Episode 844: Those Meddling Adults

“I must go. I have a feeling that there are evil forces at large tonight.”

As you know, it’s September 1969, and our vampire soap opera is reaching the peak of its popularity. After school, the kids all hurry home to check in with Collinwood, and find out what the vampires and witches and mad scientists are up to. Dark Shadows owns Mondays through Fridays — but on Saturday mornings, where we least expected it, a new creature is born. It has five heads and twelve legs, and it will run forever.

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! is an occult-tinged mystery-adventure cartoon sitcom about four hep teens and a talking Great Dane, who travel around the country in a van called the Mystery Machine. Each week, they visit one desolate tourist attraction after another — an abandoned circus, a deserted mansion, an old marina or a haunted hunting lodge — where they inevitably find a ghost, a witch, a Frankenstein, a phantom (which is a kind of ghost), a mummy, a zombie, a killer robot, or a snow ghost (which is also a kind of ghost).

The monsters are thrilling, but they aren’t real; the creature is always caught at the end of the episode and unmasked, revealing that they’re actually someone that the teens already know. This is a comforting, rational world, where there’s no such thing as a monster — there’s just your Uncle Stuart, or that nice archaeologist, or the curator of a local museum, and they’re dressing up as monsters because they’re committing a crime, and they want to murder you.

On Dark Shadows, of course, there are actual monsters, and the real mystery machine is the television, which is broadcasting directly at a defenseless audience of housewives and children with twenty-two minutes a day of black magic and werewolf attacks. For the last two and a half years, we’ve been asking the question, “How did they get away with this?” The answer, as far as I can figure, is that nobody actually cared. Everyone thought that Dark Shadows was perfectly acceptable children’s television; that’s why they made trading cards and View-Master reels and joke books.

But as summer wanes, that begins to change. The fall of 1969 is where we start asking the flip side of that question, namely: How did they stop getting away with it?

844 herculoids

The story starts, as so many do, with The Herculoids. This was a Saturday morning cartoon produced by Hanna-Barbera in 1967, telling the story of a brave gang of space barbarians, who fought against invaders to keep their bleak, featureless planet free of culture and technology. Seriously, that’s what it was about.

The leader was a strong, good-looking white dude, obviously, and his comrades-in-arms included a space dragon, a rock ape, a rhino/triceratops thing that shot energy rocks out of its cannon-horn, and two wobbly goo-monsters called Gloop and Gleep. Every episode, an alien intruder would land on the planet Amzot and try to do something helpful, and the Herculoids would stomp into action, and beat the hell out of the aliens until they ran away.

So there was that, and then there was Space Ghost, and Dino Boy in the Lost Valley. There was Moby Dick, which was about a great white whale who befriended two teenagers and fought robots and shark men, and there was The Mighty Mightor, which was about a big caveman who would lift his club into the air, and turn into an even bigger caveman.

There was Birdman, a superhero with sun god powers, who would mostly fight evil scientists. There was Samson and Goliath, which was about a teenager and his dog who would turn into a well-muscled superhero and a lion, and fight evil scientists. There is apparently an endless supply of evil scientists. You know, I think the people making these shows must not have liked smart people, for some reason.

Somebody had to step up and put a stop to this, so a bunch of housewives from Newton, Massachusetts formed a group called Action for Children’s Television, and started drawing public attention to the fact that the people making Saturday morning cartoons apparently thought that there was such a thing as a cannon-horn. Unlike pretty much every other watchdog group that followed, Action for Children’s Television was not a horrific right-wing Christian group, advocating for the censorship of adult programming. It was just a group of smart women, who figured there must be something better than The Herculoids.

844 scooby-doo characters

Amazingly, it worked. Action for Children’s Television got an assist from the US National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, a presidential study ordered in 1968 after the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. The Commission included a section on Mass Media in their summer 1969 report, saying that there wasn’t any way to measure or prove that violence on television contributes to real-life violence, which it doesn’t, but what’s so great about having evidence anyway? Evidence is for losers who don’t have their own National Commission.

So by fall 1969, all of those Hanna-Barbera action shows were off the air, replaced by silly fantasy-themed shows like The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, The Wacky Races, and Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines, which were all somehow part of the same show.

And then there was Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, the breakout hit that started running in September 1969 and hasn’t stopped yet.

844 scooby-doo capture

CBS was airing The Archie Show on Saturday mornings — an adaptation of the Archie comics, starring a group of eternally buoyant teenagers and their dog. On the show, the Archie friends were in a band, and once an episode, they’d play bubblegum pop songs that were then released as 45s. The Archies’ biggest hit, “Sugar, Sugar”, was the number-one single for 1969, finally breaking through the glass ceiling for animated-Americans.

So Fred Silverman, executive in charge of daytime programming at CBS, asked Hanna-Barbera to make a similar cartoon series, this time about a teen band who solved mysteries. The musical element was dropped during development, and the main characters became a gang of itinerant amateur crime-solvers who would work for food. Like all television detectives, they stumbled across criminals non-stop, teaching children that almost every grown-up they run across is a thief, a con artist or a snow ghost.

The leader of the team was a strong, good-looking white dude, obviously, who was named Fred, apparently at Silverman’s request. Redheaded Daphne was a non-stop peril monkey, always tumbling down trap doors, and discovering the villain’s secret lair by getting captured and tied up there. Velma was the smart girl with glasses, who did all the heavy lifting in the mystery-solving department.

But the comedy relief characters were the real stars of the show — Shaggy, a post-hippie layabout eternally scrounging for free food, and Scooby-Doo, a cowardly Great Dane who earned his keep by occasionally biting the bad guy and pulling off part of his costume.

Scooby, Shaggy, Fred, Daphne and Velma spend most of their time running from one place to another, and one thing that I really admire about the show is that they made sure each character had their own unique running posture, so you can tell them apart.

844 scooby doo funland

Every episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! follows a formula. The kids are minding their own business — visiting a museum, driving through a swamp, digging for clams — when they suddenly run across some variety of menacing hoodoo — a zombie, let’s say, or a dead pirate.

The kids decide to investigate, splitting up to find clues. Daphne usually gets captured or hypnotized or whatever girls do when you leave them alone for five seconds. Fred says, “Come on, gang,” a lot. Shaggy and Scooby head in the direction of the pantry, and run smack into the monster. They all run around for a while, and then Velma finds a clue — luminous paint, or tubs of dry ice, or a big pair of novelty gardening shears.

They set a trap for the monster, and comedy hijinks ensue, leading to Scooby falling into the trap somehow. Accidentally, they manage to get the monster tied up, or stuck in a pickle barrel. Tearing off the disguise, they find that the phantom is actually an adult that they met earlier in the episode — the owner of the factory, or a rival archaeologist. The miscreant was dressing up as a monster in order to scare people away — either because he was searching for pirate treasure, or because he planned to buy up the land, and he wanted other bidders to lose interest. Or something like that. It’s usually an economics issue. Fred and Velma explain everything, and the villains are dragged off to jail. Then Scooby puts on transparent skis, or gets covered in ice cream, and the episode limps to a close.

844 scooby-doo unmasked

And I have to say, it works. The formula starts wearing on you after a while, especially the inevitable unmasking scene, where everybody yells, “Mr. Carswell!” and you try to remember who the hell that is, but there’s enough variation in the settings and monsters to generate interesting surprises.

The characters are all friends, valuing each other’s strengths and accepting their limitations, which makes them likeable. And the voice cast is very good, especially Don Messick as Scooby-Doo. It’s an appealing funny-animal voice that mixes goofy slapstick clowning with some genuine emotions. I believe in Scooby-Doo, as a character. It’s hard not to.

So it’s not a show that I’d want to watch on purpose, but while I’ve been writing this post, I’ve watched bits from most of the twenty-five episodes, and apart from the straitjacket story construction, I can’t really find anything else to complain about. I wouldn’t be able to stand most of Hanna-Barbera’s output for more than thirty seconds at a time, but Scooby-Doo is a pretty good show.

After that success, Hanna-Barbera launched a depressing string of knock-off shows, with a group of travelling teens solving mysteries alongside a fantasy creature. The only watchable example was Josie and the Pussycats, which is basically the same as Scooby-Doo, except the kids are musicians, and they fight spies and mad scientists instead of monsters. The shows got more desperate from there — The Funky Phantoms (teen detectives accompanied by Revolutionary War-era ghosts), Speed Buggy (teen detectives who drive around in a sentient dune buggy), Goober and the Ghost Chasers (teen detectives with another talking dog), Jabberjaw (underwater teen rock group accompanied by a talking shark) and Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels (teen detectives with a thousand-year-old caveman). There was also The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan, a breathtaking stereotypes-on-parade show which broke new ground in the field of unwatchable animation. Saturday morning in the 70s was mostly awful, and putting Scooby-Doo up against the other offerings, it’s obvious why this was the show with enduring appeal.

844 13 ghosts of scooby-doo

And damn, did it endure. They only made twenty-five episodes of the original series, but it was followed by an enormous string of spin-offs and variations. The next show, The New Scooby-Doo Movies, added guest stars to the mix, followed by The Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Hour and Scooby’s All-Star Laff-A-Lympics.

In 1979, faced with declining ratings, they added Scooby’s tough little nephew Scrappy-Doo to the cast, which perked things up again. So then we had Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo, The Scooby-Doo/Scrappy-Doo/Puppy Hour, The New Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo Show and The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries.

The gang finally got to tangle with real ghosts in The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, a 1985 series where a warlock played by Vincent Price sent Scooby, Shaggy, Daphne and Scrappy-Doo on a quest to capture the world’s 13 most dangerous spirits. And then there was Scooby’s Mystery Funhouse, A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, What’s New, Scooby-Doo?, Shaggy and Scooby-Doo Get a Clue, and Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated.

There have been Scooby-Doo shows in production more or less continuously for more than 45 years. In fact, there’s a brand-new adventure airing today — literally, the day that I’m writing this post, Cartoon Network is premiering a new episode for the latest incarnation, Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! In my opinion, there does not need to be this much Scooby-Doo in the world, but there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do about it.

844 scooby-doo vampire

So the horrors born in the late 60s survive to this day, even if most of them are land speculators and jewel thieves, wearing funny masks. Space barbarian violence is a thing of the past, but tales of the occult are still considered appropriate programming for the young set.

In fact, this decades-spanning paranormal investigation was directly inspired by the efforts of Action for Children’s Television, and it’s now reaching millions of children around the world, and teaching them that it’s a good idea for kids to go wandering around on other people’s property, looking for monsters.

Meanwhile, ACT didn’t touch Dark Shadows at all; as far as I know, the group never mentioned it. ACT was focused on younger kids anyway, and they were more interested in fighting commercialism on Saturday morning than tackling the daily dose of demon worship that kids were enjoying on weekday afternoons.

But there is a threat to Dark Shadows in this story, because the very existence of a parents’ watchdog group that can directly impact television schedules means that there’s a cultural shift going on, which we’ll need to keep an eye on. We’ll pick this story up again in a couple months, with the rise of another group of do-gooders and busybodies.

So far, Dark Shadows has gotten away with its daily assault on civilized society, but this situation can’t last forever, and it’s all thanks to those meddling adults. Drat!

Tomorrow: Barnabas Collins Must Die.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

At the start of Quentin’s scene with Petofi in act 1, something off-camera catches Quentin’s eye, and he gives a slight chuckle as he says his first line.

Petofi opens his mouth to speak between two of Quentin’s lines, starting with “I don’t know how much Barnabas trusts me.”

A mild anachronism: you can see a zipper on her sleeve when she knocks on the front door, but zippers weren’t invented until 1913. (Hat tip to Dark Shadows Wiki for noticing this.)

Kitty walks out of the drawing room into the foyer, and when she opens the door, we can see that the drawing room is absolutely pitch black — what was she doing in there?

In the woods, Kitty asks Barnabas, “Do you live at Collinwood?” He just stares at her, so she says, “I guess that is a strange question, considering I just came from that.”‘

Kathryn Leigh Scott is listed in the end credits as “Kathryn Lee Scott”.


Behind the Scenes:

Kitty Soames (Lady Hampshire) is the second character that Kathryn Leigh Scott has played in the 1897 storyline. Her first character, Rachel, was killed in June, and Scott took the summer off to go on an African safari with her photographer boyfriend. After their Africa trip, they went to Rome, until DS producer Dan Curtis sent her a telegram, telling her to come back next week, and play a new role.

Tomorrow: Barnabas Collins Must Die.

844 scooby-doo unmasked again

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

22 thoughts on “Episode 844: Those Meddling Adults

  1. Scooby & the Gang are even immortalized in Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back – one of the best moments in the movie.

  2. “So it’s not a show that I’d want to watch on purpose” –
    I’ve had a similar experience with it, but not the same one. With some shows and movies (especially epic-length ones, but others as well), you get very used to seeing them in a passing way, like pleasant background sound. So that after a while watching them closely seems as foreign as NOT watching SOMETHING ELSE closely. Somehow or other SCOOBY DOO became one of those for me, and never stopped, so it feels like I’ve seen it a hundred times in a casual way without ever seeing a single episode completely.

  3. One of the odd things about the traditional SCOOBY DOO ending – and this idea didn’t actually begin with SCOOBY DOO – is the idea that fake ghosts and monsters would always keep people AWAY from a place. Wouldn’t it ATTRACT a lot of those “ridiculous” paranormal fans (I’m one of them) to a place? In fact, in the case of “cryptids,” people actually flock to a place where they’re reported, a lot of them armed, unfortunately. (Not that I’m really picking on a tradition that that show helped to make famous.)

    The same with murder houses. In both dramas and comedies, a character will get a ridiculously good deal on a house because it’s one of those, and the seller or agent usually hides the fact. But in a country with as many true murder fans as this one has, you’d think that that wouldn’t be a great problem. In fact, it could actually drive the price UP.

  4. Dan,
    Just so you can update your site – more good news from hulu. Hulu is now airing up to episode 655 of DS! I just checked hulu last night and saw that!
    Tim

  5. Just as the Dark Shadows opening theme with the waves crashing and the music playing are emblazoned on my weekday afternoon memory from that time, so, too, is the opening theme of Scooby Doo, Where Are You? the fondest and most easily recollected of Saturday morning memories from that period. That screen grab image at the top of the post, now that I see it again for the first time in many moons, does resemble the view of Collinwood that we’re so familiar with (that is, the backyard view of Seaview Terrace). But it didn’t strike me at the time — it just seemed back then that these were reflecting the generally perceived prototype of the haunted mansion.

    Does anyone remember this 1970s elementary school joke?:

    Q: What’s in a haunted house?

    A: Scooby’s doo.

    And because Moby Dick is referenced in today’s post, I’ll list that one as well, since these jokes were always told in series:

    Q: What’s at the bottom of the ocean?

    A: Moby’s dick.

    There may have been one other that accompanied these two standards, but I can’t recall offhand. It just goes to show that the “Action for Children’s Television” group may have been able to control what children were able to watch, but they couldn’t control the way children were liable to talk. But it’s useless trying to tell them anything, because (meddling) adults just never listen.

  6. I love those ‘60s Hanna Barbera action adventure shows (or weirdo superheroes) as a TV Guide article referred to them at the time.

    I always thought it was kind of interesting that after the assassinations of RFK and MLK and the violence at the Democratic National Convention all happening a few months apart in 1968, it was decided that it must be violence on Television that’s causing all this trouble, as if Sirhan Sirhan, had been watching Space Ghost or the Herculoids, and if we could just get rid of those shows, things would get better.

    Here’s an interesting book I just started reading, (it just came out this month). Its light on analysis, but it’s got a pretty good take about the rise of all things occult in pop culture, between 1966 and 1980.

    Unfortunately Dark Shadows get about a paragraph only, so I think the author missed an opportunity there.

    http://www.amazon.com/Heres-My-Sweet-Satan-1966-1980-ebook/dp/B016MVX5ES/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1458589322&sr=1-1&keywords=my+sweet+satan

    1. Oh, I was just reading “Here’s to My Sweet Satan” last week. I guess Amazon’s recommendations really work. 🙂 The book is cool, but kind of superficial — mostly just listing all the occult-related things that were happening in pop culture (movies, cereal, toys) without really making connections between them, or giving a timeline for when they happened. For my purposes, it’s good to know what else is out there, but there isn’t a lot of analysis.

      1. There’s this recent book (2015) by a “monster kid” from the era.
        Monster Mash: The Creepy, Kooky Monster Craze In America 1957-1972

        http://www.amazon.com/Monster-Mash-Creepy-America-1957-1972/dp/1605490644/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1430830016&sr=1-1&keywords=monster+mash

        A lot of it is browsable on Google Books:
        https://books.google.com/books?id=hSrHCQAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

        Barnabas is on the cover and in the introduction he says “Barnabas Collins was my hero when I was in the sixth grade.”

  7. ACT, I think, also had a major role in lobbying Congress to make laws against local/regional children’s show hosts doing commercials on their shows in the early 1970’s. This led to many much beloved local/regional children’s shows across the country being canceled, because the local station relied on the host doing commercial spots. The argument was that these children’s show hosts were “too influential” on their young viewers, and in fact, this argument did have merit. Case in point – the much beloved Casey Jones and Roundhouse show in the Twin Cities/Minnesota area, which, at its height, was literally on morning, noon and afterschool. I remember Casey talked about having an M.D. (Muscular Dystrophy) carnival in your backyard to raise money for M.D. (coinciding with the Jerry Lewis telethon) — we had a carnival in our backyard. Casey talked about going to a Twins game for “Bat Day,” where all kids in the stadium would get a baseball bat (and Casey and Roundhouse would be there), and our whole family went to “Bat Day.” These are but a few examples. While thankfully DS remained on the air and was apparently not on ACT’s radar, other ACT targets were not so fortunate, and “Casey & Roundhouse” went dark in 1973 (after having been on since the late 50’s!) as did many other locally-hosted children’s shows across the country.
    Interestingly, I must not have been watching too much Saturday morning cartoons in ’67, as I don’t remember those at all. I do remember Johnny Quest being a little scary. The ’68 onward cartoons – Penelope Pitstop, etc. – those I remember quite well.

  8. I was three in 1960, when The Bullwinkle Show began. That was my show. I loved Boris & Natasha, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Fractured Fairy Tales, Mr Peabody. Mechanical Moon Mice, all of it. It was all very sardonic, and oddly adult.
    For some crazy reason, I loved Paul Frees performance as Inspector Fenwick on the Dudley Doright show. Something about that weird voice struck me as very funny. And the writing was so wonderfully absurd. It was probably my first must-see TV.

    Then, in 1964, Jonny Quest happened. Not many things have blown my mind the way that show did, starting with the music. That’s something it has in common with Dark Shadows: top notch music.
    The score was by Hoyt Curtin, and the opening theme was the coolest thing I had ever heard. Dark, twangy, surf guitar, with scary brass, and a pounding jungle jazz beat. The rest of the score seems to have some definite Mussorgsky overtones, with hints of The Gnome, and The Hut Of Baba Yaga, from Pictures At An Exhibition. Whenever the horrible monstrous thing-of-the-week staggers into full, hideous view, the music usually sounds like Mussorgsky.

    This show was cool AND scary. And weird as hell. There was some very strange, strange, creepy stuff on the show, very imaginative, and dark.
    I learned where the Sargasso Sea is.
    I learned you can use a great big giant mirror to reflect a deadly laser beam back on the bad guys, and make the bad guys blow themselves to smithereens! You can also smash them with a flying boat.
    This show had guns, guns and more guns, bullets flying, 11 year old kids in serious danger, mysterious women who smoked cigarettes. That sort of thing has been frowned on for quite some time.
    The JQ show had Race Bannon, bad-ass bodyguard to the Quest’s. I think Race was a Navy SEAL or something. If Race couldn’t kick its ass, Dr Quest would use science to defeat the Lizard Men/Invisible Monster/Mummy/Gargoyle/Pteranodon/Abominable Snowpersons/Giant Spider Robot/Dr Zin, etc.

    I think I was done with cartoons after that. I remember when this new batch came along, I tried watching several of them, but nothing ever clicked. By 12, in 1969, I had moved on. I was going to see movies like They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and Easy Rider.

    Then, in 1999, Spongebob Squarepants! And for about three years….but that’s another story…

    1. In Cleveland, Ohio there was a kids show’s host called Barnaby. He was on for 33 years. He had the most beautiful theme song. Tons of kids from Cleveland remember it.

      In an interesting twist it was written by Robert Farnaon, who composed the original music for Josette’s music box.

    2. Have you watched The Venture Brothers? It began as a Johnny Quest spoof (JQ is now a middle-aged loser) but spun off into something dense and complex.

  9. “Josie and the Pussycats” had Cheryl Ladd from Charlie’s Angels doing one of the voices. I remember all these cartoons very well, even “Chan and the Chan Clan!” Great trip down memory lane. Cartoons definitely declined after the mid-70s.

  10. Fun stuff about Scooby Doo etc. but how about the short but super homoerotic scene between Shaw and Tate @ 6:20 in this episode? Tate’s drunk and talks with Shaw about how Shaw wants to be “more than friends”, Tate is all handsy (of course) and touches Shaw’s knee, and then they stand super close together as their eyes lock and they both look slowly down at the now cocked gun between them…I swear I thought/hoped they might kiss…sigh. Love the blog and comments and hoping to be current with you all soon (this is my first run watching Dark Shadows and I’m thoroughly hooked)

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