Saturday Morning: 1969 - VIDEOS
A strange thing happened between the 1968 and 1969 Saturday morning schedules -- the superheroes disappeared. After three straight seasons of Space Ghosts, Birdmans, Super Presidents, and Herculoids only The New Adventures of Superman remained. And, that show was pushed back into the 1:00 PM slot, practically eliminating it from the viewing times of children who, after four straight hours of cartoons, needed generous doses of sunlight.
To fill all of the vacant spaces left by the departed heroes and villains, the networks added twelve new series to their respective schedules. Most had one thing in common: comedy, an ingredient that had been absent from the schedule for a number of years. Needless to say, it returned with full force during this season. Another comeback was made by live-action programs that featured a mix of humans and not-so-human characters. In addition, one show premiered that was based on a popular series of toys, while two more premiered that featured the newest trend of animated musical groups brought on by last season's premiere of The Archie Show. Amist all of that came a program featuring a talking, mystery-solving dog and his slightly toasted friend.
So, if you have your Hot Wheels parked around your feet, let's go back to 1969.
After being in the back of the pack for years, ABC came into the 1969-70 season with the most premieres -- a total of five. The only shows returning from past seasons were The New Casper Cartoon Show, The Adventures of Gulliver, Fantastic Voyage, and Dick Clark's American Bandstand. The new programs were diverse both in subject matter and in animation studios, with only one apiece from the big guns Hanna-Barbera and Filmation.
The first new show was The Smokey the Bear Show. One of the first two-dimensional animated offerings from Rankin-Bass for Saturday mornings, the program was a spin-off of sorts from the studios 1966 stop-motion-animated special The Ballad of Smokey the Bear. After Smokey came Hanna-Barbera's second response to the popular The Archie Show -- The Cattanooga Cats.
Cats was similar in format to the studio's The Banana Splits Adventure Hour (which aired on NBC), but didn't contain the live action segments. It featured the adventures of a band of hillbilly cats (one of them voiced by Casey Kasem, in one of his first Hanna-Barbera roles) who toured the country and were chased by a female cat groupie named Jessie. Like The Archie Show, each episode of Cats featured an animated musical number. Unlike Archie, these segments were more psychedelic and pop-arty in nature, making the show more of a cult favorite now than the adventures of Archie, Jughead and the gang.
In addition to the adventures of the musical group, Cats featured three additional cartoon segments in its first season. Around the World in 79 Days was loosely based on the Jules Verne novel Around the World in 80 Days and featured the adventures of Phinny Fogg and his teenage friends in their quest to travel the globe in under 80 days. It's the Wolf! featured the quest of one Mildew Wolf (voiced by Paul Lynde) to capture and eat one little lamb named Lambsy. His tries were usually foiled by a dog named Bristle Hound, who sounded an awful lot like Bing Crosby.
The third cartoon segment on Cattanooga Cats was Motormouse and Autocat. Taking a page form Hanna-Barbera's series of Tom and Jerry animated movie shorts, Motormouse and Autocat featured a race car-driving cat (voiced by Marty Ingels) and a motorcycle-riding mouse who resembled a long-lost relative of Pixie and Dixie. Like Dastardly and Mutley and Their Flying Machines (premiering on CBS this year, see below) this cartoon segment featured Autocat's creation of specialized gadgets and vehicles that could potentially help capture Motormouse. Of course, none of them really worked out in the end, and Motormouse remained free to torment Autocat.
Airing right after Cattanooga Cats was Pantomime Pictures' Hot Wheels. Based on the Mattel toys with the same name, Wheels featured the adventures of the Hot Wheels Racing Club and their leader Jack "Rabbit" Wheeler. Most episodes of this series would end with a wild race, usually against the rival Dexter's Demons, that the Hot Wheels team would win. To offset this action, educational driving tips were added to the show.
Hot Wheels is pretty famous in later years for a few reasons. First, two of the voices featured on the cartoon were Casey Kasem (his second cartoon out of five this season) and film maker and actor Albert Brooks. Second, it was the first cartoon to be based directly off of a commercial product. It was also the last show of its kind for a long time. Shortly after its premiere the FCC ruled that the entire show was one big commercial for Hot Wheels rather than an entertainment program. This led to she show's cancellation in 1971. Saturday mornings would not see a return to product-related animated cartoons until the early 1980's.
Filmation's entry into ABC's Saturday morning schedule was an animated version of The Hardy Boys. Though, this was not your father's version of his favorite mystery-solving teenagers. Although many of the mysteries were pulled from various Hardy Boys books, the show was modernized for the groovy 60s by featuring featuring Frank and Joe Hardy as members of a rock band. In turn, the band was used as a front to investigate mysteries.
Like Cattanooga Cats, each episode of the show featured a musical segment. And, also like Cats, these segments were somewhat psychedelic in nature. They were also like the segments that could be found on its older sibling The Archie Show. This was the beginning of a trend for Filmation who, over the next few years, would put a number of their characters into bubblegum-pop bands in order to draw in the older kids to Saturday morning fare. Eventually, this trend would peter out for Filmation and other animation studios, with only one or two strong performers outlasting them all.
The final show to premiere on ABC in 1969 was another Pantomime Pictures series entitled Skyhawks. Unlike Hot Wheels, this show was not based on a line of toys (although it was sponsored by Mattel). The program featured the adventures of Skyhawks, Inc., a family-run air transport rescue service. Led by Mike "Cap" Wilson, Skyhawks would save various winged and bladed aircraft from disaster, as well as run secret missions for the government.
In many ways, Syhawks was similar to Hot Wheels in nature. Wheels had a racing club that featured both family and outside members. On Skyhawks the company was family-owned, but featured a broad group of outside members. In Wheels the club would face off against Dexter's Demons. In Skyhawks, Mike Wilson competed against the unscrupulous Buck Devlin and his pilots. Finally, both shows featured Casey Kasem as one of the voices.
Now over to CBS. The Eye Network had only three new entries on the schedule -- all were Hanna-Barbera. The first to premiere was one of the only shows of that time to be spun-off from two villains who appeared on another show. Dastardly and Mutley in Their Flying Machines starred The Wacky Races' Dastardly and Mutley as World War I flying aces who were members of a crew of aviators out to stop a homing pigeon named Yankee Doodle from getting messages to the other side (presumably, the Allies). They were joined by Klunk, the squadron's chief engineer and designer who spoke in clicks and dings, and Zilly, the cowardly pilot who could translate what Klunk was saying.
The plot for each episode was pretty much the same. Klunk would come up with a contraption to capture the pigeon, yet things would go horribly wrong. The planes would collide or fall apart, and Dastardly would need to be rescued by Mutley. Afterwords, another contraption would be built with the same results. Like Wile E. Coyote in the Road Runner cartoons, it was a vicious circle of defeat and disappointment.
Dastardly and Mutley was unique for a Hanna-Barbera production in a number of ways. Not only did it focus on villains as the main characters, but it was voiced only by two actors: Paul Winchell, who played Dastardly and The General, and Don Messick as everyone else, including the snickering Mutley. In addition, it was one of the first HB comedy cartoons to pull away from the standard 'one show-two or three cartoons' setup they had used for years. Each show featured two adventures and some short gags, including Mutley's daydreams.
The next show was another spin-off from The Wacky Races that featured another star of that show. The Perils of Penelope Pitstop featured, well, Penelope Pitstop, and her adventures around the world. Along the way she would encounter the show's villain, The Hooded Claw (voiced by Paul Lynde), who was really Penelope's guardian Sylvester Sneekly in disguise. Sneekly's goal was to kill Penelope in order to inherit her fortunes.
Like Dastardly and Mutley, Penelope was time shifted from the modern day to, what seems, the roaring 20's. Not only was that prevalent in the scenes and situations she found herself in, but it was also shown in The Ant Hill Gang, another group of racers from Wacky Races. Led by Clyde, the Gang would follow Penelope around the world in their car Chugga-Boom (voiced by Mel Blanc) to make sure she was safe. When she was in peril they would attempt to save her but, in many cases, they would usually cause more harm then good. Perils lasted only one season, but would end up in syndicated packages for years to come.
The third animated premiere on CBS seemed to be nothing spectacular, but it turned out to be a show that would last throughout the era of Saturday morning cartoons and beyond. Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! was Hanna-Barbera's answer to the increasing protests against the violent superhero series that permeated the schedule for the latter half of the 1960s. While the show had its share of thrills, chills, action and adventure it was done mostly for comedy purposes rather than to scare the viewers.
Combined with the writing, the standard plot of the show that ran week after week, voice talent that included Don Messick as Scooby-Doo and Casey Kasem as Shaggy, and a snappy theme song, Scooby-Doo became a breakaway hit for Hanna-Barbera, which propelled the studio in a new direction. Over the next few years Hanna-Barbera would try to not only duplicate the show's success with programs like Josie and the Pussycats, Charlie Chan and the Chan Clan, and Funky Phantom, but it would also reuse Scooby-Doo in many other incarnations, making the Great Dane one of the studios icons right up there with Fred Flintstone, Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound.
There were two other shows of interest on the CBS morning schedule in 1969. The Archie Show, which had premiered on the network the previous season, morphed into The Archie Comedy Hour. In addition to featuring repeats of segments from The Archie Show, it added new segments including the introduction of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. The other show of interest was The Monkees. Fresh off of their prime time success this was the start of a three-year run on the CBS Saturday morning schedule.
NBC offered viewers four new shows in the 1969-70 season, with two of them now added to the pantheon of long-remembered memories. The Pink Panther Show, produced by DePatie-Freleng studios, featured the first time that Pink Panther and The Inspector film shorts appeared on television. It also set the stage for the character's long-run on Saturday mornings. Interesting fact about the intro to this show: instead of the classic theme music from Henry Mancini, the beginning of The Pink Panther Show was a bubblegum-pop tune overlayed on top of a live-action montage featuring a pink car heading towards a theater.
The other memorable program was the first from former Hanna-Barbera costume designers Sid and Marty Krofft. H.R. Pufnstuf was a change for the Saturday morning viewership. After years of nothing but animated fare, Pufnstuf reintroduced live-action programming to the schedule. And, a full live-action show at that -- not like The Banana Splits, which featured live-action bumpers in-between cartoon segments. The show featured Jimmy, a boy who was lured to Living Island -- an enchanted place where everything was alive. Upon arriving Jimmy met the friendly dragon, and Mayor of Living Island, H.R. Pufnstuf, as well as the witch named Witchiepoo. Witchiepoo wanted to acquire Jimmy's talking flute named Freddy, while Jimmy just wanted to go home. In the seventeen episodes of H.R. Pufnstuf neither got their wish.
Even for late-1960s standards Pufnstuf was a bit weird. Many critics have stated that the show featured subtle drug references throughout. This has been vehemently denied by the producers of the show time and time again. Regardless of these accusations, Pufnstuf was an instant hit and remained on the NBC schedule for several years. It was also the springboard for many other Sid & Marty Krofft shows in the first part of the 1970s. Most of these shows -- whether it be The Bugaloos or Land of the Lost -- maintained the same concept throughout. A person or a series of people get lost and find themselves in an enchanted/prehistoric land. They befriend some and oppose others. Their main goal, however, is to return to their home. Most of the time, these people never made it home.
The other two programs on the NBC Saturday morning schedule were not as memorable as Pink Panther or Pufnstuf. Here Comes the Grump, another DePatie-Freleng production, starred a grumpy wizard name Grump who cast a spell of sadness on the kingdom of Princess Dawn. It was up to Dawn and her friend Terry Dexter to find a crystal key that would break the spell over the kingdom. Of course, it was up to The Grump to follow Dawn and Terry to stop them.
The other show to premiere was Jambo. A live-action program that was a spin-off of sorts from the CBS series Daktari, Jambo was shot in Africa and featured a bevy of animals. Not much is known about the history of this show, although it did have its followers. Unfortunately, there weren't enough fans to keep it on the schedule. By the spring of 1970 Jambo was replaced by repeats of The Flintstones.
Next time on Saturday Morning -- We look at the 1970-71 season, which featured an animated basketball team, another animated muscial group, and an animated Jerry Lewis.