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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Saturday Morning: Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?

For today's blog entry, I want to talk about a cartoon show that I grew up watching as a young boy. This cartoon debuted in 1969, years before I was born, and by the time I was born, the cartoon had undergone several changes, formats, and added a bunch of new characters. Some were brilliant, others were major duds. Despite all the twists and turns that the cartoon endured over its four decades of history, this cartoon could be easily considered to be one of Hanna-Barbera's finest creations, right up there with The Flintstones, The Jetsons, and Yogi Bear.

And while there are many different versions of Scooby-Doo that have been made throughout the last few years, this blog topic is going back to how it all began.

My first experience with 'Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?' came when I was about three or four years old. My memories of that time period are very fragmented. Some things I can barely remember, and others, I can't remember at all. But one memory remains very clear in my mind.

Back around 1985, which is when my first experience with Scooby-Doo took place, my family never had cable television. At the most, I think we only had what people called the 'basic twelve'. All we could get back in those days were channels 2-13, and of those twelve channels, one was the cable public access channel, and one was a French-language channel. So that took the possible choices we had to choose from down even further.

I can remember my sister always going to friends houses because they had cable and we didn't, but for some reason, I never did complain all that much when I was younger. Because as long as we still had channel 7, I was content as a child.

Particularly during the four o'clock in the afternoon time slot.

In my hometown, Channel 7 was our CBS affiliate. WWNY-TV, which was based in Watertown, New York. Even though I grew up in Canada, we lived close enough to the American border to pick up American channels clearly. Our NBC and ABC affiliates were both based in Detroit, Michigan, but CBS was a lot closer to home, as Watertown was on the other side of the St. Lawrence River.

At four in the afternoon, the time slots would be turned over to local television programming (well, local Watertown programming, anyways). When Guiding Light dimmed for the day, a children's program would begin airing called 'The Danny Burgess Show'. The show starred then WWNY-TV weather personality Danny Burgess, who already had a long-standing career in entertaining children for a number of years. If my memory is correct, I remember he would always have a group of children sitting on the soundstage where the show was filmed and produced, and he would interact with the children in a way similar to Art Linkletter on House Party.

One thing that I can also remember about the show was that the show was sponsored by McDonald's, and that all of the kids would be drinking some form of McDonald's beverage. I think in most cases it was either milkshakes or that bright orange non-carbonated beverage that they don't seem to make anymore. Remember that orange stuff?

Anyway, one other thing I remember about that show was that Burgess would show the viewers at home a number of classic cartoons from years before I was born. A couple stand out, such as Woody Woodpecker, and the 1975 Ghostbusters cartoon.

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You was a part of that playlist. And I think that's why I really grew to enjoy that local block of programming that the late Danny Burgess hosted after the soap operas ended for the day. It was because he showed a new generation of kids classic cartoons that they may not have seen otherwise.

Sadly, those days didn't last very much longer. Because when a young woman named Oprah Winfrey landed her very own talk show in the fall of 1986, guess what took over the 4pm time slot on CBS? And, yes, I was quite unhappy about this too when I was younger, for it meant that Scooby-Doo, at least back then, would only be a childhood memory.

(Let this also be a lesson to everyone to support local programming as much as possible, for you never know what it may be replaced by!)

Thankfully, through the goodness of YouTube and specialty channels, Scooby-Doo lives on through the classic cartoons, the live-action movies, and countless Scooby-Doo merchandise that is still being marketed today.

So, let's take a look at how it all began.

Back in 1969, Hanna-Barbera and CBS teamed up to create a non-violent Saturday morning program that would appease the various parents groups that were protesting the superhero based programs that had become popular during the mid-1960s. Original programs for the show were 'Mysteries Five', and 'Who's S-S-Scared?', and initially, the program was supposed to have musical performances, similar in format to The Archie Show, which was wildly popular at the time. Despite these early concept changes, the show's main cast never changed. It was always meant to incorporate four teenagers and a large Great Dane, named Scooby-Doo, on a quest to solve various mysteries involving ghosts, monsters, aliens, and supernatural forces.

The series was created by Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, and together they worked as the story supervisors for the series, in addition to having a hand in co-writing each episode during Scooby-Doo, Where Are You's two-season run.

The only problem was that all of the episodes of the series were essentially churned from the same formula. The kids would all be attending some function, or on their way back from another, and they would have car trouble, find themselves at a crowded resort or hotel, etc. By many, many twists of fate, everywhere that the team end up at usually ends up being a haunting ground for a ghost or monster. The kids decide 'hey, we have nothing else better to do, let's go and find out what's going on'. So, the gang usually splits up into two or three groups, where something happens to ALL of them, and it's usually almost always the same exact thing that happens on each episode.

During their investigations, the team soon discover that the ghost, monster, vampire, etc, is a fake. Together, they come up with a trap to catch the person responsible for the hauntings. In almost all cases, the trap they set usually doesn't work, but somehow end up catching the monster in a totally unrelated way from the initial trap. The monster is unmasked, the kids explain how s/he pulled it off, the criminal confesses why s/he did what they did, and curses those 'meddling kids' for foiling their plans.

The formula was repetitive, and after a while, all of the episodes kind of blended together, since they all had the same storyline just with different monsters and settings. Nevertheless, kids seemed to love it when the show officially debuted on CBS the weekend of September 13, 1969. The series ran for only twenty-five episodes, and the series aired its final original episode appropriately enough on Halloween 1970. But Scooby-Doo would have several spinoffs over the years, with the newest version of the cartoon, 'Scooby-Doo Mystery Incorporated' debuting on the Cartoon Network in July 2010.

Still, as far as my opinion goes, the original version was the best version. The mysteries were the main focus of the show, the original voice actors were top notch, and the Scrappy-Doo shark the series would eventually jump over was still deep in the dark sea of cancellation.

The characterizations of each of the main players were well done as well, although during the course of the series run, each one of them fell under a specific label.

Certainly, Scooby-Doo (Don Messick) was the main character, as all eleven of the Scooby-Doo series were named after him. And Scooby-Doo was a dog who could understand, and even speak basic English like 'Rut-Roh, Shaggy!'. Yet, as far as the dog's bravery goes, a chipmunk would have more courage. As long as there's a steady supply of Scooby Snacks though, he'd be okay. THOSE Scooby Snacks. More like THESE Scooby Snacks.

(And, would you believe that Scooby Snacks can be bought at retail stores now? Goes to show just how popular the show really was, huh?)

At any rate, Scooby-Doo wasn't the only fraidy-dog out there on the show. Shaggy Rogers, Scooby's owner (voiced by Casey Kasem), was just as frightened by investigating the mysteries, if not more so. I can remember some instances in which Shaggy even had to be bribed with Scooby Snacks in order to get enough courage to face his fears. More often than not, the bumbling duo of Shaggy and Scooby would be the cause of most of the traps failing in the series, and Shaggy and Scooby would often have the most encounters with the ghost or monster that the team was investigating. In almost every episode, whenever the team split up, Shaggy and Scooby would ALWAYS be off on their own away from everyone else in the group, although sometimes Velma would be included with him.

Velma 'Jinkies!' Dinkley (Nicole Jaffe) is the brains of the operation, and is usually the first one on the scene when it comes to finding clues. Every time she manages to locate one, she utters her signature exclamation of 'Jinkies!' She seems to be closest to Shaggy and Scooby in the series, and more often than not figures out the solution to the mystery before anyone else does. She does have one weakness though. Her eyesight is no better than that of Mister Magoo. So whenever Velma loses her glasses (which she did quite often during the show), she is rendered useless as she cannot see. Though, it did make for some funny moments when a blinded Velma happened to come across the monster they were looking for.

Another person who was helpful in finding clues was Fred Jones (Frank Welker in one of his very first voice acting roles). Though not nearly as intelligent as Velma, Fred is the one that is responsible for the traps designed to catch the monsters (which end up failing thanks to Shaggy and Scooby), and he manages to find various clues to solving the case as well. Fred takes on the role as leader of the group, and ultimately makes a lot of the decisions within the group, such as how the groups should be split up. In almost all cases, he and Daphne usually end up as a group, though Velma would occasionally join them on their search for the truth. Fred's biggest problem though, especially in later years, was that he would have the clues, but interpret them incorrectly, sometimes even accusing the wrong person (a running gag that was present in the 1980s version of the show called 'A Pup Named Scooby-Doo' made this apparent).

And then there's Daphne Blake (Stefanianna Christopherson/Heather North), the beautiful red-headed young woman always clad in purple. Our eternal damsel in distress. Although she almost always ends up in a group with Fred, Fred somehow seems unable to protect her from always getting either kidnapped, trapped, abducted, or taken by the very monster they are always searching for. Daphne could also act, in the series, and in some cases, her fate was mostly controlled by her rather impulsive decisions. As a result, I can't really say that Daphne was one of my favourite characters in the series, but of course, you couldn't have the show without her. What can I say, she added a plot twist to some episodes? And in some cases, the way Daphne disappeared ended up being the very clue that Velma needed to wrap up the mystery in a nice violet-coloured bow.

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You was the best incarnation of the Scooby-Doo empire, and I grew up watching those episodes for years.

And to think, none of that would have been possible had it not been for our CBS affiliate, who took the time to promote their local programming almost as aggressively as CBS did with theirs. And that made for one very special childhood memory.


  1. Love it! This is my favorite cartoon show. I really love them all. Maybe that's why I still watch them, reminding me of a simpler time.

    Great job!

  2. Well, I knew that you had said that you would have liked to have seen a Scooby-Doo blog entry, and felt as though this was the time to do it. I hope I did the show justice!