Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Saturday Morning Cartoons - When Hollywood Shamelessly Cashed-In

There's nothing wrong with the folks in Hollywood trying to make a buck. But sometimes, the shameless promotion — or self-promotion — and merchandising, and all around exploitation and over-mining of every possible angle on an entertainment commodity — either a celebrity or a pre-existing show — can go too far. In the 80s we saw things taken to ridiculous lengths when a bunch of those entertainment products got their own Saturday morning cartoons... cartoons that weren't remotely original, didn't make any sense, and, to no-one's surprise, weren't entertaining.

So, here for your scorn and derision, the Saturday morning cartoon rewatch assembles some of the shows that showed Hollywood shamelessly cashing-in:

The Gary Coleman Show. There was a time in the late 70s and early 80s when under-sized child actor Gary Coleman was one of the hottest properties in the American entertainment business. He was the lead in the cast of the popular family sitcom Diff'rent Strokes, he'd starred in a couple of movies, made guest appearances on other shows (including Buck Rogers), and did the talkshow circuit. And then someone got the bright idea that (while Diff'rent Strokes was still stampeding through prime time) they could squeeze a few more bucks out of Coleman by building a Saturday morning cartoon series out of him. The show was a spinoff of the TV movie The Kid with the Broken Halo, about a kid who's died, is messing around during angel training, and is sent back to Earth to help people. While it may be a little unsettling to some to have a cartoon about a dead child, what's worse is that, even with the big bucks of the Hollywood promotion machine behind it, this show isn't remotely entertaining — wasn't back then when I was a kid, isn't now during a rewatch. There are full episodes available online, but —perhaps fortunately — I seem to be unable to copy the links over to the video window, so we'll have to settle for the show intro.

If that wasn't enough of an abuse of the celebrity promotion machine to start churning your Saturday morning bowl of stale-marshmallows-and-puffed-sugared-corn-cereal and milk in your stomach, let's try a little of Mr T. Propping-up this additional exposure op for the ubiquitous 80s tough guy (widely known for his role as the muscle on The A-Team and as Rocky's nemesis in Rocky III, Lawrence "Mr T" Tureaud had also backed Hulk Hogan in Wrestlemania, and appeared in other movies and TV shows, including the afore-mentioned Diff'rent Strokes), the plot was essentially a Scooby-Doo-style ripoff, with a team of competitive teen gymnasts driving around the country solving mysteries and helping people get out of trouble (instead of doing what you'd expect a gaggle of under-supervised teenagers would do on an endless roadtrip). Mr T was their coach, the driver of their motor coach, mentor, and enforcer. He also appeared in non-cartoon form in taped segments introducing each episode and providing a life lesson at the end. In addition to being forgettable except for being a celebrity cash-in, the show also dropped the ball by never having an episode where the gang helped foil the plot of some badguys at a chiropractors' convention, because it would have made sense to show that Mr T would eventually have needed help for his neck and back after dragging around that yoke of golden necklaces for so many years. (full episode)

And speaking of Hulk Hogan and Wrestlemania, this Saturday morning lineup just wouldn't be complete without Hulk Hogan's Rock'n'Wrestling. If the WWF (or WWE, or whatever it's called these days) was a tsunami inundating pop culture during the 80s, the Hulkster (haha- my autocorrect just tried to change that to "huckster") rode the crest of the wave like mighty Neptune himself. If the wrestling entertainment gig, with all of its posters and action figures and other merchandise, wasn't enough exposure, Terry Bollea certainly got his paws on more, with appearances in the afore-mentioned Rocky III, The Love Boat, Cindy Lauper's music video for The Goonies theme, and other productions. But, to get the world of entertainment in a full nelson and ensure he had as much exposure as his mighty biceps in a camera closeup, Hogan had to defeat Saturday morning, and so a cartoon was born. It was actually an ensemble affair, featuring other big wrestling names of the day, such as Andre the Giant and Rowdy Roddy Piper as good guys and bad guys tangling with each other in various misadventures, though I don't think many — if any of them at all — actually voiced their cartoon alter egos. While this show was, without a doubt, a shameless self-promotion platform for Hogan and the WWF, it differs from the others on this list because it actually made sense to do it, from a business perspective. After all, one of the WWF's key audiences was kids; the cartoon (like the action figures that would come out around the same time) was a way to keep the kids interested and entertained, and bind their brand loyalty. At the time, I liked HHRNW well enough, but it certainly wasn't a favourite. (full segment from episode)

Lastly, we come to The Dukes. While not an exposure vehicle for a particular celebrity, this was none-the-less an entirely pointless and shameless cash-in for an already popular TV show: The Dukes of Hazzard. There wasn't much in the primetime version of TDOH that kids (at least, kids in the 80s) couldn't watch; consequently, pretty much every kid watched it. It was one of the holy trinity of family-friendly action TV shows of its era, along with Knightrider and the afore-mentioned The A-Team. Growing up in a rural subdivision and going to a little school in the middle of farm country where pretty much every other kid's dad was a farmer or trucker, it was more-or-less a standing law of the playground that TDOH (for all of its encouragement of reckless driving, illegal alcohol distilling and smuggling, and weapons use) was to be watched, enjoyed, and endlessly discussed. So why, with every kid watching the main show (even through a major cast shake-up a couple of seasons in), would the network need to squeeze out a half-assed cartoon version for Saturday mornings? I mean, they weren't going to get us to watch the main show any more than we already were! But there it was: a cartoon about a couple of rednecks speeding through countries across the globe in a car sporting a Confederate flag in an animated ripoff of Around the World in 80 Days. And, of course, since it was a TDOH spinoff, we dutifully watched it and discussed it on the playground. Sigh. Well, at least I can own up to my shame now. Anyhow, here's the intro. Maybe it'll sit easier if you suck back bottle or two of moonshine before watching.

As a footnote, I'll add that there was another cartoon that merited a dishonourable mention, but I couldn't find a full episode, or even an intro online: Wolf Rock TV, a show about the adventures of an animated Wolfman Jack and his companions. Some of us still shudder at the memory of the Wolfman's cameo in the Galactica 1980 Hallowe'en episode years earlier, but there seemed something really desperate and pathetic about carting the legendary DJ out in a cartoon at this point in his career, when his bigger, better days were behind him. Makes me want to go to the freezer, get a popsicle, and shrug-off the hassles of life.

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