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October 6, 2015

Saturday Morning: Filmation (Part 2) -- VIDEOS

by Richard Keller, posted Jan 17th 2009 11:08AM

Space Academy was one of the live-action offerings from Filmation during the 70sIf the 1960s was a decade of birth for Filmation, the 1970s was a time where it skipped childhood and moved straight into the role of responsible adult. With somewhere in the area of 30 programs airing during that decade, the team of Lou Scheimer, Hal Sutherland and Norm Prescott became big players on Saturday mornings. Not only that, but the trio helped usher in a number of genres that would become staples for both their own productions and those of the other studios as well.

If that weren't enough, the 1970s saw Filmation dabble into something that had come and gone on the Saturday morning schedule since the 1960s: live-action series. Combining comedy, drama and special effects, the studio produced an number of shows that provided a lot less cheese than the live-action series of, say, Sid & Marty Kroftt.

The decade began with the continued popularity of its Archies franchise. Two spin-offs -- Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Groovie Goolies, -- popped up on the CBS schedule starting in 1970 and remained on the airwaves for several years. Meanwhile, The Archies continued to morph with a few different formats. Archie's Funhouse, which came out in 1970, was more of an animated variety program than a sketch comedy/music hybrid. The next year's Archie's TV Funnies saw the Riverdale gang head up a television station that showed animated versions of various King Syndicate comic strips.

As 1972 reared its infant head the studio began diversifying and, in turn, started a whole new genre of Saturday morning fare. By animating former and current primetime characters Filmation was able to not only lengthen their lives but also put them into unique situations that could never be done in live-action series of that time.

The first experiment was for ABC in the form of The Brady Kids which, even for Filmation, was the worst animated and acted cartoon of the time. One year later, the studio offered primetime to kid-time shows on each of the three networks: Lassie's Rescue Rangers on ABC, My Favorite Martians on CBS and Star Trek: The Animated Series on NBC. In 1974 they continued the trend with The New Adventures of Gilligan.

Brady Kids, Star Trek and Gilligan are probably most remembered now because most of the actors who from the original programs ended up voicing their animated counterparts as well. Star Trek is even more famous because writers from both the original series and the world of science fiction helped mold the animated version. This resulted in a number of favorable reviews and even an Emmy (Daytime Emmy, that is) for the series.

As the 70s reached the middle of the decade live-action shows were returning to the Saturday morning schedule thanks, mostly, to the shows of Sid & Marty Kroftt. Filmation saw an opportunity to do something with this medium and attacked it ravenously. The first experiment took place in 1972 with the introduction of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids on CBS. With characters taken from the comedy routines of Bill Cosby the show featured the comedian in a number of live segments; usually to introduce the subject of the cartoon, or the song to be performed, or tell the moral of the story (there was always a moral in Filmation productions).

Two years later, Filmation lept into the deep end of live-action programming with the premiere of Shazam!, which was a modern retelling of the comic book classic. A year later Shazam! was joined by his female counterpart Isis. Also released to CBS during 1975 was the studio's first live-action comedy -- Ghost Busters. From 1975 until the end of the decade Filmation had at least one live-action series on the CBS Saturday morning schedule. Whether it was the post-apocalyptic drama Ark II or the Star Wars inspired series Space Academy and Jason of Star Command. The last two shows brought two science-fiction mainstays back into the fray: Jonathan Harris on Space Academy and James Doohan on Jason of Star Command.

The studio even tackled bit of parody with1975's Uncle Croc's Block, Starring Charles Nelson Reilly as a disgruntled children's show host, Uncle Croc featured a number of cartoons, including M*U*S*H, which was a parody of M*A*S*H featuring animated talking dogs. Out of all of Filmation's live-action entries this was the only one that was canceled halfway through its season. It was also the last Filmation production to air on ABC.

As the decade limped towards an end, the studio refocused their efforts back into animation with a number of shows featuring established characters. For instance, both Archie and Sabrina returned with new episodes where they ended up solving mysteries. They also brought back Batman and Robin with Adam West and Burt Ward voicing their animated counterparts. In addition to these, Filmation brought Mighty Mouse, Heckle & Jeckle, Flash Gordon, and Tarzan to the Saturday morning schedules of both CBS and NBC.

As the calendar turned over to 1980, Filmation had reached its peak of Saturday morning creativity. As we will see in the final part of this series, the 80s would be both feast and famine for the animation studio.

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Ah Filmation, one of the great studios. They had some great wins and spectacular fails, but you could never say they were afraid to experiment.

The New Adventures of Flash Gordon was a staple of my childhood. Only recently have I managed to watch such "gems" as Ark II. It has a special charm that I enjoy.

January 17 2009 at 11:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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