Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Adult Swim: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly (2001-present)

Over the last few days, we've reviewed some of the earliest entries from Cartoon Network's [adult swim], which was rebranded as a separate network about 18 months after its official launch, even though it shares the same operating space as its "parent". Think Nickelodeon and its "sister", Nick at Nite. Same idea.

We limited our focus to shows based on pre-established product. Hence, you won't see any reviews of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, easily the longest running series [as] has, even after a name change enacted in recent times. Any review of that series or other [as] shows going forward will appear in The Land of Whatever. This time, we will address the most glaring problem us old schoolers face in relation to [as], and that is its total disrespect, under the disguise of satirical comedy, of the Hanna-Barbera library.

It starts, of course, with the repackaging of 60's superheroes Space Ghost, Birdman, & Mightor in other roles. As we've discussed, Space Ghost Coast-to-Coast got the ball rolling, rebooting the Phantom of the Spaceways as a parody of late night talkers like David Letterman. Birdman was revived as a unemployed hero, leading to the cult favorite Harvey Birdman, Attorney-at-Law, which became the place where classic H-B characters were deposited for not only revival and tribute, but also abject ridicule.

Take for example the episode, "Very Personal Injury". Two of the ethnic, studio-created members of the Super Friends, Apache Chief & Black Vulcan, were brought out of exile in this story, with Apache Chief the main focus. They used the between scenes bumpers used on SF from 1978-86 in concocting a flashback to a supposed untold case, but it was clear from the outset that the producers were playing to a section of the internet that wasn't exactly fond of the SF franchise. I won't even bother posting the episode, because that would be glorifying what these turds have done, and I won't give them that satisfaction. Suffice it to say that the characters were cast in a less than exemplary light, and that includes Wonder Twin Zan, who made a cameo appearance as a witness, with sister Jayna nowhere to be found. It was insinuated that Zan had harbored a secret crush on one of his mentors, Wonder Woman. Of course, it didn't help that the Amazing Amazon & Zan were among the characters who appeared in a series of interstital skits for CN, along with Birdman & Thundarr, around that time, poking fun at the rampant use of expository dialogue in action cartoons back in the day, so what the loons at CN were suggesting was that Wonder Woman had found herself a new boyfriend. Yeah, right.

On the other side, a Sopranos parody cast Fred Flintstone as "The Dabba Don", but it also poked fun at "The Godfather"'s famous scene, using the severed head of Quick Draw McGraw for a cheap laugh. Nice idea, but the execution went off the track somewhere in production. These nuts can't help themselves.

And, speaking of the Wonder Twins, you might say that the series of truncated, repackaged versions of their 1977 shorts were a spinoff from Zan's appearance on Harvey Birdman. I have plans to pick out one of those micro-shorts in a future post, but, let's put it in simple terms. The original stories were given new endings, more for the worse in contrast to the original stories, and new dialogue, with subtle double entendres tossed in at random. In one of these bits, Jayna, in her eagle form, is harassed by a male eagle that suddenly wants to mate with her while she's on a case. That sounds like a case of Williams St. inserting some new stuff where it didn't belong. It didn't stop there.

Around the time of the movie, "Be Kind, Rewind", [as] produced a Wonder Twins short by the same title, which also brought back the sibs' predecessors, Wendy & Marvin, who were presented as being in a rock band. The Twins are in the wrong part of a video store, and, worse, to avoid detection, find themselves in a most, ah, compromising position, as discovered by a now-bearded Marvin, suggesting----and this is cause for much cringing---a little incest between the twins. Is nothing sacred anymore? Insofar as [as] is concerned, no. They call it absurdist humor. I call it as it should be. Utter blasphemy.

Mike Lazzo and his staff should be ashamed of themselves.

Ah, but there is a reason why this is titled, "The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly". There are some positives to [as], after all.

After Fox initially gave up on Family Guy, the series resurfaced at [as], and ratings for the reruns went through the proverbial roof. Coupled with exploding sales for DVD's of the series, that was enough for Fox suits to reconsider and relaunch Guy, forging a new business relationship with creator Seth MacFarlane, a CN alumnus. The result is that reruns of not only Guy, but also American Dad, air on [as], which also has aquired rerun rights to Guy spinoff, The Cleveland Show, to begin next year. Home Movies, which couldn't find an audience on UPN, landed on [as], and went back into production as well. The same can be said for The Oblongs, which aired on [as]' then-sister network, WB in its primetime run. Futurama, yet another Fox castoff now on Comedy Central, can chalk up its revival in large part to its run on [as], following the same formula as Family Guy. You'd think Fox would've learned their lesson then, but now they have a sort-of partnership with [as], so it wouldn't surprise anyone if MacFarlane's planned revival of The Flinststones, due on Fox next year, would also get the repurposing treatment on [as] concurrently.

[Adult Swim]'s lineup is loaded with anime that other cablers weren't willing to take a chance on. One series, Naruto, has since moved to DisneyXD, but the anime is really what is at the heart of [as] in 2012. Not everyone gets the Anime Channel, so [as] is a welcome destination for people looking to DVR or tape their favorites.

We've covered the good and the ugly, so what's the bad? Well, not everything that [as] has acquired has worked out for the best. For example, John Kricfalusi's Ripping Friends, which we've previously covered, moved to [as] after bombing on Fox (naturally) as a Saturday morning entry, but didn't last long on [as], either. Kricfalusi's extreme takes on The Jetsons & Yogi Bear will be addressed at a later time, but those toons haven't seen the light of day in forever, and, maybe, there's a reason for that. Also, as [as] has expanded its schedule, now starting at 9 (ET), directly opposite Nick at Nite, it's clear that in time, it may grow too big to be sharing space with Cartoon Network, and may require being spun off into its own channel. With the resources Time Warner has, don't discount the possibility. Of course, given the type of material that's there, there may be a few red flags that would attract the usual media watchdog groups, who've already given Seth MacFarlane some bad grades. Yes, they grabbed another show off the Fox scrap heap in King of the Hill, which is out of production, and had been played to death on FX before moving to [as], but it's a better fit to air on sister network TBS than having Family Guy get shoved down the throats of TBS' audience. King is also safe enough to air on CN proper as a bridge to [as], if the programming monkeys actually thought of it.

Does [as] have room to make improvements? Of course. They just have to get the creative team's collective minds out of the gutter as it relates to the classic characters they've already ruined, almost beyond repair. A few fresh ideas would help, assuming they're not afraid to accept suggestions.

Tooniversary: Tom Terrific (1957)

In reviewing The Adventures of Lariat Sam the other day, I erred when I stated that Tom Terrific replaced Sam. That's not true, as I discovered after reading a Wikipedia piece on Tom. In reality, Tom came first, back in 1957, and was in perpetual rerun by the time I first saw him on Captain Kangaroo as a child. After Lariat Sam ran its course, it seems, the two features began rotating in reruns.

They say that the simplistic character designs used for Tom and his sidekick, Mighty Manfred, were due to budgetary concerns. Actually, it can also be said that it was for another purpose, to encourage young viewers to create their own drawings of the characters. As was the case with Lariat Sam, each Tom Terrific story was stretched across five days. When Kangaroo aired on Saturdays, the episodes would be edited down to a 2-part story airing within the course of the hour. 26 serials were produced between 1957-58 and replayed for several years afterward. Regrettably, these cartoons are not available on any official DVD release as yet. Like, what are they waiting for? Tom turns 55 this year, and you'd think someone would finally get a clue. Tom's shapeshifting results from the "thinking cap" he wears, which encourages imagination in young viewers.

Bearlyrufus uploaded the theme song. Tom & Manfred's voices are performed by Lionel Wilson.

It's too bad a kid like Tom isn't around anymore.

Rating: B.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Adult Swim Historama: The Brak Show (2001)

In the 60's, Brak was one of Space Ghost's most difficult enemies, a fierce space pirate (voiced by the inestimable Keye Luke, who went uncredited). To look at him today, on the other hand........!

Brak has become a cult favorite, thanks to the twisted minds at Williams St. Studios (formerly Ghost Planet Productions), which added Brak to the Space Ghost Coast-to-Coast companion series, Cartoon Planet. Andy Merrill gave Brak a goofier voice that bordered at times on a near-mimic of the late comedian, Don Knotts. I kid you not! Brak's role on Planet came down to singing some silly songs and coming up with some whimsical commentaries, which we've previously sampled in reviewing Planet.

After starring in a pair of specials, both carrying the same title (The Brak Show Starring Brak), the now-lovable ex-con was granted a regular, 15 minute series on [adult swim] in 2001. The Brak Show was designed as a parody of classic sitcoms, and the episode titles reflected this by parodying the titles of those shows (example: "Leave it to Brak"). The absurdity of it all was that Brak and his mom had relocated to Earth and settled down with a human who was about half their size. To try to suggest that the human was Brak's biological pop wouldn't make the least bit of sense. Zorak crossed over from Coast-to-Coast, essentially being Brak's reluctant sidekick. The idea is that, well, if Brak is Beaver Cleaver, then Zorak would be Eddie Haskell. Enough said.

I remember writing that 15 minutes just wasn't enough time. There wasn't much to the plot, and the gags came flying past, perhaps a little too quickly for some folks to pick up on the joke.

MadmanOnline uploaded this sample clip:


Out of [adult swim]'s initial class, The Brak Show was actually the best of the lot, because in an odd way, it made some semblance of sense. Well, let me put it another way. If you could understand the wacky humor of the Monty Python troupe, you'd probably get where these guys were going with their gags. Sadly, the show isn't on the air much anymore, as [as] now relies more on repurposing shows like Fox's Family Guy & American Dad, both from the wacky world of Cartoon Network alumnus Seth MacFarlane, and imported Japanese anime, which has been a staple of [as] from the beginning. Personally, I'd rather see a Brak marathon than sit through one of either of MacFarlane's shows, but that's just me.

Rating: B+.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Web Woman (1978)

From Tarzan & the Super 7 comes Filmation's answer to Spider-Man (and, for that matter, Spider-Woman), Web Woman. Kelly Webster (Linda Gary) was an ordinary Earth woman until she met a being from another dimension who gave her fantastic powers, plus the then-obligatory pet sidekick, Spinner. The fact that she calls upon all insects, not just spiders, to loan her their powers, suggests that this is also based on DC's Insect Queen, the part-time alter ego of Superman's childhood sweetheart, Lana Lang (who never used her costumed ID in cartoons).

As was the case with Manta & Moray, threats of litigation due to, in all probability, intellectual property rights, prevents Web Woman, now owned by Classic Media, from being released on DVD. Any revival, again, would require a change of some kind. Palitoy uploaded the following sample from the episode, "Dr. Despair & the Mood Machine".

It just happens to be a coincidence, but Marvel, having introduced Spider-Woman in the comics a year prior to Web Woman's debut, brought their female webspinner to television the next season (previously reviewed). Unfortunately, it lasted just one season, despite a guest appearance by Spider-Man himself.

Rating: B.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Daytime Heroes: Lariat Sam (1962)

Ok, this was before I was born, and I am not sure if this ran when Captain Kangaroo was running 6 days a week during the 60's. Anyway, Terrytoons partnered with the Captain (Bob Keeshan) to present The Adventures of Lariat Sam as a regular feature on Captain Kangaroo, beginning in 1962.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that Lariat Sam was co-written & produced by future game show icon Gene Wood, better known for his work as an announcer (i.e. Family Feud), but he did host two series during the 70's. Wood also performs the theme song. Dayton Allen (Deputy Dawg) is credited with voicing all the characters. Crazybar777 uploaded "Weatherman Mish-Mosh".

After a while, Sam was replaced by the shapeshifting Tom Terrific, whom I do remember seeing. Sadly, neither Sam nor Tom would join their Terrytoons brethren in syndication, which would've exposed them to a wider audience, especially during the cable explosion in the 70s.

Rating: B.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Saturday Morning's Greatest Hits: I Can Dream About You (1984)

"I Can Dream About You" was the biggest hit single out of the movie, "Streets of Fire", in 1984. However, when the actual music video premiered on MTV, they opted to use movie footage with an actor lip-synching the vocals by singer-songwriter Dan Hartman, formerly of the Edgar Winter Group.

Well, inevitably, Hartman began making the rounds in the usual places, like, for example, Soul Train, where he appeared in October of '84, complete with intro by Don Cornelius:

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Manta & Moray (1978)

Once again, we reach into the anthology series, Tarzan & the Super 7, this time to spotlight one of two married couples on the show, Manta & Moray.

Moray (Joan Van Ark, later of Knots Landing) was a human raised by dolphins after her parents were lost at sea. Manta was of an amphibian race, and couldn't stay out of the water for a certain length of time, otherwise he would risk death. If that sounds familiar, well, that same weakness was associated with Aquaman for many years, and part of the reason this series won't be on DVD anytime soon may be because of the prospect of litigation from DC/Warner Bros. over intellectual property rights. Of course, that same season, NBC & Hanna-Barbera introduced Jana of the Jungle, who also had lost her father in an accident. Get the picture?

Andre Waynoo uploaded the episode, "The Waters of Doom":

Classic Media now owns Manta & Moray, having acquired the bulk of the Filmation library, but if they wanted to revive the characters, some changes to their origins would be required.

Rating: B.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: The Freedom Force (1978)

Filmation's experiment with live-action was nearing its end in 1978. The Secrets of Isis, originally part of the Shazam!-Isis Hour, was cancelled after 3 seasons, but Isis would stick around, transitioning into animated form, and form a super-team of her own: The Freedom Force.

There were only 5 episodes of Freedom Force produced as part of the Tarzan & the Super 7 anthology package Filmation put together for CBS. Relative newcomer Diane Pershing was the voice of Isis. Most of today's toon fans might know the actress' name more for her work as Poison Ivy on Batman: The Animated Series several years later.

Here's the intro, uploaded by Hewey1972:

Super 7 would continue for another year on CBS before being shuffled off, without Tarzan, to NBC for its final season, and hasn't seen the light of day since. Later on, we'll review the three remaining segments: Web Woman, Manta & Moray, & Superstretch & Microwoman. Tarzan, Jason of Star Command, & The New Adventures of Batman have all previously been reviewed.

Rating: B.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Saturday Morning's Greatest Hits: One Way or Another (1979)

123poedie uploaded this Blondie classic from a 1979 episode of American Bandstand. As per normal, the clip is taken from the Best of series that aired on VH1 a few years back (and desperately needs to be brought back and run on VH1 Classic). "One Way or Another" would also find its way into primetime, used as background music on shows like BJ & the Bear.

Saturtainment: The Mummy (2001)

In the wake of "The Mummy Returns" in 2001, Universal's animation division created an animated weekly series follow-up to the film series, airing on Kids' WB!, continuing the adventures of Rick & Evy O'Connell and their son, Alex, who now has the Manacle of Osiris bound to his wrist. I guess they needed some sort of gimmick to make the show work.

Rights issues prevented the producers from drawing Rick & Evy in the likeness of the movie's stars, Brendan Fraser & Rachel Wiesz. That, in a nutshell explains why Rick went from being dark-haired to a blond, and voiced by John Schneider (Smallville, ex-The Dukes of Hazzard). Unfortunately, the series never really got off the ground the way it was meant to, due to Kids' WB!'s practice of rotating their programs and making unannounced schedule changes at random, all the while favoring the anime that was drawing the most ratings.

The second season was delayed until February '03, and the series was given a subtitle, Secrets of the Medjai, but the 5 month delay sealed the show's fate, as it was cancelled for good in June '03. After a cable run on Toon Disney (now DisneyXD), the series has not been resurrected, even though a 3rd "Mummy" movie has since been released (and wasn't a big hit). At the very least, though, it did reach a definitive conclusion, something rare for an animated series.

Here's a trailer for the DVD release:

Rating: B.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Adult Swim Historama: Harvey Birdman, Attorney-at-Law (2001)

Harvey Birdman, Attorney-at-Law was one of three series spun off from Space Ghost Coast-to-Coast as part of the first wave of [adult swim] programming in 2001. (Aqua Teen Hunger Force & The Brak Show were the others) Much like Coast-to-Coast, it recast a previously established character in a completely different role, and proceeded to not only parody classic courtroom drama, but skewer a vast number of Hanna-Barbera favorites, and not always in good taste.

When Birdman first made a guest appearance on Coast-to-Coast, he was, like Space Ghost himself, represented as an out-of-work superhero looking for something to pass the time. After 4 appearances, he was granted his own series, having already been rechristened Harvey Birdman, and his original alter-ego of archeologist Ray Randall had been disrespectfully discarded. In the series, actor Gary Cole (ex-Midnight Caller) was cast as Harvey, a bumbling but otherwise successful lawyer, still answering to his former boss, Falcon 7, who had been rechristened "Phil Ken Sebben" (Stephen Colbert, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart & The Colbert Report), and was now the head of the firm. Birdgirl was recast as Phil's daughter, but with a severe crush on Birdman (well, duh!), but they also hinted that Phil had some designs on her, too, unaware of who she really was. Birdboy was renamed Peanut and was rebooted as the office boy, after a fashion.

That wasn't all. 60's funny animal hero Peter Potamus was brought back, but basically was down to one joke ("Did you get that thing I sent ya?") in a hurry. You don't even want to know what I think of how they've handled some characters, although to their credit, they did a better job with the Funky Phantom than the nimrods in charge of Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated did, having Jonathan Muddlemore do an impromptu rap to answer Peanut.

Unfortunately, full episodes of the series are not available right now, as the only episodes I can find were created for Wii & the Playstation family of video game systems. Here, though, is the show open:

The series ended with Harvey being killed off, which leaves the door open for some enterprising soul at WB to bring Ray Randall back as the one, true Birdman, but it's an uphill climb, since Harvey is still very much in the public consciousness, for better or worse, and this writer believes it's for the worse. Par for the course for [adult swim].

Rating: B--.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Adult Swim Historama: Sealab 2021 (2001)

In November 2000, Cartoon Network used the overnight hours to sneak-preview, unannounced, 4 new series. Over the next few days, we're reviewing all 4 of those series, and we'll start with Sealab 2021.

To be honest, I was actually looking forward to this show when it was announced. I had watched the original Sealab 2020 as a youth, and was a tad disappointed when NBC pulled the plug, leaving 2 episodes unaired, running 13 out of a order of 15. Since I wasn't watching Space Ghost Coast-to-Coast with any semblance of regularity, maybe I should've been better prepared. What we got was a Mad Movies-style reboot, using the original animation, with new voices dubbed over and some characters being renamed or completely replaced. The animation style was worse than the original, if that was even possible. Perhaps the only other selling point was the fact that 70's icon Erik Estrada (ex-CHiPS) was in the show's cast, but he really wasn't a major player.

Somehow, they managed to recycle the material often enough to produce 52 15 minute episodes over the course of 4 seasons (2001-05). The closest thing to actual continuity they might have had was in casting Harry Goz as Captain Murphy, a role originated by John Stephenson in the original series. Goz, who passed away in 2003, was enough of a soundalike, such that when they remade an episode of the original series in season 2, where Murphy was a primary player, that Goz could've pulled off a perfect mimic.

Edit, 3/15/22: The episode has been deleted. In its place is the intro:

It turns out that was an aberration compared to the rest of the series, which was loaded with parodies and, borrowing a plot device from South Park, frequent killings of crew members, who usually returned in the next episode. It was enough to give animation purists heartburn.

Rating: C-.

On DVD: Superman (1941)

The following also appears on my other blog, The Land of Whatever.

Max & Dave Fleischer are well-known icons in animation history. The brothers adapted E. C. Segar's Popeye (formerly Thimble Theatre) into a series of classic shorts, and turned Jonathan Swift's novel, Gulliver's Travels, into a full-length animated feature. They also had created their own characters, particularly Betty Boop, in whose series Popeye made his debut in what amounts to what they call in television a "back-door pilot".

In 1941, the Fleischers reached into the world of comics again, striking a deal with National Periodical (DC) to bring Superman to the screen in a series of animated shorts. The biggest difference between Superman and the rest of the Fleischer line for Paramount was that the characters were drawn more realistically, creating a faithful adaptation of the comic books.

Clayton "Bud" Collyer & Joan Alexander, the stars of the Superman radio dramas, reprised their roles as Superman/Clark Kent (Collyer) and Lois Lane (Alexander) for the cartoons. However, there was one instance where Collyer apparently was missing and had to be substituted by another actor. Curiously missing is Jimmy Olsen, however. In the Golden Age, Olsen was introduced as a copy boy at the Daily Star (later Daily Planet), and later became a cub reporter. Sadly, he was left out of the series because, quite simply, there wasn't enough room for him in terms of plot development.

17 cartoons were made in total. Unfortunately, the Fleischers were gone before the series ended, and even though the quality of the cartoons didn't suffer much, their creative presence was missed. It was during this period that an analogue for Olsen, a novice named Louis, was added. Sad to say, Louis wasn't as bright, and to say he was about as sharp as a broken thumbtack would be an insult to thumbtacks. He simply didn't fit.

As most of you probably know, Collyer & Alexander would reprise their roles again for the first Superman animated series, which aired on CBS from 1966-70, but Alexander left the show after the first season. By then, Olsen was a much bigger player in the books, and it was reflected in his inclusion in the Filmation cartoons.

Now, scope out the very first short, which has the alternate title, "Mad Scientist":

The cartoons have been in public domain for a number of years, but last year WB finally produced a series of their own. Earlier today, I bought one of those public domain releases, this one issued by Genius Entertainment in conjunction with Topps in 2005. Not all of the cartoons are included, and a stick of Bazooka gum that was promised was not to be found. The other downside was that these prints are missing the Paramount opening & closing logos that were included in the print shown above. Who'd ever think Topps would pull an el scrimpo like that?

Rating: A+.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Daytime Heroes: She-Ra, Princess of Power (1985)

I think the marketing suits at Filmation & Mattel realized that while He-Man & the Masters of the Universe was geared for boys, it was also attracting young female viewers as well, thanks to Teela, the Captain of the Palace Guard, who had been posited as a possible girlfriend for He-Man. Not only that, but Queen Marlena, Prince Adam's mother, had been presented in a positive light, too, as a role model.

So it was that when production began on season 3 of He-Man, Mattel & Filmation expanded the series' self-contained universe, and introduced She-Ra, Princess of Power as a companion series. Naturally, He-Man guest-starred in the opening story arc, which explains how Princess Adora, Adam's twin sister, had been working for Etheria's evil ruler, Hordak. The siblings eventually meet, and Adora sees the light--literally.

Unfortunately, the bloom was falling off the rose for He-Man by this point, and She-Ra lasted just 2 seasons, replaced by Bravestarr in 1987. While He-Man has subsequently been revived on 2 different occasions, She-Ra was not brought back, although there was talk when Cartoon Network cancelled the last He-Man series that She-Ra would finally return, nearly 20 years after her debut. While He-Man has also appeared in comic books, among other things, She-Ra hasn't seen the inside of the printed page at all.

Scope out the episode, "The Price of Power".

Rating: B.

Adult Swim Historama: Space Ghost Coast-to-Coast (1994)

Long before Cartoon Network launched [adult swim] in 2001, one of the channel's first original series marked the return of one of Hanna-Barbera's classic heroes of the 60's.

Space Ghost Coast-to-Coast recast the Phantom of the Spaceways as a 40-something, out of work superhero who was now on Earth looking for work. Somehow, someway, he landed a talk show, and, ah, persuaded former enemies Moltar (formerly Moltor) and Zorak to work for him as punishment for their various crimes. The series was designed as a parody of talk-variety shows in general, and, more specifically, The Late Show With David Letterman, although Zorak was no Paul Shaffer by any stretch.

Series creator Mike Lazzo realized that until then, Space Ghost didn't have a secret identity. That all changed when it was established that Space Ghost's given name was Tad Ghostal. Well, while that's ok for a comedy show, it doesn't fly with fans of the original series. One other positive was that the series' 15-minute length for most episodes was a throwback to the Golden Age of television, when it was common for shows to be 15 minutes instead of the now-standard 30 or 60. [as] still employs the 15 minute format for many of their current programs, so we'll give them points for that.

The following clip has Space Ghost (now voiced by George Lowe) lamenting the loss of a pet......sea monkey........

The late wrestler "Macho Man" Randy Savage was cast in a recurring role as Leonard Ghostal, Tad's grandfather, and similarly garbed as his more famous offspring. Of course, it helped that Savage was gainfully employed by WCW, a sister company to CN at the time, allowing for some cross-promotion. While the actual series has ended, new, shorter episodes have been produced online in recent years. However, [as] would be well-served to revive the series as a regular entity to remind viewers that without Coast-to-Coast, there would be no [adult swim].

Ah, but once [as] launched, few of us had any idea of the depths to which the wackjobs at Williams St. Studios (formerly Ghost Planet Enterprises) would stoop to desecrate the hallowed legacies of H-B's icons. Over the next few weeks, we'll be exploring some of the worst of these offenses.

Rating for the series: B--. Have to take points off for the rotoscoping and poorly recycled animation.

Friday, January 20, 2012

From out of the Recycling Bin: Cartoon Planet (1995)

In an effort to cross-promote Cartoon Network's Space Ghost Coast-to-Coast, which premiered a year earlier, CN's sister network TBS began airing a variety-anthology series, Cartoon Planet, 6 days a week, running during after school hours on weekdays, and as a lead in to WCW wrestling on Saturday mornings.

Planet, like its parent series, presented Space Ghost, reincarnated as a talk-variety show host, aided by former foes Zorak (as the one-man band), Moltar (formerly Moltor, the producer), and Brak (comedy relief). Brak became the breakout star of the show, such that he was granted a primetime special a few years later, and, after the launch of [adult swim] in 2001, his own 15 minute comedy series. There were classic cartoons from the Turner networks' library, which, of course, included episodes of the original Space Ghost from 1966, so viewers could see Space Ghost, Brak, Zorak, & Moltor as they originally appeared.

In this clip, Brak & Zorak perform "What Day Is It?":

There would also be the occasional skits with a live-action Space Ghost (Andy Merrill, one of the show's producers and the voice of Brak), usually at the end of the broadcast. Quite a comedown for a classic Hanna-Barbera superhero, don't you think?

Planet ceased producing new material after 2 years, but the repeats kept rolling until 1999. After the first year, TBS moved the series over to CN, and it has spent time on [as] in the past. Unfortunately, today, the subversive, twisted comedy lies in the Turner vaults, all but forgotten.

Rating: B+.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tooniversaries in 2012

The following series are marking anniversaries this year:

50 years: The Jetsons.

45 years: Birdman & the Galaxy Trio, Samson & Goliath, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Shazzan, The Herculoids, Moby Dick & the Mighty Mightor, George of the Jungle, Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure, Super President.

40 years: Amazing Chan & the Chan Clan, The New Scooby-Doo Movies, Josie & the Pussycats in Outer Space, Sealab 2020, The Barkleys, The Houndcats, The Roman Holidays, The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie, Fat Albert & the Cosby Kids, The Brady Kids.

35 years: C. B. Bears, The Skatebirds, The All-New Super Friends Hour, Scooby's All-Star Laff-a-Lympics, Space Sentinels.

30 years: Shirt Tales, Gilligan's Planet, Meatballs & Spaghetti, Pandamonium, G. I. Joe: A Real American Hero, Mork & Mindy (animated series), The Incredible Hulk (2nd animated series).

25 years: Bravestarr.

20 years: Batman: The Animated Series, Wild West C.O.W.Boys of Moo Mesa.

10 years: Stargate: Infinity, US debuts of Ultimate Muscle, Kirby: Right Back at Ya, Fighting Foodons.

If there's a favorite of yours that I've missed, please let me know and remind me.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Animated World of DC Comics: All-New Super Friends Hour (1977)

ABC's 1977-78 Saturday morning block, it can be said, propelled the network to #1 in the ratings. Only two series returned from the previous year--American Bandstand & The Krofft Supershow. Filling out the block were three new series. We've previously reviewed Scooby's All-Star Laff-a-Lympics, the 2-hour block in the middle of the pack, and the ABC Weekend Special. We've also featured some episodes from the series we're profiling today, the All-New Super Friends Hour.

It had been 4 years since the original Super Friends had been the centerpiece of ABC's lineup, and even though only 1 season's worth of episodes had been produced, most, if not all, recorded in Australia for whatever reason, the fan support was enough to keep it on the air as a mid-season replacement the next three seasons, truncated to a half-hour format in 1976. The ratings began to climb for the reruns, it would seem, prompting ABC to order a new series.

The format was different this time around. There would be 4 episodes per show, plus special health & safety tips, puzzles tied into the main feature, and the occasional magic tricks. The puzzles & magic segments, unfortunately, have been seemingly lost to the mists of time for now, save maybe for the recent DVD releases. Likewise, the Wonder Twins shorts are also not available on YouTube at the present time, save for some truncated and remixed pieces redone for [adult swim]. Trust me, pilgrims, you don't want to know what I think of [adult swim]'s mistreatment of the Hanna-Barbera library, but I may do an essay on that one day, just to vent!

Anyway, this was what I was willing to wake up for on a Saturday morning in 1977. H-B was competing with itself in the 8-9 am (ET) slot at the start of the season, what with CB Bears, similarly formatted to the Super Friends, airing on NBC, and Skatebirds (ditto) on CBS. Those other series, as we noted in our reviews previously, were plowed under in the ratings by the networks' short-sighted attempts to counter-program.

The plots picked up from the previous series, and due to the anti-violence regulations that were still in effect, our heroes couldn't fully lay the smack down on the bad guys. There was one DC villain that season, that being the Gentleman Ghost, a Hawkman enemy who would later reform for a time in the comics. Hey, trust me, I know, I read those stories! However, the Ghost wasn't treated too kindly by the writers, who couldn't be bothered to use Hawkman for that particular story.

This would be the last season where Norman Alden (ex-Electra Woman & Dynagirl) would be the voice of Aquaman, as he left the show when they switched formats again to Challenge of the Super Friends the following year, although he would reteam with Shannon Farnon (Wonder Woman) for a Cartoon Network ad with the Powerpuff Girls more than 20 years later.

The video for the episode, "The Enforcer", was deleted by YouTube due to copyright infringement issues. We'll bring that back in a separate post another time.

Rating for the series: A.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Animated World of DC Comics: The Justice League gets caught "Between Two Armies" (1967)

What was supposed to be the strongest of the backup features on the Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure ended up actually being the weakest. The Justice League segments were missing two of the League's founding members--Batman & Wonder Woman, whose rights were both held by 20th Century Fox and William Dozier's Greenway Productions. Dozier had produced an unsold pilot for the Amazing Amazon that was far worse than Batman in terms of camp. Believe me, you don't even want to know how bad it was.

So, we were left with Superman (Bud Collyer, To Tell The Truth), Atom (Pat Harrington), Hawkman, Green Lantern (Gerald Mohr, Fantastic Four), & the Flash. Aquaman (Marvin Miller) was supposed to be in on the adventure, as advertised, but that was not the case.

In the first of 3 Justice League of America shorts, the League finds itself caught "Between Two Armies". Uploaded by TheJusticeLeaguers, and, of course, narrated by Ted Knight, who also voices most, if not all, of the warring factions.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating. Today, a 7 minute short would be expanded to a full half hour to allow for further plot development and drama. And they thought today's generation has a short attention span? What do you think they thought of children watching cartoons in 1967?

Rating: B.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Game Time: The Pop 'N' Rocker Game (1983)

Until 1983, Jon Bauman was better known as the deep-voiced, muscular, hammy Bowzer from Sha Na Na. In the fall of '83, Bauman, who'd made the rounds of game shows as Bowzer, including multiple appearances on Celebrity Charades & Match Game, went to the dry look, and became a game show host himself. He had not one, but two series that season. The one everyone knows is, of course, the ill-fated Match Game-Hollywood Squares Hour, in which he was given the dubious task, for reasons no one really knows, to fill Peter Marshall's chair as Squares MC, which must've upset Match's Gene Rayburn, as it spoiled his return to NBC, where Match had originally launched more than 20 years earlier. Reportedly, Rayburn and Bauman didn't get along behind the scenes, but then, combining two beloved series in a hour-long block opposite the then-mighty General Hospital was doomed to fail from the start, and it was cancelled in less than a year.

Fewer viewers saw Bauman's other game show, The Pop 'N' Rocker Game, which was a syndicated weekend series that didn't play in as many markets. I should know. It wasn't picked up locally, insofar as I remember. It, too, lasted one season, then faded into obscurity. Bauman later moved on to VH1 as one of their first on-air talents, but today, he's back to being Bowzer, but time has not been kind, as he's packed on some pounds, based on an infomercial he co-hosted that aired intermittently last year.

Anyway, here's a clip from the pilot episode of Pop 'N' Rocker, with musical guest Oingo Boingo.

No rating. As I said, I never saw the show.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

It Should've Been on a Saturday: The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1968)

The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was Hanna-Barbera's last primetime entry of the 60's, lasting just one season on NBC in 1968, and airing on Sundays, where it was prone to being pre-empted or delayed during football season, airing as it did ahead of The Wonderful World of Disney.

Producer Edward Rosen also worked on the studio's other freshman series for NBC, The Banana Splits Adventure Hour, which sums up his body of work for H-B, as he was long gone by the time they tried live-action again a few years later. The idea behind this show was to use live actors to play the leads, surrounded by animated characters. The central villain, who seemed to be reincarnated in some toon form on a weekly basis, was Injun Joe (Ted Cassidy, ex-The Addams Family, who was now a part of the H-B repertory company as a voice actor.). I dimly remember seeing an episode or two in its original Sunday night configuration, but, looking back, given its poor showing in primetime, it actually belonged on Saturdays. To that end, it was included in a Banana Splits syndicated package a number of years later.

Here's the intro and the opening segment to the first episode:

If memory serves, I believe H-B took another crack at Huck in an all-animated episode of the CBS anthology series, Famous Classic Tales during the 70's. I'll have to check to verify. The non-violence edicts were already in place when this series aired, so we never saw Huck or Tom Sawyer throw a punch, even at an animated foe. Just as well.

Rating: B.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Saturday Morning's Greatest Hits: Falling (1977)

Mickatmidnight uploaded this American Bandstand clip of LeBlanc & Carr's 1977 hit, "Falling". Forgive the video quality.

This was actually the first time I've actually heard this song, to be honest with you. Then again, being raised in a household that favored country music over pop and rock, well......!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Game Time: The Professional Bowlers Tour (1961-1997)

Those of us who spend our down time on the bowling lanes probably learned the sport from watching ABC's Professional Bowlers Tour, a Saturday afternoon staple during the winter & spring from 1961-1997. Back then, bowling was actually a popular sport, but that popularity has taken a massive downturn in recent years.

For four months, the tour served as a lead-in for ABC's other Saturday attraction, Wide World of Sports, although there were a few occasions where the air times were flipped over, and Wide World would air first, especially if a tournament was being contested on the West Coast. It wasn't always live, either. In its early years, the tournaments were shown on tape delay, but viewer demand prompted the change to a live format. Additionally, in those early years, the TV finals had four bowlers, three of whom competed in round-robin format to determine who'd face the first-place bowler for the championship. Sometime in the late 60's or early 70's, ABC switched to the stepladder format, adding a 5th man to the mix, while retaining the 90 minute fomat.

Bowlingfan33 uploaded this sample from the 1971 Buckeye Open.

After 14 years away, the tour returned to ABC a year ago for a 1-shot special to mark the 50th anniversary of the PBA debuting on the network. Today, the tournaments are once again on tape delay, airing on ABC's cable step-cousin, ESPN, while truncated classic reruns air on, of course, ESPN Classic. To paraphrase an old slogan, bowling never gets old.

Rating: A.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Krofftverse: H. R. Pufnstuf (1969)

Puppeteers Sid & Marty Krofft had developed some of the puppets used on The Banana Splits Adventure Hour for Hanna-Barbera, but then, a year later, they struck out on their own, becoming as much a major player on Saturday mornings during the 70's as H-B themselves.

The first part of what I like to refer to as the Krofftverse was H. R. Pufnstuf, a surrealist fantasy that spent a total of three seasons on NBC, the last two entirely in repeats, and then the reruns shifted over to ABC for a 4th and final season in 1972.

The title hero was the mayor of the Living Island, defending his fiefdom, if you will, from the nefarious Witchiepoo (Billie Hayes), who now had more reason to take control. A teenager, Jimmy (Jack Wild, "Oliver!") and a talking flute named Freddy had landed on the island. Witchiepoo coveted the flute, but, as most often happens, was foiled either by Pufnstuf or the bumbling of her own aides.

Not only did actor Len Weinrib voice Pufnstuf, he was also one of the show's writers, and would serve in a similar capacity a year later, working on Dr. Doolittle for DePatie-Freleng, also for NBC. Weinrib had also been an independent filmmaker during the 60's before turning full time to children's television.

Edit, 11/5/21: The video has been deleted. In its place is the familiar intro:

There was also a feature film, "Pufnstuf", with the regular cast, but that hasn't seen the light of day in years. Pufnstuf & Witchiepoo would return a few years later on the short-lived Krofft Superstar Hour, and that would mark the end of the line for both. We have to assume Jimmy & Freddy made it home by then.

If you can get past all the insinuations regarding drug use that have cropped up in various media outlets in the years after the series ended production, you'd see that this was all just absurdist fantasy, with a few musical numbers thrown in to take advantage of Wild's talents as a singer.

Series producer Si Rose came over from Universal, which, oh by the way, distributed the "Pufnstuf" movie, even though the series itself was shot at Paramount. Go figure.

Rating: B-.

Toon Sports: Where's Huddles (1970)

The first of Hanna-Barbera's 1970 freshman class was also their last primetime entry for a few years.

Where's Huddles was a summer replacement for The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour from July-September 1970, and then resurfaced a year later as filler following NFL football. It was in the latter case where I first discovered the show.

The series was a more modern-day reworking of The Flintstones, but this time instead of working in construction, Ed Huddles (Cliff Norton) and Bubba McCoy (Mel Blanc) were football players. A neighbor, Claude Pertwee (Paul Lynde, Hollywood Squares, Bewitched) wasn't much of a football fan, as he'll readily admit in the open:

Only 10 episodes were produced, and after its Sunday run, the series was never seen again until picked up by Boomerang a few years ago. In this writer's opinion, Huddles could be redone for a modern audience, with more of an emphasis on family rather than career. Problem is, it was not too successful the first time around, so I doubt that Warners might be willing to take a flier on it more than 40 years later.

Rating: B.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Daytime Heroes: Spidey Super Stories (1974)

Earlier this week, we presented an episode of The Adventures of Letterman from the original Electric Company. Today, we move the time dial forward.

Seeing rival DC take another dive into live-action adaptation with Shazam! airing on CBS, Marvel entered into a licensing agreement with the Children's Television Workshop (now Sesame Workshop), producers of Electric Company, to add Spider-Man, in his first live-action incarnation, to the series, which was entering its 4th year. Unlike other incarnations, Spider-Man didn't speak, but rather his dialogue came in the form of pop-up word balloons, which other cast members had to read to understand what he was saying. Newcomer Danny Seagren played Spidey, making him the answer to a trivia question instead of Nicholas Hammond, who donned the webs for a CBS primetime series that launched after Electric Company had ceased production.

Series regular Skip Hinnant narrates "Spidey vs. The Prankster", with the theme performed by the members of the Short Circus vocal group, who also appear in the story. Uploaded by---wait for it---WebOfTheSpider.

Spidey Super Stories was spun off into a comic book from Marvel that outlasted the webhead's run on the show, lasting well into the early 80's before being cancelled. Even though Electric Company has since been revived and rebooted by PBS, there were no plans to revisit any of the classic segments from the original series, including a return of Spider-Man. Now, if only they'd release this on DVD......

Rating: A.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Saturtainment: Running The Halls (1993)

Running The Halls was one of those rare things on NBC in the 90's. A Saturday morning teen-com that wasn't from Peter Engel's stable. Engel (Saved By The Bell, California Dreams) was not associated with this series, although you might have thought he was, since his company seemingly dominated the lineup at the time. Lacking Engel's golden touch, Halls lasted just one season.

Worse, in my home district, it ran into indifference from the local affiliate, which opted to black out the show most of the time. Hence, the following clip, from the episode, "McBain Chokes", is my first look at the series, as it might also be for some of you. Uploaded by tgestudios to YouTube.

No rating.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Bristle Hound (1969)

To a 6 year old viewer such as moi was in 1969, the It's The Wolf! segments of Cattanooga Cats were escapist entertainment to hold attention. More learned minds would later realize that while the setting changes with each episode, the plot remains the same. Mildew Wolf (Paul Lynde, Hollywood Squares, Bewitched) wants to invite innnocent Lambsy (Daws Butler, using his Augie Doggie/Elroy Jetson voice) to dinner, with Lambsy as the main course, but is always thwarted by Lambsy's guardian, Bristle Hound (Allan Melvin, The Brady Bunch).

Edit, 2/13/19: There are no more videos of the series available. Sorry.

As we've previously documented, Mildew would later reform and become a sportscaster on Scooby's All-Star Laff-a-Lympics, but John Stephenson, not exactly doing a Lynde mimic, took over the role, as Lynde had gotten out of the cartoon business following "Charlotte's Web" in 1973.

Well, at least Mildew made a comeback. Lambsy & Bristle? Not so much.

Rating: C.

Saturday Morning's Greatest Hits: O-o-h Child (1970)

The 5 Stairsteps, billed as the "First Family of Soul", scored their biggest hit in 1970 with "O-o-h Child". A year later, the family band, with the name shortened to The Stairsteps, appeared on Soul Train during the series' 1st season.

More recently, the song resurfaced on the charts, covered by gospel singers Kirk Franklin & Donnie McClurkin. The positive message in the song certainly resonates even today.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: The Wild West C.O.W-Boys of Moo Mesa (1992)

ABC was looking for a new hit series as the centerpiece of their Saturday morning lineup in 1992. Scooby-Doo had left the network a year earlier after being a cornerstone for most of the previous 15 years. The Real Ghostbusters had solved their last TV case after a 5 year run. Attempting to replace them with Hammerman, among others, ended in abject failure, so now it was time to look in another direction. In this case, the Old West.

The Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa, which merged old school Western adventure with the trendy animal mutations popularized by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, among others, nearly a decade earlier, seemed to fill the bill. Co-produced by King World (now part of CBS-Paramount) and Greengrass Productions, along with independent producer Gunther-Wahl (ex-Marvel & DFE exec Lee Gunther had formed his own production company) for the first season and Ruby-Spears for year two, the C.O.W.-Boys were paired with the animated revival of The Addams Family to give ABC the centerpiece they'd been waiting for. Advanteege uploaded the open.

The series made the transition to comics in 2 three-issue runs published by Archie, which was producing a book based on the Ninja Turtles' animated series, which, oh by the way, aired opposite Moo Mesa, if my memory serves me correctly. What resulted was that the COW-Boys & Turtles would meet in the pages of one of the Turtles' books on a number of different occasions. Unfortunately, no one has the stones to put the show back on the air to mark its 20th anniversary this year. Disney held the rights, last anyone knew, but it's been sitting in their vaults for almost a decade now.

Rating: None. Never saw the show.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: The New Shmoo (1979)

While Al Capp's seminal comic strip, L'il Abner, never became an animated series, one of the supporting cast made the transition, and it wasn't very successful.

Hanna-Barbera acquired a license in 1979 to bring the armless, shape-changing Shmoo to television, but by taking him out of his familiar milieu and pairing him with a generic group of amateur crime-solvers, who were also running a small comics company for their primary vocation, they felt required to christen the series, The New Shmoo. Seanmc uploaded the open:

Two months into the season, the series was merged with Fred & Barney Meet The Thing to form the equally ridiculous 90 minute Fred & Barney Meet The Shmoo, but all that did was postpone the inevitable. Shmoo shuffled off the air after 1 season, and the rights lie with either the Capp estate or with WB, as I believe reruns have aired on Boomerang in recent years.

Today, if someone wanted to revive the Shmoo, it would be a CGI series, you can bank on it. And it might work the second time around.

Rating: B-.

From out of the Recycling Bin: Super Witch (1977)

In 1977, The Archies moved from CBS to NBC after a year's break, during which time a live-action pilot had been produced for ABC by James Komack (Chico & The Man, Welcome Back, Kotter). Said pilot bombed out, and so the gang moved laterally across the dial again.

However, The Archie-Sabrina Hour, which introduced a new cast member in Carlos, a Latino teen, didn't click with viewers. It's not that hard to fathom why. The series was slotted opposite Scooby's All-Star Laff-a-Lympics on ABC, and was subsequently buried. Before the year was out, the one-hour format was scrapped, and the series split into two component parts, The Bang Shang Lallapalooza Show (Archie) & Super Witch, which, as you'll see, recycled parts of the open to Sabrina's 1971 solo series, but with a new theme song. The open also emphasizes Reggie Mantle's efforts to expose Sabrina's witchcraft to the rest of the gang.

NBC bade farewell to the Riverdale gang in the Spring of '78, and it would be more than a decade before they would return to Saturday mornings, albeit in a new incarnation, The New Archies, which we've previously reviewed. Since we already had reviewed Sabrina's 1971 show, there is no need to rate this over again.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Daytime Heroes: The Adventures of Letterman (1972)

In its second season, The Electric Company added a superhero satire feature that would appear sporadically, with 60 installments over the next four years. The Adventures of Letterman was a series of 2 1/2 minute shorts designed to, as in the context of the Company's overall format, teach young viewers about specific words.

Every story had the same basic plot. Spell Binder has a little fun at the expense of some poor, innocent citizen, and Letterman appears, emerging from the convienient vicinity, to correct the problem. The series reunited Gene Wilder & Zero Mostel, the stars of the original feature film version of "The Producers", as the voices of Letterman & Spell Binder, respectively, with Joan Rivers serving as narrator.

Let's take a look at "In a Pickle":

During Electric Company's final season, they created a live-action parody of Letterman, Litterman. I will try to locate that skit. Of course you know that before the Company ended its first run, Spider-Man would become a part of the show. Look for Spidey Super Stories to show up before too long.

To paraphrase ESPN's Kenny Mayne back in the day, the simplicity of these cartoons amuses me. Bring me your finest meats & cheeses.

Rating: A-.