One of the best things about the fall when we were kids, apart from those Husky #2 Giant pencils, was the new fall TV season. No, not those boring grown-up shows like MANNIX or BIG VALLEY-- the cartoons! Every fall the networks would roll out their new lineups of Saturday morning animated fun. And every Saturday morning us kids would camp out in front of the television, bloodstreams racing with sugar-coated goodness, eager to absorb all the cartoon violence that TV could shoot at us. Just to make sure we weren't going to miss even one minute of Captain Caveman or Speed Buggy, the networks would take out giant double-truck ads in our favorite comic books, detailing their super new schedules in all their four-color glory.
See the new superheroes! Hey, this was before the word "superheroes" was trademarked, even! Yes, 1966 was at the height of the Batman fever epidemic, and even the CDC was powerless against it. CBS had a super lineup indeed, including premieres of classic characters like Space Ghost and Frankenstein Junior & The Impossibles and stalwart old favorites like Superman and the Lone Ranger . Batting cleanup was.. um, Dino Boy. Go, Dino Boy. CBS was also well into its decades of Bugs Bunny/Road Runner reruns, a programming staple that would prove a ratings winner as long as children enjoy watching cartoon animals hit each other.
Not to be outdone in the superhero(tm) department, ABC went coo-coo for comic books in '67! Hey, the original Fantastic Four cartoon -the one with the Human Torch! The classic Spider-Man show with the jazzy theme song! Casper the Friendly Ghost! King Kong, the first American-Japanese animated co-production! George Of The Jungle, even! And can we forget the Beatles? I'm sorry, this is an unbeatable lineup - I'd even watch Journey To The Center Of The Earth. A promotional "America's Best TV Comics" comic book was published that year featuring these characters, and if we ever see it reasonably priced at a convention we might pick it up some day.
1968- Hippies run wild in the streets and cops bust heads in Chicago as Vietnam burns and assassin's bullets cut down America's heroes! Also - somebody at CBS figured "Go Go Gophers" would be a smart move to headline their fall schedule. No way, man. You'll notice the Bugs Bunny cast of cheap reruns assuming prominence over the bizarre fake nostalgia of Penelope Pitstop. The big three of Batman, Robin, and Superman are poorly drawn, but it's the Archies cartoon that makes the '68 schedule historical - the Archies program would spawn sequels, imitations, records, bad made-for-TV movies, and holy cow once you hear those Filmation voices you'll never get them out of your head.
As naked groupies cavort in the mud of Woodstock, ABC positions itself to grab the attention of all the groovy, peace-sign-flashing New Left kids with a slate of decidely groovy programming, as illustrated in this advertisement by Mad Magazine stalwart Jack Rickard. Okay, Casper, what's freakier than a ghost? He's like ascended, man, he's in a higher state of being, can you dig it? And Smokey the Bear! Far out! Like, enviromentally friendly, man! Now, Hot Wheels, that's like, some kind of Amerikkkan death culture car schtick, and I don't dig it, but hey, you gotta do your own thing, right? Oh wow, Hardy Boys! I had those books and they used to be total squares, but now they're like all groovy with the love beads and the bell bottoms and the freaky hair now! All right! Whoa man, I dunno about this Sky Hawks thing, it looks pretty fascist to me, like they're trying to lay some military trip on us in disguise. Though I gotta say I wanna see this Gulliver show! Like he's big and everybody's small! Like "White Rabbit", man! Fantastic Voyage? I saw that flick, but I don't remember any Indian gurus in it! Maybe they're turned on now, man! And check it out - the Cattanooga Cats! They're like, TOTALLY OFF MODEL, Jack! What, did Hanna Barbera not give you guys model sheets? Jeez! THIS is what the Cattanooga Cats look like:
Better songs than the Archies and a groovy op-art animation style that Hanna Barbera would immediately abandon made Cattanooga Cats a cult favorite that endures to this day. Sky Hawks, on the other hand....
Meanwhile in 1970 the unholy union of Filmation and CBS completely dominates their Saturday mornings! You've got your Archies, including Veronica and Moose apparently boxing each other. You've got Josie and the Pussycats, created by an uncredited Dan DeCarlo. You've got Sabrina the Teenage Witch (and the Groovy Ghoulies). It's a total Archie Comics lineup! The only thing missing is Li'l Jinx, Super Duck, and "Gag Bags". Also on the schedule - the Bugs Bunny / Road Runner Hour Of Totally Edited Cartoons, and the Harlem "Ha ha, now you have "Sweet Georgia Brown" stuck in your head" Globetrotters. And the Monkees, and the Jetsons, but not together.
Flash forward four years - "hippie" is gone, replaced by the "me decade". Nixon is gone, replaced by Ford. It's a brave new world of quadraphonic sound, gasoline lines, computer games, and a looming Bicentennial. And what's happened to Saturday Mornings? Why - half these damn shows are live-action! SHAZAM stars somebody's gym coach as Captain Marvel as he fights evil - wait a minute, it's 1974, we can't have any FIGHTING on our televisions! Captain Marvel SOLVES PROBLEMS and FURTHERS UNDERSTANDING. He also BORES VIEWERS. Had enough of live-action? Why not a cartoon version of the Partridge Family - in the FUTURE? Why not? Because it's stupid, that's why. Though I am curious if the cartoon David Cassidy ever got it on with the cartoon Susan Dey. Also seen in 1974: Valley Of The Dinosaurs, an atypically realistic HB time travel adventure; the live-action Harlem Globetrotters, the live-action Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Comedy Show starring Rod Hull and his emu; the US of Archie starring the Riverdale gang reenacting America's glorious non-violent history. Also in 1974: The Ramones cut their first LP, making all previous human history irrelevant.
What awaits America's young comic book reading TV viewers in the decades to come? You'll have to either have experienced it for yourself first hand (hint, it involves Smurfs) or you'll have to check out the next installment of STUPID COMICS!!
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