Actor, comedian and singer Dan Aykroyd had one passion he had yet to bring to the screen: the paranormal. Inspired by an article on quantum physics and parapsychology, Aykroyd was determined to correct that. Wild with imagination, Aykroyd conceived of an epic that followed a group of ghost exterminators with SWAT-like gear across time, space and other dimensions to battle giant ghosts and demons. It was meant to serve as another starring vehicle for him and his friend, fellow Saturday Night Live alum and bandmate John Belushi, to complement their 1980 hit, The Blues Brothers.
Presenting the script to director Ivan Reitman, Reitman realized that Aykroyd’s vision, in 1980s money, would cost several hundred million dollars to create (remember, kids, this was before CGI). At Reitman’s suggestion, Aykroyd paired up with Harold Ramis, with whom Reitman had worked with before, to help ground the script in reality and tone down the more elaborate sequences in order to secure a more realistic budget.
The result was a movie about three washed-up scientists who discovered how they could capture and hold a supernatural entity indefinitely. Losing their jobs at a prominent university led them to turn this knowledge into a business and become the Ghostbusters. Aykroyd and Ramis would play scientists Dr. Ray Stantz and Dr. Egon Spengler, respectively. Following Belushi’s death in 1982, the role intended for him was reconceived and fellow SNL alum and Reitman collaborator Bill Murray was cast as Dr. Peter Venkman. Ernie Hudson was brought in as the everyman Winston Zeddemore, to whom the more technical elements could be explained for the audience’s benefit. Rounding out the crew was Annie Potts as Janine Melnitz, the no-nonsense secretary with a crush on Egon. Serving as the innocent victims the Ghostbusters must rescue from the threat of model Slavitza Jovan’s Gozer the Gozerian were Sigourney Weaver as cellist Dana Barrett and Rick Moranis as accountant and Dana’s stalker-ish neighbor, Louis Tully. Released by Columbia Pictures, the film opened on June 8th, 1984 to critical and commercial success, becoming the second highest grossing film of the year behind Beverly Hills Cop.
During production of the movie, the existence of Filmation’s live-action television show, The Ghost Busters, was discovered. Alternate names were considered up until the filming of the climax on Central Park West with crowds chanting “Ghostbusters,” causing a frenzied push by the producers to acquire the rights to the name. Along with the movie’s success, Columbia was surprised at the number of younger fans the film had gained and contemplated continuing the franchise with an animated spin-off. Filmation president Lou Scheimer proposed a series to Columbia, going so far as to have initial designs for it produced. They passed. Undaunted, Filmation went ahead with their own GhostBusters cartoon in order to cash in on the popularity of the Ghostbusters name. The cartoon was based on their earlier show and featured the sons of the main characters. Deciding not to be outdone, Columbia eventually partnered with DiC to create their animated series. As they only had the rights for the name for the movie--and as a little jab at Filmation--the title became The Real Ghostbusters.
A short pilot was commissioned to give a general idea of the look and concept of the series. The characters were designed by Jim McDermott, but instead of trying to acquire expensive likeness rights, they went for the embodiment of the characters themselves. To help differentiate between the three white, brunette characters in distance and group shots, their hair colors were changed along with their bodies. Peter was given brown hair and an average build, Ray was made a pudgy redhead, and Egon a tall, slender blonde with a large hairstyle. To make them easier to animate, the proton packs and Ecto-1 were streamlined. Set to a re-recorded version of Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters” performed by John Smith, the pilot followed the Ghostbusters from their firehouse all across the city as they battled random supernatural threats, including the green ghost they first busted (dubbed Onionhead during the film’s production due to the awful smell of the puppet used, but later named Slimer for the series) and the final big bad from the film, Mr. Stay Puft (the only surviving giant entity from Aykroyd’s original concept). The end of the pilot, using the finalized designs, was reused as the end of the show’s original intro.
The series was greenlit, and the final revisions were made. To further distinguish the Ghostbusters, as well as make them more appealing as toys, they were given new colored uniforms: Egon in blue with pink trim, Winston in gray with red trim and Peter in brown with green trim. Ray’s was largely kept the same from the movies and pilot. The equipment was further streamlined and changed from black to blue. The pack designs from the pilot, though, continued to live on as they were used as the basis for the action figure line produced by Kenner. Slimer was also softened to look friendlier and became the Ghostbusters’ live-in ghost mascot as a further draw for the kids. The containment unit, where a captured ghost was stored, went from a small wall panel to a massive room-sized device in the basement of the firehouse where the Ghostbusters were headquartered.
While changes in a movie-to-television adaptation are not unusual, what was unusual was the fact that most of these changes were explained WITHIN the show. Specifically, the episode “Citizen Ghost,” which took place in a flashback that immediately followed the events of the first movie. It stated that the uniforms, covered in marshmallow goop after the original defeat of Mr. Stay Puft, had become so infused with spectral energy that they had to be destroyed. Luckily their new customized uniforms arrived during all the chaos. Slimer was found while they were fixing up the firehouse and Egon decided to keep him around as a guinea pig, much to Peter’s chagrin (since Slimer slimed him when they first met, and would continue to slime him throughout the series as a running gag). The episode “Take Two” also established that the film actually existed in-universe, inspired by the lives of the cartoon characters.
Ivan Reitman, Michael C. Gross and Joe Medjuck, the latter two producers on the film, served as producers for the series. Ernie Hudson was the only actor from the movie to audition for the role of his character, but somehow lost out to then up-and-coming comedian Arsenio Hall. Hall also provided the voice for the commercial bumpers, spoken through the ghost in the no-ghost logo. Maurice LaMarche, a known impressionist, was asked not to impersonate Ramis when auditioning for Egon. He did and got the part anyway, although he began the series with a much deeper tone for the first few episodes than he would use for the remainder. Lorenzo Music was cast as Peter, Frank Welker as Ray and Slimer, and Laura Summer as Janine. Another unusual aspect of the show was that the cast recorded their lines together to retain the ensemble feel of the film, whereas many shows had their actors recording individually. Often, when someone was unable to make a session, the other actors would have fun imitating them for the duration of the recording.
The producers wanted to feature music in the series much like was featured throughout the movie. Ollie Brown, a friend of Ray Parker, Jr., organized a duo called Tahiti comprised of Tyren Perry and Tonya Townsend. They were brought on board and provided songs in 10 early episodes, which were later released as a soundtrack album for the show by Polygram Records. However, as the series began to pick up steam on its own, they decided the added expense and effort was no longer needed and kept to just using the standard series score by Haim Saban and Shuki Levy.
The series was simultaneously produced for broadcast on ABC Saturday mornings with 13 episodes and syndication with 65 episodes, leading to a whopping 78 episodes made during the first season’s production—an unprecedented feat at the time. Writers Chuck Menville and Len Janson were originally recruited to be the story editors for the series, but became intimidated at the prospect of overseeing both the network AND syndicated version simultaneously. Jean Chalopin, head of DiC, then recruited a fairly inexperienced J. Michael Straczynski (of Babylon 5 fame) for the position. Straczynski loved the movie and was hoping to just write some episodes for it. He met with the producers and the network and was brought on as story editor and a writer for a number of episodes. Because the film was such a success, and given that the network would benefit from having the show more than the producers would, Gross and Mejduck were able to sidestep ABC’s notoriously stringent Standards and Practices department and dictate the way their show was going to be done. Given absolute freedom, Straczynski recruited the best stable of writers he could which included Menville, Janson, Richard Mueller (who also penned one of the movie adaptation novels and served as an uncredited story editor at times), Michael Reeves, Pamela Hickey, Dennys McCoy (both of whom would also write some of the tie-in comics), Mark Edward Edens and his associate from his Filmation days, Larry DiTillo, amongst others. They delved deep into mythology, science fiction, obscure occult references and many other places while embracing its movie roots; creating a very mature yet still kid-friendly experience. And it worked, as The Real Ghostbusters met with critical acclaim when it debuted on September 13, 1986 and became the number one animated series on any network.
Unfortunately, with success came extra attention and the old Hollywood adage: “if it ain’t broke, fix it anyway.” Parent groups found the show a bit too scary for children and expressed their displeasure to the network. As a result, ABC, in a stronger position than when they first bought the show, brought in consulting firm Q5 to retool and “improve” it and the rest of their Saturday line-up. Their suggestions included giving the Ghostbusters specific roles: Egon became the brain, Ray the builder, Peter the comedic con-man, and Winston the driver. Janine, perceived as too “harsh and slutty”, had her feisty personality toned down so that she could become the den mother. Her design was altered to make her short hair softened and lengthened along with her skirt, and her pointy glasses were rounded as “sharp objects frighten children.” Summer was replaced by Kath Soucie, who had a softer vocal performance. The story content and subject matter was to be less scary and even more kid-friendly with a greater focus put on Slimer. Slimer gained more intelligible speech patterns and slowly worked his way to the center of stories since he was a “child surrogate” that represented the audience. Peter also became less hostile towards him, giving him the nickname “spud.” New recurring children characters called the Junior Ghostbusters were introduced to give the intended audience characters they could relate to. The animation and character designs were also altered slightly, with Ray becoming thinner and Slimer gaining a tail. Under protest about these changes and many others that were successfully shot down (such as eliminating Ray from the cast as superfluous), Straczynski quit the show. Janson and Menville were promoted to story editors in his place.
Further changes came as the series progressed. Music was replaced by comedian Dave Coulier (who would become famous as Uncle Joey on Full House) for the second season. Two reasons for this persist: either Murray approached Reitman with the complaint that Peter sounded like Garfield (who was also voiced by Music, and whom Murray himself would go on to voice in two live-action movies) while the others sounded like the film actors, or Medjuck himself wanted someone who could sound more like Murray. This created some confusion for viewers as the syndicated episodes aired alongside season 2 with Music and Summer still in their roles, however several earlier episodes were re-recorded with Coulier and Soucie replacing their characters’ dialogue. At the end of the season, Hall began development on the highly-successful first incarnation of The Arsenio Hall Show and left the series. He was replaced by Buster Jones, with Welker rerecording the commercial bumpers in a Slimer-like voice. Thomas Chase and Steve Rucker would come to replace Saban and Levy as the series’ composers beginning with the 6th season, and animation duties were moved from Japan to South Korea.
For the third season, the show was extended to an hour and retitled Slimer! And the Real Ghostbusters, complete with a new Slimer-centric opening sequence that was later given a new recording of the theme song. A regular Ghostbusters adventure would precede two short Slimer adventures, done in a completely different animation style that was more rounded and cartoony. Slimer’s segments had an all-new supporting cast, such as ice cream truck driver Chilly Cooper (Cree Summer), con-man Rudy (Jeff Marder) and Scottish Terrier Fred (Welker), who resided at the hotel where Slimer was first encountered. Slimer’s nemeses were a trouble-making alley cat named Manx (Welker), and deranged scientist Professor Norman Dweeb (Jeff Altman) and his dog, Elizabeth (Welker), who sought to capture Slimer and experiment on him. Dweeb and Elizabeth would be the only Slimer segment characters to cross over into the main show (although the other characters would be rendered in the main style for the intro). Following the release of Ghostbusters II, Louis Tully (Roger Bumpass) was added to the cast in season 4 and Janine’s hairstyle was changed to resemble her movie counterpart’s. The mood slime from the second movie also made an appearance, however colored yellow instead of pink.
The changes made to the show proved unpopular and viewership steadily declined. ABC had, at one point, asked Straczynski to return as story editor and salvage the show, but he was busy with other projects. He did, however, contribute several scripts to the show with the proviso that he be allowed to do them the way they started out doing the show. His contributions included “Janine, You’ve Changed” which gave an in-story explanation to Janine’s constant redesigns. He also wrote the show’s only prime-time special episode, “The Halloween Door.” The show managed to last for six seasons on ABC before being cancelled in 1991.
All through the show’s production, Kenner produced action figures, vehicles, a firehouse playset and child-sized versions of the equipment for North America, Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Internationally, the toys were produced by Estrela in Brazil, Jocsa in Argentina, and Auriken in Mexio. Each wave of the line featured a series of Ghostbusters with different paint jobs, accessories or actions. Janine was featured in four of the waves before being replaced by a Louis figure for the remainder of the line. Beginning in 2020, Hasbro, current owner of Kenner’s library, began releasing a Kenner Classics line that reproduced the first wave of action figures and ghosts, some ghosts, Ecto-1 and the Ghost Popper toy. Aside from the figures, the show’s name was slapped on almost everything imaginable: TV tray tables, miniature gumball machines, radios, yoyos, bath products, shaving kits, bedding, puzzles, board games, watches and more.
In 1987, Data East produced a Real Ghostbusters arcade game that was a 360-degree top-down shooting game. It was later ported to various home consoles. In 1988, Remco released a handheld game that featured Peter having to repel a horde of ghosts as they descended down on him. Remco also produced two electronic table-top games. In 1993, a Game Boy game was developed by Kemco and released by Kotobuki Systems in Europe and Activision in America. The game had very little to do with the show or concept as it was originally developed as a Mickey Mouse game in Kemco’s Crazy Castle series of games called Mickey Mouse IV: the Magical Labyrinth. In Europe, it featured Garfield while the American version featured only Peter as he tries to navigate through an enemy-filled maze.
In 1988, licenses for a comic based on the show were granted to Marvel’s United Kingdom division for international publication while NOW Comics obtained the domestic rights. The Marvel books were magazine-sized and ran weekly until its last few issues went monthly, featuring several short comic strips and a prose story. Many prominent creators worked on the series, including Richard Starkings, Phil Hester, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Al Williamson. Marvel also made a point of including many of the vehicles, equipment and suits that only existed as toys in their stories. NOW’s series featured a more mature tone than the Marvel books and typically had only one story per issue. It was primarily written by James Van Hise with art by future Mortal Kombat co-creator John Tobias. Because of NOW’s monetary troubles, the original comic series ended after 28 issues but was relaunched with a new series shortly after, lasting four issues and two specials before ending once again. Occasionally during their runs, Marvel and NOW would share stories and cover art, and both books featured the only time the character of Dana would be rendered in The Real style as she never appeared on the show. Both companies also produced a short-lived Slimer! spin-off book, however the Marvel version was typically a reprint of the NOW series. Both series outlived the show, ending in 1993. In 2006, Titan Books reprinted some of the Marvel UK strips in three digest-sized collections. In 2012 & 2013, current license holder IDW Publishing released two omnibus collections of the first volume of NOW comics.
The last vestige of the series came from the most unlikely place. In a promotional tie-in to the show, Hi-C began production of a flavor called “Ecto-Cooler”: a green-colored orange and tangerine drink that featured Slimer on the packaging. The drink lasted well beyond the show, remaining unchanged until 1997 when Slimer was finally removed. The flavor continued on and was eventually renamed “Shoutin’ Orange Tangergreen” in 2003—then “Crazy Citrus Cooler” in 2006--before eventually being discontinued altogether. Along with trying to petition Coca-Cola, the makers of Hi-C, to bring the flavor back, fans of the drink have taken to figuring out the recipe for it and making their own. Ecto-Cooler did return for a limited time (still without Slimer) in 2016 as part of a promotion for Ghostbusters: Answer the Call. Other food items included a line of marshmallow cereals by Ralston, canned pasta and sauce by Heinz, and fruit snacks by Kids Classics.
In 1997, Sony, now owner of Columbia and its properties, sought to revitalize the Ghostbusters brand with a new animated series entitled Extreme Ghostbusters (originally Super Ghostbusters, both popular adjectives to add to the titles of things throughout the 80s and 90s). The Ghostbusters had disbanded and Egon (LaMarche) remained behind to monitor the containment unit with Janine (Pat Musick) and Slimer (Billy West, whose casting was okayed by Welker due to other commitments) while he taught at the university. Circumstances led to Egon’s only students—cynical slacker Eduardo Rivera (Rino Romano), intelligent and gifted Roland Jackson (Alfonso Ribeiro), brilliant goth Kylie Griffin (Tara Strong) and wheelchair-bound jock Garrett Miller (Jason Marsden)--to reform the Ghostbusters. While many things were similar to The Real, the designs for the show were owned by DiC, necessitating some redesigns (some explained in-story) as the show was now produced by Sony's own Adelaide Productions. The series, despite having some of the same writers and producers from the previous show, failed to achieve the same success and was cancelled after only one season. But, not before the original Ghostbusters (portrayed by their Real actors) made an appearance in the two-part series finale.
|The Real Ghostbusters complete series DVDs by Time Life.|
At the conclusion of Extreme, all was quiet on the animated Ghostbusters front until two movie-centric episodes, “Citizen Ghost” and “Patners in Slime”, were included as special features on the 2005 re-release of Ghostbusters II. The following year, three bare-bones collected DVDs were released with four episodes on each. This was the first time The Real had been available on home video since the original VHS releases during the show’s run. Sales were sufficient enough that Time Life produced a full-series collection in 2008, which included steelbook cases (replaced with similar plastic cases in later releases) with design sketches inside, an episode guide and a bonus disk of additional content. Fans got the chance to vote for the set’s packaging: a slimed black box with some images on it, or a reproduction of the firehouse (pitched using an image of the real New York firehouse). The firehouse packaging won out, resembling the cartoon firehouse with two lenticular holograms. The steelbooks within were later individually released as season sets. The set was further broken down in 2016 by Sony Home Entertainment into 10 volumes, each containing a dozen or so episodes and reusing some of the Time Life artwork. The first five volumes were put together in a box set at the time of their release, and in 2017 all 10 volumes were gathered together into a single box. The pilot was restored and included as a special feature on the limited edition 35th anniversary re-release of both films.
|The RetroAction figures on display with the included Firehouse backdrop.|
In 2011, five sets of Minimates figures based on the series were made, while Mattel produced a line of Reto-Action action figures; 7” dolls with cloth uniforms. Beginning in 2018, Diamond Select Toys released new action figures based on the cartoon as part of their Ghostbusters toyline; both with and without a piece of the Firehouse diorama. Although the show has yet to return to its own comic series, several references have been made to it in 88MPH’s Ghostbusters: Legion and throughout IDW’s ongoing Ghostbusters series, as well as a couple of back-up features set in the animated world.
Originally posted in 2014. Updated in 2019.
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