Well, here's something you don't see anymore. Way back when, television networks would sometimes air prime-time specials to promote their upcoming Saturday morning lineups -- a good way to make that part of the fall season seem more epic than just a "bunch of cartoons." The specials were clip shows for the most part, existing more to advertise than entertain, but they were interesting nonetheless. This one, from the boys at ABC just prior to their 1983 season, goes a long way in proving just how much television has changed. You'll rarely see something like this eating up a coveted prime-time slot nowadays, and even if you do, there's an even lesser chance of scoring someone like Dick Clark to host the event.
Yup, Dick Clark. The rumors are true -- guy hasn't aged in twenty years. Dick does his best to look remotely interested in something he's obviously not remotely interested in, but what else would you expect from the guy who could make 8,500 consecutive New Year's Eve celebrations seem more exciting than the last? He's got his work cut out for him this time though, as the lineup ABC was peddling was far from pristine. With most of the insanely hot properties belonging to other networks, ABC unveiled a hodge podge of odd programs that took more than a few nods from current pop trends, trying desperately to create a five-hour block that somebody, anybody would want to watch. Don't get me wrong -- ABC had their share of the classics, but the shows they were apparently banking on the most were almost universally the least beloved. Watching it now, the special feels more like a hit parade of the obscure than a charming glance back at the toons we all cherished, which probably explains why ABC hasn't released the thing on DVD with a Dick Clark commentary and a blooper reel.
The set is hilarious -- a bland white stage with assorted pieces of screenprinted cardboard depicting various cartoon greats from over the years. They often show the studio audience, with seems a bit light in the kid department. Looks like they just gathered a bunch of tourists together and sold them on the promises of seeing Dick Clark. Clark himself works from some of the worst cue cards imaginable, and midway through his sentences, you can see the fright flash upon his face as he realizes the terrible punch-lines he's being led towards. Ever the professional, he pulls it off. Barely. As for everything else on the show? Here's the review...
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Hoo hoo ha ha! Emmanuel Lewis. He's there to promote "Webster," which was just about to enter its first season. Man, Gary Coleman he ain't. Lewis served only to make other child actors feel better about their abilities, and at this exceedingly early part of his career, the poor boy can barely pull off speaking English, much less stringing together words that form coherent statements. The audience (and soundtrack) give him a few token laughs, but considering that his show wasn't even on the air yet, Emmanuel was basically just an unknown three-year-old forced to wave a stick around while talking about cartoon dogs. Yes, cartoon dogs.
Playing a "professor of Saturday morning sciences," Emmanuel speaks about how DOGS are the true secret ingredient integral to a cartoon's success. This leads to a montage with ten trillion cartoon dogs dating back to the early 7th century, and aside from the two people in the audience over 600 years old, the whole skit was falling apart faster than Lewis' post-Webster career. He's only on the screen for a minute, but with the poor boy's level of nervousness, it feels like an hour. An hour of Webster shaking through a soliloquy about cartoon dogs. Put this on today, and it'd bring in 25.7 on the Nielsens under a "Reality TV" banner. Back then, it just sucked. Still, it did segue nicely into a preview for one of the season's "hottest" new shows...
"The New Scooby & Scrappy-Doo Show" -- boy, if there ever was a show title that could cause such massive emotional drifts. Scooby good, Scrappy bad. Actually, it wasn't so much the character of Scrappy that many of us hated, but moreover the changes he represented. Scooby-Doo was a dish best served with a bit of subtlety; a show that was at its funniest when it wasn't trying to be funny. It was a stoner's paradise and the half-asleep bored guy's top pick. You had full control over how funny you found Scooby-Doo: if you were in the mood to laugh riotously, you did, and if you wanted to just kinda "sit there watching it," nothing Scooby could throw at you was met with even the slightest smile. But Scrappy? And all those wacky updated cartoon side gags and attempts at being hip? And that stupid new "talking marlin" character, with the fez and the white gloves? You better be paying attention you. I'm gonna keep throwing you "talking marlin" cards to make sure you're paying attention.
With Scooby being rerun seemingly as much as "I Love Lucy," it does seem peculiar that Scrappy shows up so rarely. Have the television bigwigs finally realized and accepted the truth? Did my 2nd grade "Scrappy is Crappy" school club's tireless campaign efforts finally pay off? Screw you, Scrappy-Doo. As the Joker said to the burnt gangster, I'm glad your dead.
There was also a teaser for the premiere of "The Puppy's Further Adventures." Ugh. Puppy can suck my dick.
And then it's all "back to you, Dick!" Man! They shoot all the shit leftover from Emmanuel Lewis and the Scrappy-Doo trailer for Dick Clark to clean up? I mean, he agreed to do this show, that should've been enough. Hell, I'm the type who'd be proud to have gotten on television sheerly by hopping up and down behind an on-location weather reporter, and even I'd think twice before signing on to play spin doctor for Scrappy and Webster. Dick has proven charisma, but the guy ain't a miracle worker. In what's either an immense display of respect for company history or a really lame way to fill up a half hour time slot, most of the special is made up of clips and retrospectives about cartoons from previous seasons. Basically, if you saw anything on ABC's Saturday morning lineup anytime before 1983, it gets a mention in this special. For someone dumb like me, it's kinda cool to see. For the rest of you, be prepared for several piss breaks. Let's skip over that and stick with the year at hand -- here's some of the other shows either premiering or starting a new season in 1983...
"The Littles," "The Little Rascals," and "Richie Rich." The first one was good for kids who wanted to feel a little sophisticated, the second one still haunts me to this day because I just can't believe I was able to hate something so much, and the third...well, we've all got our opinions about "Richie Rich." Mine's worth only as much as yours. That means we can trade 'em without feeling gypped. So...anybody out there like "Richie Rich?"
This next one was probably my favorite tidbit unleashed by the special. I like the Pac-Man cartoon okay enough, but admittedly, it's something I've seen more of in recent years than when it was actually on Saturday morning television. Not really before my time, but the guy was up against some fierce competition. Still, it's a rarity that I ever come across episodes of "Pac-Man" with the two "second season booster" characters added to the mix. Would you believe that Pac-Man had to take a back-seat in his own show? You better believe it -- let's meet the new characters...
There they are, totally ticking off Pac-Man. "Pac-Junior" was a relative of our hero; a hipper version of the classic P-Man with a full head of hair and the kind of jacket Jason Batemen based his entire career around. And pants! What's with the pants?! It was an incredible slap to the face of Pac-Man, who more or less was forced to stand in the background looking at a wittier, more handsome, younger version of himself. The audience immediately transferred their Pac-fixations to the new kid on the block, and jeez, even Ms. Pac-Man got the wandering eye.
It didn't end there. Pac-Man wasn't only competing again Pac-Junior, but also "Super-Pac," the dimwitted-but-powerful superhero who all the kids loved. Roughly based on the "Super Pac-Man" video game, Super-Pac often had a troop of adoring females flocking around him like whorish yellow sluts with mask fetishes. This was waaay, waaaay too much for Pac-Man to handle. He shot himself three months later. Amidst all of the media propaganda and fan musings, his suicide letter was finally made public:
And yet, E! keeps wasting their True Hollywood Stories on Courtney Love. I mean really, I don't care if she killed Kurt....what did she wear to the Oscars?!??
Okay, the setup for this next one was great. Dick spends a lengthy amount of time talking about how ABC is forging animated tales based on classic children's books in an effort to make their shows pack a little more intelligence and cultural significance, and there's this big bruhahaahah about values and morals and books and paper and book spines and books, and just as he finishes up with the most dignified, satisfied look on his face, what do they make him talk about? THE MONCHICHIS CARTOON. "And now for this next show, based on a series of dolls..." -- you could see Clark's patented Swiss complexion turn to a deep red as he quickly realizes that he's been scripted the absolute worst segue in the history of prime time television. Dick does this very minute "scuffle" thing whenever he's uncomfortable on the show, but this time, he was practically splitting into two Dick Clarks in a fit of manic fission. I assume an off-camera producer held up a "$50,000!!!" sign to make him regain composure. When all was said and done, indeed, we saw a preview for "The Monchichis."
You might not remember 'em, but if you were living at the time, you probably had one of these dolls. Everyone did. Think back -- remember any creepy monkey plushies with plastic faces and thumbs that could be stuck in their mouths? That be a Monchichi. The cartoon didn't last long at all, in part because even the youngest audiences couldn't shake the idea that they were wasting thirty minutes watching a bunch of mutant apes make baby sounds at each other in repeated animation sequences. ABC's decision to air this program creates such a surreal atmosphere, I honestly wouldn't have been surprised if Emmanuel busted back onto the stage and broke out with a "Who down with Monchichi? No no, not me!" rap. Not quite on that level but still pretty close, the special was at this point interrupted for a commercial break -- a McDonald's commercial that told the origin of Chicken McNuggets...
I'm not going to look up and check when the McNuggets first arrived, but they're certainly treating them like new entities here. The "episode" is called "Ronald Meets The Professor," and yep, he does. I believe I've seen the Professor turn up on later commercials, but he was more of a Muppet in those -- here he's like one of the "Whos" in the live-action Grinch movie, only instead of doing Christmas things, he's doing Chicken things. Apparently, it was he who invented Chicken McNuggets, and the four sauces with which you dipped them into for added flavor. To make them, he uses the same kind of contraption Pee-Wee used to pour bowls of Mr. T Cereal. There's a bunch of scared little girls running around the set, too. I much prefer the later McNugget commercials, where the golden biscuits were all alive with little googly eyes and very little insight to their eventual fate. This Professor guy is just creepy. Creepy and old. A terrible mix.
As the show returns from it's final commercial break, we get to see a bunch of random people tell ABC what their favorite cartoon shows of the past and present are. Amazingly, everyone's favorites were ABC exclusives! They caught some of these folks totally off guard, evidenced by the sheer number of "UHH UHHH GHEE-UH...they're all funny!" responses. You know, they never did show the interviewer who was holding that microphone. And I won't rest till I find out who it was. Won't rest never ever.
Hey look, it's TK Carter! He's a magician! He's tricking Dick Clark left and right! With tricks! Magic tricks!
This was before TK's days on "Punky Brewster," and he was promoting an upcoming show called "Just Our Luck," where Carter played "Shabu" -- a god damned genie. The series has become more than a little obscure over the years, but if you're lucky enough to find it, prepare yourself for the kind of unintentional comedy only found at funerals where the pall bearers forgot to tie their shoes. From the way TK's acting here, everyone obviously expected big things from "Just Our Luck." Of course, it didn't deliver big things. It delivered nothing. Absolutely nothing. With misguided confidence, TK even throws the first "age joke" towards Dick Clark, causing our host to turn around and make that stupid "no way did he just say that!" face to somebody off-camera who may or may not have really been there. After Puppy finishes sucking my dick, TK Carter can get started.
After dishing out the kind of magic tricks that make a third-rate rent-a-clown's balloon animals seem like the work of God, TK and Dick sit amongst the little people, fiddling with a Rubik's Cube. There's a point to this, believe it or not. Presenting ABC's newest cartoon -- "Rubik, The Amazing Cube."
I've actually reviewed this cartoon, so if you're interested in knowing more about it, click here. The short version: much like TK's "Shabu," Rubik was kind of like a genie. The creature cube could do all sorts of fabulous things, like letting teenagers fly, or growing to sizes larger than a truck. A few kids befriend the monster, and continually protect it from some prototypical toon villains who want nothing more than to harness Rubik's amazing powers. Most importantly, Rubik spoke like a helium addict who smoked a shitload of cigars.
As a standalone, the cartoon wasn't successful. Rubik had better luck when he was teamed up with the flailing Pac-Man for a variety show, but even then it was pretty short-lived. It wasn't all that "bad," but this idea was better suited for a singular special than an ongoing series, which only exposed Rubik as the most boring leading man in animation's long and storied history. We're talking boring on the level of that cartoon about gnomes starring the voice of Tom Bosley -- a show so boring you've never even heard of it. Something tells me Tom Bosley isn't bringing it up too often, either.
One of the more interesting retrospectives was on musical acts who lent their identities to cartoon shows -- "The Jackson 5ive," "The Beatles," and "The Osmonds." They show a clip from the Beatles' toon, where all of the boys take turns kissing the tentacles of a giant lady octopus. I think they just wanted to soften the blow of what was coming up next...
After another short rundown of the upcoming season premieres, Dick Clark thanks the audience and bids us all goodnight. Since it's twenty years old, it'd be a little redundant for me to call a program like this "dated." Duh. Still, it's a nice look back at simpler times for television, where a coveted prime-time slot could be used for something like a Saturday morning fall preview special without many worries. I've got no idea if there were future annual editions of the show, but they certainly would've been more interesting. The networks were about to enter the era of action-packed and highly competitive boys' toons with accompanying toy lines, and even if those were more of an "weekday afternoon" than a "Saturday morning" thing, it would've been nice to see some of the now iconic toon characters sprinkled into Dick's many speeches. On the bright side, I got to see Emmanuel Lewis make a fool of himself. My yin has a yang. Hooray for ABC specials. Hooray for Dick Clark.
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