Saturday Morning: 1973 (Part I) - VIDEOS
Seventeen. That is the number of premieres that aired during the 1973-74 Saturday morning schedule. It marked the largest number of premieres since original fare began to be offered during the 1965-66 season. It also marked an official shift in the what the networks decided was rating-getting Saturday morning fare.
Taking an example from ABC's successful Saturday morning schedule during the 1972-73 season, the other networks loaded up their time slots with animated versions of its primetime related fare. There was also a lack of animated rock bands. With The Osmonds, Jackson 5ive and Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan off the schedule only one band (and one solo performer) joined the fray this time around.
The 1973-74 season also marked the return of some old Saturday morning favorites: Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Batman, Superman and Aquaman. After a bit of a vacation these characters returned to the airwaves in new formats. For all, it would be the beginning of a long-running Saturday morning relationship that would last well into the 80s.
With so many premieres to speak about I decided, once again, to split up the 1973-74 season into two parts. This time around we will look at the reinvigorated NBC schedule. Next time we'll examine the full schedules of ABC and NBC. So, get snug into your Scooby-Doo footsies and let's travel back in time to a simpler age of inch-high private eyes, sea monsters, and animated paramedics.
NBC: New Shows -- Inch High, Private Eye; The Addams Family, Emergency +4; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids; Star Trek: The Animated Series; Sigmund and the Sea Monsters; Go!
Returning Shows -- Lidsville (a transfer from ABC); The Pink Panther Show; The Jetsons
After years of limping along on Saturday mornings NBC finally woke up and decided to take advantage of the new 'primetime' vibe in programming that was introduced the previous season. Thusly, three or their new series were animated versions of current or former primetime hits - two being on the network's nighttime schedule at one time or another. The remaining four entries into the 1973-74 season featured variations on Saturday morning genres that had been used before.
The first new show to air was Hanna-Barbera's Inch High, Private Eye. Yet another takeoff on the mystery genre that the animation studio initiated in the late 60s, Inch High starred a detective who was literally one-inch high. By enlisting the assistance of his niece Lori, her friend Gator, and their dog Braveheart, Inch High would solve mysteries through unusual means. Usually, his small size would cause troubles along the way, especially when encountering a rolling or flying object that wouldn't harm a normal-sized person. Inch High only ran for 13 episodes.
Next on the schedule was another Hanna-Barbera entry: The Addams Family. The original live-action version of this series aired on the ABC primetime schedule from 1964 to 1966. This animated version was unique because it pulled the characterizations of the Addams Family from Charles Addams cartoons. When the animated version of the family appeared on The New Scooby-Doo Movies back in 1972 four of the original cast (John Astin, Carolyn Jones, Jackie Coogan and Ted Cassidy) voiced their cartoon counterparts. When they received their own series only Coogan and Cassidy reprised their roles as Uncle Fester and Lurch.
Despite the similarities with the live-action series, the animated Addams Family took a different turn with the characters. Instead of being based at their mansion, the family traveled around the country in Victorian-style RV. In addition, a few family connections were established that had not been distinguished in either Charles Addams' comics or the live-action series. Now, Uncle Fester was Gomez's brother (a continuity factor that continued during the live-action movies and animated series of the 90s) and Grandma was Morticia's mother. Addams Family lasted for two seasons on the network.
After Addams Family came Emergency +4, which was a historic show (in the annals of Saturday morning cartoons) in many ways. Foremost, the show was the first to animate primetime adult characters for Saturday morning (this is disputed since Star Trek: The Animated Series also featured animated version of primetime characters and aired one hour later). It was also the first to feature characters from a nighttime program that had barely been one the air (Emergency! premiered in 1972). Finally, the cartoon was not produced by one of the big studios like Hanna-Barbera or Filmation. Instead, it was produced by the same people who created the primetime show -- Universal Television and and Jack Webb's Mark VII Limited.
Emergency +4 was both criticized and lauded. Criticized because of the +4 in the title -- four youngsters trained in life-saving techniques. Viewers and parenting groups complained that the show put the children into perilous situations. However, it was applauded by fire departments across the country due to the instructional safety tips and do's and dont's integrated into the series. It was also cheered on by the network, who saw a surge in popularity to the primetime Emergency! once the show aired.
Coming right after Emergency +4 on the schedule was the only new animated rock band to premiere on any network. Hanna-Barbera's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids was your typical mystery-rock music hybrid that was prevalent in the early 70s. It starred Butch Cassidy who, while the darling of teenagers everywhere, was actually working with his bandmates as a team of young crimefighters. As usual, there was a pesky pet mascot, this time the dog named Elvis, and a funky vehicle that got the band from gig to gig. One of the ironies of Butch Cassidy was the voice casting of the band's drummer Wally. It turned out to be Mickey Dolenz, who was the drummer on The Monkees.
Next on the NBC schedule was Star Trek: The Animated Series. A cartoon that needs a post of its own, the animated Star Trek was a rarity in Saturday mornings. Instead of going for the standard fare that every other cartoon seemed to go for in the early 70s, the animated Star Trek decided to treat the viewers to storylines and character developments that moved ahead the stories of the U.S.S. Enterprise and her crew. With a majority of the actors signing on to voice their cartoon counterparts, a number of writers from the original series joining the animated side, and the freedom of performing special effects without the budgetary limits previously set in the live-action version, the Saturday morning's Star Trek became an Emmy Award winning series and fan favorite.
The final scripted program to premiere on the NBC schedule was the season's contribution by Sid & Marty Kroftt. Sigmund and the Sea Monsters was a different show for Sid and Marty than their previous outings. Instead of a human youngster being the fish out of water in a strange land, it was a friendly sea monster (played by Billy Barty) who was befriended by two human boys (one of them being Family Affair's Johnny Whitaker). The typical sitcomy plot usually involved Sigmund getting into some sort of trouble that alerted his sea monster brothers and mother, and his human friends making sure he wasn't found out. The success of Sigmund (which would probably scare kids of this generation) enabled the show to be renewed for a second season. A feat that no other Sid & Marty Kroftt production had done to that time.
The last new program on the schedule was Go!. Having the distinction of the shortest television show title until V in the 80s, Go! took kids to everyday places to learn about different occupations. In one episode they would travel to a New York Police department, while in another episode they would take a look inside a Formula One race car. The show lasted on the NBC schedule in this incarnation for two years.
Next time on Saturday Morning: we look at the ABC and CBS schedules of 1973.