Thursday, August 30, 2012

Filmation at CBS: A look back

After chronicling Filmation's body of works at ABC & NBC, we might as well consider their greater output at CBS, which for all intents & purposes was their primary network partner from 1966-83. Not everything they sold to the "Tiffany of the Networks" turned to gold, however. I think you can figure it out as we go along....

*The New Adventures of Superman (1966-70): This was the ice-breaker for the studio, as their deal with DC enabled them to get their foot in the door at CBS, and, eventually, with the other networks. Superboy got the backup slot, with Bob Hastings (ex-McHale's Navy) cast as the Boy of Steel, while radio stars Bud Collyer (To Tell The Truth), Joan Alexander, & Jackson Beck were heard in the main feature. The Superboy shorts, narrated by Ted Knight and introduced by Beck, marked the only Filmation work of Hanna-Barbera's grande dame, Janet Waldo (as Lana Lang). Alexander left after the first season, with Julie Bennett taking her place as Lois Lane. I have no clue why.

Season 2 brought a significant change, as Aquaman was added to the mix to create the Superman-Aquaman Hour of Adventure, which also included shorts with Flash, Hawkman, Atom, Green Lantern, & the Justice League of America (sans Aquaman, strangely), plus the Teen Titans. 20th Century Fox had the rights to Batman & Wonder Woman at the time, which is why they were not included in the JLA shorts, and by the same token, Robin was left out of the Titans' adventures. The Dynamic Duo finally arrived the next year, with Aquaman booted to the little-seen Sunday block. Thinking in hindsight, had DC & Filmation waited a year, they could've gone for the downs with a 90 minute block that would've allowed Filmation to go forward with Wonder Woman as well as the rumored Metamorpho project. Oh, well....!

*The Archie Show (1968-71): Archie Comics wanted a piece of the pie, so they forged their own deal with Filmation. Even though Bob Hastings, the radio voice of Archie, was on the Filmation roster at the time, the studio instead hired Dallas McKennon (Daniel Boone), the voice of Courageous Cat, as Archie. As with Superman, the series underwent format changes, including expanding to an hour, in seasons 2 & 3, including title changes to the Archie Comedy Hour (season 2) & Archie's Funhouse (season 3). Viewers were so entranced by Sabrina that the Teenage Witch was spun off into her own series in 1971, after sharing a half hour with her made-for-TV cousins, the Groovie Goolies in 1970. Unfortunately, the singular Goolies & Sabrina series were cancelled after 1 season.

*Archie's TV Funnies (1971-3): The gang began moonlighting, running a TV station in Riverdale that featured adaptations of Dick Tracy, Broom-Hilda, Moon Mullins, Smokey Stover, The Dropouts, & Emmy Lou. Of these, only Broom-Hilda would return, a few years later, in NBC's ill-fated Fabulous Funnies. Sad to say, clips of these features are as of now not available on YouTube, but they may turn up at some point.....

*Fat Albert & The Cosby Kids (1972-84): Easily Filmation's biggest success, by a wide margin. Emmy winner Bill Cosby (ex-I Spy) shifted his focus to family-oriented projects, beginning with the 1971 TV-movie, "To All My Friends On Shore", and had introduced viewers to Albert and the gang in a pair of specials on NBC. When the Peacock Network opted out committing to a series, CBS jumped in, and the rest, as they say, is history. The series moved to syndication for its 13th and final season in 1984. I'm not sure if the show was officially sponsored by Jell-O (which Cosby began hawking around the time the series started)........

*My Favorite Martians (1973-4): Loose adaptation of the 60's sitcom, with Jonathan Harris (ex-Lost in Space) taking over the role of Uncle Martin, originally played by Ray Walston. Unfortunately, viewers in my district would have to wait until the syndicated Groovie Goolies & Friends rerun package to see this show, as it was blacked out during its initial run.

*US Of Archie (1974-6): The last Archie series on CBS reimagined the gang as their own ancestors at various historical points.

*Shazam! (1974-7): After using live-action footage of a studio audience on Archie's Funhouse, and experimenting with the Goolies in an ABC Saturday Superstar Movie, Filmation forged a new deal with DC, which had acquired the original Captain Marvel from Fawcett some years earlier, and moved forward with a full-on live-action series. Michael Gray might've been too old to be Billy Batson, but then the producers felt making Billy older, say, somewhere between 17-20, by my best guess, made the show more marketable to teens & tweens.

*Ghost Busters (1975-6): Former F-Troop stars Forrest Tucker & Larry Storch were reunited in this comedy-adventure series, which suffered from inconsistent writing, more than anything else. Filmation would revisit the concept with a 2nd generation animated series 11 years later.

*The Secrets of Isis (1975-8): The series launched as 1/2 of the Shazam!-Isis Hour, and was in said format for its first two seasons. In season 3, it finally stood alone, but was buried at the bottom of the lineup, with production having long since ended. Series star Joanna Cameron was Filmation's answer to Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman) in every way imaginable, but has faded into obscurity since Isis ended.

*Ark II (1976-7): Soap star Terry Lester (Young & the Restless) was cast in the lead of this science fiction series that replaced Ghost Busters on the schedule, but met the same fate, as Ark II was sent back to the shop after 1 season. The problem to me might be its time slot, airing around 11 (ET), when an earlier slot would've made more sense.

*Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle (1976-82): Edgar Rice Burroughs' iconic jungle hero returned to television, but even though the series lasted for 6 seasons, only 1-2 seasons' worth of episodes were produced. For many of us accustomed to the broken English of the Ape Man in movies, hearing Tarzan speak perfect English (voiced by Robert Ridgely) was a welcome relief. Of course, if you'd read the comic strip or books, you'd have known all along that Hollywood made the mistake with the stereotyping of Tarzan as a illiterate savage.

*The New Adventures of Batman (1977-80): Added to the lineup as a mid-season replacement in February, the Dark Knight could now be seen on two different networks, in two distinctly different series (Super Friends reruns were airing on ABC when this series launched), at the same time. Weird. This would also mark the end of Filmation's association with DC, once production on this series ended. Adam West & Burt Ward, who'd starred in the live-action Batman, were brought in, since Olan Soule & Casey Kasem were over at Hanna-Barbera. The rights were split between the two studios, and that meant that not all of the classic villains would appear, so Filmation created some new enemies, while allowing Clayface to make his TV debut. Some will snipe that the moral messages that were now part of Filmation's programming, like it or not, didn't belong, but in truth, it did.

*Space Academy (1977-8): Jonathan Harris returned after the Uncle Croc's Block debacle to headline this series, which was clearly ahead of its time. Pamelyn Ferdin (ex-Curiosity Shop), a former Peanuts cast member, was the only other name in the cast. Lasted one season, but begat a spin-off anyway......!

*Tarzan & The Super 7 (1978-80): Tarzan & Batman reruns were mixed with five brand new features, all of which have been reviewed here previously: Jason of Star Command (spun off from Space Academy), Web Woman, Freedom Force, Superstretch & Micro Woman, & Manta & Moray. To fit every feature into each show, the Tarzan & Batman repeats were edited heavily, with the original half-hours split into two parts, if memory serves me correctly. While the cartoons ended production after the 1st season, Jason soldiered on to a 2nd, switching from serial format to a more done-in-one episodic set-up.

*The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse & Heckle & Jeckle (1979-80): Filmation obtained a license to adapt the Terrytoons icons, while creating their own star in Quackula. The hour long format allowed for a Mighty Mouse serial, "The Great Space Chase", in the middle. Unfortunately, it didn't work, and the show was cancelled, largely because it was on in the leadoff spot (8 ET), opposite the Super Friends over on ABC. Not a good idea by the CBS programmers.

*The Tom & Jerry Comedy Show (1980-1): Exit Mighty Mouse and Heckle & Jeckle, and enter Tom & Jerry, whose rights at the time were held by MGM. Droopy and Spike & Tyke tagged along, but this also lasted one season, which meant this was worse in terms of performance than Hanna-Barbera's revival 5 years earlier! Go figure. Oh, yeah, it inherited that troublesome 8 am slot, too.

*The New Adventures of the Lone Ranger (1980-2): CBS ditched the Super 7, keeping Tarzan & Jason while Batman and the others went to NBC to finish out the run. Filmation then acquired the rights to the Lone Ranger, while hiring William Conrad (ex-Cannon) to voice the title hero. Conrad, of course, was no stranger to toons, having narrated Rocky & Bullwinkle years earlier. Zorro (voiced by Henry Darrow) joined the Ranger & Tarzan the next year, and once again the reruns were edited down because they only had an hour to play with.

*Blackstar (1981-2): Some say this was a precursor to the adaptation of Mattel's He-Man that would come along 2 years later, but only because of the science fiction elements involved. This would mark the end of Norm Prescott & Lou Scheimer's partnership after 16 seasons of network programs.

*Gilligan's Planet (1982-3): Rehash of the 1974 New Adventures of Gilligan series, right down to the theme song, with the castaways now on a distant planet. First series with Lou Scheimer as sole producer. Coming as it did after 3 TV-movies aired on NBC, you wonder why CBS landed this show and not NBC.

Isis falls into the category of being part of the DC connection, only because the publisher gained the license to do a comic book based on the show, and later integrated the character into the DC Universe. Shows like Ark II & Blackstar deserved a better fate than they did, but not every programming decision makes sense or works the way the network thinks it will. Frequent correspondent Geed brought my attention to a pending hardcover book on Filmation by historian Andy Mangels that should make a perfect Christmas gift for the discerning toon fanatic. You'll be glad you did. Now, let's see about getting more of these toons on YouTube, if not on DVD.........!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Saturday School: Bill Nye the Science Guy (1993)

Part science class, part performance art. Much like Beakman's World, which bowed a year or so earlier, Bill Nye the Science Guy taught & entertained at the same time, with the entertainment in the form of song parodies and skits.

Comic Ross Shafer, who had the dubious task of hosting a poorly received 1990 revival of Match Game, created the series for his friend Nye, who's back in the news this week speaking out against Biblical Creationism. I will reserve commentary on that for another time, but let's look back at when Nye first achieved celebrity status.

Prior to landing his own show, Nye had contributed to the animated Back to the Future, appearing in skits with Christopher Lloyd. Bill Nye the Science Guy was an odd duck in that though the series was produced by Disney, it was airing primarily on PBS before going into general syndication and more direct competition, depending on the market, with the similarly themed Beakman.

Following is a sample episode:

Rating: A.

Saturday Morning's Greatest Hits: Disco Duck (1976)

Los Angeles-based radio DJ Rick Dees first entered the public consciousness in 1976 with the novelty record, "Disco Duck". Dees would later parlay "Duck" into a gig hosting Solid Gold before launching a radio countdown show, The Weekly Top 30, which I believe is still running today. Dees made one of his first TV appearances on American Bandstand, uploaded by the appropriately named DiscoLarry124.

Dees would also try his hand at voice work, starting with the abysmal (not his fault) Casper & the Angels, in which his wife, impressionist Julie McWhirter (ex-Wacko!) voiced the iconic Friendly Ghost. Not too sure about any further toon work for Dees, who apparently is most at home on the radio........

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Celebrity Toons: Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos (1986)

With Mr. T entering his 3rd & final season on NBC, Ruby-Spears must've figured another celebrity-driven action cartoon could work out in weekday syndication. Regrettably, their noble idea didn't work.

Chuck Norris was a long ways away from Walker, Texas Ranger when he was approached by R-S to top-line a 5-part weekday miniseries, Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos, in 1986. Then, Norris was starring in movies like "Lone Wolf McQuade" (w/David Carradine), "Silent Rage", and the "Missing in Action" film series. Not exactly critical darlings, mind, but action marks paid beaucoup bucks to see Norris flip open a can o' whoopin' on some bad guys. As memory serves me, Karate Kommandos didn't get past the miniseries stage, but there was an equally short-lived comic book from Marvel that was drawn by industry legend Steve Ditko, despite the fact that fellow icons Gil Kane & Jack Kirby worked on the show and could've drawn the book!

I never got to see the miniseries, so I can't rate it. Here, then is the open & close, sans the R-S logo.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Saturday Morning Ringside: WWE Saturday Morning Slam (2012)

Dating back to its early days as the World Wide Wrestling Federation, the WWE has had an on-again, off-again presence on Saturday mornings, depending on where you lived. The last series, AM Raw, still airs on USA, but in the wee small ones due to extra small ratings.

Now, two years after moving Friday Night Smackdown from CW to SyFy, WWE returns to CW with Saturday Morning Slam, a half-hour magazine series that gets its basis, whilst not acknowledged on air, from WWE Kids Magazine, which could certainly use the boost in attention. Superstars announcer Scott Stanford is the off camera narrator guiding viewers through the 30 minutes.

If there is a flaw in the design of the show, it's poor timing in terms of the match that aired on today's opener, pitting Kofi Kingston vs. Heath Slater. The match was taped prior to last week's Summerslam PPV, with then-US champion Santino Marella joining Smackdown announcer Josh Mathews on commentary. Since the event, Marella has dropped the US belt, and Mathews was held off TV this week after an injury angle involving Kane. Given there was 11 days between the time the match was taped and when it aired, changes could've been made.

Additionally, a PSA by Daniel Bryan is slightly out of date as it presents Bryan as a babyface (fan favorite), which he hasn't been in several months now. It'll be interesting to see going forward how WWE addresses these mistakes.

The 3rd Degree segment is an offshoot of the YouTube series, WWE Inbox, in which selected superstars are asked a particular question. This edited sample features JTG, Jack Swagger, Cody Rhodes, & The Miz. Missing from this clip is Natalya Niedhart. Blame it on WWE's editing department. WWE's YouTube channel provides the footage......

Rating: B+.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Why did Filmation fail at ABC?: A look back

Last time, we looked at the roster of series Filmation sold to NBC between 1973-82. 8 in all, not counting the reruns of Batman & The Super 7 (formerly Tarzan & The Super 7), with only 3 series being renewed beyond the first year. Now, let's examine their body of work for ABC:

*Journey to the Center of the Earth (1967-70): A loose adaptation of Jules Verne's classic novel, which had previously been adapted as a feature film starring Pat Boone more than a decade earlier. This series was set in what amounted to the present time, or so it would appear. The series marked the debut of Jane Webb as a Filmation regular, joined by Ted Knight & Pat Harrington, Jr., both of whom would later become better known for their prime time work. As was the practice of the time, only one season's worth of episodes was produced, with the final season airing on Sundays.

*Fantastic Voyage (1968-70): Two years after the feature film adaptation of Isaac Asimov's science-fiction classic, Filmation turned the CMDF into a counter-espionage team, which would be akin to DC Comics' Atom joining the IMF from Mission: Impossible, if you get the drift. Knight & Webb are joined this time by Marvin Miller (Aquaman).

*The Hardy Boys (1969-71): As I wrote when I reviewed this series, maybe this was what inspired Glen Larsen to cast Shaun Cassidy as Joe Hardy for his live-action adaptation of Franklin Dixon's novel series for teens a few short years later. No one knows what happened to the studio musicians hired for the show, but Dallas McKinnon (Daniel Boone), the voice of Archie, also worked on this show. Two new characters were created for the show, while only one member of the supporting cast in the books, Chet "Chubby" Morton, made it to TV. In hindsight, the bubblegum rock was a distraction that killed the show.

*Will The Real Jerry Lewis Please Sit Down? (1970-2): Replaced the Hardys on the Saturday schedule. Before being cast as Andrew "Squiggy" Squigman on Laverne & Shirley, David Lander made his TV debut voicing comedy legend Lewis' animated alter-ego, whilst Howard Morris handled the various Lewis creations adapted for the series. Being planted in the leadoff spot on the schedule hurt the series in the long run.

*The Brady Kids (1972-4, co-produced with Redwood Productions & Paramount): 1st spin-off from The Brady Bunch, but lost half the kids after the 1st season. Notable mostly for 2 episodes that helped lead to the debut of Super Friends the very next year, giving ABC a franchise (which went to Hanna-Barbera instead of Filmation) that would last well into the next decade, though it would actually take 4 years before it actually achieved franchise status. Too bad no cable net is touching Kids right at the moment. It's also the only series to gain a legitimate renewal for a 2nd season.

*Mission: Magic (1973-4): Australian singer Rick Springfield made his American TV debut, at least vocally, in this back-door spin-off from Brady Kids about a school teacher/sorceress who took her class to various dimensions. Sounds like the later Magic School Bus, but inferior in a lot of ways.

*Lassie's Rescue Rangers (1973-4): Ted Knight's 1-shot return to Filmation brought with him one of the world's most famous dogs. Unfortunately, with Lassie leading a team of forest animals in support of a team of park rangers, it suffered from a serious case of viewer disconnect for some reason, despite its good intentions.

*The New Adventures of Gilligan (1974-7, co-produced with Redwood Productions): Replaced the Brady Kids on the schedule, but only one season was produced. That's because Bob Denver (Gilligan) went on to the Kroffts' Far Out Space Nuts for CBS the following year. Not only that, but Tina Louise (Ginger) had disassociated herself from the franchise, forcing Jane Webb into a dual role as Ginger & Mary Ann with Dawn Wells also unavailable. When the cast reassembled for Gilligan's Planet 8 years later, Webb was gone, and Wells had the dual role responsibility. Oy!

*Uncle Croc's Block (Sept.-Dec. 1975): Comedy-variety anthology series that lacked one important element that would've saved the show. Having an occasional musical guest might've kept viewers hooked. Charles Nelson Reilly, on leave from Match Game, top-lined, and managed to lure in some of his show business pals to make guest appearances, while Jonathan Harris (ex-Lost in Space) was the foil as flustered director Basil Bitterbottom. This show was so bad (Chorus: How bad was it?), ABC ended its association with Filmation upon cancelling the show shortly before Christmas!

In honor of one of those stars who passed away earlier this week, we present a "Star Time" segment, uploaded by Muttley16, with Phyllis Diller as Witchy Goo Goo.........

I take back what I said yesterday. 8 series, but one renewal. That's actually worse than NBC! What was at fault? Again, in some cases, a poor time slot. In others, bad writing. I think you can figure out which was which.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Why did Filmation fail at NBC? A look back

Much has been made of ABC severing business ties with Filmation after the dismal ratings of Uncle Croc's Block in 1975. Considering that the studio's greatest success was for CBS, it's very strange that they did not generate as many hits for the other networks. As it turned out, their fortunes at NBC were actually worse.

Let us consider the body of work Filmation supplied to the "Peacock Network".

*Star Trek (1973-5; co-produced by Paramount, which owns the rights): The original crew came back together, save for Walter Koenig (Chekov), for this critically acclaimed series, which lasted two seasons, but hasn't been seen since a brief run on TV Land a few years ago. To say that it would be a hard act to follow would be an understatement.

*The Secret Lives of Waldo Kitty (1975-6): Loosely based on James Thurber's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the film version of which is being remade for next year with Ben Stiller inheriting the role played by Danny Kaye in the original movie, using animals. NBC slotted this in the leadoff slot (8 am ET), but didn't really do enough to promote it, considering they had a live-action block on the back end of the lineup that got more hype. Reruns were included in a Groovie Goolies compilation package 2 years later, and haven't been seen since.

*The Archie-Sabrina Hour (Sept.-Nov. 1977): The Archies, after a year off following a 8 year run on CBS, moved to NBC, but got blown off the tracks by ABC's powerhouse lineup. 2 months in, the format was tweaked, with the show split into two components---Super Witch (Sabrina) & The Bang Shang Lallapalooza Show (Archie). It didn't help, as both series were cancelled by April '78.

*The Young Sentinels (aka Space Sentinels)(1977-8): Contrary to what most people assume, the Hercules & Mercury characters used on this show were not the same ones that became part of the Freedom Force a year later as part of Tarzan & The Super 7 on CBS. The title was changed a few weeks into the season to cash in on the sudden popularity of "Star Wars", for all the good that did Filmation & NBC.

*The Fabulous Funnies (1978-9): Basically a retooling of Archie's TV Funnies from 7 years earlier, but without the Archies and some more popular strips, such as Dick Tracy. Buried in the lunch hour death slot, a fate that would befall most future Filmation series at NBC.

*Flash Gordon (1979-81): The first series since Star Trek to be renewed, and that was mostly to cash in on the feature film that came out between seasons. Shifting from a serial to an episodic format should've extended the life of the show, but it didn't.

*Tarzan & The Super 7 became Batman & The Super 7 when it moved to NBC in 1980, but that was mostly to kill off the components that CBS no longer wanted, as Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle & Jason of Star Command remained at CBS, but would soon be cancelled as well.

*The Kid Super Power Hour with Shazam! (1981-2): Partially live-action, partially animated. Filmation had to create their own band after plans to bring the Archies' superhero personas to television failed. That might also explain the return of Shazam! after a 4 year absence, this time in animated form, with Mary Marvel, Capt. Marvel, Jr., Talky Tawny, & Uncle Dudley (aka Uncle Marvel) joining Capt. Marvel. This would mark the end of Filmation's association with DC. The Hero High gang's band is best left forgotten.

*Sport Billy (1980-1): A largely forgotten series that managed to fill time in parts of 2 seasons. With Filmation transitioning to syndicated first-run fare, Sport Billy would be the last series sold to NBC. Amazingly, despite the themes of good sportsmanship, it's amazing that no one has picked up the show in recent years.

The common thread in the cancellations would be, in this writer's opinion, poor time slot placement. Kid Super Power Hour aired at a decent hour, smack dab in a block that also included Space Stars & Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends, but compared to the established heroes on those shows, the Hero High series came off as being, well, rather amateur. Sport Billy & Flash Gordon were both placed at the bottom of the lineup, yet each managed to last beyond one year.

8 first-run series, but only 3 last beyond one season. Not a good percentage. Not even close. In case you wonder, Filmation's track record at ABC wasn't much better, as we'll find out next time.

Sunday Funnies: Kids Are People, Too (1978)

Here's a show I regret never having the chance to see. At all.

Bob McAllister was lured away from the popular NYC children's franchise, Wonderama, by ABC in 1978 to host Kids Are People, Too, which was the backbone of what was left of the network's Sunday morning block, leading to news programs like Issues & Answers.

Unfortunately, Kids didn't air in my district for the simple reason that the affiliate refused to air the show, favoring instead locally produced programming or syndicated fare. In a nutshell, the networks stopped programming Sunday daytime for kids soon after because of the lack of affiliate interest.

McAllister wasn't long for the show, either, as he was gone after 2 months, replaced by Michael Young. However, Kids remained blacked out in a lot of small markets, yet soldiered on until the early 80's. For this reason, I cannot offer a rating on the show, since I never saw it. 70skidvid offers this clip, introduced by the late Ernie Anderson, with a song by McAllister.

Looney TV: Chaser therapy? (1997)

Cartoon Network found a unique way to promote their Bugs & Daffy rerun package when it launched under that title in 1997. They gathered Yosemite Sam, the Tazmanian Devil, Sylvester, Wile E. Coyote, & Elmer Fudd as a support group for chasers. Of course, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, & Tweety crash the party........

It's just too bad they couldn't use "Chasers Anonymous" as a foundation for a sitcom......

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

From Out of the Recycling Bin: The Superman-Batman Adventures (1995)

Time Warner collected---and badly edited----reruns of Super Friends and various Filmation shorts to create the cable-only Superman-Batman Adventures, which premiered on USA in 1995, then shifted to Cartoon Network and its sister channel, Boomerang, soon after. The umbrella title, however, was de-emphasized by 1997 due to WB launching The New Superman-Batman Adventures as a Saturday entry.

USA ran the package in the Cartoon Express slot at 6 pm (ET) weeknights, but by this time, despite the change in cartoon content, ratings were dropping for USA at that hour, and they would soon discontinue early evening cartoons. For those of us who hadn't seen the Filmation versions of Batman, Superman, et al since their syndicated runs ended in the early 80's, it was a welcome treat. It also served as a showcase for newer viewers who were only accustomed to WB's critically acclaimed Batman series on Fox.

Here's the open:

Rating: C (due to the poor editing).

Saturtainment: King Leonardo & His Short Subjects (1960)

In 1960, Hanna-Barbera was dominating the animation landscape on television, and would soon conquer primetime with The Flintstones, but the door was opening for other, smaller animation studios to grab a piece of the pie.

Total Television, often confused with Jay Ward's production company because they used the same Mexican animators, was the brainchild of a group of advertising executives who'd had a contract with General Mills. The first series out of the Total Television factory was King Leonardo & His Short Subjects, which spent 3 years on CBS from 1960-3 before being folded into Tennessee Tuxedo & His Tales, which lasted another couple of years.

King Leonardo (Jackson Beck) ruled the fictional African nation of Bongo Congo, but was repeatedly besieged by his jealous near-twin brother, Itchy, and his gangster sidekick, Biggie Rat. Itchy wanted the throne for himself, but was presented as none-too-bright and dependent on Biggie, and, later, the even more nefarious Dr. Mad, to fulfill his goals. King Leonardo had one loyal aide, "True Blue" Odie Cologne, whose absence figures prominently in this parody of the famous Jacqueline Kennedy tour of the White House, "All Alone Leonardo". Uploaded by BullwinkleCanada.

Sadly, King Leonardo & His Short Subjects, despite being reissued in syndication years later, hasn't had the following of later Total series like Tennessee Tuxedo or Underdog. It was during its syndicated run that I first encountered the King and Odie and the rest of the cast, and I found that the formula, especially involving the villains, was duplicated on Tennessee Tuxedo. That doesn't help matters now, does it? Of course not.

 Rating: B-.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Tooter Turtle (1960)

Time travel was a popular science fiction plot device in the 50's & 60's, and still is from time to time today. One of the backup features on King Leonardo & His Short Subjects was Tooter Turtle, a well meaning sort who kept bumbling into one misadventure after another, relying on Mr. Wizard, a lizard (Sandy Becker) to bail him out of trouble.

Here's "Tailspin Tooter (Plane Failure)", a parody of the comic strip, Tailspin Tommy.

I remember seeing some of these shorts in syndication in the late 70's & early 80's, and all I could figure was that Tooter was perpetuating the stereotype that turtles, because they are slow afoot normally, were also slow-witted. As I noted above, Tooter meant well, but his lack of intellect was his one weakness, and that actually hindered him. A reboot today might upgrade the ol' noggin, though......

Rating: B-.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Captain Midnight (1954)

Captain Midnight had conquered radio, comics, and the silver screen before Screen Gems acquired a license to adapt the series to television in 1954. The program aired on CBS for 39 episodes, all sponsored by Ovaltine. You'll notice, as I did when I saw this video, that Ovaltine was marketed back then as a dietary supplement, though never spoken as such in advertising.

Richard Webb starred as Captain Midnight, a maskless troubleshooter who led a group known as the Secret Squadron, which was the marketing hook for Saturday morning audiences tuning in. However, his two co-stars went on to greater success than Webb did.

Sid Melton (Ichabod "Icky" Mudd) later appeared on Make Room For Daddy and Green Acres, among other places. Toonaholics will recognize the voice of Olan Soule (Professor Aristotle "Tut" Jones) as that of the Batman for an impressive 16 year run (1968-84), in addition to roles on Dragnet, Dennis the Menace, The Andy Griffith Show, and elsewhere. Come to think of it, had they remade Midnight during the 70's, they could've replaced Melton with the similarly sized Casey Kasem, and there wouldn't have been much difference! Same height, same hairstyle, you get the idea........!

Anyway, the format played out similarly to other adventure shows of the day, including Sky King and The Adventures of Superman.

Here's the episode, "Artic Avalanche":

Rating: A.

Animated World of DC Comics: Superman: The Animated Series (1996)

Warner Bros. launched their own television network in 1996, and one of the benchmarks of its overall schedule was the launch of a new Superman cartoon series, his third solo series, coming 8 years after the failure of a CBS Saturday morning entry.

The animation style was the same as Batman, who would join the Man of Steel on WB the following year after 5 years on Fox. Producers Paul Dini & Bruce Timm used the comics of the period as a template, except for one key factor. By the time this series launched, Superman (Tim Daly, ex-Wings) had just married long time love Lois Lane (Dana Delany, ex-China Beach) in the comics, something that wouldn't be done in this series or in the Justice League cartoons that followed. Lex Luthor (Clancy Brown) was still a corrupt, billionaire businessman who had built most of the modern-day Metropolis, but saw his popularity plunge with the emergence of Superman. However, as with the previous series, Lex was given a sexy sidekick, this time in the form of chauffeur/bodyguard Mercy Graves (Lisa Edelstein, later of House), a significant upgrade from airheaded Jessica Morganberry in the 1988 series. Mercy not only was easy on the eyes, but she could kick your tuchis from one end of the room to the other.

Mercy would later be integrated into the DC Universe, but for some unknown reason, the editors at DC rebooted her as a plus-sized African American bodyguard, rather than retain her original appearance. As of this present time, Mercy has not been reintroduced in the company's "New 52". Perhaps it's to make sure that this time they get it right.

Superman: The Animated Series lasted 4 seasons, including a Saturday stint as 1/2 of The New Superman-Batman Adventures, so titled because the first series under that title was a Time-Warner-produced cable-only compilation package that aired on USA & Cartoon Network, collecting earlier shorts from the 60's and Super Friends episodes. Some say the series ended too soon, but, as noted, it did ultimately lead to Justice League on CN a year later, but the part of Superman was recast, with George Newbern taking over the role.

Here's the open:

Rating: A.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Fury (1955)

In 1977, NBC introduced a "super horse" to their Saturday lineup, Thunder, which lasted just one season. However, the pedigree goes much further than that, although it wasn't quite fulfilled.

22 years earlier, the network had another "super horse" in Fury, who was the centerpiece of what resembled a Saturday morning lineup back then. One of the surprising things about this show was that it was produced by British producer Gerry Anderson, better known for his supermarionation line of puppet adventure shows of the 60's and the sci-fi classic, Space: 1999, in the late 70's.

The two primary human stars of Fury were Bobby Diamond and a pre-Mission: Impossible Peter Graves. I remember seeing Fury in syndication in the early 70's as a morning entry, and this was likely to cash in on Graves starring in Mission at the time. I only saw one episode, and I wished it was on in the afternoon instead of the morning. Hey, you can't have everything, pilgrims.

Edit, 6/8/23: Had to change the video. Here's a complete episode with Denver Pyle in an early role.


It's just too bad that today, Fury languishes in the vaults, as no one wants to air this show, when it'd fit right in with some other vintage Westerns of its time.

Rating: B-.

Saturday Morning's Greatest Hits: Disco Lady (1976)

PalipitasHSclass1994 uploaded this Soul Train performance of "Disco Lady" by Johnnie Taylor from 1976. I have to admit I wasn't completely familiar with this song. Considering that at the time I was listening to country and gospel, well.........!

Saturtainment: Fraidy Cat (1975)

From Uncle Croc's Block comes the world's most paranoid feline, Fraidy Cat. As Uncle Croc (Charles Nelson Reilly) explains in the series' theme song, Fraidy's used up most of his 9 lives, and wants to make this last life count. Good luck with that, as he has to deal with some literal cat burglars after he finds their stolen loot just by coincidence........

What doomed Fraidy was the fact that they jumped right to the chase, leaving him with one life out of 9 right from jumpstreet, which left little redeeming value to his story. If they worked it out where he was losing life after life, leading to his predicament, well, things might've been different, but then, it wouldn't seem so funny, would it now?

Rating: B-.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Is nothing sacred?: Family Guy copies the Super Friends

On Fox's Family Guy, anything, and I do mean, anything, is open season for satire or parody.

Series creator/star/executive producer Seth MacFarlane decided to indulge his hidden inner geek by copying the open to 1977's All New Super Friends Hour. IHS7 uploaded this side-by-side comparison of MacFarlane's version, using the Griffin family as the Super Friends, alongside the actual open, with the original narrative track by Bill Woodson. Judge for yourselves. It's just too bad Meg was left out..............

Edit: 1/1/16: The original comparison video's been deleted. In its place is the intro as used on Family Guy:

And, then, there's the more familiar video.....

Edit, 9/11/23: The video we originally pulled has returned:

Oh, it gets worse. Supposedly, there was a scene with the Wonder Twins having to do with Peter Griffin (MacFarlane) morphing into one of Jayna's, ahem, tampons. And you wonder why people are cringing over what MacFarlane plans to do with The Flintstones next year?

We'll give MacFarlane an A for effort, just to be kind.

Friday, August 17, 2012

CW enters the Vortexx

On August 25, CW's Saturday morning block will undergo a facelift. With 4Kids Entertainment having turned over control of the block to Haim Saban's Kidsco, the block will be known as Vortexx, with a generous mix of familiar favorites and new shows.

Here's what to look forward to during the Vortexx block:

Cubix: Robots For Everyone, which we reviewed earlier. Saban has acquired this series from 4Kids as part of the package deal struck earlier this year.

Dragon Ball Z Kai. The first Dragon Ball series to be aired on broadcast network television. Along with Cubix, it carries over from the Toonzai block, which ends tomorrow.

Iron Man: Armored Adventures, which we reviewed earlier this week. Cable rights are held by Nicktoons. Broadcast network debut.

Justice League Unlimited. Previously aired on Cartoon Network. Broadcast network debut.

Power Rangers Lost Galaxy. Saban also re-acquired the Power Rangers franchise from Disney earlier this year, and this series previously aired on Fox.

Rescue Heroes. Rights are shared with Qubo. Has previously aired on CBS and WB, among other places.

WWE Saturday Morning Slam. WWE returns to Saturday morning television with a compact highlight reel show, plus one new match each week.

Yu-Gi-Oh!. A long time WB/CW standby. A secondary series in the franchise, Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal, rounds out the block. Konami, a prominent Japanese manufacturer, has acquired the franchise from 4Kids.

What CW & Saban aspire to do is make Saturday mornings fun again. However, because they're also recycling older shows long out of production, such as Cubix & Rescue Heroes, it speaks to a lack of planning, which hurt 4Kids when they programmed Fox & CW. CW, then, is the 2nd network to change packagers for their Saturday block, as NBC did the same thing last month.

CW, NBC, & CBS are the only broadcast networks still programming Saturdays for children & young adults. Fox & ABC left the race in recent years. It'll take time before Saban can have the current Power Rangers series, Power Rangers Samurai, currently on Nickelodeon & Nicktoons, repurposed on CW, but by then, will it be too late? We'll all have to find out together starting next weekend.

On the Air: Cubix: Robots For Everyone (2001)

Cubix: Robots For Everyone isn't from Japan, unlike most imports introduced to American audiences by 4Kids Entertainment. Instead, this show comes to us from South Korea, and I believe it is the first series from there to arrive here in the US.

Cubix debuted in 2001 on Kids' WB!, and spent two years there before moving to Fox. Only two seasons were produced, so Fox recycled the entire two seasons over a 2 year period. Now, the series is on WB's successor, CW, where the Toonzai block is undergoing a total facelift. More on that later.

The series takes us to the year 2044, where everyone, it seems, has a robot companion in some capacity. Inevitably, there are heroes & villains, and because the show is back on the air now, I can't consign it to the "Forgotten Heroes" section just yet. Amazingly, Cubix has not turned up on Cartoon Network or any other cabler, despite fan requests.

I love the CGI designs, but you have to follow the show from day one to get a grip on the plotline.

SpacePrimal uploaded the open.

Rating: A.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

From Primetime to Daytime: The Lone Ranger (1949)

In the early days of television, the networks didn't think it necessary to program on Saturday mornings. When they finally did, they often repurposed primetime shows that they felt were suitable for the entire family to watch, not just the small fry. This practice gradually changed during the 60's, but, as we all know, it reverted when ABC began repurposing Disney Channel programming over the last decade.

As early as 1960, NBC began airing reruns of The Lone Ranger on Saturdays to fill time. The series had actually started 11 years earlier, so it is considered one of the earliest television shows in recorded history.

Everyone knew the story of a Texas Ranger, John Reid (Clayton Moore), the lone survivor of an attack staged by outlaw Butch Cavendish (a pre-Gunsmoke Glenn Strange). Nursed back to health by Tonto (Jay Silverheels), Reid decides to let Cavendish and everyone else assume he is dead, adopting the guise of the Lone Ranger to continue his career as a lawman. The series had started on radio, broadcast out of WXYZ in Detroit. Coincidentally, the station was also home to The Green Hornet, and the producers had linked the two shows together by making Britt Reid (Green Hornet) a blood relative of John Reid, the Lone Ranger.

Moore left the series for 2 years, during which time John Hart took over as the Ranger (and would reprise in a guest appearance on Happy Days several years later), and in this writer's opinion, the quality of the product didn't really drop.

I first became familiar with the Ranger when reruns of the radio series began airing on a local radio station in the early 70's. Cable brought reruns of the TV show, airing on WPIX weekday afternoons. The two animated incarnations of the series have previously been reviewed here, and we covered this series over at The Land of Whatever several months back. Fred Foy, who'd later announce for Dick Cavett, handled announcing chores on both TV & radio for The Lone Ranger, while fellow radio veteran Gerald Mohr narrated many early tales, including the three-part origin story....

With a new feature film starring Johnny Depp as Tonto due next year, there may be a renewed interest in not only this series, but the 1966 & 1980 animated incarnations. Let's hope.

Rating: A.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Rein-Toon-ation: The Pink Panther speaks! (1993)

Nearly a decade after the short-lived, Hanna-Barbera produced Pink Panther & Sons, MGM decided to bring the Panther out of hibernation in an all-new series, with one huge change.

For the first time in nearly 30 years, the Panther actually talked, and for the first time, seemingly ever, the "Little Man", the Panther's long time foil, was also given voice. Actor Matt Frewer (ex-Max Headroom) voiced the Panther, while comic Wallace Shawn spoke for the "Little Man". In addition, other DePatie-Freleng characters freely interacted with the Panther for the first time, including The Ant & The Aardvark (both voiced by John Byner), the Dogfather (Joe Piscopo, ex-Saturday Night Live), and the Tijuana (nee Texas) Toads. The cast also included comedy vets Ruth Buzzi and Charles Nelson Reilly.

Sorry to say, I never really got to see the show during its initial 3 year run (1993-6), due to work and the fact that it didn't last the whole three years in my market, if at all, as memory serves. However, here's an example of what ended up being the last TV incarnation of the Pink Panther. From season 3 (1995), here's "Calling Dr. Panther".

I think the idea was that the producers felt it was time the Panther started communicating with his audience, but old school fans prefer the silent version, the one they grew up with. For what it's worth, impressionist Rich Little, mimicking David Niven, voiced the Panther in a pair of 1965 theatrical shorts. I think This still has the rights to this series.

Rating: None. Can't fairly rate it.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Rein-Toon-ation: Iron Man: Armored Adventures (2009)

The success of the "Iron Man" movies, starring Robert Downey, Jr. & Gwyneth Paltrow, led Marvel to try another animated series featuring the Golden Avenger. However, in doing so, they took fans back to a period in Iron Man's career they'd rather forget.

You see, Nicktoons' Iron Man: Armored Adventures presents Tony Stark, James Rhodes, & Pepper Potts as teenagers. This harkens back to a period in the 90's in the original Iron Man comics when Stark was de-aged to a teenager. It didn't last very long (thankfully), but Marvel & Nickelodeon, for whatever reason, decided to use the juvenile model for this series, and complemented it by de-aging Pepper & Rhodey as well, though their armored alter-egos are also in play.

For some reason, it took them two years between seasons 1 & 2, and reports are that season 3 may be ready in time for "Iron Man 3" next year. Storylines adapt classic tales from the comics, but it just doesn't look the same with the protagonist reduced to a teenage prodigy. I think the underlying idea is to sell toys (what a shock), but the premise of the show, in this writer's opinion, devaluates the original comics, even if they're not yet 20 years old.

In this sample scene, Tony & Pepper go over some evidence the latter has uncovered, but while there are hints of a relationship, which we've seen in the movies with the grown up versions of the characters, well.......!

I like the animation, but I don't like the idea of Tony, Pepper, & Rhodey as teens. It's just too bad DisneyXD or the Hub didn't take this show off Nick's hands, as Hub did with The Marvel Super Hero Squad Show, obtaining that from Cartoon Network a few months back. Nicktoons can do better.

Rating: C.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Daytime Heroes: C. O. P. S. (1988)

Here's a toy tie-in series, based on a Hasbro property, that wasn't produced by Marvel Productions. C. O. P. S. (The acronym stands for Central Organization of Police Specialists) aired initially in syndication in 1988, produced by DIC and distributed through Claster Productions, which usually handled distribution for Marvel & Sunbow's series.

C. O. P. S. was set in the year 2020, where a mobster code-named Big Boss has taken control of Empire City, leaving it up to a specialized team of officers. On the surface, it's a reworking of GI Joe, substituting cops & robbers for military characters. Like, was Hasbro really fooling anyone? Apparently not, as the show was cancelled after 1 season, only to return, as a weekly series of reruns under the name CyberCOPS on CBS in 1993, presumably as a mid-season replacement. The name change was to avoid confusion with a certain Fox reality series that far outlasted the cartoon.

Here's the open:

The series was blessed with terrific animation, though some of the villainous characters had all the presence of stale bread.

Rating: A-.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Saturday Morning's Greatest Hits: Holiday (1984)

I'll make this real simple for you. Madonna's debut hit, "Holiday", dominated radio airwaves in the winter of 1984, so it made sense that she'd appear on American Bandstand to perform and promote the song. We all know what's happened in the 28 years since. Uploaded by mdolla80s.

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Super Stretch & Micro Woman (1978)

Here's the last component from 1978's Tarzan & The Super 7 anthology series.

Super Stretch & Micro Woman were a husband & wife team of heroes, the second such coupling on the show, along with Manta & Moray. The reason you won't see their adventures on DVD any time soon is largely because their powers are derivative of other heroes. In Micro Woman's case, she's a female version of DC's Silver Age Atom, who had his own short-lived feature for Filmation & CBS 11 years earlier. Super Stretch (Ty Henderson, ex-Space Academy) was simply an African-American variation on Plastic Man and/or Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four, the latter of whom was back on the air that same season, over on NBC, while Plas would come along the following year on ABC.

Palitoy uploaded this sample, which has our married crimebusters taking on their evil counterparts, totally opposite in powers, from another dimension. This is the concluding portion of that story.....

The presence of the couple's pet dog, Trouble, as their sidekick, recalls Inch High using a dog as a sidekick 5 years prior, so there's another issue.

Rating: B.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Celebrity Toons: Wish Kid (1991)

As children, we've all got our favorite cartoons, but what child hasn't dreamed of being in his own cartoon?

Consider the case of Macaulay Culkin. Not yet a teenager, Culkin was a hot commodity in Hollywood coming off the success of "Home Alone", and before that, having appeared opposite John Candy in "Uncle Buck". Like Candy, Culkin was signed by DIC to star in his own animated series, but it would not be spun off from "Home Alone", although they might have been better off.........!

Wish Kid aired on NBC, the same network that was home to Camp Candy, for its one and only season in 1991, cancelled because the network had decided at the time to discontinue airing cartoons on Saturday mornings in favor of live-action, teen-centric sitcoms, a practice long since reversed. Culkin was the voice of Nick McClary, a typical kid who soon discovers that, thanks to a star that settled into his baseball glove, he can make any wish he has come true for a time. Now, what kid wouldn't want to let his imagination go completely wild?

Post-cancellation, Wish Kid got a second life in reruns on the Family Channel (now ABC Family), but there was only so much they could do with just 13 episodes.

Following is the show open, with the theme song composed to the tune of "Chantilly Lace", it seems, and uploaded by sounickmcclary......

Today, the series languishes in the vaults, having not been seen since its Family Channel run. A pity.

Rating: C.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Literary Toons: Mel-O-Toons (1960)

Mel-O-Toons first appeared in 1960, and remained in syndication through at least the 70's. I know this because in the early years of cable in my home district, WSBK out of Boston ran the series on weekday afternoons for a time.

Many of these shorts adapted classic literature, using a variety of narrators, including Art Gilmore (better known as an announcer for Red Skelton and a supporting player on Dragnet) and humorist Stan Freberg. I cannot be sure of the narrator for this sample piece, "Sinbad".

A few years ago, a selection of shorts were released on DVD in the public domain. Good luck trying to find them, but believe me, your kids will get a kick out of them.

Rating: B-.

It Should've Been on a Saturday: Green Tambourine (2001)

Disney's Recess ended production with the release of the 2001 feature film, "School's Out", which was quite the change of pace from the regular series. However, we're not here to discuss the film. Where Disney & ABC failed was not taking the occasion to air the movie in Recess' regular slot as part of the One Saturday Morning block during its final season (2001-2; it was renamed ABC Kids the following year).

The movie soundtrack included some classic pop-rock from the 60's, mostly thanks to flashback/dream sequences used in the film. Mostly, these were original tracks, but for a couple of covers. The Lemon Pipers' "Green Tambourine" was a classic by itself, but the producers decided to use it as a means of utilizing Robert Goulet as the singing voice of Mikey, one of the regulars (normally voiced by Jason Davis). Heh, they might as well have gotten William Shatner for this one, as "Tambourine" doesn't lend itself to Goulet's cabaret style. Need proof? Here it is, closed-captioned for the hearing impaired:

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Animated World of DC Comics: The Atom vs. "The House of Doom" (1967)

One of the big differences in comics these days is that, back in the latter part of the Silver Age, DC treated virtually all of their heroes with equal care and importance. Not so today, as someone like The Atom would be considered a second or third string hero.

As it is, Atom (Pat Harrington) was one of the rotating middle features during Aquaman's half of the Superman-Aquaman Hour of Adventure, and also appeared in the Justice League of America shorts. In the comics, he was often teaming with Hawkman, but was usually partnered with Flash in the JLA stories on TV. Anyway, here's the Mighty Mite in a solo short, "The House of Doom", written by DC vet George Kashdan. Narrator Ted Knight also voices Prof. Simms and the evil Dr. Lokar and his alien master.

Rating: B.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

You Know The Voice: Robert Ridgely (1975)

Actor Robert Ridgely began his association with Filmation when he was cast as Steve Exhaustion, the $6.95 Man (a parody of ABC's Six Million Dollar Man) on Uncle Croc's Block. He comes off sounding more like he's doing a John Wayne impersonation than trying to approximate Lee Majors' voice, but, well, you can't have everything.

Charles Nelson Reilly (Uncle Croc) had done some voice work, starting with the syndicated holiday special, The City That Forgot About Christmas, but it would be 6 years before he landed another voice-over gig, taking over the part of Frank Frankenstone on The Flintstone Comedy Show. I cannot be certain, but I think Reilly was on leave from Match Game when he took the Uncle Croc gig.

To complete our trifecta, Jonathan Harris, who gets to invoke his Lost In Space catchphrase as Basil Bitterbottom, had made his voice-over debut in The Three Musketeers, part of the Banana Splits anthology series in 1968, and was the lone cast member to reprise when Hanna-Barbera adapted Lost into a Saturday Superstar Movie in 1973.

Back to Ridgely. He would enjoy greater success in his voice work, starting with Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, and followed up with Flash Gordon & Thundarr the Barbarian, but did you know his career had started several years earlier? One of his earliest live-action jobs was in an episode of Kraft Suspense Theatre in 1964, which was later repackaged as the feature film, "Nightmare in Chicago", co-starring Ted Knight.

Muttley16 supplied this 2 1/2 minute snippet of silliness.

Saturtainment: Hey Arnold! (1996)

There's a reason Nickelodeon has Hey Arnold! running during TeenNick's The 90's Are All That! late night block. It happens to be one of the most successful Nicktoons the network ever produced, lasting 8 years of production (1996-2004), in addition to a feature film that wasn't quite so hot at the box office. To think, though, that it all started with some claymation shorts on Pee Wee's Playhouse a decade earlier........!

Series creator Craig Bartlett was also responsible for the Penny shorts that aired on Playhouse, during which a prototype for the Arnold we know and love appeared as a minor character. Bartlett intended to spin Penny off into her own series, or so it would seem, but Nick suits were more interested in the little blond haired kid with a head shaped like a football. Hey Arnold! bowed in October 1996, and became a nightly staple on Nick, even though there really weren't enough episodes to warrant a steady weekday run, but then, this is Nickelodeon we're dealing with here, where they don't care about quantity of episodes, just the ratings.

Here's the intro:

While Nickelodeon made what some think was a mistake in creating a follow-up series for Rugrats, the failure of that project allowed them to think twice before trying it with, say for example, Arnold, Helga, and their friends. The series did spend a year or two on CBS' Saturday schedule, back when they were repurposing Nick reruns.

Rating: A-.