September 05, 2015

HOT WHEELS

HOT WHEELS
(ABC, September 6-December 20, 1969)


Ken Snyder Properties, Pantomime Pictures

MAIN CAST:
Bob Arbogast – Jack “Rabbit” Wheeler, Doc Warren
Melinda Casey – Janet Martin
Albert Brooks – Mickey Barnes, Kip Chogi
Susan Davis – Ardeth Pratt
Casey Kasem – Tank Mallory, Dexter Carter
Nora Marlowe – Mother O’Hara
Michael Rye – Mike Wheeler

In 1968, Mattel decided to get into the die-cast car business, then-dominated for the last decade by Matchbox (which, interestingly enough, would come to be owned by Mattel decades later). Opting to produce more “tricked out” versions of cars in comparison to Matchbox’s true-to-life productions, Mattel began their Hot Wheels line. 16 cars (known as the Sweet Sixteen by collectors) were initially produced, with 11 of them designed by car designer Harry Bentley Bradley, as well as an orange track set to use the cars on.

1967 International Collector's catalogue.

With their bright paint jobs, dynamic design, and the accessories that came with the track—from a motored supercharger to a speedometer—the line proved more successful than anyone could have imagined. Especially to Bradley, who had his doubts and quit Mattel to go back to the car industry. For the next Hot Wheels wave, Bradley recommended his friend, fellow car designer Ira Gilford. Gilford ended up designing some of Hot Wheels’ greatest cars, and the 1969 line and accompanying track sets cemented Mattel’s dominance of the small toy car market.

Hot Wheels takes to the small screen. 

With their product line riding high, Mattel sought to expand their brand recognition by tapping into the growing television market. Developed by Ken Snyder, Fred Crippen and Eddie Smardan, and produced by Ken Snyder Properties with Pantomime Pictures, Hot Wheels became the first product-based series. It focused on the Hot Wheels Racing Club; a group of teenagers who worked on and raced cars under the supervision of Doc Warren (Bob Arbogast).

Ardeth, Jack, Janet and Mickey.

Jack “Rabbit” Wheeler (Arbogast) was the son of retired racing champ Mike Wheeler (Michael Rye) and the leader of the group. The other Hot Wheels included his girlfriend Janet Martin (Melinda Casey), apprentice mechanic Mickey Barnes, ambassador’s son Kip Chogi (both Albert Brooks), Wheeler’s Motors mechanic Tank Mallory (Kasem), and tomboy and wannabe racer Ardeth Pratt (Susan Davis). When not dealing with cars, the Hot Wheels hung out at Mother’s soda shop, run by Mother O’Hara (Nora Marlowe). Their primary rivals were Dexter’s Demons, led by former Hot Wheels member Dexter Carter (Casey Kasem). 

Dexter tries to recruit Ardeth.

It was intended to be everything Speed Racer was not with a focus on vehicle and driving safety from the Hot Wheels Club, juxtaposed by the scheming and recklessness of the Demons. The series aired on ABC for a single season beginning on September 6, 1969. However, it stayed on ABC’s schedule well into 1971. Each episode was broken up into two segments featuring a different story, and began with a cold open leading into the first segment. The theme was composed by Mike Curb, while Jack Fascinato did the series’ incidental music. Forward Records released the series’ soundtrack on LP.

Hot Wheels promo.

The show had reportedly undergone production before Mattel came on board to sponsor it, allowing the Hot Wheels name, and they probably would have been better off for it. During the show’s broadcast, rival toy companies filed complaints with the Federal Communications Commission that Hot Wheels was nothing more than a 30-minute commercial for the product (networks were only allowed 16 total minutes of children’s advertising per hour at the time). The FCC decided that all airings of the show should be partially logged as advertising time, despite ABC’s protests that the toys themselves were never actually advertised. After two years of scrutiny and fighting, ABC decided to pull the show.

Hot Wheels the comic.

During that time, DC Comics decided to capitalize on the popularity of the toys and produced a comic book series based on the show. The series only ran six issues, but it did feature some well-known talents working on it; including Alex Toth, Dick Giordano, Len Wein and Neal Adams. The first issue dealt with the formation of the Hot Wheels Club.

EPISODE GUIDE (synopses not available at this time):
“Sky Sailor / The Funny Money Caper” (9/6/69)

“Surf’s Up / The Family Car” (9/13/69)

“The Jewel / The Buggy Ride” (9/20/69)

“Hit and Run / Ardeth the Demon” (9/27/69) 

“Avalance Country / Tough Cop” (10/4/69) 

“Underground Rough Ride / Diamonds Are a Girl’s Worst Friend” (10/11/69) 

“Get Back on that Hoarse / Dragon’s Tooth Peak” (10/18/69) 

“Show-Off / Mata Hari Ardeth” (10/25/69) 

“The Winner / The Hot Head” (11/1/69) 

“Big Race / Fire Fighters” (11/8/69) 

“Fake Out Stake Out / Front Wheel Time Bomb” (11/15/69) 

“It Takes A Team / Like Father, Like Son” (11/22/69) 

“Danger Around the Clock / Hotter Than the Devils” (11/29/69) 

“Race to Space Monkey A-Okay / Big Heart, Little Hearts” (12/6/69) 

“Hitchhike to Danger / The Doc Warren Trophy Race” (12/13/69) 

“Drag Strip / Slicker-Slicks” (12/20/69) -

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