Belgian businessman and artist Freddy Monnickendam had tried unsuccessfully to acquire the rights to Peyo’s The Smurfs since 1977. Eventually, he became the head of SEPP International S.A., the branch of publisher Dupuis responsible for the merchandising of The Smurfs’ comic. He brokered the deal between Peyo, NBC and Hanna-Barbera to adapt the comic into an animated series. However, Monnickendam’s relationship with Peyo quickly soured when the men disagreed over the direction the series should take; Peyo wanted it to remain faithful to the comics, while Monnickendam wanted it to become mainstream and accessible.
|First Snorks comic.|
After a legal dispute over the division of the rights and money for the show, Monnickendam decided to try and find a property to acquire to compete with The Smurfs. Monnickendam came upon Nic Broca’s self-published Snorkels; the evolution of an idea that began as the “Diskies” in the comic series Spirou et Fantasio. He acquired the rights to the characters from Broca and the two of them entered into a partnership with Hanna-Barbera to turn it into an animated series.
Snorks (or Snorky), as they were renamed, was essentially the underwater version of The Smurfs. They were a race of colorful creatures that lived under the sea and had large snorkels--also called snorks--coming out of the tops of their heads. They could use these snorkels to propel themselves or objects through the water, breathe, or make a variety of sound effects. Unlike The Smurfs’ medieval setting, Snorks was set in modern times with underwater equivalents to modern conveniences like television and automobiles. They lived in a capitalist society, using money called “clams” that were shaped like clamshells to purchase things. They also primarily ate things made out of kelp, including ice cream and burgers.
|The residents of Snorkland.|
Snorks focused primarily on a group of teenaged friends from the town of Snorkland. Allstar Seaworthy (Michael Bell) was the de facto leader of the group. He was brave, smart, athletic and generous. Casey Kelp (B.J. Ward) was a tomboy and Allstar’s love interest. She was equally athletic, brave and intelligent, and would always come to the defense of anyone that needed it. Tooter Shelby (Frank Welker), was Allstar’s best friend and had a condition that prevented him from talking; however, he communicated by making sounds with his snork. Daffney Gillfin (Nancy Cartwright) was good-hearted, although incredibly vain. Dimitris “Dimmy” Finister (Brian Cummings) was an aspiring comedian and fighter, however his attempts to do either usually led to unfavorably comedic results. He and Daffney frequently dated. Wellington Wetworth, Jr., also known as simply “Junior” (Barry Gordon), was the spoiled rich son of the Governor, Wellington, Sr. (Frank Nelson). He was the series’ original “villain,” constantly seeking fame and fortune at the expense of others. He often involved his little brother, Willie (Fredricka Weber), in his schemes and treated him shabbily as thanks; however, Willie was Junior’s polar opposite and generally more well-liked.
|Daffney and Jo-Jo.|
Other characters included the aforementioned Governor. He was vain and egocentric, and acted like a stereotypical dishonest politician. The Governor’s actions, while predominantly left unchecked until a situation causes him to lose face, did sometimes come under question by the true power of Snorkland: the shadowy Council of Elders (Peter Cullen and Bell). Dr. Galeo Seaworthy (Clive Revill) was Allstar’s scientist uncle who often provided Allstar and his friends the tools needed on their adventures; including their submarine, The Silverfish. Occy (Welker) was Allstar’s pet octopus who could handle several instruments at once. Jo-Jo (Roger DeWitt) was a wild Snork with two snorks on his head, and was essentially Snorkland’s version of Tarzan. His companion was Fengy, a dogfish. The Snork-Eaters were large creatures who hunted and ate Snorks, and were a constant environmental threat to them.
|The Silverfish and a whale.|
Hanna-Barbera, along with SEPP International S.A. and 3M France produced a 3-minute pilot episode to sell the show to NBC. NBC bought the series, and Snorks made their debut on September 15, 1984. The intro to the series was done in the form of narration from the log of a sea captain who encountered the Snorks after his ship sank in the 1600s. Among the show’s writers were Gordon Bressack, John Semper, Jr., Alan Burnett, Tom Ruegger, Lane Raichert, Glenn Leopold, Charles M. Howell, IV, Cynthia Friedlob, Ray Parker, Mark Young, David Schwartz, Kristina Luckey, Francis Novier, John Bonaccorsi, John Bradford, Sandy Fries, Mark Seidenberg, Betty G. Birney, Kevin Hopps, Chris Otsuki, Misty Stewart-Taggart, Joseph Barbera, John Bates, Kristina Mazzotti, Eleanor Burian-Mohr, Evelyn Gabi and Jack Hanrahan. Leopold and Bradford served as story editors.
NBC renewed the show for a second season, and Snorks was included in their Saturday morning preview special Back to Next Saturday. Bell reprised his role as a limitedly animated Allstar interacting with the stars of the special, leading to clips from the show. The season premiered the next day on September 14, 1985 with a new theme: “We’re the Snorks.” Both intro themes were composed by Hoyt Curtin, who also scored the show.
Along with the theme, the second season brought about several changes. Allstar’s voice was performed with a lower pitch while Casey’s was performed higher. A new recurring villain was introduced: Dr. Strangesnork (René Auberjonois). He was the absent-minded mad scientist brother of Galeo who sought to conquer Snorkland with his various schemes and inventions. He was accompanied by Finneus (Welker), a catfish who kept reminding Strangesnork of everything he’d forget.
The third season was delayed until 1987 and aired on both NBC and in first-run syndication. The show gained its third and final theme, “Come Along With the Snorks” composed by Chase/Rucker Productions. That theme is the most well-known of the series, having replaced the two previous ones in later syndicated reruns. Raichert took over as head writer and story editor alongside Neal Barbera, leading to a more adventure-oriented direction for the show. This was the first and only season to feature digital ink animation, giving it a different look when compared to the previous two.
|Corky model page.|
Dimmy largely disappeared from the show outside of several cameo appearances. In his place, Jo-Jo was upgraded to a series regular, as was Corky (Rob Paulsen), a dedicated officer of Snorkland’s police force, the Snork Patrol. Gordon took over voicing the Governor after Nelson had died, as did Jim Cummings in the role of Allstar’s father after his actor, Bob Holt, also passed on. Junior’s role as a villain was greatly reduced and he became more of a pseudo-friend to the main group. In his place were the new villains Bigweed (Bell) and Li’l Seaweed (Ward), seaweed-like creatures with faulty magical abilities that wanted to conquer Snorkland and enslave the Snorks, and the Great Snork Nork (Welker), a vampire Snork whose snork was on the front of his face and could fire electrical bolts from his hands. Snip and Snap, two robot Snorks created by Bigweed, turned on him and became residents of Snorkland.
|Allstar and Casey sharing kelp shakes.|
Snorks was renewed for a fourth season, but it was aired on two different networks concurrently. USA Network took over the Saturday airings beginning on September 10, 1988, while ABC aired it in daily syndication beginning on October 24. Up until this season, every episode was comprised of two segments. After the season’s seventh episode, the show switched to a single-story format for the remainder of its run. While the animation reverted back to the older hand-drawn style, a new style was used for the characters and the overall animation was lighter when compared to the rest of the series. Although Snorks was a success in its own right, it didn’t quite match the success of The Smurfs. Monnickendam’s partnership with Broca came to an end and eventually SEPP disbanded as well.
Snorks remained on the air in reruns until May of 1989. During its original run, a wide array of merchandise was released. Happy House published a series of educational/coloring books, while Random House did a series of books continuing the Snorks’ adventures. International Games released a board and card game featuring the characters. Applause released a series of erasers in the shape of the characters’ heads and plush dolls that came in three sizes. They also released a series of PVC figurines, along with Yolanda and Miniland. Tomy produced two types of wind-up toys that either swam or walked, and a cartoon maker that allowed kids to draw their own Snorks by rubbing crayons over plates. Power-Tronic made a radio in the shape of Allstar’s head; a design which was also utilized for a squirt gun with his snork being the barrel. Thermos released a lunch box, and Worldvision Home Video a promotional mug to celebrate their home video deal. Other products included bed sheets, a block cube puzzle, a 3-D puzzle, stamps, a variety of stickers, squeak toys for dogs, a metallic bank and crank toy, a crib mobile and t-shirts.
Snorks returned to USA for syndicated reruns between 1990-92, where it also ran on Cartoon Network and TBS concurrently. Reruns also ran on Cartoon Network’s sister channel, Boomerang. Many of these reruns combined segments from the various seasons together rather than presenting them in their original broadcast form. Between 1985 and 1990, several VHS collections of various episodes were released at first by Worldvision, and then by its successor, Hanna-Barbera Home Video. In 2012, Warner Archive released the complete first season to DVD as part of their Hanna-Barbera Classics Collection, and Hulu was allowed to release 39 episodes as part of an agreement with Content Media Corporation. The first season DVD presented the original NBC opening sequence for the first time since the episodes’ initial broadcasts; however, several of the episodes’ title cards ended up lost and the episodes aren’t in broadcast order. It wouldn’t be until 2015 when they released the second season, which also maintained its original theme. The third and fourth seasons were packaged together and released the following year.