June 05, 2021

SATURDAY SUPERCADE: FROGGER

 

FROGGER

(CBS, September 17-December 10, 1983)

 

Ruby-Spears Productions

  

MAIN CAST:

Bob Sarlatte – Frogger
Marvin Kaplan – Shellshock “Shelly” Turtle
B.J. Ward – Fanny Frog
Ted Field, Sr. – Tex Toadwalker

 

            Frogger was an arcade game developed and published by Konami in Japan and Sega internationally, originally titled as Highway Crossing Frog until Sega nixed the name. The game saw players take control of a frog that had to be guided up a screen to one of the waiting “frog homes” at the top. Along the way, they had to traverse a busy highway full of various vehicles and a river teaming with turtles, alligators and logs that sometimes had snakes on them. A life was lost whenever the frog was squished by a vehicle, bitten by a snake, eaten by an alligator, ran into an otter, or fell into the water. To top it all off, there was also a time limit. Softline magazine stated in 1982 that “Frogger has earned the ominous distinction of being the arcade game with the most ways to die.” Bonuses would be given for jumping into a home where a fly was present, or by picking up another stranded frog along the way. The game was inspired by game developer Akira Hashimoto witnessing a frog having trouble getting across a road in traffic while he was stopped at a light (yes, he helped the frog).


            Released in June of 1981, the game became a success in Japan over the next few months; ending up as the 12th highest-grossing arcade of the year. Sega, however, was reluctant to bring it to the North American market. Sega/Gremlin, the company resulting from Sega’s acquisition of American game manufacturer Gremlin, was concerned that the simple gameplay and cute graphics wouldn’t attract a wide variety of players (read: it would put off boys, their primary market), and Gremlin had produced their own frog-themed game called Frogs in 1978 that flopped. They believed that the upcoming Eliminator, a four-player game using color vector graphics, was their next big hit.

Respect the van! Parked outside Spanky's Saloon.

            Market researcher Elizabeth Falconer was tasked by Gremlin founder Frank Fogleman to check their library and see if there was anything worth licensing. She came across Frogger and set about convincing the company to allow her a 3-month test period to give the game a trial run. Sega/Gremlin agreed to license the game for 60-days from Konami for $3,500 a day and set up a prototype machine in a San Diego bar called Spanky’s Saloon. The game received a tremendous amount of attention, and it was enough to convince the company and their distributors to release Frogger that September.


            Frogger had no specific age or gender appeal, allowing it to fill the voids left by other arcade offerings at the time and contributed to its success. It was because of this that it was one of the first arcade games to attract a female audience. It ended up as one of the top-grossing video games in North America during 1981, and became the most successful Sega/Gremlin release. It performed just as well when it was ported to home consoles, earning Parker Brothers $40 million at launch for its Atari 2600 port and becoming the company’s most successful first-year product. Along with the ports came various merchandise such as clothing and board games, and the song “Froggy’s Lament” by Buckner & Garcia from their video game-inspired album, Pac-Man Fever.


            Around this time, CBS was looking to get in on the video game craze and to combat ABC’s Pac-Man produced by Hanna-Barbera. Figuring to hedge their bets, they licensed several gaming properties and commissioned former Hanna-Barbera employees Joe Ruby and Ken Spears to handle it through their studio, Ruby-Spears Productions. The resulting series was Saturday Supercade. Making up the Supercade every week were segments based on Frogger, Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr.while Q*bert and Pitfall! rotated weekly.

Character model sheet from an episode showing a human character compared to Frogger and Fanny.


            Frogger featured the titular frog (Bob Sarlatte) as an intrepid reporter for The Swamp Gazette newspaper. And by intrepid, it’s meant that his job was constantly threatened by his blustery editor, Tex Toadwalker (Ted Field, Sr.), unless he delivered a story worth printing. With him in his exploits were his friends Fanny (B.J. Ward) and Shellshock “Shelly” Turtle (Marvin Kaplan, impersonating Woody Allen). Even though they were anthropomorphic animals, they didn’t live in a world populated by them that mirrored our own; rather, they co-existed with ordinary humans whose reactions to them seemed to vary between amazement and indifference. Keeping in line with the game, Frogger would always end up squished at some point during their investigations, necessitating Shelly to produce an air pump from his shell and resuscitate him.


Shelly, Fanny and and Frogger in peril while hunting a story.


            Frogger debuted along with Saturday Supercade on September 17, 1983. Writers for the series included Gordon Kent, Jack Enyart, Paul Dini, Buzz Dixon, Dave Schwartz and Sheryl Scarborough, with music composed by Dean Elliott. The Supercade theme was composed by Haim Saban and Shuki Levy. While the Supercade was renewed for a second season, Frogger, Pitfall! and Donkey Kong Jr. were dropped in favor of adaptations of Kangaroo and Space Ace. Warner Archive announced via their Facebook page in 2010 that plans were underway to release Supercade to DVD, but because of rights issues with the various game properties the project needed extensive research before it could happen.


Frogger flattened.


            Although Frogger’s TV life was relatively short, it continued on in games to become its own franchise with sequels, remakes, remasters and further ports well into the current generation of home consoles. Beginning in 1999, numerous bounties were offered for those who could set a new world record score on Frogger or beat the fictional one established on an episode of Seinfeld; unfortunately, players only succeeded after the bounties had expired. The newest world record score was set in 2017 by Pat Laffaye with 1,029,990 points, making him the first and only one to reach over a million on an original machine. In 2021, Komani announced via Twitter that they were launching a new Frogger game show with Eureka Productions to be released on streaming service Peacock.

 

  

EPISODE GUIDE:

“The Ms. Fortune Story” (9/17/83) – Frogger and his friends investigate a string of gold robberies committed by a strongman and a fortune teller.

 

“Spaced Out Frogs” (9/24/83) – When a real UFO is spotted over the swamp, Frogger and his friends are sent to investigate it.

 

“The Who-Took-Toadwalker Story” (10/1/83) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.

 

“Hydrofoil & Seek” (10/8/83) – Frogger and his friends are sent to investigate the disappearance of an advanced hydrofoil from a naval base.

 

“The Great Scuba Scoop” (10/15/83) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.

 

“The Headline Hunters” (10/22/83) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.

 

“The Legs Croaker Story” (10/29/83) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.

 

“The Blackboard Bungle” (11/5/83) – Frogger and Shelly accompany Fanny to the local college where a student’s super skateboard formula is being threatened by a campus phantom.

 

“Good Knight, Frogger” (11/12/83) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.

 

“Fake Me Out to the Ball Game” (11/19/83) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.

 

“I Remember Mummy” (11/26/83) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.

 

“Here Today, Pawned Tomorrow” (12/3/83) – The swamp is plagued by a string of robberies and Frogger and his friends check out pawn shops for the stolen goods.

 

“Hop-Along Frogger” (12/10/83) – The ghost of an Old West desperado terrorizes a dude ranch Frogger and his friends were invited to.

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