Hour bowed in 1977. According to Marc Tyler Nobleman's Noblemania blog, and sources quoted therein, supposedly, the Exorian sibs got their names from Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan and his wife, Jane. Now, it happens to be a coincidence that Tarzan, licensed to Filmation, was airing on CBS at that time, so you can draw your own conclusion. As for the Osmond connection, well, take the points off the Twins' ears, and Jayna's up-raised ponytail, and, well, what do you think?

Hanna-Barbera's 1974 rookie class included three more media-inspired entries.

Hong Kong Phooey, of course, cashed in on the growing popularity of martial arts movies. Devlin was inspired by real-life stuntman Evel Knievel. These Are The Days had to draw inspiration from CBS' The Waltons. Going back 2 years, you have to believe that Wait 'Til Your Father Gets Home, a syndicated offering, was derived from another CBS hit, All in the Family, but without the heavy emphasis on social commentary.

Now, I've discussed most of these series individually in the past, but I thought it'd be a good idea to look at the trend the studio created. Unfortunately, this kind of history lesson is lost on the current regime at Cartoon Network, which could stand a few lessons.

Toonfomercial: Superman peanut butter (1983)

I'm not entirely sure if this was animated at Hanna-Barbera or not. One thing is for certain. A different actor other than Stan Jones was hired to be the voice of Lex Luthor for this ad shilling the short-lived Superman peanut butter, put out by Sunnyland in 1983. Not sure if Danny Dark, who was the voice of the Man of Steel in those days, did this ad, either. Uploaded by panbiscuit to YouTube:

I never tried the stuff, and I hardly even saw it in stores in my area, to begin with!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Saturday Morning's Greatest Hits: It's A Sunshine Day (1973)

"It's a Sunshne Day" is the song most associated with The Brady Kids, but was originally introduced on the parent series, The Brady Bunch, in January, 1973. Subsequently, the song was added to the cartoon soundtrack. Joramma20 uploaded this karaoke-style clip, which has the lyrics on the screen to make it easier for you to sing along. The clip ends with a portion of the show's open.

For what it's worth, and this has been pointed out to me by many on other boards, the poses for the Kids' musical numbers were redrawn from The Archie Show. You simply sub Greg for Archie, Jan for Veronica, Bobby for Jughead, and so on. Cindy is not an analogue for the Archies' mascot, Hot Dog, however. Hot Dog often had a baton so he could pretend to "conduct" the band, if you will, but that isn't the case here.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Tooniversary: Dial M For Monkey (1996)

As we discussed previously, Dial M For Monkey was one of the backup features on Dexter's Laboratory. As you can see in the intro, Dexter never believed that his pet would amount to anything, and so the science-obsessed youth gave up experimenting on Monkey, unaware that the simian was in fact endowed with super powers after all.

Cameran Barkley uploaded the episode, "Barbequor". Most of the open was edited out by mistake, methinks.

Rating: A.

Saturtainment: Live Aid (1985)

It was one of those events that, when it's recalled, will have people asking you where you were when it happened.

Live Aid was, practically, the ultimate concert event, originating from two locations: Wembley Stadium in London, and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. The event was broadcast live on MTV and featured a who's who of musical acts of that era and prior.

One of the classic acts on the bill was Crosby, Stills, & Nash, who were introduced to the MTV generation a couple of years earlier with the release of the "Daylight Again" album. Here, courtesy of LiveAidVideo, the trio of David Crosby, Stephen Stills, & Graham Nash perform one of their earlier hits, "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes".

Now, this was a way to shake the summer rerun blues, don't ya think?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Family Toons: Seven Little Monsters (2000)

There was a time not long ago when PBS had a Saturday morning block. In fact, a former PBS series, Danger Rangers, has shifted over to CBS this season, and there will be a review of that series down the road, trust me.

Anyway, in 2000, PBS experimented by putting together a 2 1/2 hour block of cartoons, most, if not all, of which were produced by Canada's Nelvana, which has also provided series to the broadcast networks over the years. We've previously reviewed the adaptation of Redwall, the medieval fantasy created by the late author, Brian Jacques. Turns out it wasn't the only series based on a book.

Seven Little Monsters, which aired directly in front of Redwall in some places, including my area, came from the pen of award-winning author Maurice Sendak (Where The Wild Things Are). The cast includes comic Colin Mochrie (Whose Line Is It Anyway?), and, as you'll see in the following clip, the producers secured comics & TV writer Jeph Loeb (Heroes) as one of the staff writers. Here's part one of "Good Morning", the series opener:

The series lasted just two seasons of original episodes on PBS, but lingered around a while in reruns. It aired in Canada on YTV from 2003-07, and presently is airing on Qubo (check local listings). It's just too bad PBS didn't promote their block as heavily as the other networks did theirs, because this rumbled under the radar.

Rating: A.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rein-Toon-Ation: The Fantastic Four (1978)

Marvel Comics' "First Family of Superheroes" returned to television in The New Fantastic Four in 1978. This time, DePatie-Freleng, which would later be acquired by Marvel as its television arm, produced the series. The emphasis was on "new", even though it doesn't show up in the title.

A popular, unsubstantiated rumor claims that Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, was written off the series before it began out of fear that young viewers might consider emulating his exploits. Storm, though, was replaced by H.E.R.B.I.E. (Frank Welker), who would later make the transition into the FF's comic book. The lineup change may have actually doomed the series before it really took off, and it didn't help that the original series, produced by Hanna-Barbera 11 years earlier, had returned as part of the syndicated Hanna-Barbera's World of Super Adventure block.

The casting of the remaining FF members reads like an all-star team. Mike Road (ex-The Herculoids) was cast as Reed Richards, aka Mr. Fantastic. At the time, Road was also doing commercials on-screen for Fireman's Fund, an insurance company. Ginny Tyler (ex-Space Ghost) was Reed's wife, Sue (The Invisible Girl), and Ted Cassidy was cast as Ben Grimm, the orange-skinned Thing. Cassidy was also working for H-B at the same time, on another NBC series, The Godzilla Power Hour. He had the lead as Godzilla, and also voiced Montaro, the shaman-mentor to Jana of the Jungle. Co-creator Stan Lee was the series' principal writer, and as announcer Dick Tufeld's narration suggests, Lee may have written some of the original scripts with plans to use them in the comics. In fact, some scripts were either adapted from the comics or the original 1967 H-B series. As we all know, Lee would go on to serve as narrator for NBC's Marvel-produced adaptation of The Incredible Hulk in 1982, along with season 2 of Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends.

Edit, 6/18/22: Had to change the video. Here's the intro.

Amazingly, the NBC affiliate in my home area refused to air the series. Fortunately, at that time, the cable system had a secondary NBC affiliate, WKTV of Utica, on the roster, which was the only way I was able to watch the show. I'd not be surprised to find that a number of other stations opted against this version of the FF, leading to its quick cancellation after just 1 season.

The Thing would return the next year, and return to H-B as well, but with a very uncool twist, having been de-aged into a shape-shifting teenager. I previously covered that sad story a year ago, if you want to go back and refer to it......

Rating: B.