Saturday Morning: Filmation (Part 3) -- VIDEOS
The 1980s was the beginning of the end for Filmation Studios ... sort of. For, while their Saturday morning fortunes began to fade and eventually disappear, their successes turned to the burgeoning syndication market. It was there, starting in the early 1980s, that the studio introduced us to a sword-wielding warrior who became an animated legend.
Unfortunately, the studio's success in syndication would be a small, but powerful, blip for the two-decade old company. By the end of the 1980s the studio would fade into memory as the company was broken up and its talent moved onto bigger and better things.
As the 1980s began, the prominence of new Filmation programs on the Saturday morning schedule was much reduced from the previous decade. Only two new series premiered -- The Lone Ranger and The Tom and Jerry Comedy Show. Out of this pair, only Tom and Jerry was on its own; The Lone Ranger was paired with the older Tarzan cartoon and by the next year, The Adventures of Zorro. It was also in the fall of 1981 that the studio gave us Kid Superpower Hour with Shazam!, which was a hybrid live-action/animated program, and Blackstar -- a show that some say was a precursor to He-Man.
Filmation's last gasp on Saturday mornings came in 1982 with a rehash of its earlier New Adventures of Gilligan series from the 70s. Gilligan's Planet found the Castaways crash landing on an alien planet (in a makeshift rocket designed by the Professor -- a man who couldn't even fix the original boat) and pretty much continuing the adventures they had on the island. Only, headhunters and treasure seekers were replaced by aliens and strange cosmic anomalies. Despite the fact most of the cast from the original 1960s series voiced their animated counterparts (Tina Louise was the exception), the show only lasted one season.
The failure of Gilligan's Planet didn't really matter to Filmation at that point. With so much of the Saturday morning schedule being taken up by Hanna-Barbera cartoons, as well as shows by newcomers such as Ruby-Spears and Disney, the studio decided to cut its ties and focus its attention on the ever-growing syndication market. Not surprisingly, the studio had instant success with its initial syndicated release; success that was probably greater than it had when it premiered The New Adventures of Superman back in 1966.
Their first entry was 1983's He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Based on the line of Mattel action figures, He-Man became a powerful show for Filmation with its mix of science fiction, fantasy and humor. Granted, it still featured the limited animation of its other series, but that was overshadowed by the storytelling and the diverse amount of characters.The series became such a success that it launched a spin-off: She-Ra: Princess of Power. Premiering in 1985, just as the the original run of He-Man was ending, the show focused on He-Man's twin sister and the fight to free her adopted home of Etheria. Where He-Man appealed to young boys, She-Ra was definitely tailored towards the growing young girl market that syndicators were nurturing.
In addition to these science fantasy series, Filmation offered two more shows to the syndicated market that were more comedic in nature. The Adventures of Fat Albert and the Cosby kids, premiering in 1984, was a direct descendant of the original Saturday morning entry. The only real difference between the network and syndication versions were some of the meatier topics that were touched upon now that the studio did not need to adhere to the network's stringent censorship rules. The Original Ghostbusters, premiering in 1986, was an animated spin-off of the live action 70s series The Ghost Busters. The show is most remembered not because of its design or storytelling but because it aired at the same time as the animated The Real Ghostbusters, a spin-off of the Ghostbusters movie.
The last animated series to be offered by Filmation was 1987's BraveStarr, which was about a Galactic Sheriff who could call upon "spirit animals" to assist him in his adventures. Not long after, Filmation ceased to be an animation studio after being purchased by the cosmetic company L'Oreal in 1989. The only remnant left from them once it closed was the animated feature Happily Ever After, an unofficial sequel to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, released in 1993. Other projects, such as two spin-offs of BraveStarr, never saw the light of day.
While not producing as much material as competitors such as Hanna-Barbera, Filmation studios left a permanent mark on the history of animation. Whether it was introducing us to cartoon singing groups, animated primetime characters, or sword-wielding adventurers, Hal Sutherland, Norm Prescott and Lou Scheimer did a little bit extra on their series to provide more entertainment value for the buck on both Saturday mornings and syndication.
Next time on 'Saturday Morning,' we take a look at the 1975 schedule which featured more live-action, more spin-offs, and Charles Nelson Reilly.