The Light from the TV Shows: ’60s and ’70s Saturday Mornings Made to Order

I love Warner Archive.

It’s true. I really do. I’ve been a major proponent of the MOD (Made on Demand) format for DVDs ever since I first heard about the idea in the context of movies – “Want an obscure film from our vault released on DVD? We’ll print copies on an as-ordered basis!” – but when they started moving into doing the same thing for TV series, I practically lost my mind. Mind you, they eased into television, first offering up a bunch of TV movies, then miniseries, then a couple of more recent series that didn’t have massive fanbases, like “The Eleventh Hour” and “Dark Blue.” Soon, however, they started to delve into their back catalog of Hanna-Barbera series…and that’s when things really started getting interesting for me.

Throughout the ’70s, I was an obsessive watcher of cartoons: before and after school, Saturday mornings, even the occasional Sunday morning series. (Anyone remember “These Are The Days”?) As Warner Archive has begun to reissue the series that I watched in my youth but, in most cases, haven’t seen since, I’ve all but drooled at the prospect of getting to revisit them. Now that I have, I thought I’d shine the spotlight on the top 10 releases that have resulted in the most flashbacks for me:

The Addams Family: The Complete Series

Be delightfully miserable with the Addams Family as they take to the road in their Victorian-styled RV for spooktacular cross-country quests only they can conjure. From Nashville to New Orleans, New Mexico and Hawaii, these peculiar parents – Gomez and Morticia – treat their family to misadventures, including outwitting a band of gold thieves, freeing the animals from New York’s Central Park Zoo and racing a horse in the Kentucky Derby. They even win a piece of the moon and with Uncle Fester’s rocket, the trip will be a blast! You may remember them as “altogether ooky,” but the spirit of this family is contagious!

Although the “Addams Family” movies resulted in an animated series in the early ’90s, a lot of people don’t realize that there’d already been one back in the early ’70s. I remembered that I’d watched it as a kid, but I hadn’t seen it in years. Indeed, my only truly concrete memory of the ’70s animated version of the Addams Family came from when they appeared on an episode of “The New Scooby-Doo Movies.” Unfortunately, although John Astin, Carolyn Jones, Jackie Coogan, and Ted Cassidy contributed to the Addams’ “Scooby-Doo” appearance, they’re nowhere to be found on this set. This is the sort of disappointment you never really get over as you’re watching it, but at the same time, if you’re a fan of “The Addams Family” in general, then it still makes for relatively enjoyable viewing.

Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles: The Complete Series

Buzz Conroy is a heroic boy-genius who builds the powerful robot Frankenstein Jr. When the Ghastly Genie, the Junk Man and other evildoers get up to their old tricks, “Frankie” and his young creator crank into action. The crime fighting coalition continues with the Impossibles, a group of superheroes disguised as a beatnik rock group. At the direction of “Big D,” Multi Man, Coil Man and Fluid Man make hot-rockin’ musical justice thwarting thieves and corralling crooks with their transformative powers.

This remains one of the oddest – and therefore coolest – series ever to have emerged from Hanna-Barbera. There would seem to be little doubt that the Frankenstein Jr. / Buzz Conroy relationship was inspired at least in some part by Gigantor, the famous space-age robot who was under the command of Jimmy Sparks, but hearing Ted Cassidy’s voice come booming out of Frankie made it rather easy to dismiss the derivative nature of the premise. As for the Impossibles, I remain mystified as to why a series about a rock band who doubled as superheroes neither lasted very long nor made any sort of dent on the pop charts. Somebody at Hanna-Barbera really dropped the ball on that one, that’s all I can say.

The Funky Phantom: The Complete Series

One cold, wet night three lost teens – Skip, April and Augie plus Elmo their dog – stumbled inside a spooky old house hoping to get warm. The dusty clock showed the wrong time, so these helpful kids reset the clock hands. A gong rang out, followed by a voice: It’s the Spirit of 1776, even, at your service! Much to their surprise was the friendly ghost Mudsy and his mischievous ghost cat Boo. Antics abound when this motley group hits the road, cracking cases and thwarting crooks, pirates, ghosts and all kinds of strange characters.

For my part, when I think of the Funky Phantom, I think of the fact that, when the amusement park Kings Dominion used to be Hanna-Barbera-themed, we also used to end up parking in the Funky Phantom lot. Also, I always remember that Micky Dolenz of the Monkees did one of the voices on the show (Skip). Funnily enough, though, it wasn’t until years later that I actually saw my first episode of the show, by which point I’d already long since associated it with fond memories of childhood, anyway. Having revisited it, it’s still a fun little show, following the same general formula as “Scooby-Doo,” but with the twist of doing the ghost-hunting with an actual ghost.

Goober and the Ghost Chasers: The Complete Series

Get spooked with ghost hunters Gilly, Ted and Tina as they travel the globe from Scotland to South America with their reluctant pooch Goober on a search for paranormal action in this fondly remembered animated treat from Hanna-Barbera Productions. Full of good intentions and false bravado, Goober stands at the ready asking, “Who’s afraid of ghosts?” Turns out, he is! His distinctive striped hat is the only evidence he leaves behind when a ghost appears. Uncover urban legends, unmask bumbling crooks and solve wacky mysteries with popular guest stars like basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain and singing sensations the Partridge Family kids – Laurie, Danny, Chris and Tracy (voiced by actors Susan Dey, Danny Bonaduce, Brian Foster and Suzanne Crough).

You kind of get the idea that, when it came to original ideas, Hanna-Barbera was in a bit of a rut by this point. “Okay, let’s do another ‘Scooby-Doo’ knock-off, but instead of the kids having a regular dog, let’s make it…a ghost dog!” “You got it, chief!” “Also, how’s production coming on ‘Partridge Family 2200 A.D.’? You know, the one that’s just like ‘The Jetsons,’ except with the Partridges?” “Still not ready yet, chief!” “Well, the kids are already under contract, so let’s not waste our money: somebody figure out a way to write them into ‘Goober and the Ghost Chasers’!” “On it, chief!” I can’t even theorize how the hell Wilt Chamberlain ended up in the talks, so I’m not even going to go there. I will say, however, that I remember “Goober and the Ghost Chasers” more fondly than just about any ’70s animated series this side of “Scooby Doo,” though my memories of it are actually from when it was packaged as part of a syndicated series called “Fred Flintstone and Friends.” When I watched the DVD, I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten that Paul Winchell did the voice of Goober. Then again, all I really remembered was the visual of Goober’s stocking cap and collar running around without a dog under them. (He could turn invisible, you know. Ghosts do that.)

The Herculoids: The Complete Series

Humanoid Zandor, along with his wife Tara and son Dorno, lead a group of unique creatures: Zok the flying dragon, powerful simian Igoo (who possesses rock-like skin), rhinoceros hybrid Tundro and two protoplasmic wonders appropriately named Gloop and Gleep. Together, they use their diverse super strengths to defend their utopian planet against attack from such sinister invaders as the Pod Creatures, the Reptons and the Mutoids.

Most awesome looking Hanna-Barbera series this side of “Space Ghost” and “Birdman,” which should come as no real surprise, as they were both designed by the legendary Alex Toth. This was one of those action shows that even kids who didn’t generally like Hanna-Barbera could get behind, because the creatures were just so bad-ass. Anyone who watched this series and says they didn’t wish they could pal around with Gloop and Gleep is lying to you…and the same thing goes if they tell you they never wanted Zandor to be their dad. That guy was the hero’s hero.

Jabberjaw: The Complete Series

Playing in a rock-’n’-roll band and saving the undersea world from diabolical villains? An impossible task for most, but not for Jabberjaw, the 15-foot talking great white shark from the fan-favorite Saturday morning cartoon series. The year is 2076 and Jabberjaw is the star of the Neptunes, a teenage rock group. In his spare time, Jabberjaw, along with teens Biffy, Shelly, Bubbles and Clamhead, fight deep sea crime. But its tough down there for a shark. Jabberjaw must also contend with the robot force of “Shark Ejectors,” guards who prevent sharks from entering into underwater cities. All he wants is a little respect!

It is not in any way coincidental that this series emerged at approximately the same time that “Jaws” was a huge success. As for Jabberjaw’s voice, which is an unabashed rip-off of Curly Howard of the Three Stooges, one can’t help but wonder how many stock impressions Hanna-Barbera’s stable of voice actors were required to have stored in their quiver at all times, just in case they might be asked to fire off a new idea for a character voice. Another HB show set in the future, another bunch of rock musicians trying to solve mysteries with the help of an unlikely mascot. I still can’t believe it took me as long as it did to realize these were basically all drawn from the same three or four templates.

Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space: The Complete Series

Rock stars Josie and the Pussycats are out of this world…literally! When the bumbling Alexandra accidentally launches Josie and the gang into outer space, they travel through the galaxy searching for a path back to Earth. Along the way, they meet cat people, robot monsters, evil dictators, space pirates and plenty of strange creatures, including their new companion Bleep. Fortunately, everyone’s a fan of Josie and the Pussycats, including aliens! Rocket through the universe with your favorite superstars as they save the day, sing a song and have a hip-happenin’ good time!

I can’t really defend my love of this show, so I’m not even going to try. It was one thing when Josie and the gang were touring the country in their van, playing rock ‘n’ roll and solving mysteries. Anybody can get behind that premise. But when you take them, throw them into a rocket, and send them into outer space…? Preposterous. And I didn’t give a damn. I watched it, anyway. And if part of the reason why I watched it is because I was heading for puberty and was fascinated by the possibilities of touring with an all-girl rock band, hey, it’s not like I’m alone…

Speed Buggy: The Complete Series

Don’t let the sputter and cough fool you: Speed Buggy is one fast-wheelin’ hero who always saves the day! Designed by master mechanic Tinker and his friends Debbie and Mark, Speedy can bolt, zoom, fly, dig, swim, and float his way to the finish line for racing thrills you won’t believe. Speedy and the gang zip around the world, collecting winner’s trophies and fighting diabolical criminals, including Dr. Kloog who plans to build an army of slave cars, or Professors Krishna and Digby who use an invisibility potion to steal ancient treasures. Speedy’s daring adventures abound with diamond thieves in Africa, a crazed pirate who intends to take over the oceans and a civilization of Amazon women with a mind-control machine, plus more evil villains that only Speedy can outwit.

Instead of a talking dog, it’s a talking car. Otherwise, it’s another goddamned “Scooby-Doo” knockoff. So why do I love it so? Because Speedy’s voice comes to us courtesy of Mel Blanc. Frankly, isn’t that enough reason right there to give the show a go? Alas, I couldn’t embed a clip of the theme song, but be sure to go check it out. “Who put the antifreeze…in my carburetor?” Oh, Speedy…

Valley of the Dinosaurs: The Complete Series

During a rafting excursion of an uncharted river canyon, Professor John Butler, wife Kim, kids Katie and Greg and family dog Digger get caught up in a mysterious whirlpool and resurface in a world of prehistoric creatures. Now everyday is an exercise in survival for the adventurous Butler family. They befriend a helpful cave-dwelling family and together must contend with an angry brontosaurus and a dangerous sabertooth tiger – and don’t forget the earthquakes and volcanoes! Any time the family can spare is spent building a boat or radio in hopes of finding their way back to the modern era.

Heed my words: although this sounds like little more than an expanded animated version of “Land of the Lost,” I’m here to tell you that “Valley of the Dinosaurs” is the forgotten jewel in Hanna-Barbera’s ’70s cartoon crown. Having just devoured episode after episode of this set, I honestly can’t think of another series of the era that holds up half as well. It’s smart, it’s surprisingly educational (with the caveat that the lessons being taught were devised more than three decades ago and may not match your child’s current educational curriculum), and aside from its general premise, which can be found in lots more places than “Land of the Lost,” it’s original…and as you’ve seen from several of the preceding series, that wasn’t something so easy to find in Hanna-Barbera’s ’70s programming. If you buy only one of the sets cited in this column, this is the one I recommended. As Saturday morning flashbacks go, it’s one of the most pleasant surprises I’ve had in awhile.

Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch: The Complete Series

Zoom into gear with Wheelie, the world’s greatest stunt racing car, and his girlfriend Rota Ree as they outmaneuver the sneaky motorcycle gang Chopper, Revs, Riser and Scrambles. Not the smartest bike in the bunch, Chopper’s schemes range from scaring Wheelie with ghost cars at the car cemetery, tricking a trail bike into spying on Wheelie and cheating at a tractor-roping competition, plus many more shenanigans that never end well for the gang. Besides outwitting Chopper, Wheelie aids other vehicles needing a helping wheel, like a lost scooter, a sick tow truck and a stranded bulldozer.

Even if we weren’t looking at these series in alphabetical order, poor Wheelie would still be bringing up the rear. I’d tell you that time hasn’t been kind to the adventures of the Chopper Bunch, but in my heart of hearts, I think I even knew back then that it wasn’t a great show. What happened, I think, is that my memories were weighed so heavily on the Chopper / Scrambles dynamic (“I toldja! I toldja!” “I know!”) and Rev’s unmistakeable vocal similarity to Tigger (both were voiced by Paul Winchell, of course) that I’d convinced myself that it was better than it was. It isn’t. It’s cute, but it’s definitely not great.

  

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