Advertising executive and art director Bill Sanders had developed an idea for a new line of dolls: a male rock band that had secret identities as superheroes. Brining the idea to Hasbro, Hasbro liked the concept but felt it could be better suited to an opening they saw in the toy market at the time left by rival Mattel’s Barbie. As a result, the boy band became a girl band that embodied a contemporary rock style. Sanders was paired up with marketing director Joe Hyland and his writer wife, Barbara, and they began to work out the characters and fashions for the doll line.
With their other properties Transformers, My Little Pony and G.I. Joe having a successful television presence, Hasbro decided to promote the doll line by giving it its own show. Once again, they partnered with Marvel Productions and Sunbow Productions through their ad agency Griffin-Bacal Advertising, responsible for the other programs, to bring it to life. Executive producer Jay Bacal recommended Christy Marx, who had worked on G.I. Joe, A Real American Hero, to write the series bible that would contain all the information writers would need to compose scripts for the show. This would be the first time Marx had developed an entire show on her own, but Bacal felt she was up to the challenge due to her grasp of drama and action.
|Jerrica, Shana, Kimber and Aja, not quite glamorous yet.|
Marx worked mostly blind, not getting to even see the dolls on which the series was based until late into her process. She concocted backgrounds and relationships for all of the established characters which included the good and bad bands, and the advanced AI computer that allowed the lead singer of the good band to change her appearance. She also introduced the series’ villains, secondary characters, the record label and the foster home as a reason behind why the band does what it does, as well as offering more story potential.
Most of the characters underwent numerous name changes, including the main character. Originally, she was going to be called “M” for “Music,” “Metamorphosis” and “Magic” until Hasbro learned they couldn’t trademark a letter of the alphabet, and wanting to keep the same sound that could easily fit into the theme song they had in mind she became Jem. Named bandied about for Jem’s alter ego and her bandmates included Morgan, Joanna, Jade, Aria, Chandra, Beverly and Rue. Marx came up with the last names for the characters, basing them on scientists involved in holographic technology at the time: Benton for Dr. Stephen A. Benton, Gabor for Dennis Gabor, and Emmett & Leith for Emmett Leith.
|Synergy's main form.|
The resulting series was Jem. Jem was the alter-ego of Jerrica Benton (Samantha Newark & Britta Phillips), who was created through holographic projectors in her star-shaped earrings by the advanced artificial intelligence named Synergy (Marlene Aragon). Synergy was created by her father, Emmett (Jack Angel), and revealed herself to Jerrica after Emmett’s death as per her programming. He also left her band equipment, a car called the Rockin’ Roadster, and control of Starlight House; the foster home begun by her parents as a way to take care of children without families as her her mother, Jacqui (Angela Cappelli), had been one herself.
|Eric Raymond with what he loves most: money.|
Jerrica also inherited half of Starlight Music, the company began by the Bentons as a means to finance the Foundation and Jacqui’s budding singing career. The other half was owned by Eric Raymond (named after Marx’s brother and voiced by Charlie Adler), an unscrupulous executive who wanted nothing more than full control of the company. He quickly signed on a new act to the label: The Misfits, a band of rough, uncouth women who caused trouble as often as they made music. Their lead singer was Phyllis “Pizzazz” Gabor (Patricia Alice Albrecht & Ellen Bernfield), a spoiled rich girl with a short temper and little regard for anyone else. Bassist Roxanne “Roxy” Pelligrini (Bobbie Block) was a tough-as-nails high school dropout who provided backup vocals. Mary “Stormer” Phillips (Susan Blu & Lani Groves) was the keytarist for the group and their primary songwriter. Despite going along with The Misfits on their various escapades, Stormer didn’t get the same level enjoyment out of their bad girl attitudes as the other two and was often pushed around by them because of her sweet nature and compassion. When Jerrica managed to get Eric out of Starlight, he created his own label: Misfit Music.
|The Misfits: Roxy, Pizzazz and Stormer.|
In order to wrest Starlight Music away from Eric, Jerrica created her alter ego that appeared when she touched her earrings and said “Showtime, Synergy” (and disappeared with “Show’s over, Synergy”), and the band, The Holograms. Her sister, Kimber (Cathianne Biore & Florence Warner), served as the keyboardist and main songwriter for the group. The band also consisted of the earliest residents of Starlight House and the adopted daughters of the Bentons: Aja Leith (Biore) and Shana Elmsford (Cindy McGee). Aja was the lead guitarist and provided background vocals, as well as had skills with mechanical devices and electronics. Shana was the band’s original drummer and a budding fashion designer, providing most of the outfits for The Holograms. Many episodes focused on The Holograms attempting to hold their own against The Misfits, whose antics often led to potential injury (and sometimes even death) for The Holograms, while also fending off Eric’s schemes to steal back Starlight Music.
|Pizzazz trying to steal Rio away from Jem.|
Working with The Holograms was Jerrica’s long-time childhood friend and boyfriend Rio Pacheco (Michael Sheehan), who served as The Holograms’ road manager and engineer. Because he had a pathological hatred of lying and secrets Jerrica never revealed her alter ego to him out of fear of losing him over feelings of betrayal. Instead, Rio developed a relationship with Jem, resulting in a persistent love triangle between the three (though really two) characters. The Holograms met and befriended Giselle “Danse” Dvorak (Desiree Goyette), a gifted dancer from Yugoslavia who helped them choreograph some of their shows and videos. Like The Holograms, she was orphaned at a young age. Helping to make The Holograms’ videos was Vivian “Video” Montgomery (Noelle North), a talented young filmmaker who always carried a video camera with her.
Over on The Misfits’ side, they had the services of Zipper and Techrat (both Adler). Zipper was Eric’s primary henchman who carried out acts of thievery and sabotage against The Holograms. Techrat was a reclusive technological genius that developed devices and elaborate traps against The Holograms. Constance “Clash” Montgomery (Cathy Cavadin) was Video’s cousin and The Misfits’ biggest fan and groupie. She worked her way into becoming their henchwoman and often used her ability of disguise to spy on or foul things up on behalf of The Misfits. Her nickname came from the miniature symbols she wore around her wrists and clashed together whenever she wanted attention. Pizzazz’s father, millionaire Harvey Gabor (Wally Burr, who was also the series’ voice director), was The Misfits’ primary financier; setting up Misfits Music for them and buying whatever Pizzazz wanted him to. Although not happy with how Pizzazz carried on, he couldn’t help but spoil her due to the guilt over her mother leaving them and his always being busy at work.
|The Holograms with the Starlight Girls: Lela, Deirdre, Marianne, Ashley, Krissie,|
Anne, Terri, Joellen, Nancy, Becky and Delaree (Ba Nee not pictured).
While supporting Starlight House was the driving force behind many of the decisions The Holograms made, the twelve Starlight Girls themselves were never much of a focus on the show. However, a couple did rise up to be featured characters for a few episodes and even received their own dolls in the toy line. Ashley Larson (Biore) was the newest member of the house and had more in common with The Misfits in terms of her behavior. She even went so far as to run away and join with The Misfits until realizing how disgusting they really were. Although she remained rebellious and feisty, she became a loyal member of the household. Ba Nee O’Carolan (Block & Ari Gold) was a young Vietnamese-American girl whose mother died before they reached America and whose father had been missing all her life. All she could recall was that her father had red hair, and her search for him was the driving force behind many of her appearances. While The Holograms were busy with their careers, the Starlight Girls were watched by Mrs. Bailey (Hazel Shermet).
|Danse in motion.|
Other characters included Lindsey “Lin-Z” Pierce (Blu), the popular host of Lin-Z TV, a music video/news/talk show on which both bands frequently appeared; Howard Sands (Neil Ross), a prominent Hollywood producer who often got involved in various Holograms projects; Anthony Julian (T.K. Carter), a talented director who became and remained Shana’s boyfriend; Joanie (Aragon), Starlight Music’s business manager and a longtime friend of the Bentons; Sean Harrison (Dan Gilvezan), a British teen idol who became one of Kimber’s boyfriends and had a bit of a past with The Misfits; and Jeff Wright (Michael Horton), a hot-headed stuntman who was Kimber’s other boyfriend after Kimber originally rejected his advances.
Initially, Synergy was housed inside a hidden room at Starlight Drive-In until her location was almost discovered by Eric. The Holograms disassembled her main computer and brought her to Starlight Mansion; the replacement home they won in a contest with The Misfits after Zipper burned down Starlight House. Once again, her room was hidden by an elaborate hologram that only the band knew about. Sometimes Synergy would project herself as a full-bodied woman, usually wearing a purple-toned leotard with purple skin and hair. It would be learned later in the series that Emmett used Jacqui’s likeness and master tape recordings to program Synergy as a tribute to his late wife.
|Jem character model art.|
Jem premiered on October 6, 1985. While the toys were directed towards girls, Hasbro wanted the show to have a more universal appeal which is why a lot of action was blended in amongst the soap opera elements. The first five episodes of the series were broken up into three seven-minute segments each and aired as part of the “Super Saturday/Super Sunday” programming block between segments of Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines, Robotix and Inhumanoids. The thinking was that with the promise of two boy-oriented properties bookending the girl-oriented show boys wouldn’t be likely to tune out and would actually stay and watch it. Out of those segments, only Jem and Inhumanoids expanded out into their own standalone programs. When the episodes were re-aired, the segments were combined into a single story with additional bridging elements added. The first season aired on Saturday mornings in syndication.
|Jem riding a flying horse in a video.|
One of the most unique aspects of the series was the music. Because the show was conceived during the rising prominence of MTV, it was decided that every episode would feature up to three musical numbers of varying lengths by any mixture of The Holograms and The Misfits. Each was done in the form of a faux music video, complete with the song and band names superimposed on the screen at the start and end of each song. In writing the scripts, the writers had to figure out where the best place for a song would be in each act. Sometimes they would suggest song titles, other times they would give brief descriptions of visuals for the video for the storyboard artists to work off of. Early on, when the videos seemed to blend too well into the surrounding adventure, Will Meugniot was placed in charge of the video storyboarding crew and helped to redefine their looks so that they would stand out a bit more. Like other music videos at the time, they featured quick editing, an in-your-face style, and special effects. Meugniot infused the videos with the sensibilities of anime, of which he was a fan.
|Jem and Aja rocking out.|
Ford Kinder and Anne Bryant wrote every song for the show, with Robert J. Walsh composing and conducting their music. Each group featured would get their own distinctive sound with different instruments being used and in the tonality of the lyrics. On top of those sounds, the show would sometimes switch up between genres; going from rock to jazz to classical. Barry Harman wrote the song lyrics trying to match, emphasize and compliment the action going on in the story. The singing voices on the show, recorded on the East Coast, were provided by different people than the speaking voices, recorded on the West Coast, in order to maximize production time. However, painstaking measures were taken to ensure that the two voices sounded close enough to blend and make them believable as belonging to the same person.
|The Holograms on stage.|
The house band was comprised of guitarist Steve Bill, bassist Tom Barney, set drummer and electronic drum programmer Tom Oldakowski, and pianist Peter Phillips. When they were looking for the singing voice for Jem, Phillips suggested his daughter, Britta. Britta, who had a cold at the time of her audition which gave her a deeper tenor, performed the series’ theme song “Jem-Truly, Truly, Truly Outrageous”. Her audition went so well that not only was she cast, but her audition tape was what was used as the series’ official opening theme recording. Diva Gray, Florence Warner and Cappelli provided the background and additional vocals for the songs. The rest of the series’ score was composed by Robert J. Walsh.
The character designs went through several revisions. Hasbro wanted their appearance to have the comic book-style properties of their other animated outings. Lee Gunther, executive in charge of production, turned to Marvel art director William DuBay and asked for designs influenced by Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Those were rejected as nobody else in the design team would be capable of matching Disney’s 50-year-old style. Rudy Nebres came in with a second set of designs, but those ended up too complex for animation. DuBay then turned to Paula Lafond, the leading female character designer at the time, to do her own workups. Hers were the designs eventually used in combination with DuBay’s modified heads. Debra L. Pugh handled the primary costume design, coming up with the majority of the outfits on the series, with others based on the doll fashions by Carleigh Hoff. The animation for most of the episodes was provided by Japanese studio Toei Doga (now Toei Animation). They had initially rendered the characters with anime-style faces until a key artist was sent overseas to supervise and establish the look they actually wanted. The opening sequence was done with rotoscoping by animating over live professional dancers to make the characters’ motions much more fluid. The series also featured commercial bumpers leading into and out of the commercial breaks.
|Raya and Craig competing to be drummer of The Holograms.|
After the first season, a few changes were made. The first two episodes debuted new characters, some permanent and others in recurring roles. Shana, wanting to pursue a fashion career, left the band and The Holograms held auditions for her replacement. That brought them Carmen “Raya” Alonso (Linda Dangcil); a Mexican-American girl who was the daughter of florists. She inadvertently stumbled upon Jem’s identity, but refused to reveal it to The Misfits, even when their newest member paid to have her parents’ nursery destroyed as intimidation. When Shana returned to the group, Raya stayed on as drummer and Shana took up the guitar (which was actually her doll’s original accessory). During their search, The Holograms also met Stormer’s brother Craig (Horton), who also refused to give in to The Misfits’ demands to reveal Jem’s identity. And, speaking of The Misfits’ new member, after hearing about The Holograms’ talent search, The Misfits recruited Sheila “Jetta” Burns (Louise Dorsey) after Stormer hears her playing her saxophone in a seedy club. Dorsey’s casting was the only one directly handled by Marx as she wanted a legitimately British actress to play the part avoiding any stereotypical American impressions of one.
Hasbro, looking to cut some costs, asked that some of the earlier songs be reused in the series; even though all-new video sequences were still created to go along with them. Writers had to work around the existing catalog to fit them into the stories they were writing. A new, more jingle-esque theme debuted with the episode “Father’s Day.” “Jem Girls” became the permanent theme for the remainder of the series while the original theme and opening sequenced remained the closing theme played during the credits. Accompanying it was a new intro that combined pieces of the original with episode clips. Because the episodes weren’t aired in production order, the two themes would alternate until the episode “Journey to Shangri-La.” Whenever an episode would run short on time, another song would play before the end credits; either from the same episode or a previous song and video.
|The Stingers: Rapture, Riot and Minx.|
For the third season, a new band was introduced called The Stingers. They were courted by both The Holograms and The Misfits to join their respective labels; however, Eric finally won them over by giving them half of Misfit Music and renaming it Stingers Sound. Regardless, The Stingers were more of a neutral band with no loyalties to either The Holograms or Misfits. The band was comprised of lead singer Rory “Riot” Llewelyn (Townsend Coleman & Gordon Grody), an arrogant yet charming man who escaped his strict upbringing to pursue his musical career; Ingrid “Minx” Kruger (Kath Soucie & Vicki Sue Robinson), an arrogant and self-absorbed German girl who played synthesizers and provided backup vocals; and Phoebe “Rapture” Ashe (Ellen Gerstell & Robinson), a skilled con artist and dabbler in the occult who played guitar and provided backup vocals. Riot believed Jem was the perfect woman for him and pursued her often, adding another element to the triangle between her and Rio. Although Jem did find herself attracted to Riot, it was Pizzazz who had it bad for him. Minx often set her sights on Rio, enjoying the thrill of trying to steal him from Jem and Jerrica.
|Hasbro 1986 catalog cover.|
The Jem dolls were released by Hasbro in 1986, getting a cover feature on Hasbro’s catalogue as their crown jewel franchise. Their vibrant colors, realistic body shapes, creative fashions and playsets proved a hit with consumers and flew off store shelves. Many of the dolls also came with cassettes that featured the Jem theme and two other songs from the series, as well as a collectible poster. Various tie-in merchandise was also produced: from watches to games to lunch boxes. Unfortunately, Mattel had gotten wind of Hasbro’s product and quickly gave Barbie her own rock band in the line Barbie and the Rockers. Mattel also partnered with DiC Entertainment to release two specials based on the toys in 1987.
Hasbro fought back by releasing even more dolls and playsets in the next wave and producing gimmicks such as the Glitter ‘n Gold line, but by then the market had become saturated by them, Barbie and other imitators. Parents were also turned off by the fact that the Jem dolls were larger than other dolls on the market; meaning that they would have to buy all-new outfits instead of being able to use the ones they already had. Sales dwindled, and the line was effectively dead with the final dolls coming out in 1988. Without a line to promote, Hasbro saw no reason to continue funneling money into the animated series despite its excellent ratings. Hasbro opted to let the series conclude after its 65-episode syndication run.
|Title screen for "Now" featuring all the groups.|
Knowing with enough time about the series’ cancellation, Marx was able to write a final episode; a rarity for an animated series. “A Father Should Be” featured all the bands setting aside their differences to help Ba Nee finally find her father. By its end, the series had amassed 65 episodes, 151 original songs, and 187 music videos. A movie was planned, but the idea was scrapped after Transformers: The Movie and My Little Pony: The Movie failed to perform well at the box office. Marx wrote 23 of the series’ episodes, with contributions by such notable writers as Greg Weisman, Paul Dini, Buzz Dixon, Michael Reaves, David Wise, Marv Wolfman, and Roger Slifer (who also served as story editor with Marx). Other writers included Mary Skrenes, Beth Bornstein, Rick Merwin, Ellen Guon, Cheri Wilkerson, George Arthur Bloom, Jina Bacarr, Misty Stewart-Taggart, Steve Mitchell, Barbara Petty, Chris Pelzer, Eric Early, Michael Charles Hill, Clair Noto, Carla Conway, and Evelyn A.R. Gabai. Amongst the storyboarding crew was Vicky Jenson, who would go on to launch the popular Shrek movie franchise, Boyd Kirkland, who had a prominent career producing and directing series for Marvel and DC Comics, and Rick Hoberg, who continued to produce art for action-oriented programming.
|DVD packaging for the complete series.|
25 episodes had been released to VHS between 1986 and 1999 by Family Home Entertainment, Avid Entertainment and Kid Rhino in the United States, Trefa Video and Collage Entertainment AB in Sweden, Golden Entertainment in Australia, Stardust in Italy, Initial, Mirage Junior and Recre VIDEO in France, and Kideo Video, ADB and Blancic Video in Venezuela. In 2003, 2006 and 2007, Film Factory AB, Company of Kids and Metrodome released the first five episodes as Jem The Movie in Sweden, Holland and the United Kingdom. In 2004, Rhino Entertainment released 45 episodes as Jem – The Complete 1st & 2nd Seasons and Jem –Season 3, Part 1. MRA Entertainment released four volumes containing 16 episodes in Australia in 2005, while Kero released 44 episodes in France. In 2010, Declic Images released three sets containing the entire series except for “Father’s Day” redubbed in French, excluding the music videos. In 2011, Shout! Factory released Jem and the Holograms: the Truly Outrageous Complete Series and later as individual sets between 2011 and 2012. “Britrock” was included as part of the third season instead of season 2 in both releases. Aside from the toy cassettes, the music from Jem never received a complete album release.
Hasbro, still wanting their own doll line in the United States (they had Sindy overseas) reused a lot of the Jem sculpts and accessories to create a new line called “Maxie”. Maxie was a popular high school girl in California who hung out with her friends Carly, Ashley and Kristen. To promote the new doll line, Hasbro partnered with DiC to produce an animated series called Maxie’s World. Debuting in 1987, the series only ran a single season of 32 episodes before it was cancelled. The dolls were released in 1988 and, priced slightly lower than Barbie, sold well with the help of a marketing campaign that featured Brooke Theiss starring in commercials as a real-life Maxie. Unfortunately, Mattel countered by creating Barbie’s cousin Jazzie which torpedoed the Maxie line. Hasbro discontinued production in 1990.
|The JemCon logo.|
Jem had never completely gone away; managing to gain a devoted and loyal fan base. In 2005, one fan, Liz Pemberton, began the annual show called JemCon, where fans of the show could gather to celebrate it and the products on which it was based. Having been hosted in 15 cities and 3 countries, the con features guests in the forms of actors and crew from the show, or former employees of Hasbro during that time period.
Since its last airing in 1993 on the USA Network in reruns, Jem returned to the public consciousness when it began airing on the then-Hasbro co-owned network The Hub (later Hub Network and Discovery Family) in 2011, as well as on Teletoon Retro in Canada. That same year, it was announced at New York Comic Con that Integrity Toys would be producing a new line of Jem collectible fashion dolls based on the series; each retailing over $100. Many of the characters who had never been seen in doll form before had received their first releases as part of the line. At San Diego Comic Con 2012, Disguise showcased the costumes and wigs (sold separately) for Jem, Pizzazz and Synergy they would release later that year at Spirit Halloween. In 2014, Newark reprised her role for one of a series of holiday Honda commercials featuring a Jem doll. In 2015, Sweet Prints, Inc. released a set of highly-detailed cookie cutters featuring the faces of all five Holograms; sold individually or as a set. 2018 saw the release of Jem and Pizzazz as Funko POP! vinyl figures.
After years of Marx stating she’d like to bring back and modernize the Jem concept if not for legal issues, Hasbro finally announced a new feature film was in development following the success of the G.I. Joe and Transformers movie franchises in 2014. Directed by John M. Chu, the film starred Aubrey Peeples as Jem, Stefanie Scott as Kimber, Hayley Kiyoko as Aja, Aurora Perrineau as Shana and Julliette Lewis as a reimagined female version of Eric Raymond named Erica. Rio, played by Ryan Guzman, was reimagined as Erica’s son while Mrs. Bailey (Molly Ringwald) was made the girls’ aunt and guardian. Newark had a cameo as a hairstylist, Phillips as a stage manager, and Marx played music reporter Lindsey Pierce. The film differed from the cartoon in that it had the Holograms rise to fame via YouTube and attracted the attention of Erica. Erica planned to have Jerrica break into a solo career and gave her the Jem identity, but the girls reunited during a scavenger hunt to find Emmet Benton’s (Barnaby Carpenter) invention, 51N3RGY.
|Aja, Shana, Jem and Kimber.|
The film was released on October 23, 2015 by Universal Studios two weeks after the show’s 30th anniversary and was largely panned by critics and fans. In North America it debuted at 15th place, grossing only $1.4 million—nearly $4 million lower than expected. After two weeks of continually disappointing box office receipts worldwide, Universal pulled the film from theaters in an unprecedented move. The final gross was $2.3 million worldwide against a $5 million budget. The proposed--and now unlikely sequel--would have featured The Misfits, who made their debut at the end of the film.
|Jem and the Holograms #1.|
In time for the anniversary, however, IDW Publishing began a Jem and the Holograms comic which reimagined and modernized the concept. The series was co-created by writer Kelly Thompson and artist Sophie Campbell and began in March of 2015. While Synergy’s discovery and use was kept largely intact, Jerrica was given the reason of stage fright to become Jem and help her sisters win a contest hosted by The Misfits (which included Jetta from the outset). Rio was also reimagined as a music reporter that had just met The Holograms after their first performance, and the Starlight Girls were at a center where The Holograms volunteered rather than lived. The series ran for 26 issues, several specials and annuals, and a couple of mini-series including one centering on The Misfits.