Friday, November 28, 2008

It's all relative...The Scooby influence...

Hanna-Barbera exploded in popularity with their made-for-TV cartoons. The foundation was layed in the late 1950's and it continued to grow through the 1960's. Although it would be fashionable to jump on the bandwagon with others and criticize the cartoons for their lack of animation but that isn't my style. Also, the mid 1960's out-put from Hanna-Barbera was often cited as not being as "good" as the cartoons in the late '50s and early '60s. I've seen plenty of the cartoons and while there are cartoons from this period that I'm not particularly a fan of, they do not fall into the category of "awful non-watchable" as some are quick to label them. After a flirtation in the mid 1960's with outer space cartoons and adventure dominated cartoons, the company hit the air with Scooby-Doo in 1969. This cartoon as I touched upon in another blog became a long-running series. The series was in first-run production from 1969-1971 and again during 1972-1973, as Scooby Doo, Where Are You? and The New Scooby-Doo Movies. When the series became a bonafide hit, Hanna-Barbera began to base a good amount of cartoons on the kids solving mysteries concept. There were many short-lived cartoons based upon this concept and many of the cartoons only ran one TV season, which for a Saturday morning cartoon, seemed to require no fewer than 16 episodes.

In a moment of speculation, this I assume would translate into 16 air-dates, then 16 repeats, which totals to 32 air-dates. After the repeat cycle ended the network would usually just repeat the cartoons again...and again...or cancel the series and replace it with something else from Hanna-Barbera. It would probably shock some to realize that cartoons usually do not have a lot of spite of how iconic or popular a series may have been. The cartoons to follow in Scooby's mysterious path as mentioned were many. If i had lots and lots of extra time I could look them all up but i'll summarize things and hit a couple of cartoons that follow the Scooby formula and point out which Scooby character matches which character on the knock-off.

1. Clue Club, 1976-1977: This series is one of my favorites. I watched this cartoon in the mid 1980's when it was a part of the USA cable program, Cartoon Express. The series involved four teenagers: Larry, Pepper, D.D., and Dotty and their two dogs Wolfer and Wimper. Larry is the Fred prototype while Pepper is the Daphne of the group. D.D. is the comical one with some cowardly traits shared with Shaggy. Dotty is the brains, the Velma equivalent. This time around, two dogs are spotlighted. Wolfer is the older dog who always thinks he has the mystery solved and proudly explains his theories to Wimper, only to be proven half-right or all wrong by the humans in the show as the story plays out. Wimper is the smaller dog with a southern drawl who often doubts Wolfer's assumptions but goes along with the latest theory Wolfer's dreamed up. The dogs spoke to each other but not to the four kids. Sheriff Bagley was often on-hand to apprehend the latest crook that the Clue Club exposed...recounting clues that had another style similar to Scooby-Doo. The voice cast for this series included David Joliffe as Larry; face actor Bob Hastings as D.D.; Patricia Stitch as Pepper; Tara Talboy as Dotty; Paul Winchell as Wolfer; Jim McGeorge as Wimper; and John Stephenson as Sheriff Bagley. The series didn't have a long life in syndication repeats. After it's network run, it vanished from the airwaves until it became a segment on USA's Cartoon Express in the late 1980's. After it left that program it remained in animation exile until the Cartoon Network and then Boomerang came along in the late 1990's. Even today, it doesn't air that often but sometimes it will pop up on Boomerang.

2. Jabberjaw, 1976-1978: This cartoon series focused on four teenagers and a talking shark. In a lot of ways it was a comedic parody of Jaws, using a shark as a comedic foil. In addition to this, the four teenagers were rock stars in a concept close to Josie and the Pussycats and the teens in Jabberjaw toured the oceans and dry-land at times stumbling into mysteries in between their concerts. It's also interesting to note that this concept was the original basis for Mystery's Five, the series that became Scooby-Doo in 1969 and it was the concept used for the Josie and the Pussycats series. Jabberjaw had a voice like Curly from The Three Stooges. He acted as the band's mascott and often reacted comically to whatever situation...often feeling that he didn't get any respect, a routine close to comedian Rodney Dangerfield. The four kids on the show and Jabberjaw headlined The Neptunes band. Biff was the Fred prototype while Shelly had the sour, bossy personality of Veronica from the Josie cartoons but Shelly also had a weakness for her own appearance, a character trait associated with Daphne from Scooby-Doo. Bubbles was the dumb bell of the group...this character was patterned after Melody from the Josie series. The comedy came from Jabberjaw and Clamhead. The Clamhead character looked similar to Shaggy and Alexander Cabot, two characters from Scooby-Doo and Josie and the Pussycats respectively, all three characters noted for their cowardly stance on things. Clamhead was a bundle of nerves and was prone to stammering "abba-abba-abba". I do not know if this was an intentional reference to a rock band known as ABBA or if it was a play on Fred Flintstone's catch-phrase Yabba-Dabba-Doo. Jabberjaw often jumped into Clamhead's arms in a pose similar to how Scooby would hop into Shaggy's arms in times of fright. The voice cast for this series included Tommy Cook as Biff; Pat Parris as Shelly; Julie McWhirter as Bubbles; Barry Gordon as Clamhead; and Frank Welker as Jabberjaw. The series ran during 1976-1977 for 16 episodes and they repeated for another year, 1977-1978.

3. Speed Buggy, 1973-1975: This is one of the examples of a huge success that only lasted 16 total episodes but ran, and ran, and ran, and ran. The show is about three teenagers who drive a race car/dune buggy. The car is referred to in the show's title...the teenagers refer to the car as Speedy. Speed Buggy could talk...and the driver of the car was a mechanic named Tinker. Mark and Debby were the two other teens that accompanied Tinker. The series was built around the concept of sabotage at race track's across the country...often, Speed Buggy and company would arrive at a race track to enter in a race. While there they'd stumble onto some sort of mystery centering around the goings-on at the track or by competitors wanting to win a race. The program aired on all three of the TV networks...meaning all 16 episodes ran and repeated on CBS, NBC, and ABC...then the series went into syndication...airing the same 16 episodes repeatedly. It's often baffling to me how a series can continually air with only a short number of episodes. The series remained on the network until 1979...airing the same 16 episodes that had first aired in 1973. The character of Mark was depicted as being of Indian heritage and was easily the Fred prototype. Debby featured the combined characteristics of Daphne and Velma while Tinker resembled Shaggy and often depended on Speed Buggy to protect everyone from any potential danger. Speed Buggy was often eager to run from trouble...often coaxed into being brave by Debby's flirtations to which Speedy would exclaim: "Vroom-a-Zoom, Zoom!!". The voice cast for this series included Mel Blanc as Speed Buggy; Phil Luther, Jr as Tinker; Michael Bell as Mark; and Arlene Golonka as Debby. As with other Hanna-Barbera cartoons, Don Messick and John Stephenson often played bit parts and villains.

4. Captain Caveman, 1977-1980: This series had a much longer episode life than the previous three I mentioned in this list. This cartoon boasts 40 episodes, instead of the standard 16. The cartoon centers around three young women, mostly late teen/early 20's, and a prehistoric, powerful, yet klutzy caveman. The plot of the show centers around the three girls and Cavey as he's called travelling all over the country solving mysteries. The girls use the name "The Teen Angels" and drive around in a van. On top of the van is a playground of sorts for Cavey...he doesn't get to ride in the van with the girls. The design for Captain Caveman can be traced back to the series Wacky Races and the Slag Brothers who drove the Boulder Mobile in that series. The brothers on that series were two thick haired cavemen resembling pint-sized versions of Cousin Itt from The Addams Family. Captain Caveman resembled a Slag brother but a big difference being that the Captain carried a wooden club and wore a super-small leopard skin cape. Due to Cavey being of prehistoric origin, his feet and hands were drawn in a Flintstones design while the girls were drawn modern. The full title of the segment was Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels, a parody on the title of the ABC-TV show Charlie's Angels. The episodes ran 10 minutes in length and appeared as part of two Scooby-Doo programs. 1977-1978 as part of Scooby's All-Star Laff-a-Lympics and 1978-1979 as part of Scooby's All-Stars. In both programs, the Caveman appeared as one of the rotating segments. 16 episodes were made in 1977, 8 were made in 1978. There were 16 more episodes made of the character in 1980, giving the series it's grand total of 40 episodes. It was the 1980 series that allowed the characters to star in their own program, instead of the cast being a part of a Scooby ensemble show. Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels was the official name of a separate series in 1980. In addition to this, Captain Caveman would appear on another series in 1980, The Flintstone Comedy Show. On that series, the Captain played a Superman-type character, who wore a mild-mannered disguise during his day job. His secret identity was Chester and he worked with Wilma and Betty at a newspaper for Lou Granite. The main voice cast for Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels included Mel Blanc as Captain Caveman; Vernee Watson as Dee Dee; Marilyn Schreffler as Brenda; and Laurel Page as Taffy. The leader of the trio of girls is Dee Dee while the cowardly traits of Shaggy are found in Brenda. The stunts dreamed up to catch the villains are usually supplied by Taffy, who often sweet-talks Captain Caveman into being brave. The catch-phrase of the series was Unga-Bunga...the nonsense phrase uttered by Captain Caveman as his version of "Uh oh!" or "holy cow!". The character returned to TV as part of The Flintstone Kids in 1986.

5. Jeannie, 1973-1975: Rounding out the Top-5 shows using a Scooby-Doo format is this series that revolved around two young men, the genie named Jeannie, and a male genie named Babu. The plots of the show were centered around the usual mystery solving but it didn't get into the details of solving mysteries as other series. This program was mainly an animated take-off on the 1965-1970 live action comedy show, I Dream of Jeannie, starring Barbara Eden and Larry Hagman. On this cartoon series, simply called Jeannie, her new master is named Corey. Jeannie is re-designed as a redhead who casts her spells by crossing her arms and twirling her pony-tail. Corey and Jeannie often pair off together in the mystery/who-done-it stories. Corey's friend, the cowardly Henry, is often paired with Babu, a bumbling genie who has severe nervousness and because of this often blunders his spells. Babu is slightly over-weight and hollers "Yabble Dabble" when excited or nervous. There are no military or NASA references in this cartoon. Corey and Henry are teenagers/young adults. Henry and Babu provide the comedy. The voice cast included Julie McWhirter as Jeannie; Joe Besser as Babu; Mark Hamill as Corey; Bob Hastings as Henry; and Janet Waldo as Mrs Anders. In this era, Waldo was heard on various cartoon series. Previously, Waldo was the voice of Penelope Pitstop, Nancy from the Shazzan series, Judy Jetson on The Jetsons, and Josie from Josie and the Pussycats. As an added note, the three male voice actors had impact as face actors, too. Joe Besser was a member of the Three Stooges during 1956-1957 in addition to being a comedic foil on Abbott and Costello's TV show and Joey Bishop's show. Besser appeared in a string of short comedy films for Columbia where his "whiny character" became part of the public culture. Besser brought his comically exaggerated voice to Babu. Bob Hastings had a major role on the TV series Captain Video in 1949 and years later in McHale's Navy as Carptener and would later become known to TV audiences as Kelcy on All In The Family and in the 1990's he became the voice of Commissioner Gordon on the various updated versions of Batman. Hastings was also the voice of Archie Andrews on radio in the mid 1940's. In a related note, Bob's brother, Don Hastings, is a legendary soap opera star from As The World Turns. Mark Hamill would go on to become world famous as Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars films...he continues to provide many cartoon voices, with The Joker being the most famous. The Jeannie series ran 16 episodes and they repeated countless times. Jeannie and company appeared in an episode of Scooby-Doo as part of The New Scooby-Doo Movies in 1973. Babu himself later appeared as a member of the Scooby team on Laff-a-Lympics.

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