Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Krofft Khronology: From Puppets to Dinosaurs to Bigfoot......

Sid & Marty Krofft wanted to be major players in the Saturday morning landscape, but it only lasted but a decade. How, you ask, could that have happened so quickly? Well, for one thing, you could chalk it up to the fickle tastes of viewers and/or network executives. Then again.........

The Kroffts made their first inroads in television when their puppets were used on The Dean Martin Show. However, they didn't survive the season, as the Kroffts were dismissed for the simple crime of upstaging the star. Considering that Martin was phobic about rehearsing, maybe he just didn't want to be embarrassed by someone other than his guests.

As most of you know, the next stop was Hanna-Barbera, where the Kroffts designed some of the characters, including the main ones, on The Banana Splits Adventure Hour. The success of that series prompted the Kroffts to open their own studio, and thus, a checklist of their series history:

*H. R. Pufnstuf (NBC 1969-72, ABC 1972-3): For years, the Kroffts have had to fight off claims that the designs for the Living Island were rooted in drugs. Why not just chalk it up to a vivid imagination, and leave it at that? Haters have to hate, I suppose. British actor-singer Jack Wild ("Oliver!") landed the starring role as Jimmy, washed up on the island with a talking flute named Freddy. Pufnstuf (voiced by Len Weinrib) was the Mayor, who had to fend off Witchiepoo (Billie Hayes), who coveted not only control of the island, but Freddy, too. Universal released a feature film version, released in 1970.

What some of you may not know is that the Kroffts successfully sued McDonald's when the restaurant giant created the characters of Mayor McCheese & Big Mac, and the concept of McDonaldLand was too close to that of the Living Island, which is why McDonaldLand was quickly phased out, though the characters lingered at least through the 70's.

*The Bugaloos (NBC 1970-2): The Kroffts' next contribution to the bubblegum pop sweepstakes was another musical act imported from England. Stage & screen star Martha Raye was cast as evil Benita Bizarre, whose vanity fueled her jealous rage against the band. Billy Barty began his long association with the Kroffts as Sparky the Firefly, who became the Bugaloos' mascot/sidekick.

*Lidsville (ABC 1971-3, NBC 1973-4): Sentient hat-people? Yup. Butch Patrick (ex-The Munsters) plays a curious teen who falls into a magician's hat and ends up in another world lorded over by the wizard HooDoo (Charles Nelson Reilly, ex-Ghost & Mrs. Muir). Reilly was also the magician seen in the opening credits, without makeup. With production on Pufnstuf long ended, Billie Hayes was cast as Weenie, a good genie. Hayes actually pulled double duty in one episode due to a crossover with Pufnstuf, reprising as Witchiepoo.

*Sigmund & the Sea Monsters (NBC 1973-6): Johnny Whitaker (ex-Family Affair) toplined this series, with Billy Barty in the title role as Sigmund, an ostracized sea monster. Mary Wickes (ex-Dennis The Menace) & Rip Taylor would join the show in season 2.

*Land of the Lost (NBC 1974-7, ABC 1991-3): Easily the most successful Krofft property, as it was not only remade nearly 20 years after its initial launch, but later became a less-than-successful feature film. Soap star Wesley Eure (Days of Our Lives) became a teen idol as a result. However, the mix of videotape and film didn't work so well. The series was revived in 1991 on ABC with Timothy Bottoms toplining, this time on film, and both versions are fondly remembered by fans.

*Far Out Space Nuts (CBS 1975-6): TV icons Bob Denver (ex-Gilligan's Island) & Chuck McCann (who also co-created the series) co-star in this madcap comedy about two NASA janitors lost in space.

*Lost Saucer (ABC 1975-6): Ruth Buzzi (ex-Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In) & Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle, USMC) are two androids from another time who arrive in 1975, pick up a boy and his babysitter (Jarrod Johnson, Alice Playten), but end up also getting lost.

*Krofft Supershow (ABC 1976-8): 8 months after breaking into primetime again with Donny & Marie, the Kroffts tried an anthology series built around a pre-fab band that was a glam band one year, then a straight pop-rock group the next. Kaptain Kool & the Kongs did have some legitimate musical pedigree, as 3/5 of the group were professional musicians, including actress Debra Clinger. As for the individual segments:

**ELECTRA WOMAN & DYNAGIRL: Diedre Hall (Days of Our Lives) & Judy Strangis as a female knockoff of Batman & Robin.

**WONDERBUG: A dilapidated dune buggy gets a magic horn and becomes a wonder car. Cheesy special effects didn't stop it from being held over for season 2.

**DR. SHRINKER: A knockoff of "Dr. Cyclops" sees a mad scientist (Jay Robinson) shrink survivors of a plane crash in the hopes of selling them to a foreign power. Also stars Billy Barty, Ted Eccles, & Jeff MacKay.

**MAGIC MONGO (replaced Dr. Shrinker): Len Weinrib makes a rare on-camera role as a bumbling genie in a clear knockoff of I Dream of Jeannie.

**BIGFOOT & WILDBOY (replaced Electra Woman): Filmed instead of taped, Bigfoot (Ray Young) was posited as a superhero. Spun off into its own series after Supershow ended, and became a mid-season replacement in 1979.

*The Krofft Superstar Hour, aka The Bay City Rollers Show (NBC 1978-9): The Kongs, or more specifically, Louise DuArt & Mickey McMeel, were regulars on this show, while Debra Clinger & Michael Lembeck made guest appearances while doing primetime shows. After 2 months, the format was tweaked and the Rollers became the stars. Didn't matter, as the show was cancelled at the end of the season. It would be the last Saturday morning series the Kroffts would sell to NBC.

*Pryor's Place (CBS 1984-5): Comedian Richard Pryor was tapped to fill the void created by the cancellation of Bill Cosby's award-winning Fat Albert & The Cosby Kids, and Cosby's return to NBC and primetime. Unfortunately, CBS buried the show in the lunch hour death slot.

The Kroffts would turn their attention back to primetime after the 1978-9 season. I've reviewed Pink Lady and Barbara Mandrell & The Mandrell Sisters over in THE LAND OF WHATEVER, which is where we'll take a look at the Kroffts' other night ventures down the road.

You have to understand that back in those days, renewing children's shows didn't mean making new episodes. Networks picked what they felt was the best of the lot, and, to save money, opted to recycle the reruns for another year, maybe two. Down the line, we'll re-examine each of these series and see if something could've been done to legitimately renew them for new episodes.
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