Saturday Morning: 1972 (Part 1) - VIDEOS
With a couple of Osmonds, a few Brady kids, an old Chinese detective, a dog and his mystery-solving friends, and Bill Cosby, the second Saturday Morning Revolution began in earnest in 1972. And, it was a long road to hoe to get to this point. That was thanks to the radical changes that needed to be made to the schedule during the late 60s and first few years of the 70s. Changes that were the result of mounting complaints by citizen action committees as well as nervous network executives.
To review: from 1966 until about 1969 things ran fairly smoothly for the networks when it came to Saturday morning programming. With the popularity of superheroes during that time the schedules were full of programs featuring supermen, batmen, space ghosts and super presidents. As hero worship waned during the last years of the 1960s the networks turned their attentions to an older viewing audience, focusing on shows with a number of teenagers and young adults -- many of them in animated rock-and-roll bands.
But, by 1970, all of that changed. As pressures to air more educational and less violent and vapid fare came from all sides, the networks were unsure what to do. They wanted to continue airing cartoons, but they were so watered down (or imitations of what was already airing) that they weren't as entertaining. They presented a number of live-action educational programs to the schedule as well, but very few of them lasted more than a year. By 1971 it looked like the networks had all but given up on Saturday mornings.
Then something happened. Well, a few somethings happened. One was the realization that they could mix educational values into their animated fare. This is how shows like Fat Albert and Multiplication Rock (the precursor to Schoolhouse Rock) ended up on the 1972-73 schedule. The other thing that happened was Michael Eisner. As head of Saturday morning programming for ABC, the future head of Disney reformatted the schedule by making it feel more like a primetime lineup. By bringing popular franchises like The Brady Bunch and the ABC Movie of the Week to Saturday morning, and tweaking them for younger audiences, Eisner helped launch a trend that would continue for several years on all three networks.
This doesn't mean that all previous Saturday morning trends dropped off the schedule. Continuing what The Archie Show began in 1968, animated musical groups were still the norm in 1972, with four of the 15 new shows featuring a band of some sort. The trend to rehash characters into other animated incarnations also continued with Scooby-Doo, Josie and the Pussycats, and the Flintstones and the Rubbles all ending up in new cartoons. And, while Hanna-Barbera and Filmation Studios continued to dominate the schedule, both Rankin/Bass and DePatie-Freleng Studios were increasing their presence.
Needless to say, 1972 was a big year. So big, in fact, that I have split the season into two separate posts. This time around we will look at the primetime-like Saturday morning schedule of ABC. Next time, we will delve into the schedules of CBS and, always seeming to be the underdog, NBC. For now, let's warm up the television, manually change the channel to your local ABC affiliate, and take a trip back to the early 70s.
ABC: New Shows -- The Osmonds, The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie, The Brady Kids, Kid Power, Multiplication Rock
Returning Shows -- H.R. Pufnstuf, Jackson 5ive, Funky Phantom, Lidsville, The Monkees (from CBS to ABC), American Bandstand
While not seeming that huge back then, the ABC Saturday morning schedule for 1972-73 was one that viewers of that time fondly remember today. Not only did it begin a trend of using primetime shows and scheduling to develop a lineup, as mentioned above, but it was also the launch point for one of the most successful educational programs to air on Saturday mornings.
The first new show to premiere was Rankin/Bass' The Osmonds. Airing right after companion show Jackson 5ive, Osmonds took the format of its older sibling to follow the animated adventures of the Osmond Family as they traveled the world. Along the way they would perform good deeds, get into wacky situations, and sing their hits like "One Bad Apple". The only difference between this show and Jackson 5ive was the actual members of the Osmonds voiced their animated counterparts. Except for their dog Fugi, who was voiced by Paul Frees.
Right after Osmonds aired ABC's Saturday morning answer to their weekly Saturday night movie franchise. The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie was unique in a number of ways. One, the series was produced by Hanna-Barbera, Filmation and Rankin/Bass at the same time. Two, it was a launchpad for a number of Saturday morning pilots (three of which landed on the network schedules). Three, after The Brady Kids and The Flintstones well before, it was the first Saturday morning program to animate many of primetime's favorite characters and programs.
The most famous of these was The Brady Kids on Mysterious Island, which was the pilot for the show that premiered right after Superstar Movie. Other primetime shows to be animated were Nanny and the Professor (with the original cast voicing their cartoon counterparts), Gidget, Lost in Space, That Girl, and The Munsters (animated as the Mini-Munsters). Bewitched was also represented in the Superstar Movie with Tabitha and Adam and the Clown Family, which featured teen-aged Tabitha and Adam Stevens using their magic to save a circus.
The Saturday Superstar Movie was also home to a number of unique cartoon character combinations. For instance, Yogi's Ark Lark featured dozens of Hanna-Barbera characters from the 50s and 60s who were looking to raise ecological awareness in a pre-global warming world. Popeye Meets the Man Who Hated Laughter paired up the spinach-eating sailor with a number of comic-strip characters to fight a common enemy. In one of the strangest pair-ups, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig Meet the Groovie Goolies teamed up two of the more famous Warner Brothers cartoon characters with the then-popular Filmation characters to solve a mystery, Scooby-Doo style.
Right after The Saturday Superstar Movie came The Brady Kids. Possibly one of the worst animated Filmation enterprises up to that date, The Brady Kids featured the six kids of The Brady Bunch minus their parents and Alice. In their place were the magic bird Marlon, the dog Mop Top, and the twin pandas Ping and Pong. For the first season the voices of the Brady kids were all performed by the original actors. By the second season the voices of Greg, Peter and Marsha were replaced, making for an odd-sounding cartoon.
Even for Filmation standards The Brady Kids was poorly animated. Even back then it seemed like they took many of the scenes and animation patterns from The Archies and just attached them to the Brady clan. Even the musical numbers of the show seemed Archie-like as the way they were seen in the band looked awfully similar to the musical segments shown on the hit Filmation program. Still, the show was popular, and did feature a number of important events. For instance, The Brady Kids was the first place that an animated version of Wonder Woman appeared on television. It was also the place where Miss Tickle of Mission:Magic! first appeared. A year later she would get her own program.
The last full-length animated original of the 1972-73 season premiered at 11:30 on the schedule. Kid Power was the animated version of the comic strip Wee Pals. Like the strip, the Rankin/Bass animated version featured an ethnically-diverse cast of kids who would get into a number of adventures (yet, they would not have a rock-and-roll band). According to some, Wee Pals was the precursor of the "niceness" cartoons that would soon become the norm of Saturday mornings as well as syndication.
Besides these four new programs there was one short animated feature that aired in-between the standard shows. Multiplication Rock was the brainchild of David McCall, who decided to mix rock music with mathematics after his child had trouble learning his multiplication tables. The first of these was the always remembered "Three is a Magic Number." The song, along with the animated video, was sold to ABC, who cleared out three minutes of their program time to air the segments. One year later, the segments would expand their subject matter to become Schoolhouse Rock.
The next time on Saturday Morning we'll look at the 1972 schedules of CBS and NBC.