Thursday, June 30, 2011

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Zorro (1990)

In the early 1990's, the Family Channel (now ABC Family) began filling their Saturday morning schedule with replays of their original programming that was airing in prime time (or earlier) during the week. One such instance was a revival of Zorro, who last appeared in animated form nearly a decade earlier.

Everyone knows the story. Don Diego de la Vega (Duncan Regehr) is summoned to the pueblo of Los Angeles in 19th century California to challenge the corrupt Alcalde (Michael Tylo, ex-Guiding Light). Diego adopts the guise of Zorro, a dual identity known only to his mute aide, Felipe (as opposed to Bernardo in other adaptations, including the Disney series of the 50's).

Zorro was a mid-season replacement, debuting in January 1990, and lasted until 1994. Today, the series is back on the air, added this week to Retro's lineup (check local listings). The series underwent a couple of minor changes during its 4 year run. Henry Darrow (ex-High Chaparral), who was the voice of Zorro in the 1981-82 CBS series from Filmation, took over for Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. (ex-The FBI) after the first season as Don Alejandro, Diego's father. Tylo left after 2 seasons, replaced by John Hertzler.

Spinhx1984 uploaded this intro:

Now, if only Disney could be persuaded to release their series on DVD, along with this show........

Rating: A.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Toon Sports: Hurricanes (1993)

In the 1990's, independent distributor Bohbot Entertainment entered into an agreement with DIC, among others, to distribute animated programs under the umbrella title, Amazing Adventures. The anthology block would run for either 1 or 2 hours, depending on the market and the air time (either on Saturday or Sunday). Bohbot would later form the Bohbot Kids Network, which had series placed in syndication and on cable later in the decade.

One such entry from DIC & Bohbot was Hurricanes, about a traveling soccer team which had one steady opponent, the Gorgons, who were run by an unsavory fellow named Stavros. The series even aired on ESPN2, if you can believe it (and I can; I actually saw it in the television listings once or twice).

Here's the open:

Hurricanes managed to last 4 years, but to my knowledge, I don't think it lasted that long in my area, and ESPN gave up on the show fairly quickly as well. Cookie Jar Entertainment, which bought out DIC last year, has no current plans to release the series on DVD. Their loss.

No fair rating, as I never saw the show.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Literary Toons: Around the World in 79 Days (1969)

One of the components of the Cattanooga Cats anthology series was Around the World in 79 Days, an updating of Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days, which would become a series proper 3 years later for NBC.

In Hanna-Barbera's version, Phinney Fogg (Bruce Watson, heard in the Three Musketeers & Micro Ventures segments of Banana Splits) accepts a bet to complete the same global tour that Verne's hero, Phineas Fogg, did, in 1 fewer day. Crumden, supposedly Phinneas' butler, wants the inheritance for himself (what a shock), and determines to sabotage the younger Fogg's efforts.

Small wonder this series failed. The greedy villain angle mirrors H-B stablemate, The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, which premiered the same year over on CBS. After all, it was money that the Hooded Claw was ultimately after, wasn't it?

Right now, check out the opener, "The Race is On":

All things considered, it was slightly better than the adaptation of the novel that would follow.....

Rating: B-.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Mumbly (1976)

What do you get when you cross Droopy with Columbo? You get Mumbly, a canine sleuth who joined ABC's Saturday lineup in 1976 as part of the Tom & Jerry Show.

Lt. Mumbly (Don Messick, of course) was a satire of Columbo, who by then was well established at NBC, and would later move to ABC himself a number of years later. Mumbly's superior officer, Inspector Schnooker (John Stephenson doing his Joe Flynn mimic) was designed as a parody of another popular 70's cop, Kojak, as if you couldn't tell with the color coordinated wardrobe. On his own, chasing a suspect, Mumbly, much like Droopy, would inexplicably appear here, there, & everywhere, frustrating his quarry to the point where he'd inevitably surrender on his own.

It would later be revealed that Mumbly was, in fact, a cousin to Dick Dastardly's sidekick, Muttley. As we've documented previously, a squabble over rights to Dastardly & Muttley between Hanna-Barbera & Heatter-Quigley (which co-produced Wacky Races) led to Dastardly & Muttley being sidelined for a few years, although that didn't stop Marvel from having them meet their kinfolk (Dread Baron being Dastardly's brother) in the pages of a Laff-A-Lympics. This meant Mumbly was recast as a villain for the Laff-a-Lympics series, and he hasn't yet reclaimed his badge, an oversight that has yet to be addressed!

Here's the open:

As you can tell, they simply altered the lyrics to the theme from the Tom & Jerry Show, from which this was spun off.

Rating: A.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sunday Funnies: Yogi's Treasure Hunt (1985)

The Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera was a 90-minute anthology block that aired from 1985-95 in syndication. One of the first series in the block was Yogi's Treasure Hunt, which brought Yogi Bear together with most of the same cast from 1973's Yogi's Gang, but instead of a different villain each week, Yogi had a regular arch-foe in Wacky Races villain Dick Dastardly and his sidekick, Muttley.

Treasure Hunt was, in effect, a sequel to Yogi's Gang, but this time, Yogi was getting his marching orders from Top Cat (Arnold Stang). The series lasted three seasons, with the final episode debuting in March of 1988. That last episode, "Secret Agent Bear", allowed for the cast to engage in a little role-play, save for Dastardly & Muttley, who were their usual selves, in a parody of the James Bond movies.

Here's the open:

For what it's worth, the block's theme song, "It's Fun-fun-funtastic!" was sung by former Sha Na Na frontman Jon "Bowzer" Bauman, who was doing some voice acting for H-B at the time, in addition to working for VH1 as a VJ.

Regrettably, Cartoon Network and Boomerang have not seen fit to put Treasure Hunt on their schedule, even in the run-up to last winter's "Yogi Bear" feature film. Their loss, as usual.

Rating: B.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Personal Favorites: Go Go Gophers (1966)

Originally introduced as a backup feature on The Underdog Show, the Go Go Gophers proved popular enough to warrant being spun off into their own series in 1968, albeit on CBS.

Running Board (voiced by George S. Irving, the narrator of Underdog) and Ruffled Feather (Sandy Becker) were the last survivors of a Gopher Indian tribe in the late 19th century. Colonel Kit Coyote (Kenny Delmar) and Sgt. Okey Homa (Becker) were assigned the task of removing Running Board & Ruffled Feather from Gopher Gulch, but would never succeed. Being part-Native American myself, I could appreciate the humor in seeing two funny animal "Indians" getting the better of the "soldiers", in sharp contrast to the live-action sitcom, F-Troop, which depicted a Native American tribe as being presented as buffoons.

Unlike the average cartoon short, each Go Go Gophers episode averaged about 4 1/2 minutes, such as this sample, "Cuckoo Combat", uploaded by TheVermontFox to YouTube:

I regret that the theme song is unavailable at this time.

Rating: A.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: The Kids From C. A. P. E. R. (1976)

When NBC decided to toss aside all of their animated cartoons in 1992, they did so thinking they could recapture what ratings magic they had with live-action programming in the mid-70's. Unfortunately, even then, it was more of a short-term investment than long-term.

In 1976, NBC mounted a 3 hour block of live-action programming in back of long-time network standby The Pink Panther. Land of the Lost was in its 3rd & final season. William D'Angelo supplied NBC with Big John, Little John (a collaboration with Brady Bunch creator Sherwood Schwartz) & Monster Squad. The subject of this post, The Kids From C. A. P. E. R., had the most interesting pedigree.

Series creator Romeo Muller is better known for his work in animation, primarily with Rankin-Bass, and later as an independent producer. The late Don Kirshner, the genius behind The Monkees & The Archies in the 60's, was an executive producer, along with Alan Landsburg (In Search Of.....). Kirshner even called in Ron Dante, the singing voice of Archie Andrews, to sing the show's theme song. Dante at this time was becoming better known as a producer, working with Barry Manilow on his early hits ("Mandy", "It's a Miracle", etc.).

The concept behind the Kids was simple. They were a 4 man team of teen detectives who worked with the local police department. The acronym C. A. P. E. R. stood for Civilian Authority to Protect Everyone, Regardless. Wack, I know, but it seemed like a good idea at the time, didn't it?

With Kirshner on board, you knew a soundtrack album had to be part of the mix, and there was one. The theme song, unfortunately, wasn't included, but there was one single, "When It Hit Me (The Hurricane Song)". Sadly, the series was placed on hiatus just 2 months into the season because of poor ratings, due largely to airing around 12 noon (ET), where most series are doomed from the go because of affiliate disinterest, preferring to air syndicated programming to generate better revenues. C. A. P. E. R. would return in April of 1977 to burn off the remaining episodes before disappearing for good. There is a website devoted to the series, and maybe it'll turn up on DVD.

I never saw the show, so I can't give a fair rating. However, I will leave you with a video for "When It Hit Me", taken from an episode of the series, and done in much the same way they made in-show videos for The Monkees. John Lansing is "singing", but I'm not sure if he was the real vocalist. I doubt it.

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: The Red Hand Gang (1977)

In 1977, the live-action explosion was starting to fade out on Saturday mornings. Producer William D'Angelo, having failed the year before with Monster Squad, came up with a new adventure series that actually had a little bit of the Little Rascals in its pedigree.

The Red Hand Gang, unfortunately, was buried near the bottom of NBC's lineup because of the declining interest in live-action programming, and lasted one season. The most recognizable name in the cast is that of Matthew Laborteaux, better known for his stint on the network's Little House on the Prarie. The rest of the kids were hardly heard from again after Red Hand was cancelled. Laborteaux would give crime fighting another shot in the 80's, starring in CBS' Whiz Kids, which, like Red Hand, didn't last very long.

70skidvid uploaded the open to YouTube:

I cannot give a fair rating, since I never saw the show. It's too bad NBC never gave any consideration to reviving the series for a new generation after shying away from cartoons in the 90's.......!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Animated World of DC Comics: Green Lantern in "The Vanishing World" (1967)

We wrap up our weekend salute to the 1967 Green Lantern shorts with the middle episode in the series, "The Vanishing World". An ambitious space criminal abducts Kyro (Paul Frees), hoping to use him to lure Green Lantern (Gerald Mohr) to an asteroid that only appears in our dimension for an hour per year. Narrator Ted Knight voices the villain and subs for Frees as the Guardian in this story.

Easily the weakest of the three episodes in terms of plotting, as GL never makes actual contact with the villain.

Rating: B-.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Animated World of DC Comics: Green Lantern vs. Evil Star (1967)

"Evil is as Evil Does" was the first of 3 Green Lantern shorts produced by Filmation, and the only one to use a villain from the comics, Evil Star.

For reasons known only to the producers, GL (Gerald Mohr) was given a Venusian sidekick, Kyro, rather than use mechanic Thomas Kalmaku, aka Pieface, who was GL's confidant in the comics. Now, what could be so wrong about Kalmaku that he had to be replaced? He wasn't a stereotype! Sharp eared fans might notice that Paul Frees uses virtually the same voice pattern for Kyro that he did 2 years earlier for Morocco Mole, the sidekick to Secret Squirrel. Frees also is the voice for Evil Star and the Guardians of the Universe.

Rating: A-. (The first one was the best)

Saturday School: The Baseball Bunch (1982)

Major League Baseball's television divison struck a gold mine in the 70's with the launch of the syndicated This Week in Baseball, which now airs during the season on Fox as a prelude to the network's game of the week. In 1982, a second series, clearly aimed at children, was added.

The Baseball Bunch was hosted by future Hall of Famer Johnny Bench of the Cincinnati Reds. Each week, a different ballplayer was brought on to act as a guest instructor to the kids, with the San Diego Chicken serving as comic relief. Providing further comedy, albeit unintentionally, was Tom Lasorda, then the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who appeared as the "Dugout Wizard", imparting additional wisdom on fundamentals. Lasorda, who built his reputation for being over the top with his antics as the Dodgers' 3rd base coach before succeeding Walter Alston as manager, was lucky he wasn't dressed up as Merlin.

The following clip features another future Hall of Famer, shortstop Ozzie Smith, who played with San Diego & St. Louis during his career.

Oh, I'm sure Ozzie has heard every one of those "Wizard of Oz" jokes over the years.

Regrettably, The Baseball Bunch was cancelled after three seasons. Seeing as how Fox has infomercials filling their Saturday morning block these days, don't ya think they talked to MLB about reviving this show?

Rating: A.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Animated World of DC Comics: Green Lantern vs. Sirena, Empress of Evil (1967)

This weekend, Green Lantern soars onto the silver screen in a feature film starring Ryan Reynolds, who's already earned his cred with comics fans, having starred in "Blade: Trinity", "X-Men Origins: Wolverine", & "The Losers". To commemorate the occasion, we will present over the next few days the three Filmation cartoons starring the Emerald Gladiator from the Superman-Aquaman Hour of Adventure. First up, ironically, is the last of those three, in which GL (Gerald Mohr, who was also the voice of Reed Richards on Fantastic Four that same season) battles "Sirena, Empress of Evil".

There are plans for GL to star in his own computer-animated series on Cartoon Network, to air next year. Maybe the writers can take the original 1967 shorts and expand on those plots first before creating some original stories......

Rating: B.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Literary Toons: The Littles (1983)

In 1983, DIC, a French-Canadian animation studio, made its first inroads in the United States. The studio acquired the rights to Heathcliff, who'd previously spent 2 seasons on ABC, and developed Inspector Gadget, both for weekday syndication. Their 3rd entry, airing on ABC, was The Littles, based on a series of children's books by John Peterson.

The Little family lived within the walls of the Bigg household, and befriended Henry, who kept their existence a secret from his parents. In a way, this was similar to another book, The Borrowers, which was adapted for television in the 70's, and became a feature film just a few years ago with John Goodman. Here's the open for the first season:

The Littles were meant to be ABC's answer to Smurfs, over on NBC, but lacked the staying power, airing only 3 seasons. It's been revived in syndication over the last few years, but I believe its cable rights now belong to the This network. A made-for-TV movie, "Liberty & the Littles", produced in 1986, aired on ABC's Weekend Special, serving as the coda for the series.

Rating: A.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Saturday Morning's Greatest Hits: Very First Kid On My Block (1968)

Here's another Banana Splits treat, "The Very First Kid On My Block". Now, don't ya think they should release the album on CD?

Celebrity Toons: The New Scooby-Doo Movies (1972)

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, at least in the minds of CBS executives, was all played out after three seasons, the last of which was all reruns. However, the ratings were still strong enough to warrant keeping Scooby around, so Hanna-Barbera was asked to tweak the format. Oh, did they ever!

The New Scooby-Doo Movies offered a full hour of Scooby every week, teamed with a different guest star, be it a celebrity or a cross-over with another series. In fact, in the 2nd season, the series was used to introduce viewers to Jeannie & Speed Buggy, H-B's two freshman entries for CBS in 1973.

But, just as Batman became the hip show to do in the late 60's, there were some stars that were very interested in lending their voices to their animated likenesses, just to team with Scooby and the Mystery, Inc. gang. One such example is actress Sandy Duncan, who had a prime time series on CBS in 1972 (Funny Face, later rechristened, The Sandy Duncan Show). Scooby also met Josie & the Pussycats, the Harlem Globetrotters, and welcomed Batman & Robin to H-B (which helped lead to Super Friends, over on ABC, the next year). The only other network tie-in from prime time was Sonny & Cher, as Jerry Reed's variety show had come and gone a year earlier.

Following is a sample of the episode, "Sandy Duncan's Jekyll & Hydes", which sends the gang to Hollywood, where Sandy is making a movie.

Given how many musical acts appeared on the show, you'd think they could've put together a soundtrack album, but of the musicians that did appear (not counting Josie), only Jerry Reed actually sang, doing a cover of "Pretty Mary Sunshine", which was originally written for season 2 of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, and was later released on the "Scooby's Snack Tracks" compilation CD. Likewise, Davy Jones covered another song, "I Can Make You Happy", which also turned up on "Snack Tracks".

The plots were inconsistent, depending on the guest star, and everyone has their favorites, especially the two with Batman & Robin. Small wonder, then, that Cartoon Network has, in a way, paid tribute to those halcyon days, with Scooby & friends recently appearing on Batman: The Brave & the Bold, and Scooby dreaming of a team-up with Speed Buggy, Jabberjaw, Captain Caveman, & The Funky Phantom on a recent Mystery, Incorporated episode that, while it was a fan's dream, failed in its execution of the plot. Something that did happen pretty often in the movie series.

Rating: B-.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Looney TV: The Road Runner Show (1966)

By 1966, Bugs Bunny was well established as a Saturday morning fixture on ABC, though Porky Pig had bombed out fronting his own show. Undeterred, WB decided to give The Road Runner a series of his own, airing near the bottom of CBS' action-packed Saturday lineup. This would last for 2 seasons before Bugs moved to CBS, resulting in the initial Bugs Bunny-Road Runner Hour, which would last until 1971, at which point Road Runner moved to ABC for a year or two. As we all know, Bugs returned to ABC two more times, from 1973-75, and 1986-2000, with the 2nd incarnation of the Bugs Bunny-Road Runner Hour in between, alternating between 60 & 90 minutes during a 10 year run from 1975-85.

Here's the open, uploaded by TubbyBelly122:

Today, the long standing war between the Road Runner & the Coyote continues on Cartoon Network's The Looney Tunes Show, but now the combatants are in CGI, which actually looks great.

Rating: A.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Birdman (1967)

Today's fans only know about Birdman as the ambulance-chasing Harvey Birdman, Attorney-At-Law, who appeared on Cartoon Network's [adult swim]. However, before he began wearing a 3-piece suit over his costume, Birdman soared into action on NBC in 1967, with the Galaxy Trio as a backup feature.

While his 21st century doppleganger was killed off several months back, now, I think, would be a good time to bring back the true Birdman. That is, assuming WB has enough stones to take a chance. Actor Keith Andes provided the voice of Birdman, seemingly his only cartoon credit.

Edit, 3/30/22: Full episodes have long since been pulled from YouTube by WB, so here's the familiar theme song:

Birdman had only one season's worth of episodes, which played on until the end of 1968, at which point, the series was cancelled to make room for The Storybook Squares. From time to time, episodes will resurface on Boomerang, just to keep the Solar Sentinel in the public eye, and remind fans of what he was before the idiots at [adult swim] got their hands on him.

Rating: B.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Mightor vs. the Monster Keeper (1967)

While it could never be proven that Dino Boy in the Lost Valley, the backup feature on Space Ghost, was actually set in the Stone Age, Hanna-Barbera decided to return to that era with the original caveman superhero, Mighty Mightor, in 1967.

As the origin story goes at the beginning of the show, a young caveman, Tor, rescued a hermit, who then rewarded him with a mystic club, which, when raised, transforms Tor into Mightor.

As The Flintstones transposed the Stone Age into a semi-modern setting from 1960-66, Mightor would seem to be in a more traditional setting depicting the era. Here, Mightor battles "The Monster Keeper" in this excerpt:

Only one season's worth of episodes was produced. Mightor somehow found his way into the 21st century, thanks to the wackjobs at [adult swim], who decided that Mightor would now be a judge named Hiram Mightor, a supporting character on Harvey Birdman, Attorney-At-Law. Those blasphemous dullards wouldn't know the value of quality entertainment if it came up and bit them on their tuchis. I digress.

Rating: A-.

Rein-Toon-ation: Shaggy & Scooby-Doo Get a Clue (2006)

In the early 1980's, Hanna-Barbera experimented with the Scooby-Doo franchise by sending Fred, Velma, & Daphne on a lengthy hiatus, putting the emphasis squarely on Scooby & Shaggy (along with Scrappy-Doo). A lot of fans are not very fond of this period in Scooby's history, largely because of Scrappy's presence, but also because they got away from the traditional format in favor of slapstick comedy.

In 2006, Warner Bros., having learned very little from the previous experiment, decided to send Fred, Velma, & Daphne away again, but not too far this time. The trio would only be recurring cameo players in Shaggy & Scooby-Doo Get a Clue, which spent two seasons on the CW.

The plot this time has Shaggy (Scott Menville) inheriting a fortune from his supposedly deceased uncle, Albert Shaggleford (Casey Kasem, who seemed to have a monopoly on Shaggy's relatives). This allows Shaggy to upgrade the Mystery Machine into a high-tech morphing vehicle, kind of like the Chan Clan's Chan Van more than 30 years earlier. There's also an ongoing villain, Dr. Phineas Phibes (Jeff Bennett), who wants Shaggleford's nano-tech technology for his own nefarious schemes. Phantomdarknes uploaded the open:

The flash animation doesn't fit Scooby and Shaggy at all. Also, Shaggy has discarded his signature green shirt, which to hardcore Scoobaholics may have been a major turnoff.

This marked the first series in which Casey Kasem wasn't voicing Shaggy, although he continued to essay the part in the direct-to-video movie series until last year, when he passed the mic over to Matthew Lillard. Menville's characterization as Shaggy, like previous would-be heirs to the role (Billy West & Scott Innes), wasn't solid. Like, he tried, but the faithful weren't buying.

Rating: D.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Saturday Morning's Greatest Hits: Summertime (1991)

Summer's right around the corner, but with the heat wave we've had in my home district this week, I thought it'd be a good time to serve up the unofficial theme of Summer. That is, "Summertime", by DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince (Jeff Townes & Will Smith). This is taken from the duo's appearance on Soul Train in 1991, right around the time the song was climbing the charts as the 1st single off the CD, "Homebase".

The original video had its world premiere attached to an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Unfortunately, this was the only major hit off the CD.

Saturtainment: Motormouse & Autocat (1969)

Suppose Tom & Jerry had to chase each other around with souped-up hot rod race cars? That was the premise of Motormouse & Autocat, a feature component of the Cattanooga Cats show during its first season in 1969 before being spun off on its own the following year.

Comparisons could also be made with the Road Runner, since, like Wile E. Coyote, Autocat (Marty Ingels, later the voice of Pac-Man) was forever designing new vehicles with which to chase down and capture Motormouse, whose motorcycle looked like it came off the pages of the same hot rod magazines used as inspiration for Autocat's cars. In that regard, Autocat could have some sympathy for studio stablemates Dastardly & Muttley over on CBS, as their show was another variation on the same theme.

Only one season's worth of episodes was produced, which makes the decision by ABC to split the 1 hour Cattanooga Cats into two component half hours of all repeats the following year all the more curious. Surely, they could've commissioned fresh material from Hanna-Barbera, couldn't they? Or, at the very least, ordered new cartoons and kept the series in its original configuration?

Some of the background music you'll hear in "Lights! Camera! Catastrophe!", comes from Wacky Races. Hanna-Barbera recycled the music in order to save money, I think.

Now, since Cartoon Network's sister channel, TNT, shares cable rights to NASCAR races, don't ya think they could borrow some of these cartoons just for fun?

Rating: A.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Toonfomercial: Toon ladies for shampoo (2003)

Sometime around 2003, an advertising rep acting on behalf of Unilever (formerly Lever Brothers), makers of Dove shampoo and soap, among other things, asked Warner Brothers if they could borrow some of the classic Hanna Barbera characters for an ad campaign. The end result is this gem, which helped introduce the shampoo as the latest addition to the Dove brand (along with soap and dish detergent). This would be the only time we'd see Jane Jetson, Wilma Flintstone, & Velma Dinkley in the same ad, pitching the same product.

For the record, Mindy Cohn (ex-Facts of Life), who had just been cast as Velma for WB's What's New Scooby-Doo a year earlier, essays the role here. Uploaded by Scooby317:

Like, they couldn't get Daphne for this gig? What about Penelope Pitstop?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Scrappy-Doo (1979)

The legend has it that ABC was threatening to send Scooby-Doo to the ratings kennel after Scooby's All-Stars (formerly Scooby's All-Star Laff-a-Lympics) had seen a steep decline in its 2nd season. Desperate to keep its last franchise of the 60's a relevant player, Hanna-Barbera added to the Doo family by introducing Scooby's nephew, Scrappy-Doo, as a 10th anniversary present to Scooby and his fans.

Yes, Scrappy has his haters, and it's clear the writers of 2002's "Scooby-Doo" feature film played to those particular folks by making Scrappy the villain of the piece, a move decried in some corners as being mean spirited and disrespectful, given that Scrappy was exactly the ratings boost the franchise needed.

Scrappy's entrance made Mystery Inc. a sextet instead of a quintet, but that wouldn't last very long, and there would be more changes rather quickly. Actress Pat Stevens, who succeeded Nicole Jaffe as Velma 3 years earlier, left the show after recording 11 episodes, and was replaced by Marla Frumkin. Veteran actor-filmmaker Len Weinrib (ex-Magic Mongo) was the original voice of Scrappy, as you'll hear in the show open below, but was replaced the following season by Scooby's portrayer, Don Messick. Weinrib's on-again, off-again relationship with H-B was off again, and would stay off for a few years.

Speaking of the open, here it is, uploaded by Hewey1972:

The familiar, but still tired, mystery format was discarded after 15 episodes, and Velma, Fred, & Daphne were sent away for a lengthy vacation, putting the spotlight on Shaggy, Scooby, & Scrappy for the next three seasons. Daphne would rejoin them for the 1983 season (The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries), in an effort to bring the traditional mysteries back into vogue after three years of slapstick comedy. Was any real collateral damage done? It's hard to say, really. People will have their opinions. Scrappy brought a renewed energy and an uptick in ratings, but whomever it was that decided that Shaggy and the Doos would be a comedy team on the order of the Three Stooges or Marx Brothers nearly ruined the franchise, not Scrappy.

Rating: B.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

From Primetime to Daytime: Lassie (1954)

Most people will recall that Lassie was appointment television for the whole family, usually on Sunday nights, as memory serves.

Having also gone by the titles, Jeff's Collie & Timmy & Lassie, the series spent 19 seasons, all but two on CBS, before being cut loose in 1973. Currently, classic repeats from the early years have been running on Retro as part of their Saturday morning package (check local listings), with a full hour each week.

From the first season comes the episode, "Sale of Lassie", with Jan Clayton as Jeff's mom.

June Lockhart, of course, would go on to star in Lost in Space during the mid-60's. In later years, the cast would also include Jed Allan (Days of Our Lives) and Pamelyn Ferdin (Curiosity Shop), among others. A revival was attempted in the late 80's, but didn't quite take. Nothing, in this case, beats the original.

Rating: A.

Tooniversary: Lazer Tag Academy (1986)

The game Lazer Tag became very big in the mid-80's, and, so, it shouldn't come as a surprise that it would be adapted into a cartoon.

Ruby-Spears, looking for something to replace Mr. T on NBC's Saturday schedule, picked up a license to develop Lazer Tag Academy, a science fiction series that doubled as a glorified informercial for the game.

The plot is rather simple. In the year 2061, Lazer Tag has become a national sport, and Jamie Jarren is its biggest star. Draxon Drear, a master criminal from the 20th century kept in suspended animation, is awakened, and wants the Starlight power that Jamie wields. What results is a race through time, where Jamie meets her ancestors and recruits them as her team. Here's the open to Lazer Tag Academy

The downside was the series airing at 12 noon (ET), a death slot for most cartoons. By this point, the local NBC affiliate began airing the full lineup, and so I was able to sample Lazer Tag Academy. NBC didn't have a lot of faith in the show, or otherwise it might've gotten a better slot, nestled perhaps in between Smurfs & Alvin & the Chipmunks.

Rating: B.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Rein-Toon-ation: The Oddball Couple (1975)

"Those who fail to remember history are doomed to repeat it."--George Santayana

In 1974, ABC cancelled The Partridge Family. Despite that, Columbia Pictures Television (formerly Screen Gems, now Sony Pictures Television) licensed the Partridges to Hanna-Barbera for a cartoon that ended up on rival CBS, and was subsequently cancelled after 1 season.

In 1975, ABC cancelled The Odd Couple. This time, ABC would hang on to the animated reincarnation, but this one had a twist.

DePatie Freleng entered into a licensing agreement of sorts with Paramount, resulting in The Oddball Couple. To borrow a line from Dragnet's famous opening disclaimer, the characters' names were changed to protect the innocent. For example, Felix Unger was turned into a tidy cat named Spiffy (Frank Nelson, ex-The Jack Benny Program), while Oscar Madison was rebooted as a mangy mutt named Fleabag (Paul Winchell). Not only were these mismatched frenemies roommates, but also business partners.

ABC didn't do this show any favors, burying it near the bottom of their Saturday lineup during its 2 years on the air. 16 episodes cycled through several times over. Muttley16 offers the open, which is all that's available on YouTube right now:

The Oddball Couple did have the spirit of The Odd Couple, but not, ultimately the viewer or network support. I believe CBS-Paramount may own this show as a result of the connection, and has shown little interest in introducing Spiffy & Fleabag to a new audience.

Rating: B-.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

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

Hanna-Barbera wanted to do two things with The Impossibles. One, as superheroes, they were another campy entry cashing in on the success of the live-action Batman, which had begun its 2nd season in the fall of 1966. The other was, as a rock group, complete with mop-top hairdos, they were another knockoff of the quintessential pop group of the period, The Beatles, whose own animated series was entering its 2nd season as well. Sadly, the studio didn't have the foresight to release an album of Impossibles songs that were written for the show. None of their songs were ever played in their entirety, anyway. H-B corrected that oversight 2 years later with the release of an album spun from The Banana Splits, but, oh, what might've been. The Impossibles were Coil Man (Hal Smith, The Andy Griffith Show), Fluid Man (Paul Frees, who was also the narrator and the voice of Big D, the team's government handler), and Multi-Man (Don Messick). What was really impossible about this combo was that they were all guitar players. No keyboards or drums for these guys, but in those days, not only was continuity a low priority, but the writers didn't have much attention to small details, either. 

Edit, 1/28/21: The episode, "The Bubbler", has been deleted. In its place is a generic title card.

 Well, it's better than uploading the open and listening to Frees' Orson Welles-esque reading of the theme song...... Rating: B.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

On the Air: My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (2010)

While there are plenty of toys & action figures created specifically for girls, there are very few animated cartoons that are girl-centric. Kim Possible, to use a recent example, appeals to both boys & girls, specifically teenagers, because it's an action-adventure series which added a healthy dose of romance toward the end of the run.

Hasbro first introduced their My Little Pony line of toys back in the 80's, and, along with company stablemates G. I. Joe & Transformers, viewers were transported to the world of My Little Pony in an animated series during that time. Once Hasbro purchased the former Discovery Kids network, changing it into The Hub, it was a matter of time before the old favorites would return, in more ways than one. That includes My Little Pony, now in a flash-animated series subtitled, Friendship Is Magic, presently airing virtually every day on The Hub, including Saturday mornings.

Geared for young girls having outgrown Nickelodeon's Dora the Explorer, Friendship Is Magic is not so much a continuation of the original My Little Pony series from the late 80's, nor is it really a reboot. It stands on its own for today's little girls.

Here is the intro:

The Hub, like its competitors, shuffles its lineup regularly, so there is no consistent air time for the show. I have this vision of something Hasbro should do next, and that would be reviving & rebooting the old standby, Romper Room, and use that as an anthology series in the mornings that would include Friendship Is Magic. It would be perfect for the little girls, and there would be the revived Pound Puppies for both boys & girls.

Rating: A-.