May 16, 2020

THE ABC SATURDAY SUPERSTAR MOVIE


THE ABC SATURDAY SUPERSTAR MOVIE / THE NEW SATURDAY SUPERSTAR MOVIE
(ABC, September 9, 1972-November 17, 1973)

Various




MAIN CAST:
Various


            With movie studios still viewing television networks as a threat to their business, they often charged high fees for the broadcasting of their films. The networks decided to experiment with producing films specifically for television as a way to significantly lower expenses. NBC was the first, creating the weekly World Premiere Movie in 1966. ABC, who was running last place in the ratings, came up with their own in 1969 called the ABC Movie of the Week. That, combined with Monday Night Football, significantly improved ABC’s ratings and raised it up as competition for the other networks.

Ad for the first episode of Saturday Superstar.


            In 1972, ABC brought the concept to Saturday mornings as The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie. It was the first Saturday morning anthology series presented in much the same way as the regular Movie of the Week., Saturday Superstar would feature one-hour predominantly animated (although some contained live-action) specials by the various animation studios at the time. The selection of specials were typically pilots for shows the studios wanted to do and used Saturday Superstar as a proving ground; although some of them were sequels of previously established properties or just a showcase for a one-off production.

Dr. Smith, Robon and Link from Hanna-Barbera's Lost in Space.

            Hanna-Barbera’s only successful pilot offering was “Yogi’s Ark Lark”, which would become the slightly reworked Yogi’s Gang. For one of their failed pilots, they once again partnered with Screen Gems to make “Tabitha and Adam and the Clown Family”, which centered on the adventures of the now-teenaged children from the sitcom Bewitched (which they made the animated opening titles for); who both naturally inherited their mother’s supernatural powers. The other was a reboot of Lost in Space, which only featured the returning characters of Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris), this time an actual passenger on the Jupiter 2, and the robot (now named Robon, voiced by Don Messick). The new characters included Space Academy graduate Craig Robinson (Michael Bell); his little brother, Link (Vincent Van Patten); and geologist Diana Carmichael (Sherry Alberoni). They took off on a routine mission from Earth to Saturn and ended up thrown wildly off course by a sudden meteor shower. Hanna-Barbera also released a follow-up to The Banana Splits Adventure Hour with “The Banana Splits in Hocus Pocus Park”, an animated entry in the Gidget book/film/television franchise with “Gidget Makes the Wrong Connection”, an interpretation of the legend of Robin Hood with animals in “The Adventures of Robin Hoodnik” (a year before Disney’s), and a sequel to the novel Oliver Twist with “Oliver and the Artful Dodger” (which happened to be the series’ only two-part episode).

Animation cel featuring The Groovie Goolies and some of the Looney Tunes.

            Filmation found a bit more success with their pilots, as both of their offerings led into a show. “The Brady Kids on Mysterious Island” was later broken up into the first two episodes of The Brady Kids, as was “Lassie and the Spirit of Thunder Mountain” for Lassie’s Rescue Rangers. “Daffy Duck and Porky Pig Meet the Groovie Goolies” presented a rare instance in which Warner Bros. loaned out their characters for use by another studio (normally, those studios would be making the cartoons for Warner Bros., who at this time didn’t have their own animation department). The special was a follow-up to The Groovie Goolies which had Filmation’s characters interact with most of the Looney Tunes (save Bugs Bunny and Speedy Gonzales). This was the only time the legendary Mel Blanc worked on a Filmation project; which he not only hated doing but came to regret doing as an error in the sound mixing ended up making most of his characters sound off.

Herman Munster driving around his son Eddie's band.

            Fred Calvert Productions attempted to translate two sitcoms into animated shows. The first was the 20th Century Fox Television production The Nanny and the Professor; a sitcom featuring a magical British nanny (Juliet Mills) inspired by Mary Poppins. She took care of a family comprised of college professor Harold Everett (Richard Long), his sons Harold (David Doremus) and Bently (Trent Lehman), and daughter Prudence (Kim Richards). Calvert made two specials based on the show, “Nanny and the Professor” and “Nanny and the Professor and the Phantom of the Circus”, with the cast all reprising their roles. The second series was Universal Television’s The Munsters; the sitcom about a family based on the classic Universal Monsters who were blissfully ignorant of their differences compared to other people. The special, “The Mini-Munsters”, only saw Al Lewis reprise his role of Grandpa from the original series. Neither show was picked up. Calvert would have better luck on NBC with Emergency +4, an animated spin-off of the medical drama, Emergency!

Marlo Thomas in animated form.

            Rankin/Bass Productions took the opportunity to introduce an animated prequel to their 1967 stop-motion film, Mad Monster Party. “Mad, Mad, Mad Monsters” followed Baron Henry von Frankenstein (Bob McFadden) creating a bride (Rhoda Mann) for his monster (Allen Swift), but his assistant, Igor (Swift), got jealous and wanted the bride for himself. While the special was praised for its visuals, the story was found lacking by critics. Rankin/Bass also made a special centering around baseball legend Willie Mays in “Willie Mays and the Say-Hey Kid”. It was basically about a guardian angel named Casey (after Casey Stengel, voiced by Paul Frees) tasking Mays with looking after an orphan in exchange for help winning the National League Pennant. An odd one was their take on “The Red Baron”, which recast the infamous WWI fighter pilot as a heroic anthropomorphic dog (Swift) who sets out to rescue the “kidnapped” princess of Pretzelstein (Mann) from a rival kingdom. Their final offering for the series was a spin-off to the Marlo Thomas-led sitcom, That Girl. “That Girl in Wonderland” saw the show’s characters in the stories of Alice in Wonderland, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Wizard of Oz and Cinderella. Only Thomas reprised her role of Anne Marie.

Promo image for "Luv-cast U.S.A."

            Depatie-Freleng Enterprises’ only offering for the series was “Luv-cast U.S.A.” It was a mini-anthology, loosely based on Love, American Style. The special was centered around a radio station, where DJ Ranton Rave (actual DJ “Sweet” Dick Whittington) would receive calls from people with various romantic problems, and their answers would be seen in a series of vignettes. All the while, the DJ would play rock and roll classics music. The special landed Depatie-Freleng an opportunity to do further work on ABC’s other anthology series, The ABC Afterschool Specials

The comedy comic strip characters board for their free cruise.

            King Features Syndicate decided to throw their hat into the ring by producing a special combining just about every comic strip under their control. “Popeye Meets the Man Who Hated Laughter” not only featured the characters of Popeye, but also characters from Blondie, Beetle Bailey, Steve Canyon, Snuffy Smith, The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, Hi & Lois, Tiger, Tim Tyler, Quincy, Prince Valiant and The Little King. This marked the first—and for some, only—time many of these strips were ever adapted into animation. The special was directed by Hal Seeger and featured Jack Mercer reprising his roles as Popeye and Wimpy. McFadden and Corinne Orr provided every other voice in the special.


            The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie debuted on ABC on September 9, 1972. It returned the following year as The New Saturday Superstar Movie for a brief 3-episode second season. After that, ABC decided to abandon the experiment with the 1974 season; however, that hiatus didn’t last too long. In 1977 they brought back the anthology concept with ABC Weekend Special, this time with a more focused message of encouraging children to read.

Ad for "Willie Mays and the Say-Hey Kid".

            Because of the multiple licenses and studios involved, a complete comprehensive collection of Saturday Superstar has never been released. However, individual components have seen their own releases on home media. Released to VHS was “Mad, Mad, Mad Monsters” in 1998 by Sony Home Entertainment; “Willie Mays and the Say-Hey Kid” by Star Classics; and “Oliver and the Artful Dodger” in 1989 by Warner Home Video. “Mad, Mad, Mad Monsters” was released to DVD in 2012 by Universal Home Entertainment, as was “Oliver and the Artful Dodger” together with “The Adventures of Robin Hoodnik” in the Hanna-Barbera Specials Collection by Warner Archive in 2015. “Yogi’s Ark Lark” and “The Brady Kids on Mysterious Island” were part of the complete series releases for Yogi’s Gang and The Brady Kids. “Mad, Mad, Mad Monsters” was made available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

Some of the foreign VHS covers for "Daffy Duck and Porky Pig Meet the Groovie Goolies".

“Daffy Duck and Porky Pig Meet the Groovie Goolies” has seen numerous VHS releases under various titles, predominantly in the United Kingdom and Germany by Select Video between 1983-86 with its live-action segment removed. It also saw rebroadcasts on Sky One, Cartoon Network as part of Mr. Spim’s Cartoon Theater and USA Network before they stopped airing cartoons. A restored two-part version of the film began making the rounds in Germany in 2002 and aired as late as 2013.



EPISODE GUIDE:
Season 1:
“The Brady Kids on Mysterious Island” (9/9/72) – A balloon race lands the Brady kids on a mysterious island where they meet and befriend some special animals.

“Yogi’s Ark Lark” (9/16/72) – Yogi and his animal friends gather on an ark on a mission to find a place to live that’s devoid of pollution and the destruction caused by mankind.

“Mad, Mad, Mad Monsters” (9/23/72) – Baron Henry von Frankenstein creates a bride for his monster, but his assistant Igor becomes jealous and wants the Bride for himself.

“Nanny and the Professor” (9/30/72) – Nanny and the Everetts get caught up in a mystery involving a microdot.

“Popeye Meets the Man Who Hated Laughter” (10/7/72) – Prof. Morbid Grimsby plans to cinch this year’s prestigious “Meanie” award by eliminating all laughter from the world.

“Willie Mays and the Say-Hey Kid” (10/14/72) – An angel promises to help Willie Mays win the Pennant if he looks after an orphaned girl.

“Oliver and the Artful Dodger: Part 1 & 2” (10/21/72, 10/28/72) – Mr. Brownlow adopts Oliver, but upon his death his will goes missing and his sinister nephew tries to take his fortune.

“The Adventures of Robin Hoodnik” (11/4/72) – A retelling of the legend of Robin Hood starring a cast of anthropomorphic animals.

“Lassie and the Spirit of Thunder Mountain” (11/11/72) – Lassie tries to figure out who’s scaring the Native American people away from Thunder Mountain.

“Gidget Makes the Wrong Connection (a.k.a. The Odd Squad)” (11/18/72) – Teenager Gidget and her friends run into gold smugglers.

“The Banana Splits in Hocus Pocus Park” (11/25/72) – The Banana Splits give a little girl a tour of an amusement park, only to have her kidnapped by a witch.

“Tabitha and Adam and the Clown Family” (12/2/72) – Tabitha and Adam Stevens use their magical powers to try and save a circus.

“The Red Baron” (12/9/72) – The Red Baron and his fellow dogs do battle with the sinister army of cats.

“Daffy Duck and Porky Pig Meet the Groovie Goolies” (12/16/72) – The Groovie Goolies help the Looney Tunes solve a mystery.

“Luvcast U.S.A.” (1/6/73) – A wacky deejay plays some romantic hits while various characters engage in romance-themed escapades.

“That Girl in Wonderland” (1/13/73) – Ann Marie imagines herself in a variety of fairy tales.

Season 2:
“Lost in Space” (9/8/73) – A meteor field sends the Jupiter II far off course.

“The Mini-Munsters” (10/27/73) – When Grandpa fixes Eddie’s car so that it runs on music, gangster who took over the fuel company want his invention destroyed at any cost.

“Nanny and the Professor and the Phantom of the Circus” (11/17/73) – Nanny and the Everetts end up involved in a mystery about a traveling circus.

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