Category Archives: 80s TV

Going Back to Next Saturday Morning…in 1985!

I’ve written before about a personal hole in my pop culture nostalgia when it comes to certain memories of stuff that aired on TV back in the day.  As much as I loved Saturday morning cartoons, cheesy sitcom, and celebrity mash-up specials (like the Battle of the Network Stars or special crossover episodes of shows like Family Matters and Full House), I was never aware that every year the three main networks had special shows showcasing their upcoming fall line-ups (for both prime time and Saturday mornings.)  Over the course of the last decade I’ve discovered a ton of these specials while flipping through old issues of TV Guide and while browsing the dark web for old obscure television broadcasts and I have fallen head over heels for every cartoon preview show I’ve stumbled upon. A few years ago I wrote a bit about one of these, the 1984 NBC special called Laugh Busters.  Though I have a few more of these tucked away in my digital collection that I’ve been meaning to dig into, I just found a new one this past weekend that I really want to talk about.

Originally airing on NBC on September 13, 1985, the special was called Back to Next Saturday and promised to not only showcase the new season of NBC cartoons, but was also potentially cloaked in a Back-to-the-Future-inspired wrap around story. Sign. Me. Up. I mean, just take a look at the TV Guide ad above featuring Keshia “Rudy Huxtable” Pulliam in that sweet Marty McFly pose (complete with shades and puffy vest.)  Billed as a Spectacular Comedy Adventure Special, I can’t believe that I missed this gem of a show over 30 years ago.

One of the reasons that I love rediscovering these specials is that they flesh out the experience of what the excitement of a new season of cartoons was like growing up.  Not only were there a plethora of commercials airing between other shows during the week, but we were getting bombarded with teases of the new line-up in the pages of our favorite comic books as well.  I have a fairly decent archive of these comic book ads here on the site, and the 1985 NBC ad was a real gem.  In fact most of the NBC ads were pretty awesome in how they were framed, but I really loved this one in particular…

I adore the idea of all of the characters from the various cartoons getting together in a secret bunker underneath NBC headquarters in Burbank, CA.  There’s some pretty groan-worthy humor in this ad, but there’s also some pretty biting commentary as well, specifically from the Snorks complaining that they’re up early in the line-up.  I look at that as an acknowledgement that they probably get low ratings due to kids sleeping in past their show.  Anyway, like I was saying, these 30 minute commercial specials give these ads way more context and they usually pull in actors from a few of the sitcoms to made the whole experience a smorgasbord of pop culture fun (no matter how poorly written, acted and conceived these shows are.)

I’m really curious how the special got away with lifting the Back to the Future logo font.  Was NBC tied into Universal back in the 80s?  I didn’t think they merged until the mid 2000s.  Anyway, pretty quickly as the special starts it becomes clear that the font is the only thing that even resembles Back to the Future.  The wrapping story, written by Glenn Leopold & Christopher Brough (Brough was also responsible for Laugh Busters) resembles the Wizard of Oz way more than BTTF.

The set up is that Keisha Knight Pulliam (playing herself) is being babysat by Lisa Welchel (also playing herself, not Blair from the Facts of Life) and after Welchel reads Keisha a bedtime story she is whisked away to a magical island of cartoons.  Real quick, I wanted to point out that Keisha’s room is full of references to the new NBC cartoon line-up, from Smurf and Snork stuffed animals, drawings of her watching NBC, and even the story that Welchel reads to her from is out of a Punky Brewster & Friends book…


Of course immediately Keisha wants to go home, so as soon as she runs into Glomer from the It’s Punky Brewster cartoon she begins an adventure to find out how to leave the island.  Glomer introduces Keisha to his show and in order to help her, he pulls Soleil Moon Frye and her actor pals right out of the cartoon into reality to help Keisha.


This is where the special gets a little trippy for me.  It’s hard to tell who is real and who is a character.  Stay with me here.  As soon as Glomer (obviously a character because he’s animated) pulls Punky and her friends out of the cartoon, Punky talks about needing to get back so that they can star in the cartoon this fall on the network.  So is that Punky talking, or is it Soleil?  I mean, it’s Keisha, not Rudy Huxtable.  Is the idea that the characters in the Punky Brewster live action sitcom are aware that they’re making a cartoon?  I’m not sure exactly why this confounds me, but I find it weirdly interesting in a mind-bending sort of way.

Anyway, much like in the Wizard of Oz Keisha has now recruited some friends to help her on her way around the island looking for a way home.  Their next stop?  The Snork’s lagoon where they meet up with All*Star and are given a tour of the new season of the underwater animated series…


All*Star isn’t much help so they continue on past the lagoon and pretty soon they find themselves walking through a cave into the heart of the island.  They stumble on a room filled with pirate corpses and treasure chests. What’s in those chests you ask?  Why all of the previous cartoons that were cancelled by the network!  Of course this spurs Punky on as she shivers at the idea of having her show cancelled.  Of course, being the heavily nostalgic person that I am I just want to find this mystic island with all of these hidden cartoons!


After the group moves on from the cave they find themselves back outside where they run into some Smurfs in the woods.  Well, they run into a TV that has Papa Smurf and Smurfette frolicking in that same patch of forest.  They pause just long enough to meet the four new Smurfs that are joining the show that season (the “Cousin Olivers” of the series, Natural, Baby, Snappy and Sassette), before moving on to a clearing where they run into smoke and a weird Fire Alarm Box…


This is also a weird moment in the show.  Up until now when they met up with some of the cartoon characters on the island there is sort of a general vibe to the encounters.  Just cartoon characters minding their own and new voice work recorded to make it seem like the animation is interacting with the live action characters.  But the fire sequence is where the group meets up with Alvin and the Chipmunks and the only reason there is a smoky Fire Alarm Box is because the footage used from that particular Chipmunks episode involves the brothers dressed as firemen and riding a fire engine.  I mean, could they not find an episode with more general animation? Or at least they could have had the giant Chipmunk suits make another appearance from the Laugh Busters special.  Kinda weird…

After they chat with Alvin, the group moves on from the smokey area into an Aztec grove where Punky makes an Indiana Jones reference and Allen screws with a stature that causes them all to fall into another network of caves that also just happens to be right next to some of the Gummi Bears secret Quick Tunnels. Speaking of those giant Chipmunk suits, here we get a huge Cubbi Gummi live action appearance. I was kind of hoping that Cubbi would join the group on the adventure, but alas, he’s only there to showcase the inaugural season of Disney’s the Gummi Bears joining the NBC Saturday morning line up…


After the gang watches the preview they crawl into the Quick Tunnel and then find themselves back outside of the caves.  This island is starting to feel more and more like the island in Lost, just instead of black smog monsters and polar bears there are Snorks and Master Blaster jukeboxes from Kidd Video.  This is probably my favorite bit in the special as Kidd Video is hands down one of my favorite Saturday Morning cartoons from the 80s, and since the show is sitting in licensing hell and will never be released on DVD (due to the liberal use of pop music from the decade incorporated into almost every aspect of the series), any appearance of KV is gold to me.


After Keisha, Punky and the gang play a preview on the giant jukebox, my favorite fictional rock band is pulled out of the Flipside onto this island to join the group and help Keisha find her way home.  Seriously, not only is that cartoon so much fun (you really have to find some episodes on youtube and check it out for yourself if you don’t remember), but the music in the series is so damn good.  I listen to the one semi-officially-released album at least once a week on the commute to and from work.  And for all you Robbie “Cousin Oliver” Rist haters out there, I faithfully submit that his work on this cartoon and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie elevates him to pop culture hero.  Just saying…

So now, nine strong, like a certain Fellowship of the Ring, Keisha, Punky Brewster, Cherrie, Margo, Allen and Kidd Video and the gang all walk through the giant jukebox and into the bowels of the island once more.  Speaking of Lord of the Rings, the group finds themselves stuck on one side of a giant chasm.  Luckily, Peter Parker’s patented Spidey Sense goes off and he dons his Spider-Man outfit just in time to save everyone from falling into some liquid hot magma.  Hmmm, reminds me of when he showed up to join Danny Cooksey and K.I.T.T. in that Laugh Busters special


At this point in the special I feel like the writers were getting sick of the concept and they kind of hamfistedly shove in an awfully edited appearance by Mr. T and then they rush into the closing bit that sees Lisa Welchel return, doing her best Glinda the Good Witch of the North impression.  Welchel summons everyone together in a cave to sing a pretty catchy song about Saturday Morning cartoons that was written by music superstar Jeff Barry (who happened to compose the Jefferson’s theme song, as well as And Then He Kissed Me, Leader of the Pack, and the Archie’s hit Sugar, Sugar.)


Cue gratuitous dancing and literal television appearances of the various cartoons in the new NBC line up. Gotta say, even though I’m not the biggest Welchel fan, she knocks that song out of the park…



All in all, even though the acting was awful, the writing was ridiculous, and the whole premise was tired and silly, I loved every single frame of this special.  I mean where else are you going to see udy from the Cosby Show got lost on a cartoon dream island and had to team up with the kids from Punky Brewster, Kidd Video, Spider-man, Cubbi Gummi the Gummi Bears and Blair from the Facts of Life to get back home!  These cartoon previews are like a casserole of 80s pop culture, and the older they get the more satisfying they are to consume.

If you’re so inclined you can watch the special on youtube (it’s in two chunks, Part 1 & Part 2).  And if you just want to listen to that rad song at the end, you can hear it below, or right-click and download it here.

Totally Awesome: The Greatest Cartoons of the 80s is, well, Totally AWESOME

Over the past year Publisher Insight Editions has comes across my radar a lot.  In addition to the super cool Ghostbusters: A Visual History that I was gifted a couple Christmas seasons ago, I suddenly realized that I had a ton of their books either on my wish list or already on my shelves.  It didn’t dawn on me at first, but after picking up the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Pizza Cookbook, Labyrinth & The Dark Crystal: The Ultimate Visual Histories, and their book on Quentin Tarantino I was apparently a fan.  When I came to that realization I started digging through their website and ended up stumbling on yet another book that I knew immediately I wanted for my collection, Totally Awesome: The Greatest Cartoons of the 80s by Andrew Farago.


I’m a huge 80s film, television and animation nerd and it seems like when it comes to books that cover these interests there are no shortage of volumes dedicated to the former two and very few to the latter.  Sure, there are a handful of books floating around out there, namely the volume on Lou Scheimer and Filmation by Andy Mangels and a few books that only partially cover the cartoons of the Transformers and Smurfs, but nothing dedicated to the insanity of the 80s era of animation.  Most of the books deal with the golden age (and were mainly written by animation historian Jerry Beck) and only touch on the 80s heyday.  So when I learned about Totally Awesome, it shot up to the top of my “I need this in my life” pile.

The book was finally released a couple weeks ago and thanks to the fine folks at Insight I now have a copy sitting on my desk as I type this review.  So, what does the book cover you ask?  Farago chronicles 17 of the most notable cartoons of the decade, taking care to pick shows that cover a multitude of animation studios, networks, time-slots and genres.  Saturday mornings on the major networks during the decade were a treasure trove of great shows, but it wasn’t the only place to find great cartoons in the 80s.  Lest we not forget, most UHF and network channels also had impressive line-ups of syndicated animation that aired after school let out every Monday through Friday as well.  So for every Saturday Morning hit like The Smurfs, there was also a weekday show like DuckTales.  For every Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends there was a Transformers.  This volume highlights the above four series as well as He-Man & The Masters of the Universe, She-Ra: Princess of Power, Inspector Gadget, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, Jem, Thundercats, Muppet Babies, The Real Ghostbusters, Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears, Chip & Dale Rescue Rangers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Garfield and Friends, and the Ralph Bakshi & Jim Kricfalusi re-launch of Mighty Mouse.


Before I dive into the book, I wanted to take a second and address the fact that this book isn’t an exhaustive reference of all 80s cartoons.  I’ve been writing about 80s era animation long enough that it’s been my experience that the first reaction to a book like this (or columns and pieces I’ve written) is usually: “But why didn’t you cover <insert favorite neglected cartoon here>?!”  When I was sharing pictures of the cover to Totally Awesome on social media some folks seemed to wonder why certain cartoons weren’t represented in the illustration by Christian Cornia above. Whereas the idea of a single giant tome that covered all 80s cartoons sounds great on the face of things, an undertaking of that magnitude would be huge, and the amount of research, time and licensing clearance would probably make such a work cost prohibitive.  Farago, as I mention above, does a great job of picking out 17 shows, most given their own chapter, that are a very nice cross section of the decade.  It gives him the space to dig into each series in a fairly in-depth manner.  So take that for what it’s worth. Now, that aside, let’s dig into what IS covered in the book…


The first thing that jumped out at me about the book was that with a few exceptions each chapter is illustrated with actual animation cels from the series.  Being a collector of animation art myself, it can sometimes be a subtle difference between screenshots and scans of actual cels, but I love that the time an effort was put in to track down these pieces of art.  There’s a crispness to scanning the actual individual cels that gives the reader an opportunity to really examine the artistry of the animators.  Screenshots tend to be hazy and vary in quality based on the source they’re pulled from, and the accurateness of how well they can be paused (believe it or not this varies by software.) It also provides a view of the process that is rarely showcased in books like this,  pulling out to illuminate the little details like cel edges (that feature the handwritten episode numbers and show codes of the production) as well as unfinished illustrations (cels used for closeup that there was no point in finishing.)  There are also under-drawings (the original pencil illustrations that are eventually copied onto the cels before they’re painted), which is very cool.

Another interesting aspect about this which is implied in the presentation is that not all cels were created alike.  Different companies used different stock and techniques and some cels age better than others.  A studio like Filmation thought of as cheapskates becasue of their re-use of run cycles and key animation sequences actually invested quite a bit in the actual quality of the hand painted cels.  They are one of the few companies who kept their animation in-house and in the United States during the 80s and you can literally see a difference in the cels 30 years later.  The copied animation outlines are still crisp and dark and the paint vibrant.  Other shows, particularly shows produced by DiC, didn’t fare so well in the longevity department.  Granted, these cels were never meant to be kept, treated as disposable assets by the studios who stockpiled them in storage lockers for years before letting the leases lapse.  Cels for shows like The Real Ghostbusters are kind of a crap shoot, quality wise.  Some of the paint has dulled with age, and the transferred illustration lines on the cels have faded (in some cases to almost nothing.)  It’s a fascinating little detail that the book features.

So long story short, for an animation nut like me this book is a bounty.  As far as the in-depth coverage of the shows goes, I was pleasantly surprised that there was a lot of work done on telling the story of both the studios, how the shows came about and highlighting the folks responsible for bringing the shows to life.  Again, as I’ve written about before, in my experience it can be kind of difficult to nail down exactly who did what behind the scenes as the credits attached to the opening and endings of cartoons tend to be vague.  Episode writers are typically highlighted, but most of the rest of the credits aren’t broken down to match characters to performers, and there are a lot of folks who aren’t given credit in a lot of series.  It can be difficult to figure out who was responsible for story editing for instance.  Back when I was writing about the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon I never realized that Steve Gerber was the story editor on the series (it wasn’t made clear in the cartoons or on the DVD sets of the series), and it wasn’t until Gerber piped to answer my question on this site that I found out.  Well Farago does a bang up job of tracking down all of this stuff for the series he covers and it’s pretty awesome.

All in all, if you’re a fan of 80s era animation this book is a must-buy.  I’m really hoping that there is enough positive response to the release that Insight and Farago could be convinced to work on future volumes.  In fact, I think a perfect follow-up would be a book that focused on some of the more obscure series of the 80s covering shows like Turbo Teen, The Spiral Zone, Robo Fore, Dinosaucers, the Trollkins, and Kidd Video.  But for now I’m content digging into the volume where I’ve already been learning more about series that I thought I already knew backwards and forwards.

Essential 80s Cartoon Logos and Title Screens

Not only am I a professed lover of the 80s, and in particular 80s era cartoons and animation, but I’m also pretty damn interested in branding and design (I mean, I did kinda name my site after that.)  So when these paths cross I can get pretty nerdy.  I mean heck, I wrote an entire piece centered specifically on the logo design of the movie The Monster Squad a few years ago.  Recently I found myself with a lot of time on my hands while also being stuck in a situation where I was away from home caring for one of my elderly parents.  I was in the hospital with my father, waiting with him while he was having chemo treatments and he was lost in a movie on one of the complementary iPads the treatment center provided.  I really needed something that could distract me from reality, and the warm embrace of nostalgia is usually the thing that does the trick for me.

So I pulled up my Plex app on my phone so that I could scroll through my collection of cartoons from the 80s and I landed on an episode of Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors.  As the episode was starting, playing through the opening credits, I paused when the title screen came up to marvel at the design of the font and how much fun the logo was in general.  The mix of the fantasy banner lettering in “Jayce” and the totally 80s brushed metal of the “Wheeled Warriors”.  Two genres coming together perfectly in this one logo and cartoon.


I got this inspiration all of a sudden.  What would it be like to compare and contrast all of the 80s era cartoon title screens and logos? Because we live in a world where we basically have Star Trek level technology in the palm of our hands, I had the ability to take screen shots of at least 90% of the cartoons that were released during that decade right from my phone. So I did just that, for the next three hours I systematically went through my library of cartoons and captured as many as I could.

So let’s have some fun and break these up by theme.  For instance, here are all of the video and arcade game based series. There were a couple more shows in this genre in the 80s like Pitfall and Frogger, but these are the series I have digitally…

Most of these tend to be character-centric logos, but I find it interesting that one of the best series has the most boring logo (Pole Position.)

Next up let’s take a look at some of the super hero, comic book cartoons…

A couple of these surprised me, in particular Plastic Man and the Hulk.  Plastic man was a little frustrating because it really doesn’t have a title/logo screen (there is just a comic cover that comes flying at the screen.) Then the Incredible Hulk had two separate screens.  Also, that X-Men screen is from Pryde of the X-Men, so before anyone starts screaming about it being a 90s cartoon

So let’s switch gears a bit and take a look at some foreign cartoons.  I was exposed to all of these on  Nickelodeon as a kid (either as a part of Pinwheel or just part of their programming.) For those not familiar, Chapi Chapo was a stop motion cartoon from France that aired in short five minute segments during Pinwheel back in the day. I have some others (Bunny in a Suitcase and Hatty Town), but they really don’t have title screens. Also, Mysterious Cities of Gold and The Little Prince were French/Canadian co-productions, so foreign-ish.

Let’s move on now to some of the heavy hitters of the 80s, some of the action cartoons that aired in weekday afternoon syndication…

I find it kind of interesting that the majority of these logos are pretty similar.  These are heavy on the metallic fonts, and are blocky (some of them like the Go-Bots and She-Ra are literally 3D) and sans serif for the most part.  I also find it interesting that a few of them are also “mirrored” and are reflecting a barren landscape (ThunderCats, Transformers, and Go Bots.)  Also glad to see that every show that featured some sort of faction logos, the designs are incorporated into the show logo (Ghostbusters, ThunderCats, Transformers, Silverhawks, the Filmation Ghostbusters, heck even the Galaxy Rangers and COPS.)

Next up, let’s take a gander at some of the series that were based on either movies or live action TV shows…

To be frank, the first this that this batch makes me think of is just how many movies and TV shows in the 80s WEREN’T adapted into animated series.  I’m thinking stuff like The Gremlins, Goonies, Knight Rider, The A-Team (and not just Mr. T with a bunch of gymnast kids), Airwolf, Webster or Small Wonder.  All of those seem ripe for animated counterparts.  Or hell, a Michael Jackson animated series (and yes, again, I know that there was a Jackson 5 show, but I’m thinking like an adult MJ who would solve crimes while moonwalking and stuff.)  Also, I know that the Gary Coleman might seem to be in left field in this category, but it was actually based on the movie The Kid With the Broken Halo.  Lastly, I’m throwing in both of the Rambo logos because even though the blue one with the eagle crest is the main title screen, I love the starker one with the flames inside the letters.  It better embodies the tone of the character for sure…

How about all those series that featured lovable little critters?

There is so much cuteness in that block that I don’t even know where to start!  All I can think of for certain is that there is an overwhelming number of title screens that feature the characters, enough that it makes the screens with just the logos look weird in comparison.

Next, let’s look at some of the series that were based on toy lines…

For the rest of these I think I’m just going to call them the leftovers…

It’s pretty damn overwhelming when you step back and take a look at all of these title screens.  And again, this isn’t even all of the series out in the 80s.  There are some shows that I don’t have on DVD or digital (like the Mork & Mindy, Laverne & Shirley, Gilligan’s Planet and some of the seasons of Scooby Doo from the 80s), and a couple that I haven’t been able to convert and didn’t have access to grabbing the screens (like Ulysses 31, the Ruby Spears Superman, My Little Pony and Galtar and the Golden Lance.)

I’m sure there are more shows I’m forgetting, let me know what I missed in the comments section below!

Cartoon Anxiety

4461391534_02cce86892_oThough I mainly enjoy flipping through old “mom” magazines to find cool vintage advertisements for extinct products, every so often I do dip in a little further and read some of the articles.  Like the one I took a look at last week about kid’s infatuation with gross out toys and collectibles or the Washington Post editorial on how He-Man and the Masters of the Universe contained hidden messages I dug into a few years ago, it’s always fun to read these to get a glimpse into the wacky world of parents back in the 80s.  Sometimes there are some interesting and valid points raised in these articles, but they’re typically pretty crazy, over the top windows into the minds of parents who loved pointing the finger at cartoons and toys as a reason that their kids are hard to deal with.  If I’ve learned nothing else in my almost 40 years on Earth I can pretty unequivocally say that kids are just annoying and irrational no matter how you slice it.  It doesn’t matter if they watch Transformers or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles every day after school, if they’re going to get into fights or tear up a neighbor’s yard with their bike, it’s not because of cartoons.

That said, this article titled Cartoon Anxiety from the December 1986 issue of Working Mother magazine is a pretty mixed bag of interesting points and flat out crazy.  The piece was written by Lois Meltzer, an attorney and freelance writer out of the California area.

Cartoon Anxiety Article Working Woman Dec 1986

First off, from a design perspective, this article is a little weird.  I know that Mrs. Meltzer had no hand in it, but Doug Taylor’s illustration has some weird aspects to it.  I feel like the idea was to give a general impression of a mixed range of cartoon characters coming out of the TV for the kid to interact with, but that knock-off, but very obvious Voltron head on the right is just messing with my head.  I know the subtitle of the article evokes Voltron, but the combo of that illustration paired with the glove-wearing cartoon squirrel is just trippy.  Also, why the psuedo-Asian brush font for the title?  Anyway, getting into the actual nitty-gritty of the piece, the overall gist of the article is an argument that parents can’t stop their kids from watching cartoons, so they should just stop trying to fight it and give in. Meltzer lists a bunch of perceived positive and negative aspects to the at the time modern animation that had me laughing out loud.

For instance, she states that cartoons teach children about which tasks or jobs they should tackle in the real world, versus which ones they should just outsource to a professional for sake of ease.  Like she literally says that if a kid watches cartoons it’s plain as day that if you want to take over the world, it’s best not to leave it to henchmen or underlings.  On the other hand, cartoons teach kids that it’s crazy to attempt to fix plumbing, your car, or electrical outlets in the home for fear of causing a flood, having a car blow up or getting electrocuted, and that it’s best to leave those tasks to professionals.  This is kind of insane.  I mean, what is the logic here?  Is a cartoon villain trying to take over the world a metaphor for a kid being aware that the sky’s the limit on chasing their dreams?  If so, then conversely, is Meltzer saying that jobs like being a plumber, electrician, or auto repair technician beneath her children?  I mean, wouldn’t she want her kids to learn to do those things if only to be more self reliant?

Also,  I specifically took umbrage with a statement she makes that claims that kids won’t learn how to pronounce “triceratops” by watching cartoons.  Well, I think any kid who grew up watching the Dinosaucers would disagree with that…

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Even though the article is super silly, it was still fun to read.  I may be a grown-up kid with my head in the clouds most of the time, but I do know for a fact that a healthy dose of cartoons during my childhood certainly made me a much smarter person that most adults at the time would have believed.  There were so many subtle and not-so-subtle things that cartoons had peppered throughout the plots and settings that introduced me to ideas way before I “officially” learned about them in school.  Dr. Mindbender on G.I. Joe taught me all about deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) while creating Serpentor long before I ever learned about it in biology class, and Optimus Prime and Ultra Magnus taught me about self sacrifice and leadership (or lack there of) in the Transformers movie before I every took a World or US history class in high school.  Just saying…

But Does it Hold Up?

It’s weird when you come to the realization that you’re getting older, especially when you’re a kid at heart. Sure, we all tick off each year with a birthday and we watch the holidays and seasons fly by, but as we run through our twenties and thirties, it’s hard not to continuously feel like a teenager.  I make plenty of jokes about being the grump out on the stoop shaking a toy lightsaber at the “youngins” barking at them to get off my lawn, but it wasn’t until the past few years when I really started to feel older.  It started with generally losing track of the music scene and who the comedians were on the cast of Saturday Night Live, but the next thing I knew I was walking out of the movie theater bitching about all the teens texting and how loud and ridiculously disorienting the film was.  Then at work I found myself explaining to my younger co-workers what 8-Trac and cassette tapes are, as well as describing what playing the original Nintendo Entertainment System was so much fun.  They couldn’t get past the fact that most games didn’t have save points or that you couldn’t respawn where your character bit the dust and that you’d have to play the whole level over again from scratch.  Long story short, I really began to start feeling old, like I was officially part of a generation removed that is no longer driving pop culture at all.

cassette1_3033301bI can totally accept that, but there are aspects to this shift in generation that bug me, and it’s not just feeling like I have to defend my pop culture to a younger generation, what really bothers me is having to defend it to my own. I get why the younger generation mocks the TV shows and cartoons that I grew up on, I mean I did the same thing to a certain extent with my parent’s pop culture.  It’s just a symptom of the changing of the guard.  But what really kills me is when folks my age look back to our shared pop culture experiences and they sneer and inevitably say the four words that really burrow under my skin in the worst way, “It Doesn’t Hold Up.”  This typically comes after I’ve been chatting with someone and I mention that I collect 80s era ephemera and cartoons on DVD.  I’ll bring up a series like the Silverhawks or Jem and they’re get really excited as they remember something that’s long been buried in their psyche.  “Oh, I used to love that show!” is what they say, followed by a promise to look it up on Netflix or Hulu.  Then, about a week or so later I’ll run into them again and there will be a weird hostility in their voice as they inform me that they watched a few episodes of that long forgotten cartoon and they were “sooooo disappointed…” because “It Didn’t Hold Up.”



This always makes me wonder what exactly folks are expecting out of revisiting the pop culture of their youth. Are they expecting the shows to feel like they were written today, with current day ethics and attention spans taken into consideration?  Are they expecting there to be a layer of adult innuendo that they missed as a kid?  Or are they simply hoping that what made them excited, laugh or smile as a kid would still be the thing that hit them in the same place as an adult?  Honestly, it’s probably all three, and after realizing that the first two expectations didn’t pan out they’re disappointed (sometimes angrily so.)  This typically also leads to the ranking game, the “what were the best (fill in the blank) back in the day”, that also usually raises my hackles a little.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have no problem with folks ranking their favorite shows or movies, but it inevitably becomes a competition (well a perceived one at least) where I’m asked to make my list for comparison.  I hate being put in that position as it makes me feel defensive and weird if the other person has already decided something on my list “doesn’t hold up.”  Nostalgia is a celebration and an acknowledgement of the shared pop culture experience, it’s not a competition or a dick measuring contest.


I think this also brings me back to an ideal that I try very hard to adhere to when writing for Branded, the idea that every cartoon, comic book, toy, live action show, sitcom, band, song and movie is someone’s favorite thing in the world.  Even the Mon Chi Chi’s Rubix the Amazing Cube, or the seasons of Diff’rent Strokes with Danny Cooksey.


I always try my best to invoke this perspective when I approach a subject, to put myself in the shoes of a superfan so that I can get to the heart of why something works or is cool.  In this online era of negativity with all the snark, butt-hurt expectations and angry backlash from fandom at the mere mention of re-launching a dormant brand for a new generation, I truly believe that I have to take the optimistic perspective and earn the right to bag on something.  I know it’s not popular to continuously play the optimist, but I’d rather sacrifice pageviews, comments, likes and followers for a more fun and upbeat nostalgia experience.  It’s not simply just a matter of “If you don’t have nothing nice to say…”, because I think there is a very important place for dissent, criticism, and anger.  But I do think that that perspective has to be earned or else it rings hollow, argumentative or baiting.

I guess this all leads me to a few questions.  Am I weird for not caring if a show or movie from my childhood “holds up” or not?  Does anyone think that today’s pop culture will hold up twenty years from now?  Have you ever been in a situation where you felt weird for loving a TV show or movie that everyone around you thought was stupid because it didn’t hold up for them?  If there is a show that doesn’t hold up for you, have you still been able to find any enjoyment revisiting it, or does it sort of become something that you divorce yourself from?

Lets Talk About that Epic HBO Feature Presentation Intro from the 80s

I always felt very lucky to have had access to cable television as a kid growing up in the 80s.  Whether it was the fact that I had access to WGN so that I could be exposed to the Bozo Show (and more importantly the Grand Prize Game segments), Nickelodeon and the plethora of awesome programming on the network, or the handful of years when my folks popped for the extra $20 a month to subscribe to HBO.  Home Box Office was chock full of really cool stuff back in the day, shows like Fraggle Rock, Encyclopedia, and the Buy Me That specials hosted by Jim Fyfe.

HBO Intro 2

But hands down the single coolest thing on HBO was the minute and a half intro that played before all of the first run movies in the evenings.  If you had HBO in the 80s and 90s you know the one…

This awesome Feature Presentation introduction with is bombastic score and its extremely 80s era effects work is one of those pieces of media that is burned into the memory of anyone who was subscribed during the decade.  In fact there are some movies that I’ve watched a hundred times off of a VHS that taped from an HBO broadcast where this intro feels like it’s part of the film.  Much in the same way that the 20th Century Fox intro feels like a part of the original Star Wars trilogy or the Tri Star Pegasus intro feels like a part of the Monster Squad, this HBO intro has become associated with a ton of films for me.

I can’t count how many times my co-hosts Paxton and Jaime have brought it up when we’re recording the Cult Film Club podcast, sharing memories of the films it played before and breaking down some of the little details (like how neat it is that the HBO logo is basically a space station beaming down movies to the earth below.)  Yet, in all our conversations in never occurred to me just how detailed this short introduction really is.  In fact, up until this past weekend I was under the impression that a portion of the intro, the HBO shaped space station/satellite, was a (literal) shining example of some early CGI animation.  Turns out, not so much!

HBO Intro

After falling down the rabbit hole that is youtube for a few hours I stumbled upon a pretty amazing bit of vintage HBO, a behind the scenes special on the making of the HBO Feature Presentation intro!

You know that HBO knew they had something special on their hands when they took the time to produce a Making-Of alongside the actual intro.  First of all, I love that this short video exists because now I have some insight into who actually worked on the intro.  Folks like that are usually the unsung heroes of pop culture because they’re working in a marketing capacity.  I mean, show of hands, how many people can name at least 10 different Transformers characters from the 80s toyline?  Most of you right?  Now, how many of you can name at least one of the artists who painted box art for those toys? I’m guessing not nearly as many.  This isn’t to say the we’re not interested in these artists, it’s just that there is almost no visibility into who these folks are.  So after almost 30 years of loving this HBO intro, I finally get to learn who some of the folks are who worked on it, folks who’s art and talent have burned its way into my permanent memory.


The video (embedded above) is about 10 minutes long and it details the work done on some of the 60 plus visual elements that went into making the intro.  The intro was written, designed and shot by Liberty Studios out of NYC headed up by company president Anthony Lover (wow, what a name!)


Their idea was to create a look and feel to the HBO brand that really set it apart from anything that had previously been on TV or cable by metaphorically bridging the gap between the cable company and its audience.  That’s why the intro begins with a shot looking through the window of a family’s home where they are sitting down to watch TV.  The piece starts with us, and then it pans out to a building, then a city street, then a city, the country, the horizon, and eventually into space and the HBO signal space station.  By pushing forward even more, entering the giant spinning HBO logo we’re brought full circle into the Feature Presentation animation which is what would be playing on the TV in that first home.

One of the things that really struck me was just how much of this intro was practically shot with actual props, up to and including that brilliant shiny metal HBO logo in space (with a fun practical backlit starburst effect created by David Bruce!)

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I never would have guessed that they manufactured that piece out of brass, and now I’m insanely curious to know where that piece is now?  I assume it’s in the office of some HBO bigwig, but it’s just as likely in a landfill (I mean, look at where the Deathstar shooting model would have ended up had it not been for my friend Todd over at Neato Coolville, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3!)

I also think it’s rad that the 6-person model team and the Special Effects Model director (James Kowalski) built and shot a huge cityscape in about 1:64 scale (Hot Wheel car size.)


They built all the building facades, trees, lamp posts, and even working traffic lights, as well as putting in a ton of details like potted plants sitting on the fire escapes, the painted lines in the streets and even tiny signs.  They went so far to put in working lights in every room in every building and house in the model.  Even the headlights on all the cars and buses work.  The artists even peppered the city with bums and hookers, so if you have a keen eye and a fast finger for the pause button you can scope some crazy details.  Overall the model is about 10 feet wide and 30 feet long.  That’s 300 square feet of awesome that took three months to build!

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I love that there ended up being so much detail, so many tiny flourishes that caught the eye that they realized in order to make it look real and not fake in a hyper-reality sort of way, they had to pump in smoke to blur the horizon and give the perception of a more natural three dimensional environment.  As you travel through the model the foreground becomes crisp and clear while the background stays slightly fuzzy.  The effect is pretty damn amazing and points to why practical effects will always trump CGI for realism.

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The music for the HBO intro is just as important as the effects that go into the visuals too.  The piece was composed by Ferdinand J. Smith and performed by a 65 piece orchestra, illustrating that HBO spared no expense for this short one and a half minute introduction. Also, before I forget and neglect to mention it, the music in this making of video is amazingly reminiscent of the 70s/early 80s Sesame Street music which makes the whole thing that much more fun.

So, if you’re like me and you grew up with your eyes glued to HBO, it’s totally worth checking out this 10 minute making of video.  Now, if I could only get similar behind the scenes pieces on the Tri-Star, 20th Century Fox, and 80s era Nickelodeon intros!


Weird Collectables, or the Most Awesome Swatch of Wallpaper Ever…

Considering the rant-ish piece I wrote last week about the exclusivity of the upcoming Mondo Monster Squad “Rock Until You Drop” vinyl singles, I thought it would behoove me to switch gears from focusing on that sort of manufactured collectible to a much more organic and meaningful piece that I was privileged to put in my personal collection recently.

A couple of months ago I was surprised with one of the weirdest yet coolest gifts that I’ve ever received, and it touched me so deeply that I actually shed a few tears when I realized what I was holding in my hand.  I had been contacted by a really kind former crew member (Jim Clarke) who had worked on one of my favorite childhood television shows, You Can’t Do That on Television.  Apparently he’d read and dug a couple of the pieces I’d written that surrounded the show here at Branded (a review of the You Can’t Do That On Film documentary and the Slimed book), and had mentioned that he wanted to send me a piece of ephemera for my collection.  A couple of weeks went by and with a ton of crazy things going on behind the scenes of Branded I let this exchange slip from my mind a bit until I received a small envelope in the mail with a Canadian postal return address.

As I carefully opened the package I was trying to guess at what the contents might be.  Mr. Clarke was purposely vague as to what he was sending, and I’m glad he was.  The packaged contained a folded letter on official CTV letterhead and a swatch of blue and green flowered wallpaper.  For a second I was confused, and then it dawned on me that I was holding a very small and very awesome piece of the You Can’t Do That On Television filming set!  This was a piece of wallpaper that adorned the walls of the main family living room set where Les Lye’s Lance Prevert and Abby Hagyard’s Mom character cracked wise with dozens of kid actors during the 80s and early 90s.  I mean, holy crap, if this piece of wallpaper could talk.

ycdtotv 2

You Can’t Do That On Television was such a huge show for me.  Not only was it the cornerstone show of a network that I watched all the time as a kid and teen, but it was my first real introduction to sketch comedy.  YCDTOTV was my gateway to shows like Monty Python, SCTV, Kids in the Hall and the Upright Citizens Brigade.  That style of comedy is what kept me sane as an overweight, geeky teenager, and I can’t even count how often my mind would drift back to the dozen characters Les Lye played when I was struggling to fit in at school and with friends.  Those characters were the backbone of my inner monologue comedy, and they shaped me as a person to an extent.  So to have a piece, even something as small and insignificant as a piece of wallpaper from that show is almost like having a magic talisman.

ycdtotv 1

Never in a million years did I ever think I’d own and cherish a small patch of wallpaper, a piece of wallpaper that I’m totally going to frame and hang proudly in Branded HQ.  This just reinforces the idea that maybe, instead of dropping a ton of cash on eBay for nostalgic toys or cool new manufactured collectibles, maybe it’s better to put out as much positive energy out into the void as possible and then let the universe return the favor.  I’m not a super spiritual individual, but I do know that the things that I cherish the most, collection-wise, is stuff that has come my way through connections I’ve made because of writing and podcasting here at Branded in the 80s.  I’ve had the honor to meet (online and in person) some amazingly friendly and talented people that I never would have met had I not started this project, and the gifts, trades and purchases are the things that truly make my heart swell.

I can’t thank Jim Clarke enough for reaching out like he did and helping to keep the flame of You Can’t Do That On Television alive.  Clarke is one of the few people who was forward thinking enough to save some of the sets and props from the show.  In addition to saving some of the wallpaper from the living room set, Clarke also owns the wooden post from the firing squad set, the microphone Les Lye’s announcer character used, and the freaking lockers from the mid-show joke segments!  How cool is that?  You can check out an interview with him here.

What’s the weirdest/coolest piece in your nostalgia collection?

Transformers & G.I. Joe, finally the shared universe I always dreamed of…

As an 80s nostalgia nerd it’s kind of hard to pick a favorite brand or property from my childhood. There are just way too many fond memories and of the thousands of things that I love from that decade each and every one of them has the power to take me back and give me the warm fuzzies. However, looking back and remembering how I felt at the time, if I had to nail down the stuff that I considered my favorites it would unquestionably be G.I. Joe and the Transformers. Not only was I completely smitten by both toy lines, I was also heavily invested in both cartoon series. Between the ages of 7 to 13 almost every afternoon you could find me in front of the TV after school emersed in the worlds that the Sunbow animation staff created, or in our dining room setting up epic battles with my collection of Hasbro toys.


Those two universes were practically sacred to me and they felt very interconnected. As I grew older and started digging into the background of the properties it downed on me that there were a lot of reasons for this. I mean the toys were all developed or marketed by Hasbro, the cartoons were both handled by Sunbow/Marvel Animation utilizing the same pool of voice talent, show runners and writers, and much of the periphery merchandise was also handled by the same companies (both comic book series were Marvel for example.) At the time I didn’t realize this and as I sat in rapt attention during the cartoon or when coming up with stories to play out with my toys I always chose to entertwine the universes. The idea of Cobra Commander and his legion of terrorists and Megatron and his armada of Decepticons teaming up to face off against the Optimus Prime and the Autobots and the entire roster of G.I. Joe was always a go-to story for me. Even though I planned out a ton of epic battles in my head there was always a part of me that was bummed out because this crossover universe wasn’t official. It never stopped my from day dreaming about it, but I always felt a tinge of sadness because what I really wanted was to see some actual “official” crossovers and for the most part it never really officially existed until now. There were a handful of teases, specifically in the Sunbow cartoons that stoked the flames of my crossover desires like the time that a character who was for all intents and purposes Cobra Commander popped up in a season three episode of Transformers titled Only Human


This character was named Old Snake in the episode and is almostly undeniably Cobra Commander as he was voiced by Chris Latta (who provided the voices of Cobra Commander and Starscream on the Sunbow cartoons), was the defunt leader of a one great terrorist orginization and even has the iconic mirrored face plate. But as they never referred to him specifically as Cobra Commander, nor did they evoke Cobra or even feature a Cobra logo insignia, it leaves it up to question enough that it feels way more like an homage to me than an actual crossover. There’s also an episode featuring an older version of the Joe team character Flint (whose real name is Dashiell Faireborn) in that thrid season of Transformers. But again, the connection isn’t explicit. He’s not refferred to as “Flint” and there are no G.I. Joe connections beyond inferring the identity of that character through context clues based on his appearance and the fact that, that character’s daughter’s name is Marissa Faireborn. The closest connection between the universes in the cartoon series is the appearance of a newscaster named Hector Ramirez that pops up in most of the Sunbow series set in modern times (G.I. Joe, Transformers, Jem, and the Inhumanoids.) But as solid a connection as this is, it doesn’t have the panache of seeing Autobots pop up in an episode of G.I. Joe.



Now, there is a very popular and very explicit connection between the two universes that I’m sure readers are screaming about right now, and that’s the Marvel comics crossover G.I. Joe and the Transformers that was published back in 1987. You know, this is about as clear cut as you can get in terms of universes crossing over, and I’ll agree that it’s cool and groundbreaking, but there are a couple of reasons that I kind of dismiss these comics. For one, I never stumbled upon those comics until well into my adulthood, and two, the comics always seemed like they were outside of the official continuity to me. Much in the same way that it’s arguable whether the Star Wars novelizations are cannon, or if it’s just a product to enrich the brand which is the officially released movies. For me, when it comes to G.I. Joe and Transformers the official continuity begins and ends with the cartoon series, animated films, and the toy lines. Again, I’ll be the first to admit that this is more or less just my weird way of perceiving the universes, but it just feels right to me. So I’ve been waiting for over 20 years to see something released in one of these two realms that unites the properties.


So when I learned that Hasbro was releasing an official crossover toy in the new Transformer Combiner Wars line I was absolutely floored. The toy, a hybrid Decepticon/Cobra jet named Viper that was modeled after a variation of the Cobra Rattler and it’s main pilot Wild Weasel, is one of the first pieces of widely released Hasbro merchandise that finally officially merges the universes of G.I. Joe and the Transformers. As soon as I laid eyes on grainy pictures online I knew I had to get my hands on one asap, and I want to give a huge thank you and shout out to my buddy HooveR for hooking me up with the toy of my dreams.


Now, as far as I’m concerned Viper is (for me) one of the most important pieces in the modern Hasbro offerings because it acts as a link that has the potential to spark an entire line of toys that I feel are in a way tailor-made to fill a void in my nostalgic past. Now, I know that there are still folks out there that are going to want to point to earlier examples of the G.I. Joe and Transformers universe’s crossing over in toy form. I mean there are a couple of specific examples that spring to mind, namely the 2004 Transformers Energon figure Snow Cat which is an homage to the G.I. Joe vehicle of the same name and general design. But again, as cool as an homage as this is, it’s not explicitly a crossover. There’s no G.I. Joe logo and storyline attached.


A more apt example would be the SDCC exclusive release of the Starscream decoed Sky Striker set that was released back in 2011. The set came with a Cobra Commander pilot figure armed with an appropriately-sized Megatron laser pistol. Again, this is a super cool set that I really wanted to get my hands on, but there were some aspects to the release that again make me feel like it’s outside of an official crossover. First, the set was a limited edition only sold at the SDCC which means that most folks couldn’t get their hands on it, and second, even though the repainted Sky Striker looks really awesome as “Starscream”, it was just a repainted Joe toy. They didn’t re-tool it so that it could transform or anything. So as cool as it is, it doesn’t feel official to me.


Viper on the other hand is about as official as you can get, widely released, branded with both G.I. Joe and Transformers insignia logos, and functions as both an action figure, vehicle (with the ability to transform.)  It may be a narrow view for some, but for me, this is the toy I’ve been waiting for for over 20 years!  Here’s some more views of Viper….




I love the way they made Viper an homage to Wild Weasel too, a really nice touch…


I have no idea whether Hasbro is testing the waters with a figure like Viper, but I hope they are.  I’d love to see a whole line of hybrid releases like this.  I can totally imagine transformer Hiss Tanks, Vamp jeeps, or Tomahawk helicopters.  I can even see a combiner made out of the various Dreadnok vehicles.  The possibilities are limitless!


Filling a gap in my pop culture past…

There are a million reasons why I’m thankful for being brought into this world in the late seventies, but the one that I’ve been focusing on lately is that I feel a very deep appreciation for my luck in experiencing what the world has been like before and after the internet. I do my best to not take the wonderland of the World Wide Web for granted, and I consistently marvel at the level of access we have to information, even if it seems banal and trivial on the surface. With the tools, databases and connections at hand we can use these resources to practically break through the implausibility of a concept like time travel and experience things that should be long gone and forgotten. I spend the majority of my time here at Branded writing and talking about all the stuff from my childhood that I hold dear in particular my personal experiences with the shows, movies, books, toys and pop culture ephemera that I grew up loving. Today I want to talk about something I completely missed out on, something that I only discovered after starting this site almost a decade ago, the Saturday morning entertainment showcase specials that were broadcast by the major TV stations back in the 80s.


Growing up I never really had a say in what the family would watch on TV. I know, everyone is crying me a river, right? Honestly, it’s not a complaint; I had food, shelter, and more than my fair share of toys and entertainment, but when it came to TV there were only a few windows when I had access to controlling the dial (and much later the remote), especially as soon as my father would come home from work. As soon as he got in the door he immediately changed the station from the afternoon cartoons I might be watching on the UHF channels to whatever station would have local news. So if that meant suffering through syndicated reruns of Alice or the Jefferson’s for the billionth time so that the channel would be tuned in to the news as soon as it started, that’s what we watched. Then it was the local news, then national news, then Entertainment Tonight, and finally onto whatever stuff caught my dad’s interest for the rest of the evening. My TV time was mostly regulated to 30 minutes in the morning before school (where I caught old Our Gang and Three Stooges shorts or the odd episode of Woody Woodpecker or Chilly Willy), an hour after school (where I caught most of my syndicated cartoons like He-Man, G.I. Joe, Bravestarr and the Silverhawks), and a couple hours on Saturday morning for cartoons. Because of this I never tended to flip through the actual programming portion (the B&W newsprint part) of our copies of the TV Guide and therefore I never stumbled across any of the advertisements for the one-off showcase specials that aired during the kickoff of the new network lineup in fall.

So at 8:30pm on Saturday the 8th of September in 1984 I had no idea that there was a 30-minute special called Laugh Busters airing on NBC. In fact I didn’t even learn that it existed until about five years ago when I broke down the 1984 Fall Preview issue of the TV Guide here at Branded. At the time it was a bit of a curiosity that I wished I could explore further but there was nothing online about it except for a glorified placeholder entry on IMDB.

IMDB Laugh Busters

Well, a few years went by and Laugh Busters slipped to the back of my mind as one of those oddities, a hole in my childhood experience that I wished I could fill but knew I’d probably never get a chance to see as something like that would never merit a DVD release (way too many licenses and clearances would be needed.) But, as I stated above, the internet and all its connections are pretty damn miraculous and my buddy Tim over at Flashlights Are Something to Eat had his own Laugh Busters journey going on. Unlike me, Tim had actually seen the original broadcast as a kid and even had the presence of mind to tape the audio on a blank cassette! He did a short synopsis/write-up on his site but was still yearning to re-watch the full special, so he kept up his search and a couple of years later he finally found one of his childhood holy grails, an old VHS copy that had been ripped to DVD. Tim, being the super awesome guy that he is, offered to let me borrow his copy and finally, 30 years after it originally aired, I was able to experience a small part of 1984 that I thought was lost to time. As a bonus the copy of the special was complete with the commercials that originally aired with it, so this was as close to time travel that the internet has made possible.

Laugh Busters

As I mentioned above, Laugh Busters was a Saturday Morning showcase special which was designed to sell the kids of America on NBC’s new line-up of shows, particularly because half of the schedule was brand new for 1984. Here’s a copy of the SMC comic book ad for NBC from which introduced 4 new shows including Kidd Video, Pink Panther and Sons, the Snorks and the live action sitcom Going Bananas starring JR the orangutan as Roxanna Banana a simian zapped by a U.F.O. and given super powers.


The basic premise of Laugh Busters revolves around the making of the NBC Special starring all of the new cartoon characters as well as the Smurfs, Spider-Man, Mr. T, Alvin & the Chipmunks, and the cast of Going Bananas. The director in charge, D.W. (played by Sandy Helberg), has his plans put in peril by Gargamore O’Dette, a super evil wizard (also portrayed by Helberg) bent on the end of laughter and the ultimate destruction of NBC. Why you ask? Because he’s allergic to laughter of course!  Here’s some audio from that opening segment

Director DW and Assistant

Gargamore ODette

Right off the bat after hitting play I was taken aback as there was a scene during the opening credits that featured a team up between an animated Mr. T and Alvin, Simon and Theodore. At first I thought this was a weird composting of elements from the two Ruby Spears cartoons, but upon digging a bit I found out that Mr. T was featured in the first segment in the premier episode of the 80s Chipmunks series (both shows debuted together the year prior in 1983.) There’s also a great song in the middle of the episode.  Somehow I’ve managed to miss out on this epic bit of pop culture fun for the last 31 years.

Chipmunks 2

After the detour of watching the first episode of Alvin and the Chipmunks I dove back into the Laugh Busters special. To execute his nefarious plan Gargamore kidnaps the Smurfs off screen and recruits two live action henchmen (played by James “Uncle Phil” Avery and Bill Saluga reprising their roles of the Grit Brothers Hank and Hubert from Going Bananas) to stop the rest of the characters from making it onto the special.

Captured Smurfs

Grit Brothers

Of course Thom Bray (Boz and his rad orange robot Roboz from Riptide) show up at the studio for the Special and they end up helping to track down the missing stars and cartoon characters starting with Spider-Man.

Thom Bray

Dan Gilvezan, voice of Spider-Man from the cartoon, redubs animation segments from the show to talk about being excited for the new season as well as taking a trip across country to appear on the new NBC special. He then proceeds to web-swing from NYC all the way to Burbank (seriously) set to the sweet dulcet melody of the city-name-dropping portion of the Huey Lewis song Heart of Rock and Roll.


Of course he encounters the infamous Grit Brothers near the city of One Horse USA, swinging into and getting trapped on a gigantic piece of ACME Fly Paper (in a live action segment that looks like it was straight out of an episode of the Electric Company)! Boz uses Roboz to call a honkytonk out there to enlist the help of Danny Cooksey (from Diff’rent Strokes and later Salute Your Shorts) to help. After performing his best Waylon Jennings imitation of the Ed Bruce song “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” (where the keen observer will notices the entire Kidd Video and Going Bananas cast in attendance as well as Alfonzo Ribero), Danny takes Boz’s call and agrees to help, though he needs a ride to go help Spider-Man since he’s just a kid and all.



Boz then enlists the help of KITT from Knightrider to drive Danny out to rescue Spider-Man. What I love about this segment (aside from seeing a pint-sized Danny Cooksey behind the wheel of K.I.T.T.) is that this is the only onscreen pairing of Spider-Man and K.I.T.T. (I have a soft spot in my heart of Knightrider crossovers.) I also love that William Daniel voiced K.I.T.T. in this special uncredited…

Cooksey KITT Spiderman

With Spider-Man rescued, the Grit brothers turn their attention that that new up and coming rock ‘n roll band Kidd Video, and they literally roll a rock at the gang’s, knocking them and the Kiddmobile right out of the flipside back into the real world. Since their ship is messed up they decide to practice their new hit song (Video to Radio) out on a bridge near the wreckage.

Kidd Video

The special then cuts to Roxanna Banana listening to Kid Video on the radio and a reworking of the opening segment of the Going Bananas series then plays out. This bleeds back into the GB cast in their jalopy bus running into Kidd Video still playing out on the bridge and they decide to pick them up and head out to Burbank together.

Going Bananas

Things get a little weird when the special moves on to Alvin and the Chipmunks. Again, like with Spider-Man, Ross Bagdasarian Jr. reprises the role of Alvin to voice new material over clips from one of the cartoon episodes to tie it into the plot of this new story. The Grit brothers have boarded a train carrying the Chipmunks and Dave to Burbank, and the plan is to steal their train tickets so they’ll get kicked off, which they do. But when the Chipmunks get thrown off the train the special switches from animation to live action with three very bulky and ridiculously large chipmunk outfits. They’re rescued by Boz who sends the Riptide Helicopter (the Screaming Mimi) to pick them up.


As the special moves into its second half the pace starts to pick up dramatically and the amount of original non-clip material is reduced. The last longish bit involves Mr. T and his gymnasts stopping at a meet they were invited to only to realize that it was a trap and they have a run in with the Grit brothers. Luckily they foil the Grit Bros. plan to steal their bus in a weird mix of live action and animation.  Though you hear his voice, you only ever see Mr. T’s real life arm (well, it was supposed to be Mr. T, but I’m sure it was just a stand-in double…)


Next up is the Pink Panther and Sons segment where Pinky and Panky, the sons of the Pink Panther are taking a bike ride through a city. The grit brothers show up and decide to paint a fake tunnel opening on a huge rock in the hopes that they will ride smack dab into it. The animation switches over to live action as a person in a huge Panky costume rides a bike straight through the painting much like in a cartoon. It’s just assumed that the false tunnel has become a wormhole to Burbank.

Pink Panther

In the second to last segment the Grit brothers are sitting in a raft and have a plan to obliterate the Snorks. They explain that everything in the Snorks underwater kingdom is run on steam and so they take control of one of NASA’s inter-continental ballistic missiles with a remote control and crash it into the sea sealing off an underwater volcano that is the source of the Snork’s steam production. This then switches over to animation where there is a clip of the Snorks removing said missile from the volcano and foiling the Grit Brother’s plan.


In the last segment Papa Smurf, the only Smurf not captured by Gargamore, figures out that O’Dette is trying not to laugh. So he develops a potion which he slips to Gargamore that makes him evaporate. Yes, Papa Smurf apparently kills Gargamore!


This leads to an all-out dance celebration with all of the live action characters, cartoons and the guest stars (minus Panky and Thom Bray), rocking out to a spoof of the Ghostbusters theme by Ray Parker Jr.

Dance Party

I’ll be the first to admit that this Laugh Busters showcase special was super hokey and kind of hard to watch in spots, but I’m glad I finally caught up with one of these because it was great to see the mash-up of properties and characters. I know I would have loved it had I seen it back in 1984. It’s kind of a shame that it’s mostly lost to time, so as a small little capper to this experience I took the time to submit a bunch of information about the special to the pathetic IMDB listing. It’s slowly updating, but at least there’s now a synopsis, more crew and some trivia added. Hopefully they’ll add the rest of the cast that I submitted soon and this won’t be a completely lost bit of 80s fun.

And before I close this out, here’s a list of the original commercials that aired during the special…

Commercial Break

1). Fun with McNuggets: This is a fun early McNuggets commercial that still featured some of the older McDonaldland characters like the Professor and Captain Crook…

Fun With McNuggets

2). Raisin Bran BMX: This commercial is like a mash-up of the movie Rad and a kid crazy for his two scoops of raisins.  So crazy in fact that he decides to ditch halfway through the race to go eat more raisins…

Raisin Bran BMX

3). Wrangler Clothes (Live It to the Limit with Wrangler): This is the first time I’ve seen a Wrangler ad that was aimed at a young teen audience.  I’ve always associated these jeans with like older guys who work on farms or construction, so it was weird seeing the brand try and take a more Jordache spin.  Also, the commercial is an excuse to strip out of the clothes, a weird choice if you ask me…


4). Wendy’s Where’s the Beef?: The classic 80s Where’s the Beef commercial, ‘Nuff Said.


5). Sneak Week with Punky Brewster, Silver Spoons, Highway to Heaven: Always fun seeing the 1st season promo material for Punky Brewster and the most adorable Brandon with an afro…

sneak week

6). Pop Tarts: Color coordinate your Pop Tarts kids.  Also, I forgot how much I missed seeing the bit where the knife is spread over the fruit filling that spells out fruit…

Pop Tarts

7). Chef Boyardee: This commercial wins the award for worst mom ever.  The little girls wants a cookie, but the mom thinking that’s unhealthy (why do you have them in the kitchen then?) stops her and gives her a full can of Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs instead.  Because that’s SOOOOO MUCH BETTER.  Sigh…

Chef Boyardee

Commercial Break 2

The Essential TV Guide Fall Preview Issues of the 80s, Part 10: 1986!


So last month during my blitzkrieg of Monster Squad shenanigans I had the opportunity to check out an (at the time) unreleased episode of Ken Reid’s awesome TV Guidance Counselor podcast where he sat down with special guest André Gower.  The episode is finally live and I highly suggest checking it out as it’s a great interview with Gower that sidesteps your typical questions as well as shedding some light on aspects of The Monster Squad that don’t get discussed a lot.  Ken has a real knack for conversational interviewing that keeps the banter interesting and strays from fanboy indulgences.  Listening to the episode got me in the mood to dig out my collection of 80s era TV Guides, so this past weekend I did just that and figured it’s been way too long (4 years!) since I took a look at a vintage Fall Preview issue here at Branded.  So I might as well pick up where I left off, which was the September 13-19 issue from 1986…


1986 makes one of the first years where I actively started paying attention to prime-time TV, specifically first-run sitcoms.  I’d just turned 9 years-old and there were two new shows that debuted that felt like they were created especially for me (Perfect Strangers and ALF), so much so that for once I actually fought my father for control of the TV on certain nights…


By this point I’d already become aware of Bronson Pinchot via Beverly Hills Cop and his role in After Hours (my mom used to expose me to some weird movies when I was a kid), and the bits and pieces I saw of him as Balki Bartokomous had 9 year-old me in tears.  This was the gateway drug that led to years of watching TGIF on ABC, way , way, way past when I was still enjoying it.  Regardless, to this day one of my immediate responses to good news is to initiate the Dance of Joy (usually with an imaginary partner that I “catch” at the end.)  As for ALF, that premise was just too insane not to watch.  I should also mention that I was still hip deep in my appreciation for pint-sized aliens (E.T. and Ewoks), and good ‘ol Gordon Shumway made that love a nice trifecta.


This was also the year that I was introduced to the wonder that is Ernie Reyes Jr when I fell in love with a little show called Sidekicks!  What’s kind of weird for me is that at the time I had no idea who Gil Gerard was even though I was a huge fan of Buck Rogers.  Maybe I was too mesmerized by the tiny martial arts master to even pay much attention to the rest of the show…


There were  a handful of other shows that I remembered watching at the time, stuff like Head of the Class, Valerie, Sledge Hammer, The Wizard, and even L.A. Law, but the other main show that really hit my radar that year was Starman (starring Robert Hays from the Airplane movies.)  I was a huge fan of the movie and followed along right into the series.  It was probably my first real bout of appointment television where I was really sucked into the story from week to week, and would freak out a little if I missed an episode…


In the slew of new series that were released this year there were a couple that I missed at the time and never stumbled upon until I flipped through this issue.  Stuff like You Again?, the John Stamos/Jack Klugman series that is a weird mash-up between The Odd Couple and Silver Spoons.  Obviously the show didn’t make it as it would only be the next year before Stamos would finally hit it big in a little show called Full House.


There was also a series that I’m super curious about called Together We Stand with Ke Huy Quan (Data from the Goonies), Dee Wallace (speaking of E.T.), and Elliott Gould.  It looks like a 80s modern take on the Brady Bunch, just with 100% more multi-ethnic adoption instead of merging two families.  I’m similarly curious about the dramatic series called Heart of the City which starred a young Christina Applegate and one of my favorite obscure child actors Johnathon Ward (first season of Charles in Charge and White Water Summer.)  Looks fun…


There’s also Our House, though I both never watched it and never really cared to track it down, as well as a few other shows that I have zero interest in (like Easy Street with Jack Elam and Loni Anderson or My Sister Sam with Pam Dauber and David Naughton…)

1986 was not only a good year for sitcoms, but it was a great year for Saturday morning cartoons and shows seeing the debut of some of my favorite series like Galaxy High, Teen Wolf, and Pee Wee’s Playhouse!



This issue also features some fun interior ads for new and returning shows…

Not to mention the debut of the insanity that is Zoobilee Zoo!


Last, but not least I’m going to leave you with this advertisement for the ABC Afterschool Special, A Desperate Exit starring Malcom-Jamal Warner and Rob Stone (of Mr. Belvedere) which you can watch on youtube!