A Classic Television Thursday Bonus – Letters To Laugh-In (1969) and Baggy Pants And The Nitwits (1977)

There are times while I’m researching these posts that I am completely caught off guard by something that will turn up. That’s what happened while I was looking for information for today’s post on Dan Rowan and Dick Martin’s Laugh-In. As a matter of fact, it happened twice.

Laugh-In was, of course, one of NBC’s highest rated shows in 1969, so it only made sense that the network would want to find some way to capitalize on that and spin-off shows of popular series were always good bets. The only question for the network was what kind of show would take advantage of the original show’s popularity without diminishing the original’s popularity.

I’m not sure exactly who came up with the idea of creating a daytime game show, but that’s what they went with.

b2Letters to Laugh-In was created to fill the void left by the recently cancelled Match Game. The concept of the show, hosted by Laugh-In‘s announcer Gary Owens, was simple: viewers would send in their jokes which would be read by a panel of comedians which usually consisted of two Laugh-In regulars and two other comedians. Each joke would then be rated on a scale of 1-100 and the viewer who sent in the highest rated joke each day would win a prize.

If you don’t think that sounds like the premise for a winning show, well, you would be right, as it lasted for only three months, from September 29 to December 26, 1969.

Here’s the only episode I could find readily available. it’s the second episode, and don’t worry if your screen goes black while watching it, as it actually looks like it could be a network feed to local stations with blank spots for the insertion of commercials.

Even more of a curiosity is the Saturday morning cartoon Baggy Pants and the Nitwits.

Once again, this is one of those shows that I cannot explain, but since there are episodes available to be watched, I have to accept it as a real thing.

b1The show was created by the prolific team of David H. DePatie and Friz Freleng. It was comprised of two segments, Baggy Pants, which featured the adventures of an anthropomorphic cat version of Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp character, and though there was music, there was no spoken dialogue. The second segment, which is the one that relates it to Laugh-In, was The Nitwits.

The Nitwits, you see, were Arte Johnson’s mumbling old man character Tyrone and his wife, Ruth Buzzi’s Gladys. However, instead of occupying the bench where they could be found “courting” (if you want to call it that) on Laugh-In, in this show the two were married, and Tyrone was a superhero who had come out of retirement in order to show the younger heroes how it was really done. Johnson and Buzzi even provided the voices for the show.

Yeah. I know. Complete WTH? But here it is:

Again, probably not too surprisingly, Baggy Pants and the Nitwits was not destined to last. If anything is surprising it’s that it did get a full 13 episode run.

So there you go. Two completely different and I dare say widely unknown spin offs from Laugh-In. And a couple of examples of the surprises that can turn up on the internet when you least expect them.

Saturday Morning Cartoons #009 – The Flintstones: The Great Gazoo

gaz2If the Internet had been around in 1965, I suspect that rather than talking about a show “jumping the shark“, we would instead be talking about it “Gazooing”.

The Great Gazoo first appeared approximately halfway through the Flintstones TV show’s final season of it’s initial run. (Yep, kids. it’s true, The Flintstones made it’s debut as a prime-time animated series in September of 1960 and ran through April of 1966. It really is that old.) An alien from the planet Zetox, Gazoo had been exiled from his home planet, dislocated not only in space, but in time. He had seemingly magical powers such as being able to make objects appear and disappear and freeze time. He also had the ability to make himself visible only to Fred, Barney, and their children, Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm.

gaz1Basically, Gazoo was a genie-like character, voiced by comedian Harvey Korman, (probably best known for his appearances on the Carol Burnett show) who considered himself indebted to Fred and Barney for freeing him from his space-ship, and thus was constantly trying to “help” them, though of course, in the best sitcom genie tradition, his efforts to help would usually simply cause more problems. At the same time, there was a through-line to his story about him trying to get back home which, due to the show’s cancellation at the end of the season, was never resolved.

As I implied above, the introduction of Gazoo, while certainly not the cause of the show’s decline, didn’t help things either, (let’s just say he was no Barnabas Collins who managed to cause a turnabout in a flagging show’s fortunes and keep it on the air longer) and could easily be pointed to as an indication that those behind the scenes were desperate to try anything that might give them a ratings boost and that it had hit something of a creative nadir – pretty much the textbook definition of “jumping the shark”.

Anyway, here’s the episode that introduced the little fellow, appropriately titled “The Great Gazoo”, which first aired on October 29, 1965.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday Morning Cartoons #008 – Woody Woodpecker

I’m (really this time) not going to say a lot today about Woody Woodpecker. Personally, I always found him more than a little annoying. On the other hand, I know a lot of people love(d) him.

Here;s about 45 minutes worth of Woody cartoons. I’ll let you judge for yourselves where you fall on the love/hate spectrum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday Morning Cartoons #007 – In Memoriam

sat1Sigh…

I suppose it could be considered somewhat ironic that just a few weeks after I started this series the concept of the Saturday Morning Cartoon has been declared officially dead.

Of course, as far as the three “major” networks that I grew up watching these cartoons on, the Saturday morning cartoon blocks for kids have been a thing of the past, replaced by “news” shows, sports, and “educational” shows usually featuring either food or animals.. However, up until last week, the CW was still holding out with a few anime-style cartoons. Starting today, however, those cartoons are being replaced by… well, does it really matter? It ain’t gonna be cartoons.

As far as the whys and wherefores of this, well, here are a couple of articles that detail some of the reasoning, with Flavorwire focusing on the increased availability of these shows causing a lack of interest in kids spending their Saturday mornings watching these programs or at least leaving the choice of what they watch to network programmers instead of just pulling them up on their i-phones or Netflix or whatever, and Mark Evanier pointing the finger where it really belongs, the money trail.

Meanwhile, the website In the 80s has posted a comprehensive schedule of the Saturday morning programming blocks from 1979 to 1990.

As for myself, I think I’m going to head into the kitchen, pour myself a huge bowl of Apple Jacks, and spend the rest of the morning watching some Looney Tunes. Wanna join me?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday Morning Cartoons #006 – Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids (1975 – 1982)

fa1Okay, yeah, I get it. Obesity is a nation-wide problem and not something to be laughed at. (Hey, this is coming from a guy who has lost, and kept off, somewhere between 80-100 pounds in the past few years and is still working on losing more. I know it’s a problem.) That, of course, is why Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids would never make network Saturday morning airwaves today, unless it was done in some ironic fashion. Because there is a certain segment of the population which has no sense of humor, and they would not be able to look beyond the title character and his depiction, and there would be immediate protests no matter what the actual contents of the show. Throw in the rest of the Cosby Gang, their personalities and depictions, and that would just make matters worse. They’d probably also condemn it on a basis of racial stereotyping.

Which is a shame, because it entirely misses the exact point of the show.

It seems to me ironic, considering what I wrote above, that the show reportedly almost didn’t make the Saturday morning airwaves in 1975 for a completely different reason. In its original incarnation, it was considered too educational. Which also probably accounts for the fact that through most of its run it was usually slotted in one of the latest of CBS’s Saturday Morning timeslots.

Anyway, the point is that the show wasn’t making fun of Albert for being fat, nor of Mushmouth for the way he talked, nor of Weird Harold for being clumsy, nor, for that matter of Rudy for dressing like a pimp and thinking himself generally slick. No, that was simply who these guys were. Sure, at times, especially early on, some of the humor derived from these characterizations, and many of them had nicknames that described them, but then, that’s why they’re called “characters”.

fa1Nor, for that matter, was the show based on its diversity or inclusiveness, making the point that “everyone, no matter how they look or seem, is a person who deserves respect”. Certainly that was part of the underlying theme, but it was never the point of the show, the way it would likely have to be today.

No, instead it was simply a show about kids being kids, playing together, hanging out together, getting into scrapes together, and learning from their adventures together.

And it was those lessons, the ones they learned from what they did or from what happened to them that was really the focus of the show. It was even right there in the theme song as sung by Albert himself: “You’ll have some fun now, with me and all the gang, learning from each other while we do our thing.”

Anyway, enough about all of that. Actually, it’s probably more than enough.

Unfortunately, due to copyright considerations, I can’t embed a full episode of the show as I usually like to do here, though they are available on YouTube for $1.99 each. Instead, just to give you a taste of it, here’s the first part of the first episode entitled “Lying”:

And just as a bonus here’s “Buck Buck”, the track from Bill Cosby‘s album Revenge, which introduced the character of Fat Albert. (Though this particular iteration is apparently taken from his Greatest Hits CD.) And yes, I’ll just go ahead and say if you’re one of those uptight super PC types I described at the top of the post, you might as well skip it. And that’s just fine, The rest of us will just have a really good laugh without you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday Morning Cartoons #005 – Felix The Cat: Woos Whoopie

felixA couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Ruff and Reddy, a cartoon series that I remember first seeing on weekday mornings when I was a wee lad. Another of my favorite characters from that same time period was Felix the Cat.

The Felix that I remember from that time and still love with a fog of nostalgia, the one with the magic bag that he could pull incredible things out of and could reshape into whatever he could think of to get himself out of jams (such jams usually caused by people trying to steal that magic bag) was actually from a revival series which was made for television beginning in the 1950s. The character of Felix himself, however, is actually much older than that.

Felix was first created in the early 1920s, but his actual origin remains, according to Wikipedia,  somewhat disputed. He first appeared in a series of silent shorts before slowly transitioning to sound. These shorts continued to be produced and released to theaters until 1932, and it is from these shorts that today’s feature episode comes.

To say that this Felix is rather different from the one I remember is a bit of an understatement. Entitled “Woo’s Whoopie”, it follows a drunken Felix as he attempts to navigate his way home from a bar to a very angry wife. Yeah, I’m pretty sure this was not part of the syndicated programming package that was part of the early morning children’s TV fare of my early years.

And here, as an extra bonus for comparison’s sake, is an episode of the Felix show I do remember, including his unforgettable theme song:

 

 

Saturday Morning Cartoons #004 – Duck Dodgers

dd1There are traditionalists who would howl at the very concept of the existence of this series. We all know how the choruses go: “This is nothing but a cash-in attempt by Warner Brothers!”, “They’re tarnishing my childhood memories!”, etc. etc.

Let’s be honest, though, these arguments (and most others like them) really come down to one thing: “these are not the cartoons of my childhood”, and that’s true. They’re also not meant to be.

Yeah, I’ll be the first to admit that in the past I’ve raised the same objections in other contexts, but perhaps it’s a case of applied perspective. Sure, I’ll go happily go on rants about bad movies for example that take things that are beloved to me from my youth and turn them into things they were never meant to be (as anyone who has ever asked me about Man of Steel or the recent Dark Shadows movie will tell you), but my objection to those movies really comes down to the fact that they’re simply bad movies. And even as I’m railing about the faults of Dark Shadows, I still know that I have the hundreds of available episodes still available to me to watch. And I will do so quite happily.

All of which is to say that while yes, I realize that this Duck Dodgers series (which ran on Cartoon Network from 2003 to 2005) can be seen from the perspectives I’ve talked about above, that’s really not fair to the show itself nor to the creators who worked on it. Because though I haven’t watched much of it, it’s actually not a terrible series.

Taking the characters of Daffy Duck and Porkey Pig from the original Duck Dodgers in the 24 and 1/2th Century cartoon and expanding upon them and creating an entire universe around them, I’ve actually found the show to be entertaining.

So I guess what I’m saying, in the end, especially to my older readers who will write this off as a mere rip-off, is : “Give it a chance. It may turn out not to be your thing, but that’s cool. On the other hand, you may like it, and then you’ve found something new to enjoy.”

And that’s never bad thing, right?