Saturday Morning: 1975 - VIDEOS
At the midpoint of the 1970s the Saturday morning schedule was remarkably different from what it was a mere five years before. Instead of featuring animated rock n' roll bands, animated mystery-solving teenagers and animated versions of Jerry Lewis, the 1975-76 schedule was filled with live-action series. Lots of live-action series.
In fact, about half of the new series to premiere this year were live action shows. Add those to existing series making return appearances and half of the 1975 Saturday morning schedule featured live actors and actresses. It would be a trend that would continue until the end of the decade and would give animated fare a run for their money.
New Shows - ABC: The New Tom and Jerry/Grape Ape Show; The Lost Saucer; Uncle Croc's Block; The Oddball Couple
Returning Shows - ABC: Hong Kong Phooey; The New Adventures of Gilligan; Speed Buggy; American Bandstand
ABC, out of the three networks, featured the largest amount of new cartoons on the 1975 schedule. The morning started with The New Tom and Jerry/Grape Ape Show. For Bill Hanna and Joseph Barbera this was a bit of a homecoming as they began their careers on the Tom and Jerry theatrical shorts at MGM during the 1940s and 50s. Unlike the constantly battling cat and mouse of the MGM series this version of Tom and Jerry were the best of buds.
Joining Tom and Jerry on the marquee was the 40-foot gorill-ill-ill-ill-la Grape Ape. Joined by best friend and keeper Beagle Beegle (voiced by Marty Ingels), the duo would travel the world in their little yellow van (which Grape had to stand on top of) doing good deeds like many other cartoon characters of the day. Eventually, Tom and Jerry and Grape Ape parted ways to appear in their own shows throughout the rest of the late 70s.
Next on the schedule was another new live-action series from the slightly altered minds of Sid and Marty Kroftt. The Lost Saucer, like CBS' Far Out Space Nuts and The Ghost Busters, starred two actors that came from popular primetime stars of the 1960s. Laugh-In's Ruth Buzzi and Gomer Pyle, USMC's Jim Nabors starred as two time-traveling androids who befriended a young boy and his babysitter. Unfortunate circumstances led to the quartet being lost in time and, in typical Sid & Marty Kroftt fashion, looking for a way to get home. It's a good thing they didn't get home because the babysitter would have probably been arrested for negligence.
Uncle Croc's Block was the second new live-action series to premiere on the ABC schedule. As mentioned in my three part series on the history of Filmation, Croc was one of studios rare failures and it led to the network severing ties with the company. Despite its poor outing, Croc's Block did give us three fairly memorable cartoons: Wacky and Packy, Fraidy Cat and the M*A*S*H parody M-U-S-H. Eventually, these cartoons would make their way into other Filmation productions.
The Oddball Couple was the last new entry on the slate for 1975. Produced by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, the animated homage to the Neil Simon movie and subsequent primetime series aired the same year that The Odd Couple was canceled. Instead of featuring human beings The Oddball Couple starred Spiffy the cat (who displayed some extremely female characteristics) and Fleabag the dog. Like other Saturday morning programs, this show returned in one form or another years later.
New Shows - CBS: The Shazam/Isis Hour; Far Out Space Nuts; The Ghost Busters; Clue Club (August of 1976)
Returning Shows - CBS: The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show; The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show; Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!; Valley of the Dinosaurs; Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids; CBS Children's Film Festival
By the mid 70s CBS was Filmation's "home" for both animated and live action fare. This was clearly seen in the Saturday morning schedules of 1975 and beyond. As the decade concluded the studio's productions even surpassed those of Hanna-Barbera. This was one of those years as only one HB cartoon premiered. out of four new series.
The Shazam/Isis Hour was a old show/new show hybrid that became a staple of late 70s programming. While The Big Red Cheese premiered the season before, Isis was new to Saturday mornings. A high school teacher in normal life, Andrea Thomas was able to summon the power of the ancient Egyptian gods to become Isis. She usually became the super-heroine to save her students from one dastardly plot or another. Isis eventually became so popular that her series was spun-off into The Secrets of Isis. She also ended up not only as an animated character in a later Filmation series, but she appeared as a major character in a number of current DC Comics books.
Far Out Space Nuts was the second 'lost in space' related, live-action show to premiere in 1975. This one, produced by Filmation, starred Bob "Gilligan" Denver and former children's show host Chuck McCann as two food service employees who end up in a space capsule far away from Earth. After this show came The Ghost Busters, which reunited the former F-Troop team of Larry Storch and Forrest Tucker. Unlike the quartet of the movie Ghostbusters, Storch and Tucker (who were named Spencer and Tracey in the series) were spiritual detectives who bumbled their way through cases.
The final show to premiere on the CBS schedule didn't do so until August of 1976 and only came about as a replacement to Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, which was moving to ABC. Many call Clue Club a direct ripoff of Scooby-Doo. Others (me) call it the next logical step in the development of mystery-solving dog programs. Produced by Hanna-Barbera, Clue Club featured two dogs, named Woofer and Whimper, who help solved mysteries along with their four teenage companions. Unlike Scooby-Doo, these dogs could not speak human to anyone but each other. While Clue Club lasted only one season it remained on the air for many, many years afterward.
New Shows - NBC: The Secret Lives of Waldo Kitty; Return to the Planet of the Apes; Westwind
Returning Shows - NBC: Emergency +4; Sigmund and the Sea Monsters; The Pink Panther Show; Land of the Lost; Run Joe Run; Josie and the Pussycats; Go! U.S.A.
For years NBC tried its damnedest to compete with the big boys of ABC and CBS on Saturday mornings. No matter what they tired it always seemed to fail. By the middle of the 70s it seemed like they gave up the ship. By the next year the network would abandoned almost all of its animated fare for a slew of live-action shows.
For 1975 the network premiered three very unremarkable series. The Secret Lives of Waldo Kitty, produced by the boys at Filmation, took its concept from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was a live-action/animated hybrid that starred a cat who imagined himself as different heroic characters. DePatie-Freleng's Return to the Planet of the Apes was an animated sequel to the Planet of the Apes series that featured another set of lost astronauts trying to get off of the future Earth run by damn, dirty apes. The only new live-action entry for the schedule was Westwind, about a family who sails around the Pacific Islands seeking adventure. None of these series made it past one season.
So ends the first decade in the era of Saturday morning cartoons. As you can see, what the networks considered children's entertainment changed over the years, which resulted in many different stages in development. From superheroes, to animated, teenage singing groups, to live-action series, studios and executives tried to keep pace with children's ever-changing tastes. The result were schedules full of fond memories for us all. I've enjoyed remembering along with you over the last year or so and I thank you for your comments, good and bad. Until we meet again...