July 11, 2020
(CBS, September 12-December 5, 1981)
George DiCenzo – John Blackstar
Patrick Pinney – Klone, Balkar, Terra
Linda Gary – Mara, Taleena, Amber, Storm, Leilanna, various
Frank Welker – Rif, Burble, Gossamear
Alan Oppenheimer – Carpo, Overlord, Vizier, Shaldemar, Nihilis, Kadray, Neptul, Typhot, Ciros, various
Producer Lou Scheimer wanted to inject a little fantasy into Filmation’s slate, and CBS wanted something to compete with ABC’s hit series Thundarr the Barbarian. Those things ultimately led to the creation and acquisition of Blackstar.
|Mara, Klone, Blackstar and the Trobbits.|
Blackstar centered on astronaut John Blackstar (George DiCenzo), who on a routine space mission was sucked into a black hole and emerged on the alien world of Sagar. He was rescued and cared for by a clan of Trobbits (a combination of “troll” and “hobbit”); pink-skinned inhabitants of the Sgar Tree. They were comprised of Balkar (Patrick Pinney, in his first work for Filmation), the king and elemental mage; Rif (Frank Welker), a grumpy chef; Terra (Pinney), a gardener that talked to plants; Burble (Welker), a babbler who liked swimming; Carpo (Alan Oppenheimer), a carpenter who worked with his beaver-like teeth; Gossamear (Welker), a flying scout with huge ears; and Poulo, the youngest of the clan and a mute who communicated by whistling.
|Overlord and the Power Sword.|
The planet was under constant tyranny by the evil Overlord (Oppenheimer) and his minions, who wanted to acquire the PowerStar to make him the absolute ruler. The PowerStar was broken in half into two swords: the Power Sword, which Overlord possessed, and the Star Sword, which ended up in Blackstar’s hands. The swords imbued their wielders with enhanced physical attributes and the ability to absorb, store, reflect or blast energy. Blackstar pledged to aid in the battle against Overlord with the aid of Mara (Linda Gary), a centuries-old enchantress, Klone (Pinney), a quick-witted shape shifter, and Warlock, a dragon that served as Blackstar’s mount.
|Blackstar riding Warlock.|
Blackstar debuted on CBS on September 12, 1981. Scheimer compared the concept to a combination of Flash Gordon and John Carter of Mars. Initially, Blackstar was depicted as an African-American man, but was changed to a lighter skin tone of unknown heritage (some speculate he was meant to be Native American). Popular accounts say this change was dictated by the network, who also asked that the Trobbits be changed from a trio of blue-skinned grotesque creatures into the cute beings they became. The series was written by Robby London, Martin Pasko, Michael Reaves, Tom Ruegger and Marc Scott Zicree, with music by Ray Ellis (as Yvette Blais) and Norm Prescott (as Jeff Michael). The characters were designed by Kevin Frank, Tim Gula, Mel Keefer and Janice Stocks. The first episode’s script indicated what each character should sound like: Blackstar as James Garner or Han Solo, Mara as Greta Garbo or Carole Lombard, Balkar as Orson Welles, Carpo as Wally Cox, Gossamear as Mickey Mouse, Rif as Walter Brennan, Burble as Goofy, and Overlord as Darth Vader.
Blackstar ultimate only lasted a single season, but the story didn’t end there. The series ended up being a bigger hit overseas, spawning a standard and 3-D board game in France, as well as two comic adaptations: a 3-episode series in the magazine Pif-Gadget from Editions Vaillant, and a one-shot by Editions LUG. The episodic story departed from the show a bit by introducing original villains, a new Earth girlfriend for Blackstar, and the fact Blackstar had some amnesia from his landing allowing him to forget said girlfriend and become romantically involved with Mara. In 1983, in order to compete with Mattel’s Masters of the Universe toyline (which Filmation would also make the cartoon for utilizing some concepts from Blackstar), Galoob licensed the Blackstar characters to make a series of standard and sparking (dubbed “laser light”) action figures, vehicles and Overlord’s Ice Castle. The toys weren’t as successful as Galoob hoped and were discontinued in 1985.
|Blackstar complete series DVD.|
In keeping with its international popularity, the series saw several VHS releases in various countries, primarily by Select Video. Entertainment Rights, the then-owners of the Filmation library, licensed BCI Eclipse to release the complete series onto DVD in 2006. In 2008, several of the episodes were included on the compilation DVD set Heroes and Heroines. In 2007, Boulevard Entertainment released 3 DVDs containing two episodes each in the United Kingdom. The remaining episodes were never released as Boulevard went into bankruptcy.
“Search for the Starsword” (9/12/81) – The Lava Locs steal the Starsword and bring it to Overlord.
“City of the Ancient Ones” (9/19/81) – Overlord frees a sorceress and hypnotizes her to bring him to the lost scroll of the ancient ones.
“The Lord of Time” (9/26/81) – A timelord turns the Sagar Tree into an acorn he hopes to use to reactivated the Fountain of Fire.
“The Mermaid of Serpent Sea” (10/3/81) – Captain Typhod and the Phantom Sailor attack the Merminites and steal their food.
“The Quest” (10/10/81) – Blackstar seeks a healing stone to cure a Trobbit who ingested poison.
“Spacewrecked” (10/17/81) – Blackstar’s lover arrives with an interdimensional ship to bring him home, but Overlord takes her hostage.
“Lightning City of the Clouds” (10/24/81) – Overlord has Crios the Ice-King steal Leelana’s key to springtime to keep Sagar in eternal winter.
“Kingdom of Neptul” (10/31/81) – Blackstar and his friends end up in the undersea kingdom of Aquaria where one of Overlord’s minions have captured the Flame People.
“Tree of Evil” (11/7/81) – Blackstar and Klone are trapped by an evil duplicate of the Sagar Tree.
“The Air Whales of Anchar” (11/14/81) – Unbalanced after a fight, Blackstar has to get the Starsword repaired before it explodes and takes out the planet with it.
“The Overlord’s Big Spell” (11/21/81) – Overlord creates a monster infused with all of Sagar’s magic only to have it turn on him and force him to work with Blackstar to stop it.
“The Crown of the Sorceress” (11/28/81) – Blackstar offers to escort a princess back to her kingdom--one Mara and Balkar have never heard of.
“The Zombie Masters” (12/5/81) – The city of Zombies attacks and the Zombie Master enslaves Princess Luwena, Mara and Poulo.
July 04, 2020
As we always do around this time of year, we're celebrating the anniversaries of the various Saturday morning programs (at least at an interval of 5). But this is the biggest anniversary yet as it comes as part of our 70 Years of Saturday Mornings celebration. Join us as we celebrate the greatest day of our weeks across generations!
As you take this walk down memory lane with us, feel free to share your memories in the comments, or over on our Facebook group or Facebook page. And don't forget to follow us on Twitter! We'd love to hear from you!
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CHESTER THE PUP
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SATURDAY AT THE ZOO
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THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN
(ABC, October 4, 1980-October 31, 1981)
Robert Ridgely – Thundarr
Henry Corden – Ookla the Mok, Caroc Leader, Gemini, Vortak, Skullus, Captain Willows, various
Nellie Bellflower – Princess Ariel
Dick Tufeld – Narrator
This was probably the darkest cartoon in Ruby-Spears’ library. Hell, it was probably the darkest on Saturday mornings at the time.
|Ghosts of a fallen civilization.|
Created by comic book writer Steve Gerber, Thundarr the Barbarian combined a liberal dose of sword and sorcery with a good measure of Star Wars. The series was set in the future circa 3994, 2000 years after a runaway planet destroyed the moon and caused massive earthquakes to flood Earth and destroy civilization as we know it (this destruction kicked off in the not-too-far-off year of 1994). The planet was reborn as New Earth, with humanity reduced to a form of savagery with some limited science remaining. A legion of powerful evil wizards has used their magic to conquer various parts of New Earth, often terrorizing the simple people and mutated creatures there.
|Model sheet of Ookla, Thundarr and Ariel.|
The titular Thundarr (Robert Ridgely) was a barbarian in the vein of Conan who travelled across the land by horse, along with his friends Princess Ariel (Nellie Bellflower) and Ookla the Mok (Henry Corden), a beastly humanoid with fangs and yellow eyes. Thundarr was the typical barbarian character, once a slave of the wizard Sabian until Ariel, who was his stepdaughter, freed him. He wielded an energy sword called the Sunsword that was capable of deflecting magical and energy attacks. The sword’s magical nature meant only Thundarr could use it, however their link could be broken. Ariel was a powerful sorceress in her own right, however her magic became useless when her wrists were bound together. She spent a lot of time in Sabian’s library learning about Earth’s history. Ookla was a character mandated by the network, likely to appeal to the Star Wars crowd based on his similarities to Chewbacca in appearance and the fact he used a crossbow. His name was based on UCLA, coined by Gerber’s friend Martin Pasko when they were passing the campus one day after discussing the character. Thundarr and Ariel both understood Ookla’s growling communication.
|There's still some life left in the old girl.|
Thundarr the Barbarian debuted on ABC on October 4, 1980. The series was written by Pasko, Buzz Dixon, Mark Evanier, Ted Pedersen, Christopher Vane, Roy Thomas, Bill Wray and Jeffrey Scott with music by Dean Elliott. Gerber served as story editor for the first season, with Pasko taking over the second. Initially, Alex Toth was contracted to design the look of the show, but had to bow out of the production after completing the main characters. At the suggestion of Gerber and Evanier, legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby was brought on to design everything else. In fact, ABC was on the fence about buying the show until Ruby-Spears had Kirby do several large presentation pieces that ended up convincing them. The series’ animation was done by XAM! Productions (formed by eX-Ahern-Marshall employees), who snuck their initials onto various backgrounds, and Dong Seo Animation.
|Some of Jack Kirby's work on the series.|
Thundarr scored respectable ratings, earning high enough to justify two seasons. In fact, it could have gotten a third. However, ABC still wasn’t a fan of the show and moved it around their schedule a lot. Therefore, it was no surprise when the network jumped at the opportunity to eliminate it in order to clear up room on the schedule for Laverne & Shirley in the Army. As Garry Marshall had three major hits on the network with Happy Days and its two spin-offs, they were all too happy to free up the time in order to expand upon that success via Saturday morning.
|Evil wizards aplenty.|
Not much merchandise for the series was released during its initial run. Kirby illustrated two weeks’ worth of comic strips for potential syndication, but the project never went forward as one-off gag strips were more favorable in the limited space available. One of the Sunday strips was later printed in The Jack Kirby Collector. Similarly, Ruby-Spears partnered with Gold Key Comics to publish a comic book series. Unfortunately, at that time Gold Key was undergoing a change in ownership and distribution methods, as well as being renamed Whitman. By the time things settled enough to resurrect the Thundarr comic, the show had already been cancelled and Whitman scrapped the idea. Golden Books, which shared an ownership with Whitman, did succeed in publishing a coloring book in 1982, and Milton Bradley also released a board game. In 2003, among a wave of nostalgia for older cartoons, Tonyami released action figures of Thundarr, Ariel and Ookla, as well as I-Men figures of Thundarr and Ariel (mistakenly as part of their Hanna-Barbera Superstars line).
|Ooklah, Ariel and Thundarr in live-action on NBC.|
Once the series left ABC, it moved on to NBC for a series of reruns beginning in 1983. As part of their Saturday morning preview special for the year, dubbed the 1st Annual Yummy Awards (where faux trophies full of ice cream were given to Saturday morning winners), live-action actors dressed up as the Thundarr characters to receive their award. From 1994-2004, the series aired on Cartoon Network, as well as its sister station, Boomerang, beginning in 2002. In 1986, Worldvision Home Video released the first episode to VHS, as well as a 5-episode collection from season two entitled Escape to the New World. In 2010, Warner Home Video released the first episode as part of the compilation Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1980s Volume 1, which was then re-released as part of the complete compilation collection in 2018. The complete series was also released in 2010 as part of the Hanna-Barbera Classics Collection.
Thundarr managed to leave a lasting impression on its audience; something that was explored as they got older. A band in New York named themselves Ookla the Mok after the show’s character. Death metal band Morbid Angel’s album, Kingdoms Disdained, was inspired by the series. The episode “One Watson, One Holes” of the CBS series Elementary referenced the show and it factored a bit into the story. In the short-lived Image comic book series Fairlady by Brian Schirmer, Claudia Balboni and Shari Chankhamma, three characters in the third issue were directly inspired by Thundarr’s main characters.
“Secret of the Black Pearl” (10/4/80) – The heroes escort a man who carries a magic pearl to defend the village of Manhat from the two-faced wizard Gemini.
“Harvest of Doom” (10/11/80) – The heroes have to stop a train full of hypnotic flowers from reaching an evil wizard.
“Mindok the Mind Menace” (10/18/80) – General Zoa and his minions help wizard Mindok find a group of frozen scientists to give him a new body for his preserved brain.
“Raiders of the Abyss” (10/25/80) – Morag and his raiders attack a village to steal its inhabitants’ life essence.
“Treasure of the Moks” (11/1/80) – The heroes have to defend the Moks from River Pirates who want their treasure.
“Attack of the Amazon Women” (11/8/80) – The heroes have to help the amphibious Amazons stop a half-human, half-shark wizard from conquering both the land and sea.
“The Brotherhood of Night” (11/15/80) – The Brotherhood of Night set their sights on evil wizard Infernus in the hopes that infecting him will make the pack invincible.
“Challenge of the Wizards” (11/22/80) – The heroes are caught in the middle of a competition for the Helmet of Power, putting Thundarr on the side of an evil wizard.
“Valley of the Man Apes” (11/29/80) – The Man Apes use a recovered Hollywood robot gorilla to terrorize the local villagers.
“Stalker from the Stars” (12/6/80) – An alien vampire lands on Earth and takes Princess Ariel and a village prisoner to use them as food.
“Portal Into Time” (12/13/80) – The heroes travel back in time to recover replacement parts needed for the machines the tribe at the Alamo use to defend against the evil wizard Crom.
“Battle of the Barbarians” (12/20/80) – Evil wizard Kublai seeks a scepter that can steal his power and enlists the aid of another barbarian to keep Thundarr busy.
“Den of the Sleeping Demon” (12/27/80) – A wizard’s former slave seeks to awaken a demon that will allegedly grant him the power of 1,000 wizards.
“Wizard Wars” (9/12/81) – A wizard enslaves a village and uses them to attack his rival.
“Fortress of Fear” (9/19/81) – The heroes are captured when trying to rescue a slave by a wizard who wants Princess Ariel as his bride.
“Island of the Body Snatchers” (9/26/81) – Investigating shipwrecks on a mysterious island leads Princess Ariel to have her body switched with a witch cursed to remain on the island.
“City of Evil” (10/3/81) – Sarott needs the Gauntlet of Power to restore the size of a city of thieves in return for their leader granting him use of their army to enslave humans.
“Last Train to Doomsday” (10/10/81) – Gemini returns in disguise in order to enact his revenge on the heroes.
“Master of the Stolen Sunsword” (10/17/81) – A battle leaves the Sunsword diminished and the wizard Yando steals it to make its power his own.
“Trial by Terror” (10/24/81) – Thundarr has to prove his friend innocent of stealing a village’s fuel supply.
“Prophecy of Peril” (10/31/81) – Evil wizard Vashtarr uses the Crystal of Prophecy to learn that three women will unite to destroy him.
The 1980s saw a veritable boom in television animation. FCC regulations became more relaxed, meaning studios could partner up with toy manufacturers once again to produce shows based on their products. The syndication market, where studios could sell directly to independent stations, became very attractive because without the same FCC guidelines and network standards and practices, they were able to exert more creative freedom in their productions. Anime became appealing as they could be imported from Japan, edited to American television standards, dubbed and aired at a fraction of the cost of producing an all-new show (even though the short run of some anime resulted in new episodes having to be commissioned from the Japanese studio). The rise in home video also opened up a new avenue for distribution deals and new profits from selling episodes of favorite programs.
|Marvel Productions replaced DePatie-Freleng on the airwaves.|
As a result of this boom, the number of studios rose from four—Hanna-Barbera, Filmation, DePatie-Freleng and Ruby-Spears—to around 30. You had DiC Enterprises ushered in from France by Hanna-Barbera alum Andy Heyward; Sunbow Entertainment, who would oversee the production of various properties based on Hasbro toys; Bagdasarian Productions resurrecting their Chipmunks franchise; Murakami-Wolf-Swenson made their mark licensing the hottest independent comic to date, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; Nelvana, who would drag themselves up from a struggling animation studio into a full-out production company; Saban Entertainment finding their niche of importing and dubbing shows, although their biggest hit wouldn’t come until the following decade; and others. DePatie-Freleng bowed out early, with Marvel Productions rising from its ashes and often partnering with Sunbow.
|Here comes Disney!|
And, of course, one of the two big dogs entered the fray: Disney. Disney would produce television animation in both syndication and on the networks. With their massive financial capabilities, they were able to make shows that looked near theatrical quality. Certainly, better than anything the others were putting out with the exchange rate of the Japanese yen forcing them to find alternative, cheaper countries to outsource their animation work to. Warner Bros. would also resurrect their animation division, but their first television offering wouldn’t hit until 1990.
|The rise in VCR technology meant TV could be viewed at any time anywhere.|
ABC, CBS and NBC weren’t having all that easy a time either. Syndication meant that advertisers were now being pulled in two directions and the networks weren’t making as much money on their programming. Not to mention that cable and satellite television were beginning to rise in popularity, offering audiences even more channels with many catered to a particular market. And, towards the end of the decade, a brand-new network—FOX—would launch and give them all a run for their money, being unafraid to take risks with their programming. All of those viewing alternatives, plus home video sales, meant that children could now watch cartoons in more places at more times. Saturday morning was slowly becoming a less viable proposition.
|Muppet Babies ushered in the new trend of babyfication.|
The studios took advantage of every trick they could. The unparalleled success of Filmation’s He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, based on the Mattel toyline, not only made syndication seem attractive to the other studios, but the partnership between toy companies and animation as well. Licenses for other Mattel properties, as well as Hasbro, Tyco and others were snatched up and turned into programs. Further driving studios towards syndication was the success of DiC’s Inspector Gadget. While the networks largely shied away from the toy-based cartoons, they eagerly embraced ones based on the growing video game market. The surprising box office of Nelvana’s The Care Bears Movie inspired other studios to look into doing theatrical films for their franchises. Celebrities continued to be a draw for the studios looking to attract their fans, resulting in the likes of Gary Coleman, Mr. T, Martin Short and John Candy getting their own cartoons. As the 80s marked the rise of the Hollywood summer blockbuster, movies became fodder for animated shows. One movie in particular, The Muppets Take Manhattan, inspired a whole new trend: babyfication, the process of taking a previously established character and de-aging them.
|Lou Scheimer's goodbye letter to Filmation employees that would run as a full-page ad in Hollywood Reporter and Variety.|
But, with every boom there must come a bust. And bust the animation industry did. The syndication market quickly became saturated with more product than the stations had available air time. Most of that product was action-adventure programs that little to distinguish themselves from each other, driving audiences towards more comedic and cutesy fare simply because it was different. Reruns of The Smurfs were outperforming anything new! Toy companies began to learn that a hit show doesn’t necessarily equal toy sales, and since toys were their business they gradually began to pull out of showbusiness. The Care Bears Movie’s success turned out to be a fluke more than the indication of a trend, as the subsequent programs-to-movies fared poorly. The biggest casualty of all was that Filmation was sold to new owners who promptly shut the studio down early in 1989.
|Rubik, the Amazing Cube was definitely one of the more questionable ones...|
The 1980s were a turbulent time for animation, full of highs and lows. While you can argue that the animation itself wasn’t always great, there was no denying that the studios made full use of their newfound creative freedom to churn out some inspired, weird (and sometimes questionable) programs.
June 30, 2020
You can read the full story here.
More known for his various television shows and movies, the legendary funnyman has lent his voice to a few projects. Among them was Prometheus in an episode of Hercules: The Animated Series, Santa Claus in an episode of The Penguins of Madagascar and Shimmer and Shine, Captain Treasure Tooth in Jake and the Never Land Pirates, and the wizard Shazam in an episode of Justice League Action.
June 27, 2020
Saturday Morning Preview Specials were prime-time showcases for the upcoming Saturday morning season on the networks. They were typically hosted by stars from the network's other shows as well as other celebrity guests, and offered clips from the upcoming programs. Below you will find as many of the previews specials from the 1970s as can be found on the internet at the moment.
It wasn’t until the late 60s that Saturday mornings were beginning to get into full swing. Content with airing primetime reruns and a few new shows here and there, that all changed in 1966 when CBS revitalized its schedule with an action-heavy slant. When CBS showed massive success, the other networks followed and Saturday morning suddenly became good business. So, how would the networks advertise to their targeted audiences to tune in every week? Simple: advertise in comic books! For almost every Saturday schedule for decades, there was an artfully designed cartoon representing the networks’ schedules in every major publication. They even made sure to cover their bases with ads in TV Guide and newspapers so that parents would be aware shows for their kids would be on.