Saturday, January 7, 2012

Prime Time Saturday Morning

In the early days of Saturday morning programming, the late fifties and early sixties...the main purpose of the cartoon blocks was to sell toys and cereal. Most of Hanna-Barbera's early output was sponsored by Kelloggs

General Mills and its ad agency created the Total Television catalog. Ideal Toys sponsored mid-sixties HB characters. And there was even a series based on the cereal box characters for Post:

By the time I quit watching Saturday morning cartoons in the late 70's, there was a trend to cross-merchandise toys and video games with the programs. Especially in the 80's. The beginning of the end of the golden age (in my opinion) was "The Smurfs."

In the seventies cartoon producers were hawking corny lessons about safety and civility due to pressure from anti-violence parent organizations. (It is hilarious to think about where that got us....the lack of civility and the ultra-violence and crassness of programs that kids are exposed to now is breathtaking.)
Characters were drawn from comic books (superheroes from DC and Marvel; funnies from Archie and Harvey), pop music (Jackson Five, The Osmonds); sports (Harlem Globetrotters, Muhammed Ali); and real-life showbiz (Jerry Lewis, Mr. T and Gary an angel).

Along those same lines, The New Scooby Doo Movies featured real-life celebrities in animated form helping those meddling kids solve mysteries: Don Knotts, Tim Conway, Dick Van Dyke, Jonathan Winters, Sandy Duncan, Jerry Reed, Sonny and Cher and, believe it or not, this rock music diva: (Aaah, the seventies)

Most of the unoriginal characters were derived from prime time TV shows, however. It is interesting that the TV series that were being hi-jacked for kiddie consumption in the seventies were actually from the sixties and being rerun to death in local syndication. With a few exceptions. Here are examples of cartoon remakes or outright movie parodies during this time period:

The Brady Kids (Filmation, 1972 ABC): Concurrent with the actual run of the parent series, this cartoon found the kids, sans Mike and Carol, having magical adventures with a mystical mynah bird and Chinese-speaking twin panda bears. The actual kids did their own voices the first season. Legal issues kept half of them from returning for the second season.
Thank God for the panda bears.

The Barkleys (Depatie-Freling 1972 NBC): One of my favorites as a kid, this show was a take-off on "All in the Family" as a family of, yes, dogs. Bigoted, outspoken Archie Bunker was replaced by..well, not really bigoted (this was kiddie time) but, yes, outspoken Arnie Barkley and his dysfunctional family of hipsters and hippies and a dingbat spouse. Great theme song.

The Houndcats (Depatie-Freling 1972 NBC): I never really saw this one as such a tie-in but it was marketed as a "Mission Impossible" for kids. Just a bunch of varied animals that listened to a self destructing message.

Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan (Hanna-Barbera 1972 CBS): Extremely Un-PC take on Charlie Chan as he and his horde of children solve crimes and play bad rock songs.

Jeannie (Hanna-Barbera 1973 CBS): This was an update of "I Dream of Jeannie" with a teenage genie and her teenage master. Although he wasn't an astronaut, he was voiced by a future Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).

My Favorite Martians (Filmation 1973 CBS): Uncle Martin returns with a nephew who has only one antenna...poor guy. He also had an alien sheepdog. A point of contention with me was how different Detective Brennan looked on the cartoon from the actor in the original series. Well, I mean cartoon Martin didn't look like Ray Walston either, but the animators didn't add a stinking mustache to the character. Yes, I had no life as a child.

Emergency Plus Four (Fred Calvert 1973 NBC): The famous TV paramedics were joined by four kids who somehow didn't get in the way of Gage and Desoto.

The Dogfather (Depatie-Freling 1974, theatrical): Supposedly these theatrical shorts were featured on The Pink Panther Show but I don't remember them: "The Godfather" gang reinvented guessed it...dogs.

The Addams Family (Hanna-Barbera 1973, NBC): Based more on the Charles Addams magazine cartoons than the sitcom, the macabre family toured America in a giant, well, hearse.

Star Trek (Filmation 1973 NBC): This classic animated series, using the actual voices of the original Enterprise crew predated the Star Trek films by five years. Gene Roddenberry actually contributed to the series writing and this cartoon is considered to have some of the best stories according to certain Trekkies.

Lassie's Rescue Rangers (Filmation 1973 ABC): You can tell 1973 was a year bereft of originality. Lassie herself leads a pack of human adventurers as they perform feats of heroism

Partridge Family: 2200 AD (Hanna Barbera 1974 CBS): The rocking family of teen idols is reimagined in the age of The Jetsons. They were really far out this time. I think Ruben Kincaide was replaced by a robot dog.

These Are the Days (Hanna Barbera 1974 ABC): An animated take on "The Waltons." How's that for excitement, kids? And the family dog was not even cute. Snooze.

The New Adventures of Gilligan (Filmation 1974 ABC): As reruns of "Gilligan's Island" were more popular than the actual series was in the sixties, this was a no-brainer. The original cast returned to provide voices as the castaways learned more things...except how to build a boat. Years later, Filmation animated "Gilligan's Planet"...where I think they met the Partridge Family...or the Harlem Globetrotters....or something.

Return to the Planet of the Apes (Depatie-Freling 1975 NBC): Although CBS had a TV series for this franchise in prime time the same year, this cartoon was based more on the popular movie series from the cinema. I would always much rather watch the live actors in makeup than this version. They were actually better animated.

Secret Lives of Waldo Kitty (Filmation 1975 NBC): Based on the "Walter Mitty" character created by Danny Kaye in the movies, this cat (opening in live action sequences) would imagine himself as animated characters from literature in order to save himself from a bad dog.

The Oddball Couple (Depatie-Freling 1975 ABC): Felix and Oscar were reimagined as...drumroll please....a dog and cat. More suprises: The dog was messy and the cat was neat. People were paid to come up with this.

M*U*S*H (Filmation 1975 ABC): This anthropomorphic animal parody of M*A*S*H was a segment on the kiddie show spoof "Uncle Croc's Block." Instead of 1950's Korea, the comic adventures took place in a frozen outpost somewhere. Good call.

Mister Jaw (Depatie Freling 1976 NBC) and Jabberjaw (Hanna-Barbera 1976 ABC): The most popular thing that year was the murderous shark ("Jaws") naturally, let's make him funny and surround him with a rock band. Both Mister Jaw (featured on the Pink Panther show) and Jabberjaw were wiseacres. Lessened the pain when they ate somebody.

Mumbly (Hanna-Barbera 1976 ABC): Part of the Tom and Jerry/Grape Ape Show" the only tie-in here was that the famous Muttley character was now wearing a trenchcoat as a detective. Like "Columbo." His superior was a Kojak lookalike. HB had to change the name of the famous snickering dog because the rights to Muttley were owned by another company.

Baggy Pants and the Nitwits (Depatie Freling 1977 NBC): I could never figure out what the programmers were smoking when they came up with this. One segment featured Charlie Chaplin as a cat. The other segment and animated version of the Ruth Buzzi-Arte Johnson characters from "Laugh-In." I almost decided to start doing drugs as a kid just to understand this one.

Heyyy, It's the King (Hanna-Barbera 1977 NBC): This was the first "Happy Days" ripoff. Featured as a segment on the "CB Bears" show, Fonzie was a lion surrounded by sycophant forest creatures all wearing fifties clothes. And I don't even think it took place in the fifties. Were lions even cool then? Of course they were!

Robonic Stooges (Hanna-Barbera 1977 CBS): Originally, a segment on "The Skatebirds," the Three Stooges were super-robots. And even though they were super and robots they still screwed everything up. I'm sure the new Three Stooges movie coming out will make no reference to this series.

Godzilla Power Hour (Hanna-Barbera 1978 NBC): Based on the Toho Film series, Godzilla was joined by a family of adventurers and the cute little Godzooky.

The sad Garry Marshall troika on ABC with the original if Ron Howard, Henry Winkler, Penny Marshall or Robin Williams needed more money at this time in their careers:
Fonz and the Happy Days Gang (Hanna-Barbera 1979): Fonzie and a cuddly dog travel through time with Richie and buddies.
Laverne and Shirley (Hanna-Barbera 1980): The wacky girls join the army (just like they did on the real show) for animated hijinks with a cuddy pig.
Mork and Mindy (Ruby-Spears 1981): I think there was a cuddly space creature added that looked like Conrad Janis.

The Dukes (Hanna-Barbera, 1983 CBS): I had thrown my TV out by now, but this was an animated "Dukes of Hazzard." It may have been better than the movie remake.

Also of note, in 1973 and 1974, ABC featured a cartoon anthology called the Saturday Superstar Movie. Each week featured different characters in adventures, most of them derivative. In addition to the pilots for "Brady Kids" and "Lassie's Rangers", the series featured the animated exploits of "Gidget" (Gidget Makes the Wrong Connection, Hanna-Barbera), the kids from "Bewitched" (Tabitha and the Clown Family, Hanna-Barbera), "That Girl" (That Girl in Wonderland, Rankin-Bass), "The Munsters" (The Mini-Munsters, Fred Calvert), Nanny and the Professor (Fred Calvert); and Lost in Space (Hanna-Barbera).

In the late eighties, SNL and SCTV characters (Martin Short's Ed Grimley and John Candy) were fodder for a lot of programs.

Saturday Mornings are pretty much gone now as a cartoon programming block and cartoons have become more sophisticated (read: ribald) for prime time and cable outlets. But if the old system were still in place with the poorly animated, cutesy infested churn-out, can you imagine what cuddly animals would populate the animated versions of "Breaking Bad", "Sex and the City" or "Mad Men?"