Saturday Morning Fever: CBS 1975
The end of May brings with it television ratings sweeps weeks and both season and, in some cases, series finales. It also heralds the kick off of summer repeats until the fall season finally arrives in September. On a recent perusal of the scant remaining network Saturday morning children’s programs, I was reminded of just how big a deal these time slots were just a few decades earlier. Before the advent of nationwide cable and satellite services, before even the wide spread of video cassette recorders, Saturday morning programming was a big deal to the major networks.
Back in the 1970’s, almost every network held a prime time unveiling of their Saturday morning line up, usually on the Friday before they premiered. In 1975, CBS tapped the cast of their currently popular sitcom Good Times (which was about to enter its third season), Jimmie Walker, Ralph Carter, and Bernadette Stanis, to host their sneak peak. The Dyn-O-Mite Saturday Preview, as the special was termed, introduced young viewers to the cavalcade of shows that were waiting to amuse them (and sell them stuff) the following morning.
The opening, or ramp up, hours of Saturday morning were reserved for a special type of programming – repeats. There was no reason to waste first run material on children who might not be awake yet or, even worse, were being force fed a reasonable breakfast that was NOT served in front of the television. For 1975, we got Stone Age teenagers Pebbles and Bamm Bamm in the opening, and most disposable, time slot. The twenty episodes of these adolescent Flintstones were already three years old and the celluloid was wearing thin. This was followed by the Saturday morning stalwart of multiple decades, The Bugs Bunny / Road Runner Show. This extension of Warner Brothers’ prime time series was repackaged in various permutations and lengths for years until pro-social censors finally butchered it into oblivion. Speaking of long running and heavily replayed shows, the final entry in the repeat slot was Scooby-Doo Where are You? The comedic canine was already half way through his natural life span in 1975, having premiered in 1969. The original 25 episodes were so familiar by this point that my friends and I could yell out “it’s the creepy carnival owner” or “the shady bank manager did it” within sixty seconds of the opening title. This was Scooby’s last season on CBS but the dog detective, who turns forty this fall or 280 in dog years, has been solving mysteries ever since.
Considering the success of the Shazam series, which had debuted the previous year, its surprising Captain Marvel and his alter ego Billy Batson weren’t hosting the preview special (maybe they couldn’t find a lesson in it to teach children). The live action Filmation show returned for a second season with John Davey replacing Jackson Bostwick as the world’s mightiest mortal. This year, Shazam was paired with an almost identical program for girls, The Secrets of Isis, in what was collectively known as The Shazam / Isis Hour.
The lovely Joanna Cameron, yes there was something for young boys to like here too, played the Egyptian super heroin Isis, who was really high school teacher Andrea Thomas in her day job. By invoking the name of her goddess counterpart, Thomas would transform and battle crime using catchy incantations to control the elements. Following the Shazam format to the letter, each week Isis would rescue some thick headed teenager in the nick of time and then deliver a preachy moral to the audience. The Secrets of Isis proved so popular that the show was brought back the following year for a second, abbreviated, season and, in an even more unusual move, spun into a DC tie-in comic book.
By the mid-70’s, Gilligan’s Island was all over the dial in syndication. Star Bob Denver had failed twice to recapture his Gilligan success with the follow up series The Good Guys and Dusty’s Trail. Realizing his true audience, Denver teamed with fellow comedian Chuck McCann for what was essentially Gilligan and the Skipper in outer space, Far Out Space Nuts. This Sid & Marty Krofft series found two members of the NASA catering staff drifting aimlessly in space after mistakenly pressing the “launch” button instead of the one to serve ”lunch” (even as a young child this scenario seemed pretty implausible to me) and featured their trademark suit style characters as aliens each week. Space Nuts never caught on with the Saturday morning crowd and they drifted off for good after just one season.
The highlight of the CBS 1975 Saturday morning line-up had to be Ghost Busters. I remember my friends and I staring at the preview panel and trying to imagine what this show could be about as we eagerly awaited its premier. Perhaps our expectations of a live action supernatural mystery show were too lofty because we were never really satisfied with what finally showed up. Filmation had the foresight to re-team F Troop stars Forrest Tucker (who had recently played the Skipper type character in Gilligan’s, oops I mean Dusty’s Trail) and Larry Storch and then tossed in a gorilla (Bob Burns) for good measure. Each week, the Spencer, Tracy, & Kong (get it?) Ghost Buster Agency received Mission: Impossible style orders to banish some new ghost that was causing a demonic dilemma. This is one of those rare children’s series that is actually more enjoyable to me now as an adult. Tucker and Storch have an excellent chemistry and the guest stars are a who’s who of underappreciated Hollywood like Huntz Hall, Joe E. Ross, Severn Darden, and Lennie Weinrib.
Wrapping up the morning was a miss-mash of repeats much like the opening hours. The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine was trotted out for a second year, possibly in a move towards programming diversity, while The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show, which had also debuted the previous year, remained on the bench. The portly preacher of hood hygiene, Fat Albert, also returned with his complete compliment of Cosby kids. To ease children back into the world of adult programs or possibly out into the bright sunlight was the CBS Children’s Film Festival. These short films may have been award winners but they sent older kids I knew scrambling for the remotes while their younger siblings dozed back off to sleep after burning off a bowl of Super Frosted Sugar Bombs. They may as well have played the Star Spangled Banner after Fat Albert because kids everywhere knew their programming day had come to an end.