In 1975, CBS tossed out about half of their Saturday morning cartoons in favor of a two-hour block of live-action programming. They bought one new show, Far Out Space Nuts, from Sid and Marty Krofft, but the others in the fall of ’75 came from Filmation, who’d proven themselves with the hit Shazam! the previous year. CBS bought The Secrets of Isis as a sister series to the Captain Marvel show, as well as this very silly, very goofy, largely unloved and mostly forgotten program. If there hadn’t been a mammoth hit film a decade later with Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson as four completely different “ghostbusters,” sparking a war between two lousy daytime cartoon tie-ins calling themselves “real” versus “original,” I bet even fewer people would remember this show.
So The Ghost Busters stars Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch, best known from a great sixties sitcom called F Troop, as Kong and Spencer, and Bob Burns, in one of his gorilla costumes, as the remarkably talented Tracy. Every week, many of the same things happen. Either some ghosts show up to commit some crimes, or some humans raise some ghosts to commit some crimes, and an unseen fellow named Zero sends our heroes a self-destructing message to stop the mild mayhem.
Filmation was working with a ridiculously tight budget, and they didn’t throw it out the window like the Kroffts did. This show looks like they didn’t even spend what little they were given on it. There’s no time for retakes, no money for new sets, and I just love the huge echo of the cavernous studio when the characters are meant to be outside.
But it all works because Storch and Tucker are just so darn good together. They’re phenomenally fun. They look like they’re the best friends in the world, having an absolute ball working together and treating this stupid show with respect and good humor. You’re not watching The Ghost Busters for novel plots and unique takes on classic comedy, although this may have been Daniel’s first exposure to the old Scooby Doo hallway with four doors on either side and everybody running back and forth through them, and he just howled with laughter. No, you’re watching this show to watch two pros having a blast, with oddball, nonsensical jokes and riddles, mumbled asides and funny arguments about Limburger cheese sandwiches. And also to watch how Tucker somehow always manages to use his pinky finger and his index finger for two totally separate movements at the same time. How does he do that?
One big thing that distinguishes the Filmation shows from the early Krofft ones is the use of guest stars. Each week, there are some familiar faces slumming it in the show for some laughs and a few bucks. Surprisingly, Jonathan Harris doesn’t show up in this series, as he did on quite a few other Filmation programs, but he was probably busy on the studio’s Uncle Croc’s Block, which aired on ABC, while this show was taping. This time out, the guests are Johnny Brown, who was best known as the building super on Good Times, as the criminal Fat Man, and Krofft regular Billy Barty as his associate the Rabbit. Brown is doing a pretty cute impression of Sidney Greenstreet, particularly in the way he’s always mopping sweat with a handkerchief. Barty’s not really doing Peter Lorre, though. He’s just being Billy Barty.
But interestingly, Sid and Marty Krofft found themselves responding to Filmation’s process, starting with Space Nuts, which was their first show to regularly employ guest stars. Compared to the recognizable faces that Filmation employed, most of Space Nuts‘ guests were unknowns, but they did land freaking John Carradine for one of those. Apologies for this lone diversion into that series when I’m meant to be talking about Ghost Busters, but absolutely nobody can figure out how in the world Sid and Marty pulled off a casting coup like that.