Can you hear me Major Tom, it’s Webster and I’m floating in a most peculiar way!


By Shawn Robare

Since I started sharing Ste-vil King Macrocranios’s collection of vintage school book club flyers this week, I thought it would also be a cool opportunity to take a closer look at some of the stuff one might have ordered back in the day.  Today I thought I’d take a look at a rather odd read-along storybook featuring the characters from the 80s sitcom Webster.  It’s also an opportune time considering that the show was finally released on DVD this past Tuesday from the fine folks at Shout! Factory…

Before I get into the book I wanted to talk about the series for a second.  Webster was part of an interesting subset of sitcoms released in the early to mid-80s that were aimed at a younger than typical audience including shows like Punky Brewster, Silver Spoons, Charles in Charge, and ALF.  This explosion of new kid-centric series came in the wake of the success of shows like Diff’rent Strokes and its spin-off The Facts of Life, as well as the popularity of goofier sitcoms like Mork and Mindy which certainly catered to a younger demographic.  I think it was also in response to the booming Saturday morning and weekday syndicated cartoon markets, which was proving to be lucrative for advertising dollars.  I’m sure the big wigs at the big three wanted to try and get some of these viewers watching in prime time with their parents so they could scream “buy me that” a bit more often.

Anyway, all network and commercial jadedness aside, even though the networks were all scrambling to address this audience, the ratings numbers must not have been stellar because this fad of kid-vid in prime time died down pretty quickly.  Shows were getting canned by the big three left and right, including Webster, but there was an interesting turn of events in store for a number of these series.  Again, based on the booming first-run syndication boom of cartoons at the time, the producers of these shows decided not to throw in the towel and instead shopped these canceled shows to local affiliates to run new episodes in the post-cartoon/pre-prime time slots between 6:00-8:00pm.  Shows like Charles in Charge, Punky Brewster, Silver Spoons, and Webster found reprieves and would stay on the air a couple more years (in most cases long enough to complete a 4-season backlog to ensure there were enough episodes to qualify for regular re-run syndication packages.)

So, getting back to the meat of today’s post, this read-along book is called Webster’s Great Space Adventure which was released by Kid Stuff Records back in 1986.   Though the sitcom was firmly grounded in reality, this book takes a very Muppet Babies-esque ride on Webster’s imagination train (or space capsule in this case), rocketing Emmanuel Lewis into the stratosphere and beyond.  Weirdly enough, the last episode of the sitcom before it was ended featured a similar plot in which Webster is beamed aboard the Next Generation Starship Enterprise and guest stars Michael Dorn reprising his role of Worf…

The book was written by Michael J. Pellowski and featured illustrations by Walt and Cheryl Schoonmaker.  I don’t have a list of the voice actors that narrated the accompanying tape, but I can honestly say that the cast didn’t include Emmanuel Lewis, Alex Karras or Susan Clark.  You can listen to the audio for this read-along here (or you can right click on it and save it for your own listening pleasure.)

  

The basic gist of the story involves the Papadapolis’ taking a trip to a Chicago area space museum.  Webster gets a chance to sit in a real rocket capsule, but then quickly falls asleep and dreams of taking a ride into outer space…

  

   

After experiencing some meteor turbulence, he crash lands on a crazy planet with huge flora and insane freaky human-headed bee-people!  Yikes!

  

The freaky bee-people help him back into space and he goes on looking for a new adventure.   He encounters a crazy used spaceship moon and realizes that aliens are just as un-protective of their environment in an oddly placed PSA about litterbugs…

The last stop involves Webster docking at a space station populated by a couple of the freakiest robot Papadapolis’ adoptive parents ever.  David Bowie, eat your heart out!

As a quick side note, I think it’s really interesting how dedicated Alex Karras and Susan Clark were to each other.  A real life married couple, I’ve pretty much only ever seem them acting together.  In addition to co-producing and starring in Webster, they were also both in Porky’s, a couple of made-for-TV movies, not to mention appearing together in a bunch of furniture advertisements in the 70s and 80s.  I wonder if they ended up with any of this art for their personal collection?  I know I would have wanted it…

   

Honestly, as weird and insane as some of the imagery from the book is, it’s not nearly as wild as I thought when I first flipped through it, though it is probably one of the most heavy-handed 16 minute PSAs about littering that I’ve ever heard…

  

Even though it’s cheesy, I do love these old read-alongs, in particular the catalog offered by Kid Stuff. In addition to Webster, they were also the company that brought us branded titles like Transformers, G.I. Joe, the Marvel and DC super heroes, Rainbow Brite, Masters of the Universe, Care Bears, the Sectaurs, Knight Rider, the Smurfs, and I believe the A-Team as well…

  • Dana

    Hi Shawn, I uploaded some images from the D&D read-along book “Quest of the Riddles”, if you’re interested in seeing them. http://www.flickr.com/photos/21625846@N05/sets/72157629669665259/

  • http://www.brandedinthe80s.com/ Shawn Robare

    Dana – Cool, thanks so much for taking the time to scan them and share them. Those are awesome!

  • Dana

    I do and I’ve uploaded them. Go to the D&D read along set to see them in the correct order. http://www.flickr.com/photos/21625846@N05/sets/72157629669665259/

  • http://www.brandedinthe80s.com/ Shawn Robare

    Dana – Either would be cool. Do you have a flickr account?

  • Dana

    Hey Shawn, I scanned a bunch of images from both books, should I email them to you or maybe I can post links to images for you?

  • http://www.brandedinthe80s.com/ Shawn Robare

    Dana – If you get some time to scan them, that would be awesome. I’d love to see what some of that art looks like…

  • Dana

    Hi Shawn, I recently won two of the Kid Stuff Dungeons & Dragons read along books (Black Dragon Bog and Attack of The Assassins) on Ebay, I didn’t know if you’d be interested in audio or images from those or not.

  • http://www.brandedinthe80s.com/ Shawn Robare

    Dana – Yeah, these tape and book sets are getting harder and harder to find. I was able to score most of what I have in one big eBay auction, but you tend to only see individual books. Even then they’re priced pretty high. There are a bunch of books at Read Along Adventures for download (http://www.readalongadventures.com/list.htm), but they don’t have the D&D ones.

  • Dana

    I know Kids Stuff Records and Tapes did at least 4 Dungeons & Dragons book and record/tape sets….I’ve been trying to find MP3s of those online (not much luck, though).

  • Jeff McClain

    I learned to read with these books as a kid. Here’s on I saved and recently scanned: http://www.flickr.com/photos/robeast/sets/72157624923434381/with/5031333676/

  • http://cavalcadeofawesome.net/ Paxton Holley

    The artwork is this set is AMAZING. I love these book and record sets because the re-enactments on the record are so much fun. They add sound effects, it’s just awesome. Nice one, Shawn.