September 12, 2015

LAZER TAG ACADEMY

LAZER TAG ACADEMY
(NBC, September 13-December 6, 1986)


Ruby-Spears Productions, Worlds of Wonder, Productions II, Inc.

MAIN CAST:
Noelle Harling – Jamie Jaren
Booker Bradshaw – Draxon Drear
Christina MacGregor – Beth Jaren
Billy Jayne – Tom Jaren
R.J. Williams – Nicky Jaren
Pat Fraley – Charlie Ferguson, Skuggs
Sid McCoy – Professor Olanga
Tress MacNeille – Genna Jaren
Frank Welker – Andrew Jaren, Skuggs, Ralphie, various
Don LaFontaine – Opening narration

After the fall of Atari in 1983, a couple of its employees—particularly Don Kingsborough and Mark Robert Goldberg—went off to create their own toy company: Worlds of Wonder (or WoW). Their first big hit came in 1985 when they licensed the rights to produce and sell Teddy Ruxpin. In 1986, they had their next big hit with Lazer Tag.


In 1977, George Carter III was inspired by the original Star Wars to create an arena-based scored game where players would use “lasers” to tag each other. In 1982, Carter began the process of designing what would become his Photon arenas. The first opened in 1984 in Dallas, Texas and quickly began to expand around the country.



As the laser tag craze grew, WoW developed their own version of the game in Lazer Tag so that people could play anywhere and not just in specified arenas. It featured a futuristic-looking gun known as the “StarLyte pistol” and a chest harness that held a “StarSensor” affixed with Velcro. Players would shoot their guns at each other, hoping the laser from the gun would connect to the sensor on the harness, indicating that their opponent was tagged.  Gradually, new accessories were introduced into the line. They created a StarCap that allowed a player to take head-shots, a StarVest which was a fancier version of the harness, an upgrade of the Cap called the StarHelmet, a StarBase to serve multiple functions during a game, StarTalk walkie talkies, and a StarLyte Pro rifle. Several months prior, Photon released their own home version of laser tag.



With a new craze on the rise, it was only natural for the concept to be somehow brought to television. Again, simultaneously, DiC Entertainment produced a live-action show based on Carter’s business called Photon that aired in syndication. WoW partnered with Ruby-Spears Productions to bring Lazer Tag Academy to Saturday mornings.

Beth and Jamie Jaren.

In the near-utopian future of 3010, Lazer Tag had become a national pastime with frequent competitions between the students at the academy. Jamie Jaren (Noelle Harling) was the Lazer Tag Champion, able to make her weapon, the StarLyte, do whatever she wanted it to with her mind due to a special power possessed by those in her bloodline. It could be a blaster, levitate objects, almost anything.

Drear and the Skuggs.

Trouble came when her teacher, Professor Olanga (Sid McCoy), and his team uncovered a sunken vessel that contained Draxon Drear (Booker Bradshaw) and a group of defective genetically engineered humanoid servants called Skuggs (Pat Fraley and Frank Welker) in suspended animation. Olanga revived Drear and the Skuggs, and discovered that Drear was a distant relative of Jamie’s. What he didn’t know was that Drear was also a criminal from the year 2061, and upon learning how to control the StarLyte, he sent himself and the Skuggs back in time after the creator of the StarLyte technology: Jamie’s ancestor Beth Jaren (Christina MacGregor).

Jamie with Beth and Nicky in the 20th Century.

Jamie followed Drear back to the late 20th Century and befriended Beth, along with her brothers Tom (Billy Jayne) and Nicky (R.J. Williams), and their dog Ralphie (Welker). Jamie posed as a foreign exchange student in order to live with her relatives, leaving the elder Jarens, Andrew (Welker) and Jenna (Tress MacNeille), fairly oblivious to their activities. Together, they followed Drear through time to prevent his plans of world domination from succeeding. When an emergency arose or some occasional guidance was needed, Jamie and Olanga could contact each other through various devices temporarily turned into holographic communicators.


The series ran on NBC for a single season of 13 episodes beginning on September 13, 1986. Notable announcer Don LaFontaine provided the opening narration for the series, giving viewers a quick recap of the story, over the theme music composed by Shuki Levy and Haim Saban. In 1993, the series returned to syndication in reruns on the Sci-Fi Channel. Likely due to licensing, the series was renamed Laser Patrol and given a new opening.  

The Lazer Tag competitions.

Celebrity Home Entertainment released three VHS tapes containing several episodes of the series. Lazer Tag Academy: The Movie was released in 1989 and featured an abridged version of the first episode combined with “Sir Tom of Jaren,” “Redbeard’s Treasure,” “The Olanga Story” and “Jamie and the Spitfires.” Also released in 1989 was Lazer Tag Academy: Champion’s Biggest Challenge which featured the complete first episode and “Skugg Duggery.” Unlike the prior release, both episodes were presented in their original formats instead of being made into a single story. The final VHS in 1991 was named for the single episode it contained, The Battle Hymn of the Jarens. Curtains and sheets featuring the characters were produced, as was a View-Master set (although the Academy name was less prominent in favor of the brand’s name).

Drear mastering the StarLyte pistol.

Things soon took a dark turn for Lazer Tag and WoW. In April of 1987, someone had seen a group of college kids playing a night game of Lazer Tag around Central Elementary School in San Bernardino County, California. They called the police reporting suspicious activity and a deputy came to investigate. One of the players, Leonard Falcon, mistook the deputy for one of his opponents and “fired” upon him. The deputy, not knowing it was a toy, responded in kind—with real ammunition.

Tiger Electronics' version of Lazer Tag.

The negative press surrounding Falcon’s death, coupled with lower than expected sales and the stock market crash of 1987 led to WoW to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection; a contributing factor in the cartoon’s cancellation. By 1988, the company’s assets were being liquidated and by 1990, WoW was no more. The year prior, Photon also shut down as the fad has passed. Shortly after their dissolution, Shoot The Moon Products purchased the Lazer Tag name and licensed it to Tiger Electronics, who began producing their own line from 1996-98. Hasbro soon acquired the license in 2004 and began producing Lazer Tag under their Nerf banner, as well as developed apps to make smart devices compatible with the game. Similarly, there had been a resurgence of laser tag arenas and even competitions, clubs and events around the world featuring the game.

EPISODE GUIDE:
“The Beginning” (9/13/86) – Unknowingly reviving criminal Draxon Drear, Jamie Jaren follows him back in time to protect her ancestors from him.

“Skuggg Duggery” (9/20/86) – Drear creates a device that he intends to use to turn the Jarens into Skuggs.

“Yamoto’s Curse” (9/27/86) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE

“Pay Dirt” (10/4/86) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE

“Charles’ Science Prioject” (10/11/86) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE

“The Witch Switch” (10/18/86) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE

“The Olanga Story” (10/25/86) – Drear goes back in time to kidnap Olanga’s ancestor and ensure he’ll never be born.

“The Battle Hymn of Jaren’s” (11/1/86) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE

“Sir Tom of Jaren” (11/8/86) – Rejected for a date, Tom heads to the 6th Century and ends up getting himself in trouble with King Arthur’s court.

“Redbeard’s Treasure” (11/15/86) – Jamie decides to help an old sea captain find an ancient treasure by traveling back to the year his map was made.

“Drear’s Doll” (11/22/86) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE

“StarLyte on the Orient Express” (11/29/86) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE

“Jamie and the Spitfires” (12/6/86) – Drear returns to the future and takes over a gang of rogue academy students in order to help him infiltrate and conquer the school.

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