The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
Saturday morning cartoons evoke memories

April 22, 1999
By Franklin Harris

Don't get me wrong. I love the Digital Age as much as the next guy. I like knowing that there are entire channels that broadcast nothing but science fiction, old game shows and cartoons.

Especially cartoons.

But with the media now so fragmented, I wonder if today's children will have the same kind of collective, pop-cultural identity that my fellow Generation Xers and I share.

Generation X is largely a media creation. All the pages devoted to describing us -- we're slackers, cynics, apathetic loafers, etc. -- fail to prove anything other than that we're too diverse to be pigeonholed by pop psychologists, political pundits and catchphrase con artists.

But one of the Generation X stereotypes rings true. We're obsessed with the Saturday morning cartoons of our youth.

Timothy and Kevin Burke are prime examples. Their recent book, "Saturday Morning Fever: Growing Up with Cartoon Culture," is a fevered trip through bleary-eyed weekends of years past -- through early mornings spent with Count Chocula and the Superfriends to afternoons dreading the inevitable arrival of "Soul Train" and the return of normal, boring, adult programming.

Theirs is the sort of book that makes you shout, repeatedly, "I can't believe I actually remember that show!" as you read it.

The Burkes are comprehensive. They remember shows even I have forgotten, which is quite a feat, as my mom could no doubt attest.

Their tour of Saturday mornings of the '70s and '80s includes the obvious staples like "Scooby Doo, Where Are You?" and "The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show," cult favorites like "Dungeons and Dragons" and "Mighty Orbots" and live-action classics such as "Isis," "Shazam!" and "Land of the Lost."

The Burkes even recall that Star Trek's James "Scotty" Doohan served time in the purgatory that was "Jason of Star Command," one of Filmation's trilogy of live-action sci-fi shows, before the "Trek" movies resurrected his career. (But they miss the fact that "Lost in Space's" Dr. Smith, Jonathan Harris, was a star of "Jason of Star Command's" predecessor, "Space Academy." How is that for obscure sci-fi trivia?)

"Saturday Morning Fever" is my childhood the way I remember it -- a place wonderfully unlike the vast wasteland described by uptight children's TV activists like Peggy Charren and her Action for Children's Television busybodies.

The Burke brothers even put in a good word for children's television's oft-criticized commercialism, writing that it was ultimately the commercial interests of the animation studios that resulted in such acclaimed cartoons as the current incarnation of "Batman."

"If ACT or groups like it were in charge, kidvid would almost certainly be stultifying, phony and alienating," write the Burkes.

"To make good television, kidvid or otherwise, you must understand that you cannot please everybody all of the time."

Amen to that.

Saturday morning television in the '70s was anything but stultifying. It was, after all, the heyday of Sid and Marty Krofft, for whom Saturday morning TV was simply a canvas for their surreal images.

I don't need the Burkes to remind me of such live-action children's shows as "Electra-Woman and Dynagirl," "Dr. Shrinker," "H.R. Pufnstuf" and the wildest ride of all, "Lidsville," which starred the ever-zany Charles Nelson Reilly as the villainous magician Hoo Doo.

But if your memory needs jogging, you're in luck. Rhino Home Video is releasing many of the Krofft's shows on video, starting with "The World of Sid & Marty Krofft," a three-volume box set compiling rare Krofft programs never before available on video.

The videos go on sale May 18, meaning you'll have to have someone hold your place in line at the new "Star Wars" movie while you rush to the video store.

In addition to the Krofft productions above, the boxed set includes episodes of "Far Out Space Nuts," "The Lost Saucer," the original "Land of the Lost," "Pryor's Place" and "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters," among others.

Additional episodes will be available in July.

Now, if only someone would release Filmation's "Isis," "Shazam!" and "Jason of Star Command" on video I could die happy.

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