Twenty Obscure Kid’s Shows From The 70’s And 80’s
As most of us avid TV watchers know, TV shows have a sad tendency to come and go more rapidly than the tides. I grew up in the mid to late seventies through the eighties and I remember a awful lot that used to be on. TV was a huge part of my upbringing and, often times, acted a bit like a surrogate babysitter when nothing else was going on, so, as such, my head is inundated with a bunch of memories of old, classic, and incredibly obscure television. Now I’m not saying that none of you out there watched these shows, I’m just saying that some of you likely haven’t heard of a few of them. And that, loyal readers, is the point. Check out these 20 oddities and slap yourself with deja vu, or just shake your head in disbelief.
Yeah, I’m starting off with a really bizarre little number. This show first hit the scene in 1983 on the Disney Channel -I had no idea that station had been around so long. Anyway, it featured the host, one incredibly creepy and icky Sonny Melendrez and a bunch of others who hosted specific segments. Basically, this show was geared toward parents and their toddlers and I seem to recall my 5-year old sister digging on this mess. Weird show.
Now we’re getting a little simpler as this show is regularly re-aired on the wonderful Boomerang cable channel. For the most part, this toon wouldn’t exist without the influence of Scooby Doo. The show centered around a group of four teenage detectives, the Clue Club (duh) — Larry, Pepper, D.D. and Dotty — who solved mysteries with the help of two talking bloodhounds named Woofer and Wimper. The dogs were the greatest parts of this show with easily recognizable voices provided by Paul Winchell and Jim MacGeorge.
Now here’s a show slightly mired in obscurity, The Hair Bears! The series depicted three fun-loving bears — the Afroed, fast-talking Hair Bear, confusing-talking Bubi Bear, and laid-back Square Bear — who are always trying to find a way to escape the Wonderland Zoo on some sort of get-rich-quick scheme, or a wild night of fun. Trying to stop them are the constantly aggravated head zoo director, Mr. Eustace P. Peevly, and his hopelessly inadequate assistant Lionel J. Botch. Other residents of the Wonderland Zoo include Bananas the Gorilla, Furface the Lion, Fumbo the Elephant, Slicks the Fox, Hippi the Hippo, Beaks the Pelican, Arnie and Gloria the Gorillas, and Pipsqueak the Mouse. Awesome.
Moving slightly on up the obscurity ladder we come to The Shirt Tales. The cartoon featured Tyg Tiger, Pammy Panda, Digger Mole, Rick Raccoon, and Bogey Orangutan (so called because he spoke using a Humphrey Bogart-style voice). They all wore shirts which flashed various brightly lit messages reflecting the characters’ thoughts. They lived in Oak Tree Park, and spent their time teasing Mr. Dinkle, the park ranger, and battling crime in and out of their hometown of Mid City. This was a really cute show and… eh, whatever.
Thought I was slipping there for a minute, didn’t ya? Here’s a nice odd one for ya that only managed to run one season in 1985. It featured the heroic exploits of Galtar, Princess Goleeta, and her younger mind controlling brother, Zorn. As with most toons of its ilk, this one featured the baddie called Tormack, the evil-doer who has managed to wipe out the families of all the heroes and holds down the land with a tyrannical fist. So, needless to say, he and Galtar fight. A lot. It’s the premise folks, roll with it.
This was a great British cartoon from the makers of Super Ted (another obscurity) that I had a tough time finding when I was a kid and I do seem to remember it being on HBO or maybe the very early incarnation of Nickelodeon like when You Can’t Do That On Television was on, but I’m not sure. DangerMouse was the first British cartoon to break into the American TV market, being shown in syndication on June 4, 1984 (I was 10), where it garnered a tremendous fan following that still exists. Since it went off air it has been periodically repeated and been released on DVD.
This is another one of those toons that now frequently run on the Boomerang cable channel. As its title implies, it’s about a miniature detective who often get’s assignments thanks to his niece, Laurie. Along with the big goof Gator and the dog Braveheart (much akin to Penny and Brain from Inspector Gadget) they’d attempt to solve crimes and whatnot. Oh and he worked for the Finkerton Detective Agency.
I. LOVED. This. Show. From The news with Gary Gnu to Goriddle Gorilla to that fat bastard, Baxter… I loved it ALL. I loved it so much, I’m including the hilarious Family Guy parody of it as well! We’re all winners! The show is about three young singers (Francine, Danny, and Roy) who are brought to a habitable asteroid in space by a puppet clown character named, obviously, Baxter who pilots the “space coaster”, a roller coaster-like spaceship. The asteroid is populated by strange-looking, wise-cracking puppet characters. Naturally. Best show.
Though there were only thirteen episodes made in 1988, this is one of those shows that once you see it, it can never be forgotten. We all know Ernest (Jim Varney) from his myriad Ernest films, and this show was more or less episodic versions of said movies with much of the same shenanigans going on. For some reason, this show reminded me more of Pee Wee’s Playhouse than anything else and it was damn funny.
Now here’s a weird one. I do, vaguely, recall seeing this cartoon maybe once or twice over the course of my childhood. The plot line of the series describes the struggles of Ulysses and his crew against the divine entities that rule the universe, the ancient gods from Greek Mythology. The Gods of Olympus are angered when Ulysses, commander of the giant spaceship Odyssey, kills the giant Cyclops to save a group of enslaved children, including his son. Zeus sentences Ulysses to travel the universe with his crew frozen until he finds the Kingdom of Hades, at which point his crew will be revived and he will be able to return to Earth. Yum, contrived and silly… my favorite!
Let’s let Wikipedia handle this debacle: “The show involved a teenage boy named Mark (Butch Patrick – yeah, Eddie Munster) who fell into the hat of Merlo the Magician (Charles Nelson Reilly) and arrived in Lidsville, a land of living hats. The hats on the show are depicted as having the same roles as the humans who would normally wear them. For example, a cowboy hat would act and speak like a cowboy. The characters’ houses were also hat-shaped.” It should come as no surprise that this show was another from the warped minds of Sid and Marty Krofft.
Speaking of Charles Nelson Reilly, check this out.
When HBO was in it’s heyday, back when it had that really cool opening with the ‘HBO’ whirling around the city and out into space and they perpetually played Xanadu and Rocky, they had a great show called BRAINGAMES. Basically it was a quiz-type show for kids with myriad different puzzles and stuff. You can look up a bunch of cool ones in YouTube. For this instance, I chose the outro to the show because, like the voice over, the conclusion to the show often made me cry, too. DAMN YOU, HBO!
Remember back when Filmation (the animation guys behind a shit-ton of 80’s and 90’s toons) did live-action shows? Yeah, well, they did. And it just so happens that their most popular was called Jason of Star Command. This 15-minute gem ran between 1978 and 79 and featured Jason and W1K1 the Pocket Robot. Oh, and just in case you want to play Six Degrees of Sid Haig… Sid Haig (think Rob Zombie Horror flicks) was in this, too.
Sorry, not in English, but you totally get the idea. This mess was a COSGROVE joint, the company that also eventually brought us the animated version of Roald Dahl’s Big Friendly Giant. The show followed the adventures of a time traveler by the name of Alias and his dog-like companion Boswell. After their malfunctioning ship got stuck in the Earth’s magnetic pole, they crash-landed in a Middle Age kingdom called Houghton Bottoms, ruled by the diminutive King Arthur and his Queen Edith. Yes, I’m serious and yes, I have seen one or two of these but I believe I was in a different state. No, not of mind, dorks, I mean like Maryland or something.
Fresh on the sad heels of one of Gunaxin’s heroes passing on recently comes this little obscure tribute. In this 1982-83 show, Coleman voiced the animated character Andy LeBeau, who was a ‘spin-off’ of his movie, ‘The Kid With The Broken Halo’. In each episode, Andy was dispatched to help a child in need and resolve his problem. The antagonist in each episode was Hornswoggle, who tried to make Andy’s mission more difficult, usually by getting him to make the wrong choice or by otherwise complicating the mission. It was up to Andy to correct whatever mistakes he made and foil Hornswoggle’s plans. Just amazing.
When I was but a lad, my dad would come home from work for lunch and we’d sit in front of the TV with bowls of macaroni and cheese (yes Kraft, for crying out loud) and watch Ultra Man and Spectreman on WKBD Detroit (early FOX). Ultraman’s creator was Eiji Tsuburaya from Tsuburaya Productions, a pioneer in special effects who was responsible for bringing Godzilla to life in 1954. The show’s predecessor was a series called Ultra Q, a black-and-white 28-episode series very much like today’s The X-Files or The Twilight Zone. The show was truly the precursor to today’s extra-horrible Power Rangers, though, in retrospect, I suppose this wasn’t much better.
Pryor’s Place is a short-lived children’s television series that aired on CBS. The live-action series starred comedian, Richard Pryor as himself. Yeah, that Richard Pryor. Like Sesame Street, Pryor’s Place featured a cast of puppets, hanging out and having fun in a friendly inner city environment along with several children and characters portrayed by Pryor himself. However, Pryor’s Place frequently dealt with more sobering issues than the series it so closely resembled. Oh and guess who did the theme song? If you said Ray Parker, Jr. of Ghostbusters fame, you suck cuz you’re right.
Wow. Just watching the theme here gave me the willies… serious SERIOUS deja vu. Anyway, SPECTREMAN here was one huge fella and fought all kinds of equally huge monsters, much akin to the above, ULTRA MAN. Disguised as a human being (Jôji Gamô), Spectreman requests his transformation from the Nebula Star, or is ordered by same to do so. Saying “Ryôkai” (Japanese for “Roger” Roger?), or “Ready” in the US version, he raises his right hand towards the Nebula Star, which shoots a beam at him, transforming into Spectreman, a cybernetic being in a gold-and-copper armor, with a full helmet looking somewhat like the Rocketeer’s mask. Before transforming back into a human, however, he simply faints, possibly from using up his energy. As utterly ridiculous as this sounds, and it was, it was also cool as hell.
Here is the actual narrated back-story from the show: “Many centuries ago, three carefully selected young Earthlings were transported from their native lands to my faraway world. Here they were granted astounding powers, and eternal youth, then returned to Earth. Their mission: to watch over the human race, helping the good in it to survive and flourish. In the course of history, their names have become legend: Hercules, empowered with the strength of a hundred men. Astrea, able to assume any living form. Mercury, the amazing athlete who can match the speed of light. Working together with me, Sentinel One, and my maintenance robot, M.O., these teenage guardians form the greatest team the world has ever known: The Space Sentinels.” Oh HELL yes.
Good gravy in hat, those puppets are some kind of fucked up! Back in the day on our PBS here in Kalamazoo, which pretty much featured the following replayed trilogy: Vegetable Soup, Sesame Street, and Dr. Who, you knew you were either too poor or just not hooked up to cable when being forced to watch it for entertainment. Though I did enjoy the Doctor and Sesame Street quite a bit, Vegetable Soup was just creepy and nightmare-inducing to the extreme. It ran from ’75 through ’78, plus the requisite repeats, and then on Noggin’s original line-up from ’99 through ’02 infesting an entirely new generation of children with sleeping disorders.