By the time the 1980s rolled around, the American video game market was booming. Arcades were experiencing a Golden Age with rapid advancement in technology and growing cultural impact beginning with the release of Space Invaders in 1978. Likewise, home consoles were entering their second generation thanks to the affordability of new microprocessor technology, with the Atari 2600 leading the charge. Both resulted in a combined revenue of $11.8 billion for the video game industry by 1982.
|Hanging out at the arcade.|
Television and studio executives were not ones to let a popular trend go by without finding a way to capitalize on it. ABC and Hanna-Barbera struck first, adapting the highly successful arcade game Pac-Man into a hit animated series. TBS was next with a game show that utilized arcade games, Starcade. CBS, looking to compete, decided to hedge their bets by not just licensing one hit game, but several from both the arcades and home consoles.
|The stars of Supercade: Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Q*bert, Pitfall Harry and Frogger.|
Among the chosen properties was the game that saved Nintendo of America from bankruptcy, Donkey Kong, and its sequel, Donkey Kong Jr.; Gottlieb’s most successful game, Q*bert; Konami’s hit Frogger; and Activision’s home console smash Pitfall! These five entries were combined under the banner Saturday Supercade, where they would air four segments over the course of an hour every Saturday (Q*bert and Pitfall! would alternate weeks). Naturally, as video games at the time were a bit limited in their story and presentation, some liberties were taken in adapting them for the small screen; such as making Frogger (Bob Sarlatte) an investigative reporter or setting Q*bert in a pastiche of the 1950s in a town dominated by cube shapes.
|Character models for Donkey Kong's Pauline and Mario.|
Saturday Supercade debuted on CBS on September 17, 1983. The series was produced by former Hanna-Barbera employees Joe Ruby and Ken Spears through their company, Ruby-Spears Productions. Despite sharing screen time in the intro and during commercial bumpers, and that both Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. were set in the same universe, none of the shows or characters crossed over or interacted with each other. Jack Enyart, Gary Greenfield, Gordon Kent and Michael Maurer served as story editors, while Haim Saban and Shuky Levi composed the series’ theme. Dean Elliott handled the rest of the series’ music.
Supercade was renewed for a
second season; however, there were some changes. Donkey Kong Jr., Frogger and
Pitfall! were dropped from the line-up. In their place came Sun Electronics’ (aka Sunsoft)
hit arcade Kangaroo,
and the second game from notable Disney
animator Don Bluth, Space
Ace. Richard Merwin,
Cliff Roberts and David Villaire
served as story editors this season. CBS also expanded their video game
offerings with a series based on the racing game Pole
Position, but as it was by DiC Entertainment it
was kept separate from Supercade. Supercade continued on until December
of 1984, and then left the airwaves forever. One of the contributing factors to its cancellation was that it was
unable to compete with the powerhouse Smurfs over on NBC.
|Article published during Atari's decline.|
The other factor was that during the show’s production, the video game industry was hit by the crash of 1983: too many consoles, too much product of questionable quality through the establishment of third-party publishers, plus the rise of the home computer meant that there was a lot more product than consumers. Arcades fared no better as there really hadn’t been any major innovation in game design and they were blamed instances of delinquency in their vicinity. Video games had lost their luster for Americans and wouldn’t begin to rebound until Nintendo imported their revamped Famicom as the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985. The console wars began anew when Sega entered the fray, challenging the 8-bit Nintendo console with its high-speed 16-bit Genesis. With this new era in gaming came new attempts to adapt them for the screen, but those are stories told in their own entries.
|A revived console war meant a new lease on life for video games--and new shows based on them.|
Because Sony owned Q*bert through Columbia Pictures’ previous ownership of Gottlieb, it remains the only entry in Supercade to have seen a home video release. They released The Best of Q*bert in 2015 to coincide with the release of their film Pixels, which featured the character. Warner Archive announced via their Facebook page in 2010 that plans were underway to release Supercade to DVD, but because of rights issues with the various game properties the project needed extensive research before it could happen. Segments from Space Ace have appeared as filler between programs on Boomerang and Toonami, but otherwise the various segments have only become viewable through recorded uploads on sites like YouTube.