Thundarr The Barbarian
This fantasy/sci-fi/adventure series gets a lot of love online, collecting over 9,000 signatures on a petition for a DVD release. The plot, for the uninitiated, is as follows: in 1994 (you know, the future!), Earth has been decimated by a “runaway planet” that sliced the moon in half (hate when that happens). Then, two thousand years later, “Earth is reborn:” The main characters are Thundarr, a big dumb barbarian with a special weapon called the Sun-Sword, Ookla the Mok (basically Chewbacca with fangs) and Ariel, a tart sorceress who tolerates Thundarr’s stupidity. The three travelers wander the now-decimated planet, which is full of “ancient” technology such as movie projectors, cars, and soda machines. Somehow, high-level magic has become commonplace, and pirates (pirates!) roam the land, making life both difficult for the common folk and extremely entertaining for the viewer.
According to BeatlesCartoon.com, the Beatles’ Saturday morning cartoons have never officially been released on VHS/DVD – and that’s a shame. These charming animated adventures were very much of their time, obviously, but the animated Liverpool Lads are just as cute – and the songs just as hummable – as they were in the sixties.
The Jackson 5ive
Before Michael Jackson had so much plastic surgery that he looked like a cartoon, he actually was a cartoon! This little gem originally aired on ABC from 1971-1973, but it must have continued in re-runs because I remember it more vividly than I care to admit. Oddly enough, if Wikipedia is to be believed, the Jacksons didn’t actually contribute anything to the cartoon other than their music.
“Snake cans!” This wonderful local program was a variety/game show of sorts and featured actual kids – many of the YouTube videos are from the grown-ups who were in the audience at the tapings.
Scooby’s All Star Laff-A-Lympics
Although you can get discs containing every episode of “Wacky Races” (cool!) and “Dastardly & Muttley in Their Flying Machines” (um, who cares?), the never-ending competition between The Scooby Doobies, The Yogi Yahooeys and The Really Rottens is thus far confined to the dustbin of cartoon sports history. With everyone still high on the Olympics, this is a perfect time to put these out.
The Magic Garden
WPIX, later syndicated, 1972-1984
Sherlock the squirrel, Flapper the bird, the Chuckle Patch – ah, the memories. I had a big crush on hosts Carole and Paula, especially Paula (I think it was Paula), who kind of looked like my babysitter at the time. The bell-bottoms, the looong pigtails, the guitar – what’s not to love? The ladies are still around, still friends, and their website says they plan to release the shows on DVD soon.
PBS, 1972-1978 (Remake: 1999-2005)
“Won’t you zoom, zoom, zooma zoom:” In contrast to the more amped-up kids’ television produced today, the intro to Zoom, even now, has something of a calming effect. The kids, who created much of the content for the show, were real kids, they looked like real kids, and they even danced and sang like real kids, even if that meant musical numbers that were not terribly polished (take that, High School Musical!). There is a VHS collection of select moments from the original 1970’s run, but no DVD. There was also a remake in 1999 that ended in 2005; the website is still active, noting over five million visitors. Um, hello? DVD, please?
PBS, 1953-1994 (various incarnations)
It started in 1953, which puts it at the very beginning of children’s television (or television at all, for that matter). Romper Room was like a virtual kindergarten class, but it was so sweet and easy you loved every minute of it. The hosts were always “Miss” – Miss Nancy, Miss Louise, and the one I remember, Miss Mary Ann (here’s an interview with her from 2006). Who doesn’t remember hoping to hear their name when Miss Whoever closed out the show with, “And I see Peter, and Lucy, and Pilot Inspektor:”
Batman (Live Action TV Series)
Adam West may not be interested in The Dark Knight, but that’s probably because he still thinks of himself as the one and only Keeper of the Cowl. Despite huge demand, this classic and campy take on Bob Kane’s creation is not available on DVD, except for the 1966 TV movie. Disputes over rights abound, but the episodes are still shown in syndication.
Big Blue Marble
Big Blue Marble was one of many children’s shows in the 1970’s that asked the question “can’t we all just get along?” This one did it partly by encouraging viewers to become pen pals; some web sites claim that many children stayed in touch long after the show went off the air. “Together is a word we must learn to understand:Love your fellow man, woman, and everyone.” Nothing wrong with that, right?
The Wonderful World of Disney
ABC, NBC, CBS, Disney Channel, 1954-present (sort of)
This Disney anthology show had various names and incarnations, and is still around in some form (including airing in Spanish as El Maravilloso Mundo de Disney). It included movies, cartoons, and Walt being his imagineering self – this is the Disney that guys like BoingBoing’s Cory Doctorow revere, not the company that currently produces nonsense like Hannah Montana. Select shows are available on DVD but there is no “complete season”-style release.
Bozo the Clown
Syndicated, 1956-2001 (various incarnations)
Only a few episodes are available on DVD, none featuring Bob Bell, who appears to be the fan favorite, despite the fact that many actors donned the red rubber nose and dopey hair. (One of them, Bill Britten, was an acting teacher at the High School of Performing Arts and even appeared in the movie Fame.) Bozo is the most iconic of clowns; even though there is no current version on the air at the moment, future generations can enjoy his evil doppelganger: Krusty.
Kid Superpower Hour with Shazam!
This hour of superpower contained two segments – “Hero High” and “Shazam!” The former is on DVD in full, the latter is not because of rights issues. “Hero High” is hilarious, but mostly hilariously bad, especially the live action musical segments, which make The Archies look like Metallica. As for Mr. Mightiest Mortal, he’s still around in various forms, but this animated version was much beloved by many (including me). The robot walker thingies in the intro jogged my memory immediately. A live-action Shazam film is supposedly in the works with The Rock as Black Adam.
Shazam! (Live Action)
CBS, 1974-1977 (later changed to The Shazam!/Isis Hour
Look! It’s Billy Batson and his GIGANTIC HAIR! And when he says the name of the great wizard Shazam, he becomes Captain Marvel! A superhero with significantly smaller hair! Shazam, if you didn’t already know, is an acronym made up of the names of powerful gods: Solomon (wisdom), Hercules (strength), Atlas (stamina), Zeus (power), Achilles (courage), and Mercury (speed). After the first season, Isis joined the show for a double-shot of superheroic goodness. However, while The Secrets of Isis is available on DVD, Shazam!, sadly, is not. Stupid rights disputes.
Villa Allegre was apparently thought of as a Spanish Sesame Street, but it was more than that. It was (and I’m doing this from memory, I couldn’t find any video online) very authentically Spanish. No “Spanish word of the day.” They would do entire segments en espaol. Take that, Dora! Since I grew up in the Bronx, this show felt like my neighborhood. I very clearly remember learning, via this program, that tomatoes are actually a fruit, not a vegetable. Why? Because they have seeds. So there. No DVDs are available for sale, and I couldn’t find any video online. But you can hear some of the music, especially that catchy theme song, on two different MySpace pages.
The Marvel Super Heroes
Five days a week, five different Marvel heroes rocketed into your living room: Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, The Invincible Iron Man, The Mighty Thor, and Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner. The animation was so stilted that it was barely animated at all, the plots were pale shadows of the stories that appeared in the original comics, but there was still something really great about these. With all of the recent successful films based on Marvel characters, it’s very surprising that there isn’t a DVD collection of these shows.
The Thing / Fred and Barney Meet The Thing
“Thing ring, do your thing!” This was one of the lesser animated series based on Marvel characters. Fred and Barney didn’t really have much to do with the strongest and most orange member of the Fantastic Four, and the idea that a kid named Benjy Grimm had a ring that turned him into The Thing was pushing it, even for comic book fans. But in 1979, there were three channels, and we weren’t that picky.
When Bob Keeshan died in 2004, I didn’t cry, but I was definitely sad. Keeshan’s kiddie TV cred runs deep; he played Clarabell on the old Howdy Doody show. As the Captain, he was like your Grandpa, but without the cigars and whiskey. (Wait, that was my grandpa. Moving on:) Mr. Green Jeans, Mr. Moose, and Bunny Rabbit were his co-stars. Simple, sweet and fun.
The Banana Splits Adventure Hour
If you don’t know the theme song to The Banana Splits (“One banana, two banana, three banana, four:”), you’re either too young or too old to have enjoyed the show when it was on the air. The Splits were a motley crew of misfits, who, like seemingly every other collection of weirdoes on children’s TV in those days, were also a rock band. The Banana Splits consisted of four animals, but they were animals that looked not so much like animals, probably because they were designed by the prolific and brilliant Sid and Marty Krofft. They shared the show with short segments like “Danger Island,” which starred Jan Michael Vincent (who knew?). There was a lot going on and it was a lot of fun to watch. Fun fact: Richard Donner, who went on to direct big-screen Superman movies, directed this show’s first season.
Hot Fudge / The Hot Fudge Show
Although all shows had music back then, this one really had music, and pretty funky music at that. Reading about it now, it apparently had a whole hippy-dippy educational agenda, but it must have been a well-disguised one, because all I recall are the tunes. A reunion of the original cast aired on Detroit TV in 2007, and the official website vaguely implies that a DVD will be for sale at some point.
Great Space Coaster
The Great Space Coaster was another “let’s all be friends” endeavor, but it featured more of a variety show format. They would occasionally show clips from La Linea, an Italian animation series. What I remember is Gary Gnu, who hosted the Gnus of the Week. Gary, rebel that he was, would add a “g” to seemingly every word. The Great Space Coaster also featured celebrity guests such as Mark Hamill (that’s Luke Skywalker, kids). Fun fact: Gary Gnu is mentioned in a rap song by Blackalicious.
The person who posted the intro to YouTube put it best: “This is either the intro to the 70’s era children’s PBS program ‘Vegetable Soup,’ or it’s the first thing Jerry Falwell saw the moment he arrived in Hell.” This might be the weirdest children’s show ever. EVER. Just the title of the bizarre puppet segment – “Outerscope 1, Trail is Discovered” – should have been enough to make parents scream “WHAT?” According to the producers at the New York State Education Department, “the goal of Vegetable Soup, a television series for children, is to help counter the negative, destructive effects of racial prejudice and racial isolation and to reinforce and dramatize the positive, life- enhancing value of human diversity in entertaining and effective presentations that children can understand and relate to.” Well, everyone at the Department of Ed must have been ingesting large quantities of illegal substances because I defy anyone to understand what the hell “Outerscope” was all about. “It takes all kinds of vegetables / To make a Vegetable Soup,” but I think it took an enormous amount of LSD to make this program. Should be released on DVD as a warning against the dangers of hallucinogens.
Whatever Turns You On / You Can’t Do That on Television
CTV (Canadian Television); Nickelodeon (some episodes banned), 1979-1990
Until I did a little research, I remembered You Can’t Do That On Television strictly for its use of “slime” (goo that was dumped onto the heads of unsuspecting participants). Then I saw that the title of the show was originally Whatever Turns You On, and a light bulb went off. At times, this program could be kind of daring, and some episodes were banned in the United States after airing in Canada. You Can’t Do That . . . was kind of a kiddie-SNL, with sketches featuring both kids and adults. One had a teacher showing his class a pornographic film; that one never made it onto U.S. airwaves. In the “Divorce” sketch (above), a mother enters her children’s room and announces that she and her husband are getting a divorce. The kids are actually very pleased, and then the mother proceeds to demand everything in the divorce settlement, including THE SLIME. That one aired only once before it was pulled. A complete DVD set, with the banned/deleted sketches, would be most welcome.
Now I know what you’re saying (because, you know, I’m psychic.) Sesame Street is available on DVD. I have a bunch of them at home and the entire family loves them. Ah, yes. BUT! Wouldn’t it be great to have complete seasons available to watch, in order, so you could see how the show developed over time? Characters that time (and the Old School box sets) forgot, like Roosevelt Franklin. Heck, just to see the show before Elmo took over the whole damn thing. The current episodes are great, but a box set of, say, the first five years? That’s a sunny day.
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood
Again, I know what you’re thinking. And yes, there are various DVDs out there containing Fred Rogers putting his sweater on and off, changing his shoes, and doing his thing in The Land of Make-Believe. But I want to start from the beginning and see how it all ends. Unlike Sesame Street, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood does have an ending, and a sad one. Being able to watch the first episode ever, and eventually seeing Fred’s heartfelt sign-off, would make it a beautiful day in my neighborhood.
Getting nostalgic? Here are 10 great kids’ shows of yesteryear that you can Netflix right now:
The World of Sid & Marty Krofft
The Brothers Krofft are certified geniuses; their shows were so good I actually considered faking illness at school so I could get home to watch them at noon on weekdays. Various collections are available on DVD; “The World of Sid & Marty Krofft” includes Land of the Lost (Sleestaks, represent!), ElectraWoman and DynaGirl, and my personal favorite, Bigfoot and Wildboy. Also available in separate packages are the complete series of The Bugaloos, H.R. Pufnstuf, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, and more.
The Secrets of Isis
This live-action Filmation series was ahead of its time, featuring a female superhero in a title role before the women, Wonder or Bionic, graced the small screen. Joanna Cameron played mild-mannered science teacher Andrea Thomas. When she finds the amulet of the Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut, and shouts “Oh, mighty Isis!” she transforms into the powerful heroine – ISIS! One of her quirks was reciting poetry before using her super-abilities – “Oh zephyr winds which blow on high, lift me now, so I can fly,” and poof, she’s airborne. The complete series (484 minutes of go-go booted goodness) is available on DVD.
The Uncle Floyd Show
1974 – present, sort of
Floyd Vivino, aka Uncle Floyd, was doing no-budget television before YouTube was ever a billion-dollar gleam in Google’s eye. Filmed in scenic Nutley, NJ and airing in New York on the UHF station U68, Uncle Floyd’s show featured a puppet pal named Oogie, a bizarre cast of characters and special guests that included Chubby Checker, Cyndi Lauper and Howard Stern. David Bowie is a fan of the show – listen to the lyrics of his 2002 song “Slip Away.” And from whom did Bowie hear about the show? John Lennon. While not strictly “children’s television,” Floyd was from a simpler time, before television was as segmented as it is now. A best-of DVD is available, and Floyd himself still performs regularly; check his website.
Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse
When I was a young lad, I always thought there was something slightly sinister about this show, especially the opening theme. Well, it turns out that Courageous was created by none other than Bob Kane, the man best known for giving the world Batman. In fact, Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse was meant as a spoof of Kane’s classic character. While not exactly high on the clever meter, it absolutely has it charms (Cat Cave, anyone?). I can still hear Minute Mouse’s squeaky Mickey-esque voice (“Hey, Courageous!”), and the evil, dastardly, uncreatively named villain The Frog (“I’m The Frog, see?”). The DVD contains the complete series, 720 minutes worth of five-minute episodes. That might be too much for even my personal geek-o-meter.
I wouldn’t call this one a classic – in fact, calling it “cheesy” would actually be an insult to fine dairy products everywhere. Still, it’s worth mentioning since it is the only part of the 1981 series The Kid Superpower Hour with Shazam! available on DVD. Plus it gives me an excuse to post this video of a live action (and I use the word “action” only under protest) musical segment that might actually be the silliest thing I’ve ever seen.
The Smurfs crossed gender boundaries amongst the grade school set in ways that other Saturday morning characters did not; boys and girls alike enjoyed trading the toy figures, despite the fact that they were made of an immobile rubbery-plastic and weren’t much fun to play with. The cartoon, if analyzed, is quite odd: Smurfs are a race of under-sized blue beings. There is one female, Smurfette, who lives with a group of male Smurfs, none of whom wear shirts. They are tormented by a full-size man named Gargamel and his cat, Azrael, who want to capture the Smurfs and eat them. Or maybe to somehow use them to make gold. Or something. Gargamel makes Wile E. Coyote look like Albert Einstein; he never manages to make much headway into destroying the objects of his hate/desire, despite the fact that he seems to be large enough to just step on them. The current DVD release has the first nineteen episodes of the series, which ran for eight years. A big-screen film is also in the works.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe
There is no reason why He-Man should still be watchable today, much less enjoyable. But somehow it is. My brother-in-law gave me a DVD of this show as a gift a couple of years ago, and my son and I devoured it. Some of the pleasure is nostalgia, but there is definitely decent quality storytelling to be found here. What’s it all about? Well, Prince Adam is a do-nothing member of the royal family of Eternia. Then one day, Adam is transformed into He-Man, “the most powerful man in the universe.” His wimpy pet tiger, Cringer, becomes “the mighty Battle Cat.” Only a select few know his secret, such as the very-literally named Man At Arms (okay, his real name was Duncan). Duncan’s foster daughter (not his daughter – this is the complex storytelling I was talking about, people), Teela, does not know the secret, and thinks Adam is a putz. This is despite the fact that Prince Adam looks EXACTLY like He-Man; he doesn’t even bother to do a Clark Kent-esque horn-rimmed glasses disguise. There is no Complete Series DVD available at the moment, but there are Complete Season versions.
She-Ra: Princess of Power
In the interest of equal time, I also give you She-Ra! Princess of Power! She-Ra is Adora, agent of the evil Hordak of Etheria! But she is really Prince Adam’s long-lost twin sister! Hordak stole her when she was a baby! Once everybody figures that out, and realizes that there are girls they can sell toys too as well, she too holds a sword over her head and says, “For the honor of Grayskull! I am She-Ra!” But she’s not just a female version of He-Man (Fe-Man? She-Man?). No! For while He-Man is protector of Eternia, She-Ra is protector of ETHERIA. And He-Man’s enemy is Skeletor; She-Ra’s enemy is Hordak! He-Man’s trusty companion is Cringer, who becomes the mighty Battle Cat! She-Ra has a horse named Spirit whose name doesn’t even change (although she does grow wings)! See? It’s very different.
The Muppet Show
Does it get any better than The Muppet Show? No. No it does not. After years of being available only on three-episode-per-disc DVD sets, the show is now being released in complete season sets. Also included are assorted extras, such as The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence, a not-as-naughty-as-it-sounds pilot that never aired, but appears on the Season One DVD.
You may not be able to get Thor, Captain America or Namor on DVD, but you can bring home the original Spidey cartoons in a colorfully packaged 6 DVD set. That’s 1144 minutes of web-slinging goodness. As you can see in the video, this particular Spider-Man rates verrry high on the dork-o-meter. But it takes itself just seriously enough to please die-hard comic book fans, but not so seriously that pretty much any kid who even slightly digs long-underwear heroes can’t enjoy it. And then there’s that song, which has yet to be matched in the Spidey musical canon – “Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can:”