July 09, 2016

PROSTARS

PROSTARS
(NBC, September 14-December 7, 1991)


DiC Entertainment, Reteitalia, Telecinco

MAIN CAST:
Townsend Coleman – Wayne Gretzky
Dave Fennoy – Bo Jackson
Susan Silo – Mom
Diana Barrows – Denise
Wayne Gretzky – Himself (live)
Bo Jackson – Himself (live)

            Even if you weren’t a sports fan, chances are by 1991 you’ve heard of Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Bo Jackson.

Slammin'.

            Jordan is often regarded as one of the greatest basketball players of all time. A third overall draft pick for the Chicago Bulls in 1984, Jordan quickly emerged as a prolific scorer and defensive player, as well as a leaping ability that earned him the monikers “Air Jordan” and “His Airness”. By 1991, he won his first of six NBA championships with the Bulls on top of other awards and accolades. Jordan also became one of the most effectively marketed athletes of his generation, leading to the popularization of the NBA around the world by the time the 1990s rolled around.

A cool customer.

            Gretzky was a player for the NHL for 20 years between four different teams: the Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and The New York Rangers. Known as “The Great One” and regarded as the greatest hockey player ever, Gretzky became the leading scorer in NHL history achieving the feat of 200 points in one season four times. He also achieved a score of 100 points in 16 seasons, 14 of them being consecutive. Gretzky’s lasting contribution was by changing the scope of hockey to become more of a team-based sport; where each player on the ice was a partner in accomplishing the scoring of a goal. That strategy helped lead the Oilers to becoming the highest scoring team in the league.

Double threat.

            Jackson was a double-threat, being both a prolific football and baseball player at the same time. Jackson was initially selected in the 1986 NFL draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he opted to play baseball for the Kansas City Royals instead. Although the Buccaneers’ attempts at recruiting Jackson by sabotaging his baseball career briefly soured him on the sport, Jackson’s interest was piqued when he was drafted in 1987 by the Los Angeles Raiders and allowed to continue playing for the Royals. Jackson became an All-Star in both sports, gaining a lucrative merchandising deal with Nike for their “Bo Knows” campaign alongside Bo Diddley (the original commercial also featured cameos by Jordan and Gretzky). By 1991, a hip injury ended his football career and he was soon cut by the Royals. Jackson returned to baseball later that year with the Chicago White Sox.

Jackson, Jordan and Gretzky animated.

            With these three men at the heights of their careers by the time the 1990s rolled around, it was decided to use and combine their star power to conquer Saturday morning television, as well as spread the pro-social moral lessons the FCC so loved. The resulting show was ProStars, which depicted the three athletes as superheroes during their off-seasons utilizing a wide variety of sports-themed crime-fighting equipment. Gretzky had a previous association with something called “Pro Stars” in the form of a cereal by General Mills, which would go on to feature tie-in merchandise with the cartoon. Typically, the ProStars received a VHS from a kid who needed help somewhere in the world as their home was being threatened by an eccentrically-themed supervillain. Typically, instances of villainy would include environmental irresponsibility, thefts particularly of something sports-themed, or roughnecks terrorizing the populace.

Jackson and Gretzky in the live segments.

            Gretzky and Jackson appeared in brief live-action segments to set up the episode’s story for the audience, talk about the show’s moral lesson at the end, and answer questions from kids. The segments were edited together to make it seem like they were talking to each other in the same studio rather than in the separate locations where they were filmed. When it came to the actual program, their characters on the show were voiced by professional voice actors. Jordan (Dorian Harewood) was the leader of the group, displaying a high-level of intelligence and aptitude with complicated devices. Gretzky (Townsend Coleman, trying his best hand at a Canadian accent) was lacking in the intelligence department, played as the group’s comic relief and always obsessed with food. Jackson (Dave Fennoy) was the group’s strong-man with abilities approaching superhuman levels. Aiding the ProStars was Mom (Susan Silo), a Jewish mother stereotype who created all the gear the ProStars use on their missions. Mom’s attempts at demonstrating the ProStars’ new gear usually resulted in them going haywire and injuring their next door neighbors, although she has been shown to be able to handle her own against the ProStars. Her assistant was Denise (Diana Barrows) who wanted to help the ProStars but usually ended up accidentally causing trouble for them or getting abducted by the week’s foe. The ProStars headquarters was located on the top floor of Mom’s gym.

Mom, "large" and in charge.

            ProStars was initially a project made for ESPN, but the network decided to limit itself exclusively to live-action programming. The show ended up finding a new home on NBC beginning on September 14, 1991. To promote the series, it was featured in the promotional comic NBC Saturday Morning Comics by Harvey Comics along with the rest of the new shows debuting on NBC that year. Initially, the theme song was “We Are ProStars” by series composer Eric Allman, which was an homage to Queen’s “We Will Rock You”. Halfway through the series, the song was slowed down and altered slightly. The song also made reference to Jackson’s Nike campaign with the lyric “Bo knows everything” (Jackson’s character also frequently stated “Bo knows” during an episode). The show was produced by DiC Entertainment with animation handled by Sei Young Animation Co., Ltd., although the title sequence was animated by Canvas, Inc. and featured footage of the real-life stars in action.

On DVD.

            The series aired for a single season of 13 episodes, with the final being a clip show. If there were any chances of it being renewed for a second, they were dashed the moment the series was picked up by NBC. After the 1991-92 season, NBC decided to cash in on the success of Saved by the Bell by revamping their entire Saturday morning line-up to be more teen-oriented. They jettisoned all of their animated programming in favor of live action shows for the programming block dubbed Teen NBC (or TNBC). After the series ended, Buena Vista Home Video released episodes to VHS the following year. In 2007, NCircle Entertainment released three episodes on a DVD called Slam Dunking with the Airman. DHX Media, current owners of the DiC library, also published seven episodes to their DHX Retro YouTube channel.

Denise seems unsurprised that something went wrong.

            As for the pros themselves, Jordan continued to play basketball until 1993 when he would retire and go on to play minor league baseball for the Birmingham Barons as chronicled in the 1997 film Space Jam. The 1994-95 MLB strike led to Jordan quitting and returning to the Bulls in 1995 until he retired yet again in 1999. Jordan would return to play one final time with the Washington Wizards for two years beginning in 2001. Jordan’s #23 was permanently retired. Gretzky continued playing Hockey with two more teams until ultimately retiring in 1999. He was quickly inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, bypassing the standard three-year waiting period, and his #99 was retired league-wide. Jackson played for two years with the White Sox in 1991 and 1993, with his sitting out 1992 for his hip replacement surgery. Jackson finished his career with the California Angels in 1994, deciding to retire and focus on his family. 

EPISODE GUIDE:
“The Slugger Returns” (9/14/91) – Clockwork Delaronge uses remote-controlled robots in order to kidnap the Commissioner of Baseball.

“Short John’s Revenge” (9/21/91) – Short John Silver raids a Caribbean island for its recently-discovered pirate treasure.

“The Perbots of Dr. Lobe” (9/28/91) – Dr. Lobe challenges the ProStars in a game against his Perbots for the fate of a girl named Jill.

“Knightmare Riders” (10/5/91) – The ProStars are called to Scotland to rescue a community from the Ghost Riders of Sir Vitus.

“Valley of the Snow Falcon” (10/12/91) – Ice Mancuso plans to hide diamond masks in a mysterious kingdom in the Himalayas.

“Brazil Nuts” (10/19/91) – Captain Nemo Ipanema’s mining operation is destroying the Brazilian rainforest in his bid to control the world’s supply of Amazonite.

“Block Busters” (10/26/91) – Paulie Sludger sets his sights on buying a neighborhood for his next toxic waste dumping operation.

“Gargantus and the Highway of Doom” (11/2/91) – Sheila asks the ProStars to come to Australia to stop Gargantus and his gang, and rescue her brother from their ranks.

“Rustler’s Rodeo” (11/9/91) – A gangster tries to keep Dusty Boots from winning a rodeo and the prize money needed to pay off his family’s ranch.

“Roll to Victory” (11/16/91) – The ProStars have to keep the Pontiac Hoods from letting a basketball charity be closed down.

“A Bite of the Big Apple” (11/23/91) – The ProStars are sent out to find an archaeologist who disappeared.

“Clockwork Catastrophe” (11/30/91) – The ProStars have to retrieve the Stanley Cup from Clockwork Delaronge.

“The Final Cut” (12/7/91) – Mom challenges the ProStars’ efficiency and they try to prove her wrong by recounting past adventures.

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