February 05, 2022

THE KIDS FROM C.A.P.E.R.

 

THE KIDS FROM C.A.P.E.R.
(NBC, September 11, 1976-August 8, 1977)
 
Alan Landsburg-Don Kirshner Production
 
 
MAIN CAST:
 
 
            Noticing the success of various live-action Saturday morning programs on other networks, NBC decided to get in on the action for the 1976 season by commissioning five new shows that would air together with the final season of The Land of the Lost. Among those shows was music producer Don Kirshner’s latest attempt at recapturing the success he once experienced with The Monkees.

Publicity shot of (clockwise from top): Doomsday, Doc, Bugs and P.T.


            The Kids from C.A.P.E.R. (a play on The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) were four apparently duly-deputized teenagers that operated in the back room of the 927th police precinct in the town of Northeast Southweston that dealt with unusual cases. The founder and leader was P.T. (Steve Bonino), described as “cool and clever” by the show’s theme, who was the youngest member, provided fourth wall-breaking narration during a case, and possessed a superhuman sense of smell (he named his nose “Seymour”). Bugs (Cosie Costa) was the “tough and feisty” one possessing superhuman strength and speed (so long as he could see his hands), who tended to devolved into a brief insane rage whenever anyone said “bananas”. Doomsday (Biff Warren) was a childlike ray of sunshine who believed he brought bad luck to others (hence the name and dark wardrobe), was always hungry and could communicate with animals. Doc (John Lansing) was the oldest, smartest and best-looking member of the team who was generally always serious (and when he did show his humorous side, often caught others unaware). The Kids all wore “C” belt buckles and communicated via “Caperband” radios (Mego’s Star Trek communicators with some minor alterations). They travelled around in a former hot dog vendor truck dubbed the “Big Bologna” (as it still had a giant hot dog on its roof). Inside the truck dwelled Mr. Featherstone; a shark in a fish tank (portrayed by a puppet) that provided navigational assistance and who spoke in gibberish only the Kids understood. Their mentor and adviser was Sergeant Vinton (Robert Emhardt), who fully supported them but didn’t shy away from trying to ward them off of troubling cases.

A girl arrives to turn C.A.P.E.R. on...to a case.


            Episodes would begin with a silent comedy vignette and a member of the cast telling the audience via voiceover a “secret word” that would prove key to the plot. That would be followed by P.T. narrating what was about to happen before a girl came in looking for their help. In most episodes, that girl would also become attracted to a different member of the team. They would proceed to investigate the case with the occasional interjections by P.T. Similar to The Monkees, the cases and actions of the characters were over-the-top and silly; played for laughs rather than any kind of narrative seriousness. Reporter Kurt Klinsinger (Robert Lussier) would tag along looking for an exclusive. He fancied himself an intrepid journalist, but quickly turned coward when trouble arose. At some point, one of the Kids would break out into song; however, none of them were said to be in a band (unlike other Kirshner-involved projects) or able to play an instrument. Another silent vignette ended the episodes with a voiceover providing a “C.A.P.E.R. Code” that, when broken, would indicate the next week’s secret word. A running gag featured the group standing at attention and proudly explaining their acronym as meaning “The Civilian Authority for the Production of Everybody, Regardless!”, followed by a four-part harmonization of “Ta-da!”

Vinton and Klinsinger.


            The Kids from C.A.P.E.R. debuted on NBC on September 11, 1976; however, the cast would actually be seen the night before on The Great NBC Smilin’ Saturday Mornin’ Parade preview special (produced by series producers Kirshner and Alan Landsburg), co-hosting with Freddie Prinze. It was created by Romeo Muller and developed by Merrill Grant, with Kirshner serving as executive producer and music supervisor. Muller was the primary writer, with series director and producer Stanley Z. Cherry making uncredited contributions and Mae Wale Brown serving as script supervisor. A relatively inexperienced Joseph Roveto was tasked with coming up with the costumes for the main characters after being recommended to the producers. The theme song, which introduced the concept and characters, was written by Ron Dante and Jake Holmes and performed by Dante with interjections from the cast during their introductions. Other songs were written by Rob Hegel, Amanda George (as Carol George), Neil Sedaka, Howard Greenfield, Gene Allan, Gary Knight, Mitch Margo and Phil Margo, as well as Dante and Holmes. Each one was performed by a member of the cast. Wally Gold and Jay Siegel served as the music producers.

Bugs conversing with Mr. Featherstone.


            Everyone was banking on the notion that C.A.P.E.R. would prove a huge success. Ads were taken out for the show touting it up, as well as the promise of a massive merchandising campaign including toys, dolls, foods, accessories, and a decoder pin to transcribe the secret code. They were featured prominently in NBC’s Smilin’ Saturday Morning promo bumpers, advertising theirs and other shows. The teen magazines that covered the show extensively began a little friendly “rivalry” between C.A.P.E.R. and ABC’s Kaptain Kool and the Kongs, as well as passed along the possibility of their networks considering giving both a prime-time version. However, all of that seemed unlikely as C.A.P.E.R. suddenly disappeared from the NBC airwaves in November as the network did a massive schedule shake-up.

Shot from the very first scene filmed which showcases the Kids' different attire.


            Tiger Beat Star did some digging into the disappearance of the show, which left two episodes unaired. As they reported in their March 1977 issue, the last two episodes were actually the first two episodes filmed for the series and executives felt they didn’t quite live up to the standard of quality the rest of the show set. It turned out that between the wrapping of those episodes and production on the third episode of the season, some changes were made to the costuming, set design and the Big Bologna (originally colored blue, as was pointed out in the flashback song cue). It was decided to film all-new scenes to establish those episodes as flashbacks. The series returned in early 1977 with a new intro that included clips from episodes that allowed it to flow better with the theme, and all episodes aired. However, come the 1977 fall schedule, it was once again gone; officially cancelled by the network along with all of their live-action offerings from the previous season.

The album cover.


            As for the merchandising blitz? Very little was actually released for the show—especially not the decoder rings. What did get released was an album of the show’s songs (minus two episode songs and the theme) by Don Kirshner Music through Columbia/CBS Records, as well on 8-track and a single containing “When It Hit Me” and “Ridin’ a Rainbow”. Despite promoting more toys, Ideal only released the Big Bologna as part of their Micro Mighty Mo line. To date, none of the episodes have been made available on official home video. Two episodes and various clips do exist online from fan recordings, as does the preview special.
 
 
EPISODE GUIDE:
“Too Much Time on Their Hands” (9/11/76) – C.A.P.E.R. is tasked with stopping a malfunctioning time machine before criminals catch up to them in the past.
 
“Kids from H.Y.D.E.” (9/18/76) – A mad scientists slips C.A.P.E.R. a box of fudge laced with a formula that turns them into naughty tap-dancing monsters.
 
“Ghost from C.A.P.E.R.” (9/25/76) – A magician haunting the police station asks C.A.P.E.R. to find his lost love, unfortunately they end up producing three different women!
 
“The Uncanny Nanny” (10/2/76) – C.A.P.E.R. must find an obnoxious boy who disappeared after being handed over to Nanny Noony, who is on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
 
“Invasion of the Frankfurter Snatchers” (10/9/76) – A warning about aliens hiding in hot dogs taking over people’s minds is ignored until everyone but P.T. becomes a hot dog zombie.
 
“The Pieman’s Pool” (10/16/76) – A famous pastry chef’s daughter asks C.A.P.E.R. to figure out why his latest delicacies are exploding and causing earthquakes.
 
“King Cone” (10/23/76) – C.A.P.E.R. must solve a rash of ice cream thefts while figuring out why a new gorilla arrived at the circus without the acrobat who was accompanying him.
 
“The Post Monster General” (10/30/76) – C.A.P.E.R. must retrieve the rare stamp collection Bugs accidentally used to mail out invitations before someone else can snatch them.
 
“The Terrible Tollman” (11/6/76) – Only Doomsday knows a bridge isn’t gone when the Terrible Tollman hypnotizes the entire town.
 
“Dunga Gin” (11/13/76) – C.A.P.E.R. investigates the rise of a new cola drink just as the city’s water supply is stolen.
 
“Phantom of the Drive-In” (11/20/76) – C.A.P.E.R. goes undercover to put a stop to the phantom haunting the drive-in.
 
“Mummy’s the Word” (5/21/77) – C.A.P.E.R. recalls a past case where they stopped thieves from making off with valuable Egyptian treasures.
 
“The Goodfather” (8/13/77) – C.A.P.E.R. investigates an “un-crime” wave where money and jewels are being forced onto people rather than being taken away.

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