Wednesday 5 March 2014

Vintage TV Excellence

After a brief conversation about how the old Saturday morning cartoons concept is just a fond memory, we switched over to a sub-topic: Quality. While there really was a vast reservoir of SatCrap back in the '60s and '70s, there were some early diamonds hidden down inside. The great masters of high speed fluid timing, Hanna-Barbera, turned their genius to producing perfectly economic, but unwatchable tales of bongo-drum-spinning-feet and minimal animation. It's so ironic, because back in the 1950s their Academy Award-winning Tom and Gerry cartoons are superb. Their Friday night TV series, The Flintstones, was full of brilliant gags and excellent character development. For me, however, the TV series that pulled it all together and delivered the most was Jonny Quest. It was made at Hanna-Barbera Productions for Screen Gems and they only made one 26-episode season (September 1964 to March 1965). 

Joseph and William did not actually come up with the concept and never really gave the proper credit to Doug Wildey. They said the show was "based on an idea created by" him. He brought the comic book excellence of influences like Milton Caniff and Alex Toth (he actually worked for both of them) and included futuristic technology like lasers and jet packs and hydrofoils. The stories were full of science fiction action and adventure. Even though they had to cut corners and use what they called "limited animation," it looked fantastic!

Wildey had worked previously on an even more limited show a couple of years before called "Space Angel." Believe it or not, I actually lucked out and found a couple of episodes on a DVD in a Dollar Store once and spent several weekends looking for more. I would have paid $20 or $30 anywhere else. Space Angel was actually made by a little studio called Cambria Productions and they came up with the whacky concept of "Synchro-Vox lip technique." In using it, the whole drawing didn't move except for a blurry little video spot on the character's face where the actor's mouth could be seen speaking the lines. Yeah, it's definitely on the weird side, but the rest of the Space Angel art is great. That's the job where Wildey worked for Toth and you can definitely see the progression from there to Jonny Quest.

Unfortunately, those original Quest episodes always went over budget, which probably contributed to its single season cancellation, although the show ended up making a fortune in syndicated reruns. One other superb aspect of this classy little gem has to be the musical direction of Hoyt Curtin. He and his 20 piece band recorded a jazz theme that is still absolutely marvelous to hear (there's also a remake by Reverend Horton Heat worth listening to). While I would never buy a collection of Mr. Curtin's TV themes for shows such as The Jetsons, Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, Huckleberry Hound, Top Cat, and on and on and on, I have enormous respect for the sheer volume and originality of a wonderful composer like him. He also said he had a crazy group of ace musicians who could read really fast and nail all their sound queues in one-take. Wow! They don't make 'em like than anymore.

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