ABC WEEKEND SPECIALS
(ABC, September 10, 1977-August 30, 1997)
Michael Young – Host (1979-81)
Willie Tyler & Lester – Hosts (1981-84)
Frank Welker & Neil Ross – Cap’n O.G. Readmore (1984-92)
ABC Weekend Specials was ABC’s second attempt at a Movie of the Week anthology series targeted towards children after The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie. However, instead of being merely a proving ground for potential shows for the various studios, Weekend Specials took on a heavy educational slant encouraging reading with a mixture of animated and live-action presentations.
A number of children’s books were adapted for the series, ranging in publication date from only a few years prior to the show all the way back a few centuries. They included The Winged Colt of Casa Mia and Trouble River by Betsy Byars; Soup and Me, Soup for President and Mr. Little by Robert Newton Peck; The Contest Kid and the Big Prize, The Contest Kid Strikes Again and The Trouble with Miss Switch by Barbara Brooks Wallace; If I’m Lost, How Come I Found You? by Walter Oleksy; Weep No More My Lady by Mary Higgins Clark; The Horse that Played Center Field by Hal Higdon; And This is Laura by Ellen Conford; The Ghost of Thomas Kempe by Penelope Lively; The Incredible Detectives by Don and Joan Caufield; Scruffy: The Tuesday Dog by Jack Stoneley; Arthur the Kid by Alan Coren; Zack and the Magic Factory by Elaine L. Schulte; Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery by James and Deborah Howe; The Red Room Riddle: A Ghost Story by Scott Corbett; Frank and Fearless by Horatio Alger Jr.; All the Money in the World by Bill Brittain; The Secret World of Og by Pierre Berton; An American Ghost by Chester Aaron; The Dog Days of Arthur Cane by T. Ernesto Bethancourt; A Different Twist by Elizabeth Levy; The Bunjee Venture by Stan McMurty; Henry Hamilton, Graduate Ghost by Marilyn Redmond; The Bollo Caper by Art Buchwald; The Adventures of a Two-Minute Werewolf by Gene Deweese; The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams Bianco; The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain; Jeter Mason and the Magic Headset by Maggie Twohill; Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren; The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Runaway Ralph and Ralph S. Mouse by Beverly Cleary; Santabear’s First Christmas by Barbara Read and Howard B. Lewis; The P.J. Funnybunny series by Marilyn Sadler; The Monster Bed by Jeanne Willis and Susan Varley; Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great by Judy Blume; Stanley by Syd Hoff; Choose Your Own Adventure: The Case of the Silk King by Shannon Gilligan; The Old Man of Lochnagar by Charles, Prince of Wales (which he narrated) and Sir Hugh Casson; Commander Toad in Space by Jane Yolen; The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett; The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. While The Littles was a book series by John Peterson, ABC had already been airing an animated series based on them before airing the two movies as part of Weekend Specials.
For a bit of variety, several short stories were adapted or provided inspiration for one. Those included “The Ransom of Red Chief” by O. Henry, first published in the July 6, 1907 issue of The Saturday Evening Post; “The Gold-Bug” by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in the June 21, 1843 issue of Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper; “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog” by Mark Twain, first published in the November 18, 1865 edition of The New York Saturday Press; “Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving, first published in the serial publication The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. that ran from 1819-20; and “The Parsley Garden” by William Saroyan. There was also the folktale of Henny Penny and the fairytales of Puss in Boots, Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood.
|The monsters briefly larger than a pocket.|
Some adaptations came from outside of traditional literature. For instance, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute, was among them, as was the comic strip Little Lulu. The Matchbox toyline Monster in my Pocket, which was comprised of little monster figurines, was the subject of an animated special from Hanna-Barbera that aired on Halloween in 1992. ABC included an episode of Focus on the Family’s Christian television series McGee and Me!, which centered on an artistic 11-year-old boy dealing with life with the help of his animated imaginary friend, as the pilot for a potential new series. The series never materialized, but ABC did air another episode as part of Weekend Specials. Both episodes were edited to allow for commercials and to tone down the religious content.
|The live-action Teddy Ruxpin.|
Semi-related to the literature theme was “The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin”, the pilot for a potential series based on the animatronic stuffed bear that would read stories to children via cassette tape. The original plan by his creator Ken Forsse was to make a live-action series using animatronic characters similar to Disney’s Welcome to Pooh Corner and Dumbo’s Circus, which he had worked on. However, the venture proved to be too difficult and expensive and never went beyond the pilot episode produced. Instead, The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin ended up as a traditionally animated syndicated series. The pilot was aired as part of Weekend Specials and later in syndication in two parts.
|"The Puppy Who Wanted a Boy" title card.|
Notably, Weekend Specials served as the springboard for Ruby-Spears Productions’ The Puppy’s Further Adventures. Based on The Puppy Who Wanted a Boy by Jane Thayer, Ruby-Spears Productions produced four specials that aired at different times during Weekend Specials’ run. They proved immensely popular during both original airings and in reruns, leading to ABC greenlighting the series. The show ran for two seasons on ABC, initially airing as part of The Scooby & Scrappy-Doo/Puppy Hour alongside Hanna-Barbera’s Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo (1980). It was broken off into its own separate series for the second season.
ABC Weekend Specials debuted on September 10, 1977, following four short story specials that aired between January and April. Each episode was a half-hour as opposed to Superstar Movie’s hour-long format, with longer stories being shown in parts across multiple weeks. Along with Hanna-Barbera and Ruby-Spears, production companies who contributed to the series included Phoenix Films, Martin Tahse Productions, 20th Century Fox, Tomorrow Entertainment, Learning Corporation of America, D’Angelo/Bullock/Allen Productions, Highgate Pictures, Scholastic Productions, Hightide, Brookfield Productions, Rick Reinert Productions, DiC Entertainment, Churchill Films, Rabbit Ears Productions, Animation Cottage, Marvel Productions, Tashmoo Productions, White Sneakers, BBC Scotland and Mike Young Productions, as well as ABC Circle Films; the production arm of the network created to make content for Movie of the Week.
|Cap'n O.G. Readmore with Vincent Price.|
Beginning with the third season, ABC added a host segment to introduce the stories and recommend the book the episode was based on. Michael Young served as the first host for two seasons. He was replaced by ventriloquist Willie Tyler and his dummy, Lester. In 1984, ABC introduced the show’s new mascot: Cap’n O.G. Readmore. Readmore was an anthropomorphic alley cat dressed in a tattered nautical outfit and often found in the alley behind a library. Reinert created the character for ABC in 1983 after CBS found success with their Read More About It campaign in association with the Library of Congress. The character was originally animated for his appearance in reading PSAs, but for Weekend Specials he became a puppet initially voiced by Frank Welker (who used a less goofy-sounding voice than in the initial PSAs). Readmore would introduce the week’s story with live special guests, including Jon “Bowzer” Bauman, Billy Dee Williams, Vincent Price, Jill Whelan, magician Harry Blackstone Jr., and others. Welker also took over voicing the animated version in the PSAs. Eventually, Welker was replaced by Neil Ross, who voiced the character in his own animated episodes of Weekend Specials with a British accent. In those, he was president of the Friday Night Book Club comprised of other felines—Kitty Literature (Ilene Latter), Ol’ Tome Cat, Wordsy (both Stan Jones) and Lickety Page (Lucille Bliss)—and they often found themselves pulled into whatever book they were reading at the time. They were produced by ABC Entertainment and Rick Reinert Pictures.
The series had three opening sequences during its run. The first, designed by Rick Reinert Studios, featured a book on a desk in the middle of a library magically opening and releasing various figures into the air. It would be followed by the titles Children’s Novels for Television or Short Story Specials before the title actually appeared. This was the longest-running of the titles, going from the show’s inception until the middle of 1990. The second intro combined computer animation and live action segments as real children are sucked into the world of books and become part of the story, and Cap’n O.G. Readmore leading the way. This sequence was animated by American Film Technologies. In 1994, the third intro saw the ABC logo jump off of a book on a library shelf to another book on a desk. Upon opening that book, the logo dives into various worlds inhabited by letters before ending up on the front cover of the book.
ABC Weekend Specials ran for an impressive 17 seasons. However, as studios began to turn their focus towards the more lucrative syndication market throughout the 80s and beginning of the 90s, ABC found itself lacking sufficient content for many seasons. Older episodes were rerun with Readmore segments added to them, as were reruns of episodes from their weekday series, ABC Afterschool Specials. Between 1993-96, ABC would use the Weekend Special timeslot to air unaffiliated specials called ABC Saturday Morning Specials that took a broader educational direction. ABC’s Wide World of Sports for Kids also aired two specials during this time. Eventually with a dearth of new content and frequent preemptions by local affiliates, Weekend Specials came to an end.
|The official debut of O.G. Readmore.|
The series in its entirety has never been released to home video; however, many individual segments have by their various production companies and rights holders. “Escape of the One Ton Pet” was released to VHS by FHE Video. “Portrait of Grandpa Doc” was released to DVD in 2008 by Phoenix Learning Group. “The Seven Wishes of Joanna Peabody” was released to VHS by Learning Corporation of America. “The Haunted Mansion Mystery”, “Cap’n O.G. Readmore Meets Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde”, “PJ’s Unfunnybunny Christmas” and “PJ Funnybunny: Very Cool Easter” were released to VHS by Anchor Bay Entertainment between 1997-99. ABC themselves released “The Amazing Bunjee Venture” to VHS in 1999. The Teddy Ruxpin pilot was released to VHS by Lions Gate Home Entertainment in 1988. “Cap’n O.G. Readmore’s Puss in Boots” and “Jack and the Beanstalk” were released to VHS by Beacon Home Video in 1990, with the latter re-released by ABC Kids Video in 1993, while “Little Red Riding Hood” was released in 1988 by VCI Entertainment. “Henry Hamilton, Graduate Ghost” also saw a VHS release. In 1984, Scholastic published The Adventures of Cap’n O.G. Readmore by Fran Manushkin and Manny Campana.
Short Story Specials:
“Valentine’s Second Chance” (1/29/77) – A safecracker gets a second chance at freedom when he has to rescue a boy from a time-locked safe.
“The Haunted Trailer” (3/26/77) – Sisters discover that their motor home is haunted.
“My Dear Uncle Sherlock” (4/16/77) – A young detective and his uncle team-up to figure out who robbed the neighborhood recluse.
“Homer and the Wacky Doughnut Machine” (4/30/77) – A young mechanical genius invents a machine to help his uncle’s failing coffee shop.
“The Winged Colt” (9/10-24/77) – Charlie can’t convince his uncle that their winged horse can fly and has to find it when it disappears.
“The Ransom of Red Chief” (10/22/77) – Two kidnappers get more than they bargained for when they kidnap a financier’s son for ransom.
“Portrait of Grandpa Doc” (11/5/77) – A young artist plans a tribute for his grandfather for encouraging his dreams.
“Trouble River” (11/12-19/77) – A boy and his grandmother raft down a dangerous river to escape a group of renegades.
“Tales of the Nunundaga” (11/26-12/3/77) – A Native American boy sets out to recover his tribe’s sacred bow from an enemy.
“The Escape of a One-Ton Pet” (1/7-21/78) – 14-year-old Pru runs away with an orphaned bull in order to protect it from being slaughtered.
“Soup and Me” (2/4/78) – Friends Soup and Rob end up in women’s clothing, running from bullies, and destroying a Halloween party all in one day.
“The Puppy Who Wanted a Boy” (5/6/78) – Petey the puppy will do anything to adopt a boy of his own.
“The Seven Wishes of Joanna Peabody” (9/9/78) – Joanna is granted seven wishes by her fairy godmother and learns a lesson about sharing.
“The Contest Kid and the Big Prize” (9/16/78) – Harvey wins first prize in a contest: the services of a butler for a month.
“If I’m Lost, How Come I Found You?” (9/30-10/7/78) – Orphan Wilbur “Quacky” Quackenbush finds the father he always wanted in the young man who hides from the cops in his aunt’s house.
“The $1,000 Bill” (10/28/78) – Finding a large amount of cash encourages an insurance salesman to tell off his boss and quit, only to discover the money is counterfeit.
“Little Lulu” (11/4/78) – Little Lulu and her friends champion for women’s rights when the boys protest that their summer camp has become co-ed.
“Soup for President” (11/18/78) – Soup runs for school president against the toughest kid in school.
“Weep No More, My Lady” (2/10/79) – Skeeter adopts a brave dog and both end up the prisoner of a vengeful man in the swamp.
“The Horse That Played Centerfield” (2/24-3/3/79) – The NY Goats are on a losing streak until they put Oscar in centerfield, only to have him horsenapped during the World Series.
“The Baby with Four Fathers” (3/31/79) – Four boys decide to adopt the baby girl they find.
“The Puppy’s Great Adventure” (5/12/79) – Petey wants to prove he’s an individual when his owner’s new parents don’t like dogs.
“The Big Hex of Little Lulu” (9/15/79) – Little Lulu schemes for ways to make her friend Tubby donate money for uniforms for the neighborhood hockey team.
“The Contest Kid Strikes Again” (9/22/79) – Harvey wins some chickens that he uses to help his friend’s financial troubles.
“The Girl with ESP” (10/20/79) – A seemingly average girl suddenly develops the ability to see the future.
“The Ghost of Thomas Kempe” (11/3-10/79) – A ghost causes trouble for young James when he refuses to become his apprentice, and James turns to a handyman for help.
“The Incredible Detectives” (11/17/79) – A group of pets band together to rescue their kidnapped master.
“The Revenge of Red Chief” (12/15/79) – Red Chief gets involved in two drifters’ scheme involving a fake rain-making machine.
“The Puppy’s Amazing Rescue” (1/26/80) – Petey and Dolly have to brave the wilderness to rescue their humans from an avalanche.
“The Gold Bug” (2/2-9/80) – A young boy, an ex-slave and a treasure hunter set out to find Captain Kidd’s buried gold.
“The Trouble with Miss Switch” (2/16-23/80) – Rupert and Amelia discover their teacher is actually a witch and help her battle an evil witch to free the Witches’ Council.
“Scruffy” (10/4-18/80) – Scruffy is a stray dog who tries to survive in a strange and unforgiving world.
“Arthur the Kid” (1/3/81) – Three bumbling outlaws advertise for a new boss and end up with a 10-year-old boy.
“Zack and the Magic Factory” (1/10-17/81) – Zack and Jenny run a magic shop and put their skills to use to save their aunt’s magic-making factory from demolition.
“Mayday! Mayday!” (1/24-31/81) – A family’s airplane crashes in the High Sierras and the kids set out to find help for their trapped parents.
“The Puppy Saves the Circus” (9/12/81) – Petey ends up with amnesia and becomes a performer in a circus, saving it.
“The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” (9/19/81) – A young boy plans to win a frog-jumping contest at any cost.
“Bunnicula, the Vampire Rabbit” (1/9/82) – Mysterious goings on lead the family pets to believe the new pet rabbit may be a vampire.
“Miss Switch to the Rescue” (1/16-23/82) – Miss Switch returns to help Rupert rescue Amelia from evil mages Mordo and Saturna.
“The Joke’s on Mr. Little” (2/6/82) – An unusual teacher out-tricks an inventive pair of practical jokers.
“The Haunted Mansion Mystery” (1/8-15/83) – Angel and her neighbor investigate the haunted mansion in their neighborhood.
“The Red Room Riddle” (2/5/83) – Two kids are trapped in a haunted mansion and a ghost tells them they have to solve the riddle of the red room to escape.
“Horatio Alger Updated: Frank and Fearless” (2/12-19/83) – A young boy stands to lose his inheritance to his wicked stepmother and her son.
“All the Money in the World” (3/19/83) – A boy learns that wishing for all the money in the world may not be as good as it seems.
“The Secret World of Og” (4/30-5/14/83) – Five young siblings journey to the magical world of Og where two of them end up jailed by a town sheriff.
“Cougar!” (1/7-21/84) – Two siblings are stranded on an island with kidnappers and a hungry cougar.
“The Dog Days of Arthur Cane” (2/18-25/84) – A selfish teenager is transformed into a shaggy dog by a full moon and a magic amulet.
“A Different Twist” (3/10/84) – A young girl disguises herself as a boy in order to get into an all-boy production of Oliver.
“The Amazing Bunjee Venture” (3/24-31/84) – Two kids accidentally end up back in time where they befriend a dinosaur with an inflatable trunk and decide to bring him back to the present.
“Bad Cat” (4/14/84) – Bad Cat wants to prove that a cat can have class without being tough.
“Henry Hamilton, Graduate Ghost” (12/8-15/84) – Henry receives his first haunting assignment and ends up helping a family learn to believe in themselves.
“The Bollo Caper” (2/2/85) – Leopard Bollo escapes from being turned into a fur coat and goes to Washington to get himself declared an endangered species.
“The Adventures of a Two-Minute Werewolf” (2/23-3/2/85) – Walt decides to learn why he’s able to turn into a werewolf for two minutes at a time.
“The Return of the Bunjee” (4/6-13/85) – Bunjee, Karen and Andy go back in time again to find a mother for the Bunjee babies that hatched, only to end up in medieval times.
“The Velveteen Rabbit” (4/20/85) – Robert believes his toy rabbit is real, and he becomes real when a fairy saves him from being burned as the cause of Robert’s scarlet fever.
“The Adventures of Con Sawyer and Hucklemary Finn” (9/7-14/85) – A gender-swapped retelling of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
“Jeeter Mason and the Magic Headset” (10/5/85) – Jeter Mason’s moon rock speaks to her through a radio headset and allows her to do anything with its powers.
“Cap’n O.G. Readmore’s Jack and the Beanstalk” (10/12/85) – The Friday Night Book Club makes fun of the characters in their favorite fairy tales, prompting them to come to life and kidnap O.G.
“Pippi Longstocking” (11/2-9/85) – Tommy and Annika get an adventurous new neighbor: orphan Pippi Longstocking.
“Columbus Circle” (11/23/85) – Members of the Columbus Circle Club attempt to play a practical joke on a snobby new neighbor.
“The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin” (11/30-12/7/85) – Teddy and Grubby leave their home island to follow a treasure map to a collection of crystals.
“Cap’n O.G. Readmore Meets Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (9/13/86) – Lickety Page is sucked into Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and O.G. has to rescue him.
“The Day the Kids Took Over” (9/20-27/86) – After a fall, Mayor Van Winkle finds himself in a world run by children.
“Liberty and the Littles” (10/18-11/1/86) – The Littles end up on Liberty Island where they find their French ancestors are being persecuted by an evil general.
“The Mouse and the Morotcycle” (11/8-15/86) – Keith befriends talkative mouse Ralph who ventures out on his motorcycle to find a medicine for Keith’s illness.
“Santabear’s First Christmas” (11/22/86) – Santa appoints a young bear as his apprentice to deliver toys to the forest animals.
“Cap’n O.G. Readmore Meets Red Riding Hood” (4/2/88) – Underestimating the value of a good villain, O.G. ends up meeting a Red Riding Hood who is the Big Bad Wolf.
“Here Comes the Littles” (4/23-5/7/88) – The Littles help Augustus save his family’s property from his corrupt uncle.
“Cap’n O.G. Readmore’s Puss in Boots” (9/10/88) – O.G. tells his friends the tale about his ancestor, Puss in Boots.
“Runaway Ralph” (10/29-11/5/88) – After being grounded, Ralph runs away from home to a summer camp where he has to clear his new friend’s name when he’s accused of theft.
“P.J. Funnybunny” (2/4/89) – P.J and his friends want to become famous by contacting aliens.
“The Monster Bed” (9/9/89) – A young boy ends up transported to a spot under a monster’s bed.
“Ralph S. Mouse” (2/16-23/91) – Ralph and Ryan come up with a plan to help the bellboy who was forced to leave the inn where they are staying.
“Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great” (3/23/91) – Going to summer camp forces Sheila Tubman to overcome her fears of dogs and swimming.
“McGee and Me!: The Big Lie” (1/25/92) – To make friends in his new neighborhood, Nick makes up stories about an old man’s house that leads to bullies wrecking it.
“Cap’n O.G. Readmore Meets Chicken Little” (4/18/92) – O.G. reads Chicken Little to his friends.
“The Kingdom Chums: Original Top Ten” (5/2/92) – The Kingdom Chums teach kids the meaning of the 10 Commandments.
“McGee and Me!: Take Me Out of the Ballgame” (9/12/92) – Nick’s baseball team thinks they’re a cinch to win against their rivals thanks to their new player.
“Monster in My Pocket: The Big Scream” (10/31/92) – A group of good monsters end up shrunken and team-up with a horror author’s daughter to stop bad monsters.
“Stanley and the Dinosaurs” (11/7/92) – While visiting the museum, Stanley’s mind goes to an alternate timeline where dinosaurs and cavemen roam together.
“Choose Your Own Adventure: The Case of the Silk King” (12/12-19/92) – Two kids end up on various adventures while searching for their missing uncle.
“The Parsley Garden” (3/27/93) – A young boy deals with his own identity and prejudice against immigrants during the Great Depression.
“The Legend of Lochnagar” (4/24/93) – A Scotsman relocates to a mysterious land in the Scottish mountains inhabited by a race of little people.
“Commander Toad in Space” (5/8/93) – Toad and his crew have to return an ancient artifact.
“P.J.’s Unfunnybunny Christmas” (12/11/93) – To get the video game he wants for Christmas, P.J. masquerades as Santa to encourage the townspeople to shop at his father’s toy store.
“The Magic Flute” (4/30-5/7/94) – The Queen of the Night gives a young prince a magic flute so that he can rescue her daughter.
“The Secret Garden” (11/5/94) – An orphan and her sickly cousin enjoy the magic in a neglected garden.
“Jirimpimbira: An African Folk Tale” (2/25/95) – A boy sets out to find food and water for his village, but ends up enriching himself when given a set of magical bones.
“P.J. Funnybunny: A Very Cool Easter” (3/30/96) – P.J. ignores the cold weather to plan an Easter parade and egg hunt.
“The Magic Pearl” (8/4-18/96) – NO SYNOPSIS AVILABLE.
ABC Saturday Morning Specials:
“CityKids” (1/30/93) – While David tries to approach a girl he likes, Susan deals with racial discrimination and sexual harassment.
“The Great Alaska Dog Sled Race” (3/6/93) – NO SYNOPSIS AVILABLE.
“Rhythm and Jam: Rhythm & Rap” (9/18/93) – NO SYNOPSIS AVILABLE.
“Rhythm and Jam: Melody & Harmony” (9/25/93) – NO SYNOPSIS AVILABLE.
“Kids on ice: A Skating Adventure!” (2/12/94) – Behind-the-scenes look at the US Figure Skating Championships.
“Money Made Easy: The ABC Kids’ Guide to Dollars and Sense” (4/2-9/94) – Explaining banking and finance to kids.
“A Day at the Races” (6/11/94) – NO SYNOPSIS AVILABLE.
“Crash the Curiosaurus” (1/14-21/95) – A dinosaur and two children explore the American Museum of Natural History.
“Wild Things: An Earth Day Special” (4/22/95) – Exploring the animal kingdom.
“The Secret of Lizard Woman” (11/12/95) – A boy searching for his uncle learns about his Native American heritage.
“Back to School with Schoolhouse Rock” (9/14/96) – NO SYNOPSIS AVILABLE.
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