Looking back on 1978’s Saturday morning programming, something has become apparent. These networks had no real sense of identity.
Today, if you turn on Disney Junior, for example, you can usually tell by the colors, the art styles, or the characters exactly what you’re watching. Same with Nick Jr. They stick to their specific brand.
In 1978, that wasn’t the case at all. I’ve mentioned how shows were constantly moving freely from one network to another. There were even different versions of the same characters, like Batman, on competing networks.
Apparently, NBC didn’t want to be left out, so they continued the madness into their own programming. However, their lineup was doomed almost from the start.
Their 8:00 block started off with Yogi’s Space Race, featuring many of the same characters that were competing in Laff-a-Lympics on ABC. This was a 90-minute show consisting of multiple segments. (Have you noticed the pattern here?)
Yogi’s Space Race: Similar to Laff-a-Lympics or Wacky Races, this was about a series of intergalactic races, featuring such familiar faces as Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, & Jabberjaw.
Galaxy Goof-Ups: Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Quack-Up & Scare Bear suited up as galactic police officers.
The Buford Files: Followed a bloodhound named Buford who, with the help of the teenage Boggs twins, Woody & Cindy Mae….. solved mysteries.
The Galloping Ghost: The ghost of an old gold prospector named Nugget Nose, acted as a guardian to two teenage cowgirls. Whenever they needed help, they could rub a gold nugget necklace to summon him.
Like many shows from this era, this lasted for only thirteen episodes, but was then rerun again and again. The less said about this, the better.
The Godzilla Power Hour came next at 9:30. Just like it sounds, this was an animated version of the classic Godzilla movies. Godzilla could be summoned by his friends aboard the Calico via a special signalling device. He would rise up from the bottom of the ocean and help however possible.
Godzilla suffered from a major scale issue (and I don’t mean the ones on his back.) One moment, he would be able to pick up an aircraft carrier in one hand and then, moments later, his friends would fit nicely right in that same palm.
Many cartoons at this time were introducing new characters to appeal to younger viewers and this was no exception. This show introduced us to Godzooky, the big lizard’s nephew, who could kinda fly and blow smoke rings.
The biggest issue overall, though, was that the show was being created at a time when violence on cartoons was being eliminated everywhere. Creator Joseph Barbera remembered:
The problem with the show was simply this. When they start telling you… ‘Don’t shoot any flame at anybody, don’t step on any buildings or cars,’ then, pretty soon, they’ve taken away all he represents.Joseph Barbera
This show also introduced us to Jana of the Jungle, essentially a female version of Tarzan travelling through South America in search of her father. Like all other adventure shows of this kind, she was accompanied by her animal pals, including a white jaguar named Ghost.
Following that, at 10:30, was The New Fantastic Four. This holds a special place as one of my earliest heartbreaks. I was a HUGE Marvel fan as a kid and loved anything with their name attached. I was so ready for this show until it actually aired.
For starters, they were hit hard by the new non-violence requirements. Fighting of just about any kind was forbidden, so they were constantly trying to find new ways to stop the bad guys. As a result, the superheroes often resorted to ray guns that would simply stun the baddies. That’s not what I wanted from my comic book show.
The second big reason for this striking out was the addition of H.E.R.B.I.E. (Humanoid Electronic Robot B-Style). Even the writers knew it was lame – they couldn’t be bothered to finish off the acronym. But hey – this was only a year removed from Star Wars, so all the kids love little robots, right? Maybe, but not if they replace one of the stars.
The rumor at the time was that The Torch was removed because they were afraid that kids would try to set themselves on fire. Since then, however, more logical stories have surfaced that a solo project was in the works for The Human Torch, and his rights were no longer available. I get it, but it doesn’t make the pain go away. The series did, though, after only thirteen episodes.
11 am brought us the newest re-working of the Krofft Super Show, now titled The Krofft Superstar Hour. The setup here was a bit complex, so bear with me.
You may remember Sid & Marty Krofft as the brothers responsible for classic shows like H.R. Pufnstuf, Land of the Lost or Sigmund & the Sea Monsters. I even mentioned them previously when discussing Wonderbug.
They had a show for the previous two years on ABC called The Krofft Super Show. On it, they aired a bunch of segments from their various shows haphazardly thrown together around a narrative about a fictional band called Kaptain Kool and the Kongs.
Band members would find themselves in zany situations and then they would cut to one of the other shows while they figured out a solution to their issue. After thirty-two episodes, ABC no longer wanted to air it, but NBC decided to jump on the Krofft bandwagon. Unfortunately, they decided to revamp everything in the worst way possible.
The result was The Krofft Superstar Hour, in which The Kongs were replaced by The Bay City Rollers. Saying the Rollers were hot at this time is like saying Star Wars was kind of popular. They were worldwide sensations and one of the first to be named “the biggest group since The Beatles.”
They reached No. 1 on the US Charts with “Saturday Night” and followed up with multiple Top 100 hits over the next few years. The folks at NBC were probably salivating at the thought of this group being available for the Saturday morning set.
Unfortunately, the network couldn’t decide if it wanted a variety show or a Krofft character show, so they ultimately tried, unsuccessfully to combine them. The result was that the Rollers weren’t featured enough to satiate their fan-base and the Krofft characters were just… well, it just got weird.
Here’s what happened: Rather than reusing the same live action segments they had on the ABC show, they repurposed characters in a new setting. The show featured two regular segments: Horror Hotel & The Lost Island.
Horror Hotel had Witchiepoo (from Pufnstuf) as the manager of a hotel. Random minor characters from that show (like Seymour the Spider and Stupid Bat) worked for her in various capacities. Then, just to make it more bizarre, they brought Horatio HooDoo from Lidsville as a permanent resident of the the hotel. Sadly, HooDoo was no longer played by Charles Nelson Reilly and his replacement (Paul Gale) just didn’t have the energy necessary for the role.
Unfortunately, no footage remains of the two most famous guest of the hotel: Erik Estrada (from CHiPs) and “Broadway Joe” Namath (from NBC’s short-lived Waverly Wonders). That would have been outstanding to watch.
But if that wasn’t weird enough, just wait til you hear about The Lost Island. H.R. Pufnstuf himself, along with Sigmund the Sea Monster, Weenie the Genie (from Lidsville) and a random girl named Barbie got trapped on an island that might be in the Bermuda Triangle. The geography was never really clarified.
They are constantly outwitting a duo played by Jay Robinson & Billy Barty. Previously, this team appeared on The Krofft Supershow as Dr. Shrinker & Hugo, but now they are called Dr. Deathray and Otto. It was a very bizarre amalgamation of characters and situations from other shows, but they tried to pretend it was all new.
They even brought on the Sleestak from Land of the Lost and featured two “dragons”. Any Land of the Lost fans would tell you, however, that those dragons were just reused footage of the dinosaurs Grumpy and Big Alice. Apparently, after the producers paid off the Bay City Rollers, there was no money left for fresh writing.
Nor surprisingly, the show performed horribly and was cut after only eight episodes. They tried to move it more towards a true Bay City Rollers variety show, but the damage was already done.
If any viewers still remained, things didn’t get much better for them during the final hour of children’s programming. NBC tried to go a bit more traditional route at 12 pm with Fabulous Funnies. This series featured animated versions of several famous comic strips, including Alley Oop, Broom Hilda, Nancy & Sluggo and The Katzenjammer Kids. I’m not really sure who the audience was for this. It was far too tame and simple for older kids who may have enjoyed the strips, but most of the younger kids would have already hit their TV limit by noon.
Like so many others, this only lasted thirteen episodes.
Finally, at 12:30, they wrapped it all up with Baggy Pants and The Nitwits. Baggy Pants was an obvious rip-off of Charlie Chaplin featuring a pantomiming cat, complete with tiny mustache and cane.
The Nitwits featured characters created by Arte Johnson and Ruth Buzzi for Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. Johnson voiced an elderly superhero named Tyrone who came out of retirement to fight crime. He was aided by his wife Gladys and Elmo, his anthropomorphic walking stick which enabled him to fly.
The old Laugh-In skits featured Johnson as a letch always trying to flirt with Ruth Buzzi, who would end the skit by smacking him with her purse. In this family friendly version, they removed all adult innuendo (including his original last name of Horneigh). Still seems like a peculiar pairing.
The series originally aired thirteen episodes in 1977, but they continued to rerun them until October of 1978.
There you have it. Five hours of programming and not a hit among them. It’s no wonder NBC remained in the cellar for a few more years. I’d still rather watch this than what CBS had, though.
They would run cartoons on a hit-or-miss basis for the next few years, but by 1992, they had phased out all animated programming in favor of live action shows like Saved by the Bell and California Dreams.