Tag Archives: cosby show

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.