Saturday, February 21, 2009


With “The Watchmen” film coming out, I thought I would write about Charlton Comics. The superheroes from the The Watchmen characters were purchased and licensed by DC Comics in 1986 from Charlton. In the fifties and sixties, this relatively obscure comic book publisher had created a number of superheroes that it never used in its comic lines. Alan Moore had the idea of using many of these characters in his own comic, thus the transition.

That being said, this entry deals with my experience and memories of the Charlton line in the sixties and seventies. As with many of my journal entries here, I deal mostly with cartoon and television adaptations.

Charlton comics had a certain feel. Due to the fact that they cut costs by printing on a second hand press that was used to print cereal boxes. This accounted for the yellowish, dull look to their pages and covers. Compared to the brightness and color of, say, a Gold Key comic or the density and detail of a DC or Marvel, this line of comics always seemed a bit inferior. I won’t go into the early history of the comics. As the superhero years wore down in the late sixties, I was introduced to the Charlton line.

At that time, and through the seventies, the main genres were war-themed comics, gothic horror stories (in a manga style, ahead of its time), and romance stories. And a few superheroes still popped up, E-Man most noticeably of which I still own my copy of the first issue.

In 1970, Charlton took over the Hanna-Barbera cartoon franchise from Gold Key. I found the artwork to be inferior, the covers rather pedestrian, and was disappointed that HB (my favorite cartoon franchise) was singled out for this relocation. Whereas Gold Key continued with the current Saturday morning titles such as Scooby Doo, Charlton took over the older titles, even bringing some back which GK had let slide. The titles were The Flintstones, Yogi Bear, The Jetsons, Top Cat, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, and Magilla Gorilla. A year little a new title, Hanna-Barbera Parade (10 issues) was created to include all the pre-1964 Hanna-Barbera characters in various stories. These covers were often quite exciting as they included a menagerie of characters in some theme (much like GK’s earlier “Bandwagon”).

An important note here: Charlton actually published a HB title based upon their cartoon shorts of Abbott and Costello starting in 1968, predating the other titles. This was always odd, as GK still took care of all HB titles. This title actually lasted 22 issues and dovetailed with the aforementioned HB infusion through 1971.

Most of these HB titles lasted no later than 1972, with The Jetsons and Top Cat going 20 issues through 1973. However, Yogi and The Flintstones lasted until Marvel took over the franchise in 1977. The Flintstones actually became a Charlton touchstone begetting sequel comics featuring Barney and Betty Rubble, Dino, and Great Gazoo. Even the new teenage version of Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm had a long lasting run by Charlton starting in ’72. When GK completely abandoned the HB line in 1975, Charlton took over Scooby Doo until the Marvel takeover. They also published issues based on current HB Saturday morning fare: Valley of the Dinosaurs (with Pat Boyett artwork), Hong Kong Phooey, Speed Buggy, Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch, and Korg: 70,000 BC (a live-action show). A couple of issues of The Grape Ape followed this. By this time, the quality of the artwork was improving and certain artists were lending themselves exclusively to HB titles (such as Fred Hines for Barney and Betty)

Personal note: Both Pat Boyett and Fred Hines were San Antonio-based artists which led to much excitement on my part in those days. I think I remember my dad, also an artist, trying to set up a meeting with these guys, but my memory is hazy.

In 1970, Charlton also took over two Jay Ward titles from GK, Bullwinkle & Rocky and Dudley Do-Right, each for seven-issue runs. Also, Underdog (similarly animated by GAmma Studios) had a short run at this time. These titles would revert back to GK by 1973, a fate not afforded the HB titles. To wrap up the Saturday morning titles, Charlton published a short run of the Krofft live-action puppet show The Bugaloos (another odd choice given the other Krofft shows were represented by GK). Also, Ronald McDonald had his own Charlton comic in the early seventies…talk about tie-ins.

Charlton also carried many King Features comics from the newspapers at this time: Popeye, Hi and Lois, Beetle Bailey, Blondie, Mandrake, The Phantom, Tiger, and Snuffy Smith.
As for prime-time series, Charlton had a run of the comedy-variety show Hee-Haw (a really strange choice) and the sitcom The Partridge Family. The heartthrob star of The Partridge Family, David Cassidy, even had his own title as did another icon, Bobby Sherman, possibly based on his sitcom “Getting Together”. And a short-lived syndicated science-fiction program called “Primus” had a Charlton run. There was a single issue based on the musical film “1776” which was even stranger.

The mid-70’s saw the now-classic Sci-Fi series Space: 1999 get a Charlton treatment. This continued with successful runs of The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, and Emergency. Whereas Gold Key always used live-action photos melded with cool title graphics on their covers, Charlton always used artwork to depict the characters on the covers.I believe that is all the TV-related titles from Charlton although in the fifties, I believed they carried “My Little Margie” a popular sitcom at the time (recently shown on ION television).

Monday, February 16, 2009

CBS Highlights - Has Tiffany Tarnished?

Of the three major networks, I would have to say that CBS had the most impact on me in the 70s. I rarely watched the network after the early 80’s.

In the 50’s and 60’s CBS consistently carried the highest rated programs. CBS seemed to be the “authority” with Walter Cronkite himself helming the evening news.

Although ratings were great and credibility was unparalleled, the programming tended to get a bit, shall we say, low-brow in the late sixties. My vague memories of the sad final color years of the Mayberry saga, continued Hooterville inanity (of course, “Green Acres” was always spot on vaudeville), “Hogan’s Heroes”, and “Family Affair” were supplanted by Fred Silverman’s new reality. The new programming chief made it a point to cancel every program with a tree (read “rural”) and change the dynamic of network television.

So at this time we have witnessed the birth of the “Tiffany Network”. This label was mostly associated with the Saturday night lineups of the time. Oddly, the “perfect” lineup was just one season, 1973-1974. Permutations of this lineup occurred during most of the seventies keeping the label intact. That ’73 lineup was “All in the Family”, “M*A*S*H”, “Mary Tyler Moore Show”, “Bob Newhart Show” , and “Carol Burnett Show”. “M*A*S*H” would end up moving around more than these other programs and “The Jeffersons” would be a staple of the night later on in the decade.

Holdovers from the sixties still anchored the network. Monday nights with “Here’s Lucy”, “Doris Day Show”, “Gunsmoke”, and “Medical Center”. Thursday nights with “The Waltons” gave lie to the “deforestation” theory, but, thanks to the quality and warmth, it held it’s own.

But back to Tiffany. CBS was the first to try new things, to expand the consciousness of TV so to speak. Through sitcoms. The huge stool of boldness and freshness had three legs: Norman Lear, Mary Tyler Moore, and a bunch of doctors in the Korean War.

Norman Lear: “All In the Family” started it all. It was daring, political, profane (for the time), hilarious, racy, raunchy, and a number one hit for five or so years. The first “water cooler” show. The first videotaped situation comedy. It felt like you were watching a stage play. The audience was part of the show. The feel and tone was much like the British sitcoms Lear used as a template for so many programs. Also “Maude”, “Good Times”, “The Jeffersons”, and “One Day at a Time”. These shows all taught me values about society and influenced me. I watched them religiously. “One Day” got me through puberty thanks to Valerie Bertinelli. These shows have all been analyzed ad nauseum. Let me bring up one: “All’s Fair”. Lear’s political sitcom had Richard Crenna and Bernadette Peters battling it out in DC as a conservative columnist and liberal photographer respectively. Michael Keaton was the president’s joke writer, Manny Fox. Lear was way ahead of his time.

Mary Tyler Moore. Probably the greatest sitcom of all time. Her stable of comedies was defined by slick production values, incredible acting and writing, and timeless stories and situations. “Mary Tyler Moore Show” was followed by “Bob Newhart Show”, “Rhoda”, “Phyllis”, “Doc”, “Tony Randall Show”, “Bettty White Show”, and “WKRP In Cincinnati”. As well as the dramatic “Lou Grant” and “White Shadow”.

M*A*S*H. Eleven years on CBS. Only the first three with Henry Blake and Trapper John were funny. So much has been written about this show, I’ll just say, yes, it became a Monday night ritual until it’s incredibly top rated finale in 1983. Plus Trapper had his own drama, “Trapper John MD” with a different actor; and the actor that played Trapper originally had a new sitcom based on a different movie, still playing a doctor in “House Calls”. Got it?

Other prime time highlights:

The variety programs: Along with Carol Burnett on Saturday nights, we had Sonny and Cher, we had Tony Orlando and Dawn, we had the Hudson Brothers, and we even had Shields and Yarnell (mimes, yes you heard me right).
The crime shows. Besides Hawaii Five-O ,Mannix, and Kojak most of these were produced by Quinn Martin: Barnaby Jones and Cannon being the most memorable. Switch with Eddie Albert and Robert Wagner was also a treat. The themes to these shows were so cool as well.

The Peanuts gang, Rudolph and other Rankin Bass puppet creations, live dramas and comedies reminiscent of the golden age (I remember this great one about a Christmas tree with Jason Robards, and Jackie Gleason reunions )

Daytimes were fun when I stayed home sick from school. Along with All in the Family stripped reruns, you had the raunchy fun of Match Game and Tattletales, and the antiseptic fun of The Price is Right.

Captain Kangaroo would send me off for the day when I wasn’t sick.

CBS Saturday mornings was the birthplace of Scooby Doo and all his early incantations such as “The Movies”. CBS was home to all the Archie variations. Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. Wacky Races and all the derivative shows: Dastardly & Muttley and Penelope Pitstop. Harlem Globetrotters. Hair Bear Bunch. Pebbles and Bamm Bamm as teenagers and The Flintstones in middle age. Live-action variety shows with The Hudson Brothers (again!) and the REAL Harlem Globetrotters.

The cartoon house Filmation produced many live action shows which defined Saturday mornings for me mid-decade: Shazam!, Isis!, The Ghost Busters (probably one of my favorite unsung shows of all time), Ark II.

And remember, CBS, home of 60 Minutes, produced short news segments during the Saturday morning lineups called In the News. Now THAT’S class.

Back to primetime. As the seventies wore on, CBS reverted back to its rural roots with major hits: Alice (and spin-off Flo - “Kiss mah Grits!), Dukes of Hazzard (and spin-off Enos), and Dallas (and spin-off Knot’s Landing). With the exceptions of any variation on the Bob Newhart phenomenon over the next two decades (“Newhart”, “Bob”, “George and Leo”), I rarely watched what would become “America’s Network”. Well, I watched “Walker Texas Ranger” ‘cause I was on it once, but enough about that.

Actually the CBS arc is quite interesting when you compare it to today’s political discourse . Seems CBS became very “Blue State” and urban during the “Tiffany” years and then reverted back to “Red State” to become “America’s Network”. Now, with all the CSI shows, it’s “Dead State”, I guess. Ah, we have our memories.

See you next with ABC.