Saturday Morning: 1966 - VIDEOS
Road Runner, that Coyote's after you. Road Runner, if he catches you your through. -- Theme to The Road Runner Show, which premiered in the fall of 1966.
Showtime! After years of playing around on Saturday mornings to find the right mixture to bring in the young viewers, the networks took the bull by the horns in the fall of 1966 and ushered in the Golden Age of Saturday morning cartoons. No less than 11 new cartoon series appeared during the 1966-67 season. Many of them were action and superhero-oriented thanks to the popularity of ABC's live-action Batman series.
The 1966 season also began the domination of Saturday mornings by two animation studios -- Hanna-Barbera and Filmation. For Hanna-Barbera this would be the second year of original Saturday morning programming. For Filmation this would be the first of many years producing fairly entertaining and slightly better animated fare that featured more action and adventure and less in the way of talking animals.
So, if you have your bowl of Cocoa Puffs in front of you, let's see what you were watching back in 1966.
Gallery: Saturday Morning: 1966
CBS led the way in 1966 with seven new programs on its schedule. One of these new offerings was the now legendary Space Ghost. Designed by comic book artist Alex Toth and voiced by Gary Owens, Space Ghost protected the far reaches of outer space with an invisibility belt and wrist bands that produced a number of powerful energy beams. Along with him were sidekicks Jan and Jayce, who managed to cause a good portion of the trouble that Space Ghost had to correct, and their pet monkey Blip, who was usually comic relief fodder. Joining SG until the spring of 1967 was Dino Boy in the Lost Valley -- a Land of the Lost precursor featuring the adventures of a boy lost in prehistoric times.
The other new Hanna-Barbera cartoon to air on CBS during this season was Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles. Frankenstein Jr. continued the superhero trend with a boy, his scientist father, and their powerful robot who fought evil in the near future. If anything, it began a trend of Hanna-Barbera characters who used rings to activate certain powers (see Shazzam and The Wonder Twins in later posts). The Impossibles, about a Beatlesque band that had superpowers, began another trend in Saturday morning cartoons that combined rock-and-roll with superheroics.
Also premiering on the Eye Network was the first original animated appearance of DC Comics' Superman. However, The New Adventures of Superman was not from Hanna-Barbera, who would have a monopoly on the Man of Steel and other DC heroes well into the 1980s. This cartoon, as well as the adventures of Aquaman, Batman and Robin, and the Justice League, would be produced under the Filmation banner for the rest of the 1960s.
While the animation on this series was a bit stilted, Superman was an important show as it featured the first cartoon appearance of such comic book characters like Jimmy Olsen, Lex Luthor and Brainiac. It also featured the voices of Bud Collyer and Joan Alexander, who were the originally cast as Clark Kent/Superman and Lois Lane in the radio version of The Adventures of Superman. In addition, it was the first time that television viewers saw Superman as a young boy, along with super dog Krypto, in The Adventures of Superboy.
Other shows to premiere on CBS were: The Mighty Heroes, a Terrytoons cartoon created by Ralph Bakshi that featured six heroes fighting villains in the city of Good Haven; an animated version of The Lone Ranger (not the Filmation version of the '70s) which contained plots reminiscent of the primetime series The Wild Wild West; The Beagles, about a pair of canine singers who sang British Invasion-type songs, and The Road Runner Show. While the last show didn't contain any original material (it featured Road Runner theater shorts) it did feature a catchy theme song that people still remember to this day.
Over on NBC there were only three premieres, with the rest of the schedule filled with previous Hanna-Barbera primetime entries. The only new HB entry was Space Kidettes. Like Space Ghost on CBS, this show also took place in outer space. Unlike SG it didn't take itself all that seriously. It featured four kids and their dog who ended up foiling the evil-doings of one Captain Spacehook and his sidekick Static on a daily basis. The show would only last for one year.
The other two NBC shows to premiere were important because of the talent behind them. The Super 6, which was a parody of the superhero genre, was one of the first television cartoons produced by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises. The production company, founded by former Warner Brothers' employees Friz Freleng and David Hudson DePatie, would produce numerous Pink Panther cartoons starting in the late '60s. Meanwhile Cool McCool, a cartoon about a comically inept super agent, was created by Bob Kane. Back in the late 1930s Kane created a more serious hero in the form of DC Comics' Batman.
ABC had the fewest number of original programs -- a total of one -- during the 1966 season. Yet, it doesn't mean that the show they did premiere wasn't important in the history of television animation. The King Kong Show was the first anime program produced in Japan for an American company. It was also one of the first forays into Saturday morning programming for Videocraft International -- the animation studio that would eventually be known as Rankin-Bass.
Rather than featuring a giant monkey rampaging across the New York City, King Kong went the action/adventure route, allowing the gorilla to befriend the Bond Family and travel the world. During their journeys Kong would battle robots, mad scientists and various other meanies. In addition to Kong there was Tom of T.H.U.M.B. about a 6-inch secret agent.
As you can see, 1966 was a trendsetting historic time for Saturday morning cartoons. Not only was it the first year that they went all out to pull in the kids, but it also set the stage for the way the period between 9:00 AM and 1:00 PM would be programmed for the next several years. By the fall of 1967 the networks had an idea of what the viewers really liked and made sure that it was all over the schedule. I'll talk about that in a few weeks. Next week I'll delve into a major player in the world of Saturday mornings -- Hanna-Barbera.