February 23, 2019


(NBC, September 22, 1979-January 5, 1980)

Hanna Barbera Productions

Frank Welker – Shmoo, various
Bill Idelson – Mickey
Chuck McCann – Billy Joe, various

The first Li'l Abner strip.

Li’l Abner was a satirical comic strip created by cartoonist Al Capp. The strip focused on the titular character: a simple and gullible sweet-natured hillbilly that lived in the fictional backwater town of Dogpatch, which was populated by a variety of colorful characters. It was the first strip to be based in the southern United States, as most other strips at the time dealt with northern urban areas. It debuted on August 13, 1934 and ran an impressive 43 years. At its height, the strip had 60 million readers across 900 domestic and 100 foreign newspapers in 28 countries. The strip’s final years were marked by a severe decline in quality, as admitted by Capp, due to his waning interest and failing health. He decided to end the strip on November 13, 1977 with an apology to his fans for not doing so sooner, and ultimately died two years later from emphysema caused by his smoking habit.

Abner learns about the shmoo.

In 1948, Capp debuted his most unique character yet in the strip: the shmoo. Shmoos were creatures that resembled bowling pins with legs and faces and a few whiskers. They had no arms or discernable ears of any kind. They were essentially a living, breathing resource factory as every part of a shmoo could be consumed in some way. They tasted delicious and happily gave themselves over to anyone who was hungry; they laid eggs already in cartons and gave milk already bottled; their eyes could be used as suspender buttons and their whiskers as toothpicks; their pelts could be used for various materials depending on their thickness; and since they had no bones there was no waste. Shmoos reproduced asexually and at a greater speed than rabbits, and all they required was air to live. Their gentleness made them great pets and companions for children, and their ability to perform “Shmoozical Comedies” made them entertaining for all. 

The shmoo extermination begins.

Abner discovered the shmoos when he was thrown into their forbidden valley by a primitive “large gal”. After learning about them, Abner realized “Wif these around, nobody won’t nevah havta work no more!” and led them out of their valley into Dogpatch, and then the rest of the world. With no one having to work or purchase products and services anymore, society eventually broke down. Those most affected by this, namely wealthy fat cats, organized “Shmooicide Squads” to eliminate the creature and restore the status quo. Abner ended up saving a boy and girl shmoo (sidestepping their gender-neutral nature in a plot twist) who were married, had a family, and returned to the Valley of the Shmoon. The shmoos, dubbed in the strip as a menace by the U.S. Military and a threat to national security, made a few more appearances in the 50s and 60s before disappearing altogether. 

The shmoo savings bond.

The shmoo proved immensely popular. It sparked years of debates over their supposed commentary on society and the allegory of greed tarnishing everything that’s good in the world. It also became an unprecedented cultural phenomenon; especially considering its popularity stemmed solely from the strip without a marketing campaign of any kind. The character was heavily merchandised, with the shmoo’s image being used to adorn a wide variety of products and clothing. In a single year, shmoo merchandise saw over $25 million in sales. Articles about the shmoo appeared in a variety of major magazines and newspapers. The word “shmoo” became a part of everyday language, generally replacing the word “new” in phrases, and it was immortalized in a variety of novelty songs. In 1949, the shmoo replaced Mickey Mouse as the face of the Children’s Savings Bond. Simon & Schuster collected the original comics in The Life and Times of the Shmoo, which became a best-seller that sold over 700,000 copies within the first year. Capp’s family-owned Toby Press brought the shmoo to comic books in Al Capp’s Shmoo Comics.  

The cast of Fearless Fosdick with the humanized Shmoozer (up front with the whiskers).

Given the character’s popularity, it was only natural that attempts to adapt it outside of the strip would be made. A more humanized version named Shmoozer appeared in the short-lived puppet series Fearless Fosdick, which was based on the Dick Tracy parody strip-within-a-strip featured in Li’l Abner. Shmoos were intended to appear in the 1956 Broadway musical adaptation of the strip, but were nixed due to impracticality. In 1979, Hanna-Barbera Productions acquired the rights to bring the shmoo to television in full-color, animated glory. 

Promo for the show.

The New Shmoo debuted on NBC on September 22, 1979. The series employed Hanna-Barbera’s tried and true Scooby-Doo formula, ignoring any of the characterizations or allegory from its source material. The Shmoo (Frank Welker) was now the companion of Nita (Dolores Cantu-Primo), Mickey (Bill Idelson) and Billy Joe (Chuck McCann); three kids who worked for Mighty Mystery Comics and traveled around investigating paranormal happenings for material for their publication (similar to Goober and the Ghost Chasers). The Shmoo served as both comic relief and a useful tool in their investigations, as his malleable form allowed him to assume the shape of anything required in a pinch (pogo sticks, slides, platters, mice, etc.). During the original run, the program included a short segment called “Sing Along with the Shmoo” in which Shmoo became a bouncing ball that helped highlight song lyrics so that the audience could sing along. The series was written by Gene Ayres, Doug Booth, Arthur Browne Jr., Buzz Dixon, Donald F. Glut, Len Janson, Dale Kirby, Glenn Leopold, Chuck Menville, Michael Reaves and Jim Ryan, with Menville also serving as story editor. Hoyt Curtin composed the series’ music.

Working hard to make those deadlines.

While the comic strip shmoo may have taken the country by storm, the animated Shmoo failed to repeat that success. After the first eleven episodes, the series was absorbed into the more successful Fred and Barney Meet the Thing package program, airing its remaining episodes alongside The Thing and reruns of The New Fredand Barney Show. This new 90-minute block was renamed Fred and Barney Meet the Shmoo and the Shmoo episodes were broken up into two-parters to further mix the segments of the program. As with the previous incarnation, the characters of the respective shows never interacted with each other outside of the introduction and commercial bumpers; however, the Shmoo would star with Fred Flintstone (Henry Corden) and Barney Rubble (Mel Blanc) in a segment of The Flintstones Comedy Show that debuted the following year. 

“The Amazing Captain Mentor” (9/22/79) – A new superhero arrives in town and seems to spend his time rehabilitating bank robbers.

“The Beast of Black Lake” (9/29/79) – Is the Black Lake monster real—or a hoax?

“The Ber-Shmoo-Da Triangle” (10/6/79) – As the gang sets out for the Bermuda Triangle, they’re unaware that their pilots are jewel thieves.

“The Crystal Ball of Crime” (10/13/79) – Billy Joe suspects that crime-predicting Madame Natasha may be crooked herself.

“Dr. Morton’s Monster” (10/20/79) – Dr. Morton’s robot is programmed to repair damage, but the townsfolk believe it caused it instead.

“The Energy Robbers from Space” (10/27/79) – A scientist helps the gang get to the bottom of extraterrestrial energy thieves.

“The Flying Disc of Doom” (11/3/79) – Aliens arrive with the seeming ability to control time.

“The Haunting of Atlantis” (11/10/79) – The gang joins in on a quest to find Atlantis.

“Monster Island” (11/17/79) – A distress call brings the gang to an island full of mythological monsters on the loose.

“The Pyramid of Peril” (11/24/79) – The gang tries to prove to a billionaire that a youth-restoring pyramid isn’t what it seems.

“The Return of Dracula” (12/1/79) – The gang learns that Dracula lives!

“Swamp of Evil” (12/8/79) – Ending up lost on their vacation, the gang gets involved in a mystery to find who’s polluting the swamp.

“The Terror of the Trolls” (12/15/79) – The gang investigates reports of a horde of trolls menacing an island.

“The Valley Where Time Stood Still” (12/22/79) – While visiting a ranch the gang discovers a lost prehistoric valley.

“The Wail of the Banshee” (12/29/79) – A banshee haunts the Dalton estate.

“The Warlock of Voodoo Island” (1/5/80) – The gang investigates a warlock terrorizing the lighthouse where Mickey’s grandmother works.

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