Tag Archives: mr. t

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

Today is all about Power Packs…

The fine folks over at 8 Bit Zombie recently started selling sets of stickers, patches, and button in what they’re calling Power Packs.  I’ve been a fan of their clothing and retro themed items for awhile (Proud Member of their Kid’s Club!), so I jumped at the chance to snag one of these.  They come in two varieties, the Action Pack (pop culture theme) and the NES Pack (Video Gaming theme), but since I’m a regular old cartoon and movie nut at heart I went with the Action Pack…

So what wonders are contained in these rad sets?  Well, for starters, not only do you get the Power Pack, but 8bz is usually kind enough to throw in a bunch of other stickers and goodies including buttons, vintage trading cards (I snagged a sealed pack of Harry and the Hendersons cards!), and sometimes even M.U.S.C.L.E. minifigs.  As for the pack itself, this one was loaded with stickers and a couple awesome patches.  I love the 8BZ branding, so those were neat, but that Join Cobra patch is the bee’s freaking knees.  Honestly though, the main reason I picked up this pack was for the 5 Garbage Pail Kids inspired stickers featuring great illustrations of Robocop, The Goonies, and various other cartoon heroes and villains.  I’m a sucker for anything GPK related.

I was also lucky to snag one of their newly minted brass arcade tokens.  How awesome is that?  From now on when deciding between two places to eat out, screw heads and tails, it’ll be all Powergloves and 1-Up Coins!

Check them out at 8 Bit Zombie, and tell ‘em I sent ya!

I’m a member in good standing in some pretty prestigious clubs…

I thought I wasn’t going to find time to post this week, but I didn’t want to sit on the following cool stuff for another month (considering I’m going into Halloween lockdown mode soon.)  I recently had a few extra bucks lying around (rare these days) and felt like it was a great opportunity to pick up some really cool stuff from a couple of really swell sites.

Up first is the mega-awesome 8-Bit Zombie Kid’s Club Pack!

I’ve been drooling over the neat clothes at 8-Bit Zombie for awhile, but I always tend to miss out on the shirts that I really want considering they’re released in pretty low print runs and tend to be gobbled up ultra fast.  So when I saw the tweet go out announcing the release of their new Kid’s Club pack I didn’t hesitate and ended up grabbing one post haste.  Let me tell you, I think I would have plunked down the price of admission for their retro custom lunch box alone.  Included in the pack are the super cool lunch box with artwork by Matthew Skiff (featuring such pop culture, cartoon and video game luminaries as Slimer, King Hippo, Cobra Commander, Mr. T, My Pet Monster, Skullface, and Castle Greyskull, as well as 8-Bit’s own Thrashor zombie skater), a club patch, a swell “Nickelodeon Slime” green club t-shirt, and a handful of stickers and buttons.  8BZ was also kind enough to include a vintage pack of Topps TMNT trading cards and a neat M.U.S.C.L.E. figure (#146, Playerman, the living record player!)

One of the aspects that I really dig about 8-Bit Zombie is their keen sense of design and ostentatious use of branding, which always gets me excited.  Heck, even the box they sent the club pack in was covered with awesome branded rubber stamps featuring some of their past t-shirt designs as well as their various 80s-inspired logos.  Sadly, the Kid’s Club Pack is currently sold out, but I’ve heard rumblings of future offerings in the works, so keep your eyes peeled and maybe you can also become a member in good standing…

The second awesome pack I picked up came from the multi-talented Tommy Day over at Top Hat Sasquatch

Tommy recently had a limited run of rad THS t-shirts screen-printed, and he’s currently offering them over at the site (though I’m not sure how many he has left, so if you want one you better head on over and put in an order!)  I was so excited to open the delivery, not only because the t-shirt is swell, but because he also packed a vintage TMNT goody bag to go along with the purchase.  It goes without saying that I love getting stickers, but the buttons and cool trading cards were a great bonus.  Believe it or not, that pack of ALF cards contained a card I desperately needed to complete my set!

Don’t Talk to Strangers, said the toughest man in the world…

So I’m a little late to the 60th birthday celebration of Mr. T, but I want to rectify that today by sharing this trade advertisement for the Mr. T’s Commandments EP record that was released back in 1984…


I came across this while flipping through back issues of Billboard and was immediately struck by the Godzilla-sized version of Mr. T standing head and shoulders above the building-tops of what I’m assuming is the south side of Chicago (I’m not great with skylines, but that’s what’s referenced in track 3, The Toughest Man in the World.)  I love flipping through these old magazine back issues because it gives me a chance to find stuff I never knew existed, like this EP, and then I get a chance to seek this stuff out and experience it with a fresh perspective (like finding the movie The Quest.)  I was able to track down a copy of the album, a collection of pseudo-rap/r&b aimed at kids and containing 7 tracks of inspirational and educational warnings and thoughts, and give it a listen.  Man, I’m pretty sure at the age of 7, the gruffness in Mr. T’s voice would have easily deterred me from thinking twice about back-talking to my parents or mainlining heroin…


The whole dichotomy between Mr. T’s brutish image and his gospel of walking the straight and narrow is interesting.  I know all the positive vibes are genuine, but the whole massive amount of bling deal and his roles as Clubber Lang and B.A. on the A-Team have always seemed a bit in opposition to his message.  It doesn’t help when he’s belting out lyrics like, “It’s a dog eat dog world, and you have to play the game…”, especially when they’re balanced by “…the toughest man in the world is the one that knows the right way to go…he’s the strongest guy, he don’t never hide…”  I’m not bashing on the T though, trust me I like my teeth just right where they are, in my head and not in a puddle of blood at my feet.  Anyway, adding to the novelty of this record is the rap-direction by the one and only Ice-T.  I have to assume that was a weird combo in the production booth…

On a personal level, I feel a rather weirdly deep connection to this album because even though I don’t remember ever owning or listening to it when I was a kid I did record myself singing a who slew of songs that are almost identical.  I guess it’s probably just a phase that some 80s kids went through.  I mean we had these sort of slogan based anti-everything-bad campaigns hammered into our heads from every direction.  I guess it’s pretty natural to make up songs about not taking drugs or talking to strangers.  Now I wish I still had the audio tapes from when I was a kid to compare them to this album, maybe I did have it and I’ve blocked it out…


There is some pretty fun backing music/beats on the album.  Hints of Parliament, though subtle, and an overall old school hip hop feel.  If you’re interested in hearing this lost gem, head on over to the Lost Turntable and give it a listen.

A ton of 80s cartoons finally coming to DVD!

The last few years we’ve been going through a relative drought of 80s cartoons on DVD.  Though I was super happy with Shout! Factory re-issuing Transformers (recently vastly encheapened) and G.I. Joe on DVD in the past couple of years, there are still some big holes in my collection that seemed would go unfilled forever.  Well some 80s cartoon god must have heard my laments because there are a ton of new to DVD titles coming in the next six months or so!

As you can see from the advertisement above, the Warner Archive (manufactured on demand DVDs) is releasing some great catalog titles including the Go Bots (shipping on May 17th), Mr. T (shipping today), and finally a complete set of the Herculoids (shipping on June 14th) on DVD!

In addition to these awesome WB titles, Shout! Factory is currently prepping releases of M.A.S.K. (shipping in August), the Japanese Transformers Headmasters series (shipping on July 5th), as well as a re-issue of Jem (to be announced officially soon) on DVD.

Still keeping my fingers crossed that the Warner Archive will release the second half of the Silverhawks someday…