April 01, 2017


(NBC, September 9-December 2, 1972)

Hanna-Barbera Productions

Ross Martin – Dr. Paul Williams
John Stephenson – Capt. Michael Murphy
Josh Albee – Robert Murphy
Pamelyn Ferdin – Sally Murphy
William Callaway – Lt. Sparks
Jerry Dexter – Hal
Ann Jillian – Gail
Ron Pinkard – Ed
Olga James – Mrs. Thomas
Gary Shapiro - Jamie                                           

            Sealab 2020 was a futuristic series by Hanna-Barbera Productions set in an underwater lab, known as Sealab, in a place called the Challenger seamount. The lab was inhabited by a crew of 250 “oceanauts” dedicated to exploring the wonders and dangers of the sea.

Alex Toth equipment concept art.

            Heading up the lab was Dr. Paul Williams (Ross Martin), and he was often assisted by Hal (Jerry Dexter), Gail (Ann Jillian) and Ed (Ron Pinkard), as well as communications officer Lt. Sparks (William Callaway). The crew was joined by the Murphy family—Michael (John Stephenson), Robert (Josh Albee) and Sally (Pamelyn Ferdin)—whom they rescued from a sinking ship and became permanent residents of the Sealab. Adding a bit of comic relief was Gail’s pet dolphin, Tuffy. The characters, props and settings were designed by Alex Toth.

Sonar Room concept art.

            Sealab 2020 debuted on NBC on September 9, 1972 with music by Hoyt Curtin. Each episode written by Peter Dixon and Fred Freiberger was designed to make viewers more ecologically aware and encourage them to protect the environment. Unfortunately, the undersea adventure series failed to draw in viewers and it was quickly cancelled by December. Two episodes were left unaired, with a third having not even finished production. Despite the show’s short run, Milton Bradley released a board game based on the show the following year. In 1985, Worldvision Home Video released a VHS with the episodes “The Singing Whale” and “The Shark Lover.” In 2012, Warner Archive released the complete series to DVD as part of their Hanna-Barbera Classics collection; however it’s complete only in that it includes every episode actually aired and not the final three.

            In 1995, while working as production assistants for Cartoon Network, Adam Reed and Matt Thompson came across a tape of the show. They wrote new dialogue for it and pitched it to the network as a potential parody series. Initially, the network passed. Five years later, Reed and Thompson revisited the tape and decided to alter the footage to have the character do what they wanted. Pitching it again to Cartoon Network around the time they were planning to launch their Adult Swim programming block, the network bought the show. Sealab 2021 rearranged footage from every episode as well as additional cartoon series to create all-new nonsensical episodes that didn’t follow a particular continuity (Sealab’s destruction and character deaths were often undone in following episodes). The series, produced by Williams Street, 70/30 Productions and Radical Axis, proved more popular than the original and ran for four seasons for a total of 52 11-minute episodes.

“Deep Threat” (9/9/72) – Robert and Sally get lost while diving while the water becomes contaminated by leaking radioactive barrels.  

“Lost” (9/16/72) – A red tide hits the Sealab and cuts down its oxygen supply while Gail trains a dolphin to rescue divers.

“Green Fever” (9/23/72) – The Sealab floods after an anchor hits it.

“The Singing Whale” (9/30/72) – A whale expert visits the Sealab just as a whale hunter chases a blue whale into their vicinity.

“The Shark Lover” (10/7/72) – The Sealab calls in a shark expert to figure out why the shark population has increased around the lab.

“The Basking Shark” (10/14/72) – The Sealab is commissioned to retrieve a probe that crashed near it, but when it disappears the Sealab is suspected of espionage.

“Where Dangers Are Many” (10/21/72) – The captain of a bottom-dredging mining operation becomes trapped under his own dredge.

“Backfire” (10/28/72) – When oil drillers refuse to relocate away from Sealab, a tsunami ends up destroying their whole operation.

“The Deepest Dive” (11/4/72) – Using a new submersible to plant a seismograph on the ocean floor leads the Sealab to come into conflict with a giant squid.

“The Challenge” (11/11/72) – An archaeologist’s brother grows impatient with the speed Sealab’s safety guidelines have them moving to find a sunken treasure.

“Collision of the Aquarius” (11/18/72) – A submarine crashes into Seamount and its reactor threatens Sealab.

“The Capture” (11/25/72) – The kids don’t like a biologist’s capture of animal species, but their attempts to set them free get them caught in a cage and dragged over the edge of the Seamount.

“The Arctic Story” (12/2/72) – The crew use the Dolphin to try and find the Arctic research station that is caught under a capsized ice floe.

“S.O.S.: Sealab Ocean Signal” (N/A) – The Sealab is threatened by toxic chemicals that could cause it to explode.

“Utopia of Cassidy” (N/A) – The crew discovers a seeming island paradise.

Originally posted in 2017. Updated in 2020.

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