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.