Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Saturday Morning's Greatest Hits: Wait 'Til Tomorrow (1968)

One of the coolest things about the Banana Splits Adventure Hour were the musical numbers shoehorned into the show in between segments. While the vocalists were never properly credited, we do know that some true talents, such as Gene Pitney & Barry White, wrote many of the songs for the show. "Wait 'Til Tomorrow" is a haunting ballad that is also a personal favorite of mine, dating back to when I watched the syndicated reruns of Splits in the 70's. The vocals will suggest that maybe Gary Puckett (Union Gap) was the singer, but that's not the case. Too bad the lone Splits album hasn't yet been released on CD. Anyway, here's a music video, shot in San Francisco, featuring Bingo, Drooper, Fleegle, & Snorky, and uploaded by pmanis09 to YouTube:

The Animated World of DC Comics: Superman-Aquaman Hour of Adventure (1967)

CBS' Saturday lineup in 1967 was loaded with superheroes. Space Ghost returned for a 2nd season, but in reality, all he was there for was to introduce Shazzan, The Herculoids, and Mighty Mightor, the latter of whom shared a half-hour show with Hanna-Barbera's heroic take on Moby Dick. Meanwhile, Filmation & DC gave Superman some company by adding Aquaman and a rotation of back-up features. Muttley16 uploaded the intro to the Superman-Aquaman Hour of Adventure onto YouTube. The instrumental would later be used as the closing when Aquaman was spun off into a separate series the next year, the version we'd see in syndication during the 70's. Here's the intro, with cheesy lyrics:



Noticably missing were, of course, Batman & Robin, who had their own live-action show on ABC, but that series was on its last legs, and the Dynamic Duo would make the transition to animation the next year. 20th Century Fox held the TV license to the Caped Crusaders, thus precluding their appearances in Justice League & Teen Titans shorts, respectively. Also, there were rumors of Wonder Woman, Metamorpho, or even Plastic Man being adapted by Filmation, but Batman producer William Dozier had filmed a pilot for Wonder Woman that didn't sell, and thus Fox had the rights to her as well. Plas wouldn't appear until a guest appearance on Super Friends in 1973. Metamorpho would finally make it to TV via Justice League Unlimited just a few years ago. DC writers Bob Haney & George Kashdan were the principal writers, lending credibility to the episodes. Narrator Ted Knight also voiced several villains and supporting characters, but as we all know, Knight gained his greatest fame just 3 years later on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Superman would soldier on for another season of new adventures once Batman joined the party, but all the toons would be off the air by 1970 until picked up for syndication a few years later.

Looking back, like all adventure cartoons of the day, continuity was not a consideration, as every episode was one-and-done, although the format would change for the Batman-Superman Adventure Hour the next year. The whole idea was that it was pure escapist adventure fare. And it was fun.

Rating: A-.

Celebrity Toons: Mr. T (1983)

He was one of the hottest commodities in Hollywood in the early 80's. Mr. T went from being a modest nightclub bouncer in Chicago to pop culture icon virtually overnight. T (born Lawrence Tero) first appeared on an NBC Big Event that featured a toughest bouncer contest. From there, you know the rest. "Rocky III", followed by The A-Team, and, finally, a self-titled animated series that cast T as a coach of a traveling gymnastics team, moonlighting as amateur detectives. Not exactly Scooby-Doo crossed with The A-Team, but NBC rode the big train for 3 seasons (1983-86). Here, courtesy of YouTube & justking81, is the show open:



Mr. T was one of two series Ruby-Spears sold to NBC, the other was a revival of Alvin & the Chipmunks, and wouldn't ya know, T guest-starred in the opener of that series, as well. NBC had become the #1 network on Saturdays, but needed another tent-pole, with Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends out of production and soon to depart, to complement Smurfs. As it turned out, they got 2 for a while. Mr. T also appeared in live-action form, bookending each episode by introducing each one, and offering the obligatory moral lesson. I wouldn't be at all surprised, given that T is now a Christian, to see this show land on someplace like Daystar or Trinity instead of Boomerang, which isn't willing to put this show on the air.

Was it fun? Of course. It got formulaic after a while, just like the other adventure series of the period, but T was the draw, and that at the time was all that mattered.

Rating: B.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Toon Rock: Schoolhouse Rock (1973)

Seeing how CBS had started airing short news pieces between their children's shows, ABC decided they'd do something similar, but without the aid of their news department. Instead, they launched what would be a long-running franchise, Schoolhouse Rock.

Schoolhouse Rock was broken down into different components, starting with Grammar Rock & Multiplication Rock. As time passed, the scope was expanded to include "History" & "Science", among others. Here, courtesy of YouTube, is a "History" number that is a personal favorite of mine. From 1977, it's "Sufferin' Till Suffrage".



In the 90's, a compilation CD was released that featured alternative artists covering some Schoolhouse classics. "Sufferin'", unfortunately, wasn't one of them. Just as unfortunate is the fact that ABC and its corporate parent, Disney, don't believe it's necessary to commission new Schoolhouse shorts, or revive the classics yet again. It falls under the FCC's "educational & informative" (E/I) guidelines, more so than the Disney Channel sitcoms being repurposed on ABC to fill their Saturday lineup nowadays. You can bet your bottom dollar that if one of Disney's tween idols (i.e. Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato) covered any of these songs, then the suits would reconsider.

Rating: A-.

Toon Rock: Cattanooga Cats (1969)

With the Banana Splits entering their 2nd season on NBC, Hanna-Barbera was asked to create a similar anthology series for ABC. This time, though, it would be all animated. Here's the opening to the Cattanooga Cats, courtesy of opulent7, who uploaded it to YouTube:



The Cats only appeared in a handful of episodes themselves, aside from blackout sketches and musical numbers. The other three components of the series gained more attention. Around the World in 79 Days was a loose adaptation of Jules Verne's Around The World in 80 Days, set in more modern times with a descendant of Verne's hero, Phineas Fogg, as the protagonist. Motormouse & Autocat was really a souped-up revamp----literally----of H-B's legendary cat & mouse team, Tom & Jerry (who were finishing their first run on CBS at the time). As his name implies, Autocat (Marty Ingels) used a variety of cars to try to catch the motorcycle riding Motormouse. Clearly, this was the most popular segment of the series, enough to warrant being spun off into its own half hour when ABC decided to split the Cats into two separate series the next year. It's the Wolf was a slapstick comedy-adventure serial about the efforts of Mildew Wolf (an uncredited Paul Lynde) trying in vain to capture Lambsy (Daws Butler, using his Elroy Jetson voice) and get around Lambsy's bodyguard, Bristol Hound (Allan Melvin). For some strange reason, Lynde didn't want screen credit for his work either here or on Perils of Penelope Pitstop, figuring sharp-eared viewers would recognize his distinctive voice anyway, and they did.

Unfortunately, even with the separation into two component half-hours, viewers waved goodbye to the Cats and friends after 2 seasons. Boomerang has restored the series to its original 1 hour format, but it hasn't aired on that channel in a while, which speaks volumes of the network's complacency the last couple of years, but that's another subject for another time.

Would WB be motivated to revive the Cats for a new generation? Last year marked the series' 40th anniversary, but of course it was ignored. To WB suits, the only show that matters out of the class of 1969 is Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?. However, it would mean a lot to old school toon fans to take a chance, especially if you can completely reboot the Cats to account for modern sensibilities. For example, instead of being a rock band, the Cats could work as more of a country group. After all, the guitarist's name is, in fact, Country.

Rating: B.

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Young Samson (1967)

Of all the "super adventure" heroes that Hanna-Barbera produced between 1966-68, Young Samson somehow has fallen right through the cracks, such that it was not included in Hanna-Barbera's World of Super Adventure rerun anthology package 11 years after the series' initial airing on NBC. Here, CartoonsIntros offers the intro we know so well:



Samson (Tim Matheson, Jonny Quest, Space Ghost) is at first glance a typical teenager roaming the highways & byways with his dog, Goliath. When danger threatens, however, the youth clangs a pair of special wristbands together to transform into an adult analog of himself, purportedly derived from his Biblical namesake. At the same time, Goliath is transmuted from dog to lion, with one black front paw intact. In his lion form, Goliath can shoot laser beams from his eyes and leap long distances.

All that aside, Samson was really not much different from his superhero brethren in the H-B stable, though he didn't have a Rogues' Gallery of arch-enemies like, say, Space Ghost or NBC stablemate Birdman.

When it came to syndicated distribution, Young Samson, along with 1966's Space Kiddettes, somehow got thrown together with some entries from other studios' shows. I can recall seeing a "Fractured Fairy Tale", from Rocky & His Friends, being packaged with Samson, for example. Young Samson has turned up periodically on Boomerang, but WB seemingly is not in any hurry to release this show on DVD. Would they revive it? Only if they could find someone who cared enough to not only revive the show, but expand on the original stories so it wouldn't seem so convoluted.

Rating: B-.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century (1999)

Perhaps inspired by the success of the Mike Myers comedy, "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" 2 years earlier, DIC & Scottish Television served up Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century as part of Fox's Saturday morning lineup in 1999. Yes, it started as a Saturday series, but most folks are likely to remember that the network, panicking because of lack of ratings, bumped the series to Monday afternoons before cancelling the series after one season. Holmes is still around in syndication, popping up periodically, and DIC's current parent, Cookie Jar, just reissued the series as of today. Here's the opening, which Cubix61 uploaded to YouTube via RetroJunk.com:



Just as Austin Powers was thawed out of cryogenic freeze to capture old nemesis Dr. Evil, Holmes is similarly resurrected when his arch enemy, Prof. James Moriarty, somehow shows up in the far future. Holmes is greeted by a descendant of his old comrade, Inspector Lestrade, and Dr. Watson is represented by a robot. In time, Holmes assembles a new set of "Baker St. Irregulars" to help him on cases. Unfortunately, the series has long since ceased production, a result of short-sighted thinking on Fox's part. They had snuck Holmes onto the schedule with little fanfare, which is never a good idea. It was one of the first series to blend traditional line animation with computer graphics, and was one of DIC's best entries in years. As a Holmes fan from way back, I actually enjoyed watching this show, and I honestly wish someone could've picked it up after Fox gave up, such that additional episodes could've been ordered.

Would someone try it again? Given Fox's poor handling 11 years ago, I doubt it very seriously.

Rating: A.

Bad TV: Uncle Croc's Block (1975)

By design, Uncle Croc's Block was a satire on other children's shows, such as Captain Kangaroo, which at one point in its run actually aired on Saturdays. To give you some idea, here's the theme, as performed by series star Charles Nelson Reilly (Match Game), and uploaded to YouTube by Muttley16:



Filmation populated the world of Uncle Croc with parodies based on other shows and concepts. For example, during the "Star Time" segment, Croc would be joined by the likes of Sherlock Domes (Carl Ballantine, ex-McHale's Navy), Junie the Genie (Alice Ghostley as a Jeannie parody), and Steve Exhaustion, the $6.95 Man (Robert Ridgely as a Six Million Dollar Man parody, proving that ABC was willing to poke fun at itself). But as the skits were bombing, director Basil Bitterbottom (Jonathan Harris, ex-Lost In Space) seemed amused by it all.

Unfortunately, viewers were tuning out Uncle Croc, and the show was cancelled about halfway through the season, ending Filmation's association with ABC. It is said that network suits were so unhappy with Uncle Croc, they didn't want any more series from the studio.

The animated segments, Wacky & Packy, Fraidy Cat, & M*U*S*H, the latter a parody of--what else?---M*A*S*H, would later resurface as part of the Groovie Goolies & Friends syndicated package. Wacky has also been released on public domain DVD, the only part of the show out in the open market.

As it turned out, when it came to sending up kids' shows, Weird Al Yankovic did it a little bit better in his 1989 movie, "UHF", when he entrusted a TV station janitor (Michael Richards, Seinfeld) with one, and it became a hit. Too bad the movie itself wasn't. Just like Uncle Croc.

Rating: D.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Bad TV: Hulk Hogan's Rock 'N' Wrestling (1985)

In 1985, the then-World Wrestling Federation partnered with DIC and CBS to produce a half-live-action, half-animated series "starring", and I use that term loosely for a reason, then-champion Hulk Hogan. While Hogan and his compadres appeared in person in skits, they didn't contribute any voice work to the cartoons, which, by DIC's standards of the period, were little more than jobber fodder. For one big example, future sitcom star Brad Garrett (ex-Everybody Loves Raymond) was the one speaking for the animated Hogan, while James Avery (later of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) was the voice for Junkyard Dog. That discrepancy between the wrestlers and voice casting alone may have been the biggest reason why this show flopped, and badly.

I admit I tried watching this show, but couldn't get through no more than maybe five minutes at a time. It was one thing to see the wrestlers in the sketches, testing their acting skills, but the toons were painful to watch. Worse, it was on opposite the superior Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians over on ABC and Alvin & the Chipmunks on NBC. Not a surprise, then, that Rock 'N' Wrestling was cancelled after the one season, though some enterprising soul tried to revive it by putting the reruns in syndication in the 90's. No station in my market bit on it, thankfully. If anyone actually gained anything from this, Hogan aside, it'd be the late Captain Lou Albano. DIC would bring him back 4 years later to star in the weekday series, The Super Mario Brothers Super Show. Albano, like Hogan and Roddy Piper, did make an inroad in movies, but most kids remember him more for his Mario Brothers work as far as non-wrestling work goes.

CBS would recover from this debacle just a year later, thanks to someone named Pee-Wee.

Here's a sample montage.



Rating: D.

Saturday Morning's Forgotten Heroes: The Adventures of Gulliver (1968)

No, it's not a direct sequel to Jonathan Swift's classic, Gulliver's Travels, but rather an adventure series inspired by the book. The Adventures of Gulliver aired on ABC for 2 seasons, and then found a home in syndication as part of a package with reruns of Banana Splits.

The series focuses on Gary Gulliver (voiced by Jerry Dexter), purportedly the grandson of Lemuel Gulliver, the title character of Swift's novel. Gary's father, Thomas, has disappeared after their ship had encountered some stormy seas in the midst of a dispute between the elder Gulliver and Capt. Leach, who is after a treasure map. As his grandfather did years before, Gary and his dog, Tag, are washed ashore on the island of Lilliput. Gary settles down for a nap, and the next thing you know, just like his dad, he is tied down by the Lilliputians, only to free himself upon waking. It takes some doing, but Gary convinces the Lilliputian King that he is friendly. Unsurprisingly, he draws the attention of the appropriately named Flirtacia (Ginny Tyler). Just as predictably, Capt. Leach shows up regularly, still seeking the map, but never succeeding.

The Adventures of Gulliver was one of the last adventure series that Hanna-Barbera would produce until launching the Super Friends franchise 5 years later. Boomerang runs it periodically, but as a weekday entry instead of weekly, meaning they burn through the entire series in about 2-3 weeks. As for a DVD release, while it'd be appreciated, I'm not sure one is ever going to be in the cards, as it depends on whether or not WB owns the rights.

Here is the intro:



Rating: B.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Celebrity Toons: Fonz & the Happy Days Gang (1980)

By the time 1980 rolled around, Happy Days already had spawned a pair of successful spinoffs, Mork & Mindy (1978) and Laverne & Shirley (1976). You had to figure that sooner or later, some genius might come up with the idea of putting Fonzie (Henry Winkler) in his own series. And, so they did. Sort of.

Hanna-Barbera obtained a license from Paramount to produce the animated Fonz & the Happy Days Gang, which wasn't exactly an accurate title, since some of the gang were missing. Instead, they lifted the core concept of Josie & the Pussycats in Outer Space (1972), only this time, Fonzie, Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard), & Ralph Malph (Don Most) were lost in time, thanks to a bumbling time traveler from the far future, Cupcake (Didi Conn, later of Benson & Shining Time Station). Fonzie was also given a canine sidekick, Mr. Cool (Frank Welker), who copied most of his owner's mannerisms, but was more of an annoying presence than that other celebrated pooch of the period, Scrappy-Doo. Somehow, Potsie must've missed out on the fateful day when his buds disappeared. Either that, or Anson Williams wasn't interested in the project.

Anyway, our 5 intrepid adventurers spent 2 seasons (21 episodes total) trying to get back to Milwaukee, circa 1957, as explained in the opening narrative by radio legend Wolfman Jack (The Midnight Special). For kicks, they threw in incidental music more closely associated with H-B's superhero series, such as Super Friends, and, obligingly, Fonzie was seen swinging on curtains, among other things, to nail the villains. He was, after all, the star of the show. One has to assume they eventually made it home, because in 1982, Fonzie was added to Laverne & Shirley's animated series. Not that it helped that series, since it was cancelled after the '82-83 season.

Oh, of course, Mork & Mindy would also get the cartoon treatment, also in 1982, after the live-action series ended, with the title characters (Robin Williams & Pam Dawber) rebooted as high schoolers. Naturally, that didn't sit well with fans, and Mork said "nanu-nanu" one final time at the end of the season.

In case you wonder, Cartoon Network doesn't have Fonz in its library (CBS-Paramount owns the rights), so even though the series marks its 30th anniversary this year, don't look for it to turn up anywhere anytime soon. Unless some enterprising soul at CBS-Paramount decides to release it on DVD.

Here's the intro:



Rating: B.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Welcome!

After writing about old Saturday morning shows the last few days over at the Land of Whatever, I decided to launch a blog about it specifically, so here we are. We'll share memories of the favorite shows of our youth, both live-action & animated. Some of the pieces I've previously written will be reprinted here as well to get things established. So, come on in, and enjoy the fun!