Saturday Morning: Filmation - VIDEOS (Part 1)
In the glory days of the Saturday morning cartoon, translated to be from about 1966 to sometime in the 80s, a handful of studios dominated the network schedules from year to year. Eventually, names like Hanna-Barbera, Sid & Marty Kroftt, DePatie-Freeleng and Rankin-Bass became as common to see on the screen as the characters they created. Add to that list an animation and live-action studio that presented two faces: one of quality storytelling, characters and imagination, and another of mass-produced, limited animation.
I speak of Filmation Studios. From 1966 to 1988, this studio produced dozens of cartoons and live action series and paved the way for a number of genres that are still remembered to this day. It also gave us a number of talented artists and writers that went on to bigger and better things. Today, we take a look at this studio, which gave us The Archies, Jason of Star Command and He-Man.
Lou Scheimer (born 1928) first met up with his partner Hal Sutherland in the late 1950s. Both worked on animated shorts for Larry Harmon's Bozo The Clown show. When Harmon no longer needed the two, they decided to start their own animation studio named True Line. The first project the team took on was a 10-part series for the Lutheran Church that was based on the life of Christ. The money from that venture allowed them to add additional finances to their small firm and eventually expand.
During the expansion they decided to take on a new animated series for the syndication market -- Rod Rocket. It was during the creation of Rod Rocket that the third founding member of Filmation joined Hal and Lou. Norm Prescott (1927-2005) originally started his career in radio. Eventually, he joined Embassy Pictures as a vice president of music. In 1963 he joined Hal and Lou at True Line as a producer and, eventually, musical director. Together, under the new name of Filmation, the three produced 26 half-hour Rod Rocket shows for the American market.
After Rod Rocket, things became a bit tense for the new company. Due to lack of funds and projects, the founding members needed to lay off all of their workers. Then, just as it looked like they were going to have to close up shop, things changed. DC Comics came to Scheimer, Sutherland and Prescott and asked them if they were interested in doing an animated version of Superman. The catch: the comic book company wanted to see the studio in action.
So, grabbing friends, actors and anyone else they could find, the Filmation founders put together a grift to make DC Comics believe they were a fully-operating animation studio. Needless to say, the con worked in their favor. CBS, who was looking for the animated Superman for their Saturday morning lineup, gave Filmation a contract for 39 episodes. When The New Adventures of Superman premiered in 1966, the first animated version of the character directly for TV, it became an instant hit and pushed the network towards a more action/adventure pallet of programming on Saturday mornings.
Eventually Fred Silverman, then head of daytime programming at CBS, decided to give Filmation an opportunity to use more DC Comics heroes (except for one Dark Knight) and expand their program to one hour. In 1967, the Superman/Aquaman Hour premiered and featured not only these two characters but The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and the Teen Titans. Again, the show was an instant hit for the network. Combined with two additional series on ABC (Journey to the Center of the Earth and Fantastic Voyage), the studio cemented a fairly permanent position on the Saturday morning schedule.
Particularly with CBS, which became the headquarters for so many studio releases in the 60s and 70s. The first, after the Superman/Aquaman Hour was a program that ushered in an entirely new genre of Saturday morning programming. The Archies, like the live-action Monkees before it, were a band made for television. Using the hit song "Sugar Sugar" as its platform, the cartoon surged to the top of the Saturday morning ratings when it premiered. It remained on the Saturday morning schedule, in one form or another, well into the 1970s.
Filmation studios ended the 1960s with two additional offerings -- one longer-lasting than the other. Over on ABC, the studio began their duplication of The Archies formula with an updated version of The Hardy Boys, which featured the young detectives as leaders of a musical group. Meanwhile, back on CBS, Filmation was finally able to add an animated version of Batman and Robin to its DC Comics portfolio. It began with the Batman/Superman Hour in 1968, followed by the Caped Crusader getting his own show a year later. In addition to being the first animated version of the character created, it introduced viewers to Olan Soule and Casey Kasem, who would voice Batman and Robin well into the 1980s.
The 1960s were an interesting time for Filmation as it went from practically nothing to one of the big names in television animation. But, that was just the beginning. As we will see in part 2, Filmation would play an even bigger role in shaping the Saturday morning schedules of the 1970s.