Do you remember the first place you saw Batman the animated series?
I do it was on a preview special in primetime.
Same with X-Men, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends and Super Friends. In fact, all of my life it had been a fundamental for me up until Saturday Morning Cartoons as I knew them ended a few years ago. Of course, these gems of presale, these promotional specials…ended before that. These things could be related (the ratings for network Saturday Morning cartoons dropped off drastically after the specials quit running) but more likely cable networks devoted entirely to toons and every other option from internet to direct to video downloads ended the market for s themed block of cartoons on a specialized day. A natural progression though lamentable.
These specials and the morning rituals they spawned in my generation are sorely missed to this day. Sure on Saturday I can watch Cartoon Network or even assemble a playlist of my own… or even download a four-hour block from Saturday mornings past with commercials of the era included. I get it choices are better. But still for those of us who always enjoyed seeing the lineup shows from each network each year it is something as the pop culture expands I miss more and more.
As such there are always three preview specials I remember the most. I wanted to look back on them with you, just because we can.
So let’s get this monkey smoking…
1987 NBC Alf Loves a Mystery
“Gotta go, I am going to be bigger than Ollie North.” - Alf
When NBC was most influential in my childhood is when the primetime and the Saturday morning aligned, Alf and Gary Coleman had their own cartoons as did Punky Brewster. In this primetime special Alf was joined in presenting the cartoons by the networks biggest stars from Shannen Doherty (Our House) to Betty White (Golden Girls) in the format of a mystery. Even Jackee of 227 showed up along with cast members from St Elsewhere and more. Along the way to solving the mystery cartoon appearances by those in the 1987 lineup appeared too.
While every star stayed in characters the laughs kept coming and the excitement for the cartoons built to gigantic levels. It was Gummi Bears, Fraggle Rock, Smurfs, Alf: The Animated Series, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Foofur and I’m Telling. While the toons faded away for the most part, the special says embedded in the geek DNA.
1983 ABC Saturday Morning Preview Special with Dick Clark
Dick Clark carried the ABC specials on Saturday morning for many, many years. But not only did he preview the upcoming cartoons but he looked back at classic toon history including a look at actors and creators as well. In this particular year he looked back at 50s Saturday morning serials like Sky King and Space Patrol, two of the earliest television serial sci-fi/adventures and On Your Mark – the first kids game show. It is for this particular reason (the look back at history of television) that I most remember these specials and it is for this reason I especially remember the 1983 episode. You see it was the first time I had ever seen a clip of the classic 1950’s TV show Super Circus (nearly impossible to find) and realized all on my own that both Bozo and Ronald Mc Donald came as clones of the clown from that show. As a kid who had seen Willie and Lester (the ventriloquism act) it was intriguing and compelling to see Winchell and Knucklehead precede them.
It was the best special ever produced in the genre as far as content went. Then to drive it home it brought the lineup to bring smiles. The Best of Scooby-Doo, Little Rascals/Richie Rich/Monchichis Show/ Pac-Man/ Rubik The Amazing Cube/ The Littles and the New Scooby and Scrappy -Doo Show. An entire storybook fantasy morning bookended by Scooby-Doo. More importantly though I remember noticing that gaming culture had landed on Saturday Morning.
1985 Rock-N-Wrestling Saturday Morning Preview
It was the best time in Wrestling History. WrestleMania was a success, Lauper and Albano were on top of two worlds and the WWF got its own cartoon on CBS. With Roddy Piper hosting the show and everyone from Kareem Abdul Jabbar to Hulk Hogan to the New Edition showed up to celebrate. By far and away this was the most fun I ever had on a Friday night as a child. It was loud, brash and musical. It was funny, and the wrestlers stayed in character perfectly. Looking back at all the great moments in the special from Roddy getting bashed by a basketball to Captain Lou and the Iron Sheik bumping chests in a gas station parking lot it is a memory burned into my mind that bears exploration and to view if you are a cartoon fan OR a wrestling fan.
Patti LaBelle and Pee Wee Herman steal they show as they pimp the lineup that follows Bearnstein Bears, Wuzzles, Muppet Babies, Little Muppet Monsters, Rock-N-Wrestling, CBS Storybreak, Dungeons and Dragons and Land of the Lost. It was a golden year of cartoons launched by a golden special.
Tell the monkey to crush his butt…