Thursday, September 8, 2016

Saturday Morning Memories: The Scooby Formula

Martinex1:  A few years ago our illustrious hosts Karen and Doug launched a series of posts titled Saturday Morning Memories, and they generated some of my favorite conversations here at the BAB site.   The period in which cartoons covered the sixth-day A.M. airwaves is unfortunately gone and gradually being lost to hazy memory. It is an inherently nostalgic time to reminisce about as it encourages memories of old television sets, fuzzy pajamas, bowls of cereal, and bartering siblings.   There was a sheer joy to waking up first and quietly tuning in as the "big people" slumbered.  Today I'd like to continue a bit of the tradition by sharing some details, intricacies, and perspectives about a particular cartoon genre (Scooby-Doo copycats);  in the coming months I hope to be back with more thoughts about Saturday mornings.    

One of the huge successes that originated in that era is of course the Scooby-Doo franchise.   Writers Joe Ruby and Ken Spears ignited a trend in television when their Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! cartoon landed on the CBS morning schedule in 1969.   The Hanna-Barbera production was originally designed to emulate the Filmation success The Archie Show that aired the previous year.  The new show was originally going to be called "Mysteries Five" and follow the adventures of a band and their sheepdog (very much in the vein of the Archies). 
During the push and pull of development, the gang of Shaggy, Fred, Velma, Daphne and Scooby slowly morphed into what we are more familiar.  The musician aspect wasn't the only thing left behind as Scooby-Doo (first conceived to have the name "Too Much") became a Great Dane.   The title also went through a couple of revisions including Who's S-s-scared? before resting on Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!  It makes a bit more sense now why the group is always traveling in their van the Mystery Machine, as they were originally I speculate a touring rock band.  The formula of the show was really quite simple:  the van breaks down or is stopped for some reason; the gang is left in an abandoned or creepy locale; the area is victim to a  ghoul, creature or ghost; the group offers help to investigate; comedy and scares ensue; a trap is set but fails; the team captures the villain through luck or contrivance; and we get the "If not for you meddling kids..." line as the antagonist is unmasked and the mystery is solved.  

The show generated not only some great dark visuals for Saturday morning fare, but also added to the cultural language with sayings like, "Zoinks!", "Jinkies!", and "My glasses.  I cannot see without my glasses!"

Most people know that Casey Kasem was the voice of Shaggy, but here are a couple of trivia questions for you:  What was the name of Scooby's brother? *(See below).   And a much harder question:  Do you know the main characters' full names? **(Also see below).  

But that is not really where it ends, because the show itself spawned a gaggle of copies.   The success of this initial short-lived series caused Hanna-Barbera to mimic its own formula and roll out some of my favorite cartoons.   Along with The New Scooby-Doo Movies (1972), a number of other similar (but sometimes obscure) toons arrived.  Now, not all of these shows are exact replicas of the Scooby line, but they held some strikingly familiar characteristics and concepts.   There were various permutations of:  bands of teenagers (sometimes literally in a band much like the original concept), a communicative pet (sometimes replaced by a personified pal), mysteries to solve, villains to expose, spooky locales, snazzy vehicles, and catchy theme songs.    See if you agree and recognize some type of pattern in these Hanna-Barbera Productions. 

Josie and the Pussycats (1970) Joe Ruby and Ken Spears were involved in the development of this one as well.   It was of course based on the Dan DeCarlo designed Archie comic, but the TV program owed quite a lot to the Scooby style.   Josie, Valerie, Melody, Alexander, Alexandra, Alan and their cat Sebastian worked as musicians and also solved mysteries.  Weekly they were chased by an antagonist to one of their catchy beats.  The next year they also went into space doing much the same.   An interesting side note: Cheryl Ladd of Charlie's Angels fame was the singing voice for Melody; she was also originally supposed to appear in a live-action sequence of the band that unfortunately never occurred. 

Funky Phantom (1971) followed smart-as-a-whip Skip, beautiful April, and strong Augie along with their bulldog Elmo as they traveled through New England in their Looney Duney dune buggy.   They set a spooky grandfather clock to midnight and the titular ghost John Wellington "Mudsy" Muddlemore and his cat Boo arrive.   The two were trapped in the clock when they hid during a Revolutionary War battle.   And now this "real" phantom helps the team solve crimes.   Daws Butler handled the voice of Mudsy, in a nearly identical Snagglepuss drawl.  And Monkee Mickey Dolenz voiced Skip Gilroy.   There was even a Gold Key comic based on the series!

Goober and the Ghost Chasers (1973) ran for 16 episodes as Ted, Tina, and Gil joined their dog Goober in the exploration of the paranormal.   With their trusty apparition kit  they worked to determine if ghosts are real or not.   Like in Funky Phantom, some of these ghosts were "real".  Goober turned invisible leaving just a hat and collar behind whenever he was scared.   And the Partridge Family kids guest-starred in half of the episodes for some reason.    My favorite title during the run was "Old McDonald Had a Ghost - EI EI EEYOW!"

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids (1973) Butch, Steffy, Merilee, Wally and his dog Elvis were a band by day and crime fighters when the need arose.   Mickey Dolenz voiced Wally the drummer in this one as well. 

Speed Buggy (1973) replaced the talking dog with a talking car.  Dune buggies sure were popular back then!  The kids this time were Tinker, Mark, and Debbie (Tinker had a definite Shaggy vibe going on).  It had a great opening tune and a Charlton comic book as well. Speed Buggy was voiced by Mel Blanc.   And the team actually guest-starred in The New Scooby-Doo Movies' episode titled "Weird Winds of Winona."

Jabberjaw (1976) is another Ruby/Spears brainchild.   Following the success of Jaws, what could be better than kids hanging out with a shark in an underwater city in 2076 AD?  This time the shark is even in the band as the drummer of The Neptunes, along with his friends, the handsome Biff, attractive Shelly, ditzy Bubbles, and happy Clamhead (again very Shaggy-like).   Jabberjaw had traits that were a combination of Curly Howard and Rodney Dangerfield.

Dynomutt in the Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Hour (1976) of course teamed with super-hero the Blue Falcon instead of a team of teenagers, but he did interact with the Scooby gang themselves occasionally to fight villains like Mr. Hyde.   Hey comics fans, watch for the episode where Dynomutt takes on an Injustice League featuring the likes of Fishface,  Queen Hornet,  and Superthug. 

Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels (1977) The crazy caveman voiced by Mel Blanc teamed with Brenda, Dee Dee, and Taffy in their adventures as they tooled around the countryside in a crazy van solving crimes.   They also interacted with many of the others on this list in the Laff-A-Lympics. 

So there you have it; that's my theory and I am sticking to it!   Hanna-Barbera had a huge influence on the Saturday morning landscape and they created a pattern of crime fighting, ghost bashing teens and their funny sidekicks after the success of Scooby-Doo.  The Archies also had a big impact.    If you don't believe there is a pattern - just check out how many male characters wear ascots! What do you think?   Do you remember these shows?   Are there others you think fall into this genre?  How about the New Schmoo?  Or do you think I stretched the pattern? 

So rub the sleep from your eyes and grab a bowl of Freakies, I will see you next time in the Saturday A.M on the BAB!

TRIVIA ANSWERS:  *Scooby's brother was Yabba-Doo, a white Great Dane who was extremely brave.  **The full names of the gang were Fred Jones, Daphne Blake, Velma Dinkley, and Norville "Shaggy" Rogers.  I shouldn't sign off without giving credit to artist Iwao Takamoto for the design of the Scooby characters. 


Anonymous said...
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Redartz said...

Terrific topic, Martinex! Saturday morning toontime was high on this BAB's list of pleasures. You give us a fine overview of the long list of Scooby 'descendants'. Some I've watched, others not (one of the limitations of tv viewing in those days- three networks, but no vcr yet, certainly no tivo; you chose one show to watch and thereby missed the other two). Interesting that the 'Scooby effect' on imitators lasted pretty much throughout the 70's, but was less apparent in the 80's.

Funky Phantom was pretty cool- forgot about the whole "trapped in the clock" thing.

The Scooby Doo Movies were a lot of fun, too. My favorite episode (along with Batman and Robin, of course) was when the gang teemed up with Josie and the Pussycats. Which was another 'must see', by the way. Yes, I was still a pre-teen, but it was a rock band with three girls; what more needs be said?

Yogzilla said...

What, no love for Fangface?? That show was deliciously warped!!

And let's not forget Godzilla (w/ Godzooky). Er, on second thought... :-)

dangermash aka The Artistic Actuary said...

I've always hated the Funky Phantom with a passion.

I can't help thinking someone missed a trick by not making him the villain in the second Scooby Doo film.

Anonymous said...

I watched Scooby Doo as a kid, but none of the other shows you mentioned...I don't even remember half of them!

A later incarnation (Scooby Doo Mystery Incorporated) that ran from 2010-2013 had an episode called Mystery Solvers Club State Finals featuring a bunch of sidekicks from the knock-off shows.

Mike Wilson

pfgavigan said...


For it's day, Scooby Doo was a pretty subversive little show. A bunch of long hair hippie type teenagers roaming the countryside and exposing the scams of, usually, white, middle-aged businessmen who were attempting to swindle their friends and neighbors.

Pop over to Mark Evaniers blog if you've got some time. He goes into depth over the creation of Scrappy Doo and, and I agree with him on this, the character was a lot more interesting before the suits at Standards and Practices got their mitts on him.

Let me at 'em! Let me at 'em!!!



Doug said...

Saturday mornings were such a satisfying slice of Bronze Age life, weren't they? In the logo atop the post sit characters I met up with weekly. Very fond memories of the cartoons, as well as the live action programs.

I can still watch a Scooby-Doo episode every now and then. Like others have said, the guest-star episodes were treasures. And I'll echo what others have also said about Scrappy.

I vaguely recall watching Josie and the Pussycats, but some of the later entries in today's post may have landed "past my time".


Edo Bosnar said...

Yep, I remember a bunch of these, but to be honest, besides Scooby, I think the only ones I really liked were Dynomutt and Blue Falcon, and the New Schmoo.
By the way PFG, good call on the rather subversive nature of the Scooby gang's mystery-solving activities. Another thing I've always liked about those cartoons is that there's always a rational explanation for everything, i.e., there's never really any ghosts, monsters or anything else supernatural - chalk one up for science and reason as well.

WardHill Terry said...

No mention of Clue Club? Not only a Scooby Doo imitation, but, according to what I just read, Scooby's replacement when he jumped networks!Four kids solving mysteries with two dogs to help them.

Anonymous said...

There was an episode of the Venture Bros. where Team Venture has a run in with a seventies-style cult that bore an uncanny resemblance to the Scooby Doo gang, with a Fred who was reminiscent of Ted Bundy, a drug-addled Daphne who may have been modeled on Patty Hearst, a Velma who reminded me of Squeaky Fromme, and a dog that looked like Scooby but acted like the satanic, talking dog described by the Son of Sam killer.
Shaggy was pretty much the same. They didn't have to tweak that character very much.

Martinex1 said...

Welcome and thanks to all the commenters. Good calls on Fangface and Clue Club. Fangface was a fun show, particularly the first season.

Martinex1 said...

Welcome and thanks to all the commenters. Good calls on Fangface and Clue Club. Fangface was a fun show, particularly the first season.

Kyle said...

So many great memories. Getting up early and plopping down in front of the TV with a blanket and a big bowl of Fruity Pebbles. Loved Scooby Doo and Captain Caveman. Remember watching a bunch of the others but those were a couple of my favorites. Why was it so easy to get up before dawn to watch cartoons, but had to be dragged out of bed to go to school? ha!

Anonymous said...

I never really got into the Scooby show. I read somewhere, though, that the characters are roughly the Dobie Gillis core: Dobie=Fred, Shaggy=Maynard, Velma=Zelda, and Daphne=Thalia, which are in turn similar to the Archietypes. I did like Josie & the Pussycats, though, maybe because less talking animal, more girl band? I guess my Saturday heyday was the old Filmation toons with Space Ghost, Batman, Superman, Aquaman, etc. An extension of my comics enthusiasm. By the time some of those later shows debuted I was required to go to Saturday morning Catechism, and then chores. Once that ended I always had a job that required my being there on Saturday mornings. Come to think of it, I never really had weekends off until recently.

David C said...

Interesting stuff! I'd never picked up on the idea that the formula basically originated with The Archies before.

The Butch Cassidy show has always fascinated me ever since I stumbled across a graveyard-shift Cartoon Network rerun years ago.

I think it's the single most generic and boring retread of the formula, but it's generic and boring in a sort of fascinating way. To this day, I don't get what's up with the title. Maybe trying to evoke the 1969 hit movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? But that was 4 years prior, and what's more, there's not a *single* thing about the cartoon that evokes Westerns, cowboys, outlaws, etc., even in the slightest.

Were they somehow trying to evoke then-white-hot singer *David* Cassidy? The cartoon lead looks pretty similar. Was the show developed as a cartoon vehicle for the real-life David Cassidy, but the deal fell through and they hit upon the public domain "Butch" name as a way to repurpose the material while not getting sued?

The show itself just seems incredibly rote and by-the-numbers, even by H-B standards. Like they took Scooby-Doo and instead of turning it up to 11, turned it down to 3.

BK said...

Some good examples there of the "teenagers with fantastic companion genre" and its variants. One of my nostalgic favourites, and the one with the best BA comics connections, was The Thing. I was disappointed at the time because the show is horrible and has almost nothing to do with the comic book Thing: Benjy Grimm is a skinny high school nerd who pals around with two girls and a rich snob. When Benjy smashes his two rings together, a la The Wonder Twins, and shouts "Thing Rings Do Your Thing!" a bunch of rocks shoot out of nowhere and transform him into the lovable orange hero we know and love. He talks sort of like Jimmy Durante. Equal parts Shazam and Scooby Doo, I guess. Origin never explained. Cancelled after a handful of episodes. Regular villains were The Yancy Street gang and the Thing Rings were brought back by Fraction and Allred in the FF series (Ms. Thing uses them).

Doug said...

BK -

I had no idea such a thing (...ahem...) existed! However, after looking it up on YouTube I have to declare, "You can't un-see it!". Wow -- that's some kind of awful.

Um, "thanks", for filling me in on that obscure nugget of Fantastic Four history.


BK said...

Doug, it's haunted me for decades...

Ninja said...

I believe CLUE CLUB falls in this category, as well.

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