May 05, 2018

THE THING


THE THING
(NBC, September 22-December 15, 1979)

Hanna-Barbera Productions




MAIN CAST:
Wayne Morton – Benjy Grimm
Noelle North – Kelly Harkness
Marilyn Schreffer – Betty Harkness, Miss Twilly
John Erwin – Ronald Radford
Art Metrano – Spike
Michael Sheehan – Turkey
John Stephenson – Dr. Harkness, Stretch, various


            Team-ups in comics are not an uncommon thing. In fact, Marvel Comics had two ongoing books dedicated exclusively to the concept. However, when Hanna-Barbera decided to team-up a Marvel character with some of their characters, it was a bit misleading.

The ever-lovin' blue-eyed Thing.


            In 1979, DePatie-Freleng was trying to maintain its hold on the Fantastic Four license after the abject failure of their series The New Fantastic Four. They pitched an idea to NBC’s Fred Silverman about a spin-off show where Ben Grimm would travel from town to town, transforming into the Thing to help people (similar to the hit CBS series The Incredible Hulk). At the same time, Hanna-Barbera was pitching a show featuring Archie Comics-styled teenagers where one of them could change into a monster leading to hilarious results. Silverman liked the Hanna-Barbera proposal, but felt it would be more successful with a recognizable monster instead of an original creation. A deal was struck, allowing Hanna-Barbera the use of the Thing in their series, which ultimately ended up being an amalgamation of both studio’s pitches.

Thing Rings doing their thing.

            The Thing centered around the titular character (Joe Baker, with some inspiration from Jimmy Durante) going to scientist Dr. Harkness (John Stephenson) for a way to transform back to human form permanently. Although the cure worked, he was now the teenaged pipsqueak Benjy Grimm (Wayne Morton) instead of an adult test pilot (or the football player he was in the comics pre-transformation). Benjy could still access his previous persona thanks to a pair of rings which, when put together with the phrase “Thing ring, do your thing!”, caused Benjy’s rocky visage to gather around him. Benjy stayed with Harkness as he worked to find a permanent cure for his condition that wouldn’t also diminish his age any further. While the Thing still sported his blue trunks and still declared himself “The idol o’ millions” (amongst other signature phrases), no mention was ever made of his time with the Fantastic Four.

Spike and Turkey causing some trouble.

            Benjy attended Centerville High School with Harkness’ daughters Betty (Marilyn Schreffer) and Kelly (Noelle North), the latter of which knew Benjy’s secret identity. Betty’s personality was very inconsistent, ranging from one of Benjy’s friends to a spoiled and shallow girl that could barely tolerate him (ironically, she was a big fan of the Thing) and used his crush on her to get her way. Benjy often clashed with Betty’s snobby boyfriend, Ronald (John Erwin), who would play mean-spirited pranks on him. The kids were often in the company of their scatterbrained teacher/principal, Miss Twilly (also Schreffer). Thing would often be called upon to solve general problems, such as Miss Twilly stepping onto a runaway push cart or a gas truck stalled on railroad tracks, or to deal with the shenanigans of the Yancy Street Gang. The Gang, often depicted in the comics as a group of often-unseen juveniles that tortured Thing whenever he visited his old neighborhood were reimagined as a biker gang comprised of the Napoleonic Spike (Art Metrano), the bulky Turkey (Michael Sheehan) and the scrawny Stretch (Stephenson).

TV Guide ad for the show.

            Now, as for the misleading team-up mentioned earlier, The Thing wasn’t broadcast as its own show. Instead, it was in the hour-long package show Fred and Barney Meet the Thing along with The New Fred and Barney Show, a spin-off of The Flintstones. Despite the title, Fred and Barney never interacted with the Thing outside of the opening title sequence and commercial bumpers. Fred and Barney Meet the Thing debuted on NBC on September 22, 1979. Two Thing segments aired during the second half hour of the program for a total of 13 episodes. On December 8, the show was expanded to 90-minutes to included the recently-cancelled show The New Shmoo and was renamed Fred and Barney Meet the Shmoo. Once again, all of the featured characters only interacted in the opening and the commercial bumpers.

Thing Rings do their thing...in comics!

            Fred and Barney Meet the Shmoo continued on in reruns through November of 1980 when it was replaced by The Flintstone Comedy Show. DePatie-Freleng would go on to become Marvel Productions in 1981, working on the next decade’s worth of Marvel-based properties. While reruns would air on Cartoon Network, The Thing wouldn’t return to television until 1994’s Fantastic Four by Marvel Films and was part of Roger Corman’s unreleased low-budget Fantastic Four film. In 2013, the Fantastic Four were temporarily replaced by the Future Foundation comprised of Ant-Man, She-Hulk, the Inhuman Medusa and new character Darla Deering, a purple-haired rock star that once dated the Human Torch. Deering became the reluctant superhero Miss Thing when she was given the ability to summon an exosuit that resembled Thing’s body in the same manner as the cartoon in FF vol. 2 #8 by Matt Fraction and Michael Allred.



EPISODE GUIDE:
“The Picnic Panic / Bigfoot Meets the Thing” (9/22/79) – The Yancy Street Gang cause a distraction so that they can steal the food from the picnic. / The Yancy Street gang use a Bigfoot costume to terrorize the local ski resort, not knowing the actual Bigfoot is nearby.

“Junkyard Hijinks / Gone Away Gulch” (9/29/79) – Benjy and Kelly decide to clean up an abandoned lot for a playground, but the Yancy Street Gang likes it as is. / The kids end up stuck in a ghost town where an obsessive prospector dangerously searches for treasure.

“Circus Stampede / The Thing and the Queen” (10/6/79) – The Yancy Street Gang causes trouble when the circus comes to town, resulting in the animals breaking free. / Betty plans to run for homecoming queen, but the Yancy Street Gang plans to make sure their girls win.

“Carnival Caper / The Thing Blanks Out” (10/13/79) – A crooked carnival owner wants to sign the Thing as an attraction. / When a drawbridge conks Thing on the head, he loses his memory just as his friends are stranded on a boat in front of a breaking dam.

“The Thing Meets the Clunk / Beach Party Crashers” (10/20/79) – A scientist’s well-meaning robot causes chaos around the city. / The Yancy Street Gang decides to play tricks on the kids at the beach.

“Decepto the Great / The Thing’s the Play” (10/27/79) – The magician hired for the school bazaar ends up being a thief who steals during his act. / The kids go to a delusional acting coach who believes Betty is his favorite actress and the key to his big comeback.

“Double Trouble for the Thing / To Thing or Not to Thing” (11/3/79) – A robot double frames Thing for its crimes. / A new attempt at a cure leads to the Thing transforming in uncontrollable and strange ways.

“The Big Bike Race / The Thing and the Treasure Hunt” (11/10/79) – Benjy enters a bike race where Betty serves as the race queen. / A day of boating leads the kids to discover a treasure map.

“Out to Launch / The Day the Ring Didn’t do a Thing” (11/17/79) – A jilted city employee threatens the launch of a ship from the new shipyards. / While on a fossil hunt, Benjy removes one of his rings and it ends up in the hands of Spike.

“A Hot Air Affair at the Fair / The Thing Goes to the Dogs” (11/24/79) – Benjy, Ronald and Spike compete in a hot air balloon race. / The Yancy Street Gang plans to scare Ronald by stealing his father’s prized dog from the dog show.

“The Thing Goes Camping / Dude Ranch Rodeo” (12/1/79) – Miss Twilly takes the kids on a camping trip. / The Yancy Street gang causes trouble at a rodeo.

“Photo Finish / Lights, Action, Thing!” (12/8/79) – Ronald, Spike and Benjy compete in the zoo’s photo contest. / The kids get jobs working on the movie that a jilted stuntman would do anything to disrupt.

“The Thing and the Captain’s Ghost / The Thing and the Absent-Minded Inventor” (12/15/79) – The Yancy Street Gang challenges the kids to confront a ghost story in order to scare them. / The kids help Miss Twilly’s absent-minded uncle get to the annual inventor’s convention.

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