Category Archives: krofft

Pryor’s Place 1.4 – Voyage to the Planet of the Dumb

I was thirteen years old when Pryor’s Place, the Kroffts’ first Saturday morning show for five years, aired. I was not the target audience, I was possibly the most obnoxious thirteen year-old on the planet, and this show had a kid who was breakdancing in it. Well, it was 1984. Lots of kids were breakdancing.

But while Pryor’s Place was tame, gentle, safe, and incredibly boring, its heart was in the right place. It came from Richard Pryor’s sincere desire to be a positive role model and get kids to think twice before they engaged in the self-destructive and stupid behavior of his own youth. So yes, the show meant well, but so do dentists, and no child willingly goes to see one. CBS scheduled the show at 11.30 in the morning, by which time most kids had already been sitting in front of the boob tube for three hours and were ready to go out and play. Sticking Pryor’s Place on at that hour was like taking a broom to the audience.

The episode included on Rhino’s World of Sid & Marty Krofft collection is “Voyage to the Planet of the Dumb,” in which young Richie considers dropping out of school. The episode features small guest star parts for Pat Morita, Pat McCormick, and Marla Gibbs. There’s one moment where some puppet bread tells some dumb jokes, and another moment where two puppet rats – sort of the spiritual ancestors of Zoe and Davenport on Mutt & Stuff – perform like a Greek chorus on the action. Our son enjoyed the part with the talking bread and we reminded him that school is important. That’s our good deed for the night.

This was the Kroffts’ last Saturday morning show for many years. They had success in prime-time syndication with the Barbara Mandrell variety show, and with D.C. Follies, which was occasionally amusing, even if the overall feeling was that it was written by people who thought that Spitting Image was too mean. In 1991, they were back on Saturday mornings with their remake of Land of the Lost, but we do not talk about that diseased beast. They also did some movie with Will Ferrell that I thought was funny. Mutt & Stuff brought them their biggest success in decades, and it’s still going. The new Sigmund and the Sea Monsters had an awesomely good pilot this summer, and the show proper goes into production soon. I hope we’ll be watching that and blogging about it in about six months or so.

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Horror Hotel 1.12 (unknown title)

As the 1970s wore on, and NBC remained deep in third place on Saturday mornings, the network threw a bizarre Hail Mary and sort of poached The Krofft Supershow from ABC. I’ve always wondered about this, and why the Kroffts switched networks, changed up the format, and crashed and burned so badly. For two seasons, their umbrella program had been hosted by Kaptain Kool and the Kongs. Now it was a more traditional variety program, hosted by the Bay City Rollers, and was a huge failure. The Krofft Superstar Hour only aired for eight weeks. Coughing up blood in the ratings, the network pulled the show and edited the remaining five installments down to a half-hour program called The Bay City Rollers Show. Even those bombed and the show was off their schedule by Christmas.

Even stranger, there was absolutely no merchandising for the two new programs within it: Horror Hotel and Lost Island. Not a View-Master, not a coloring book, not a lunch box. The two shows didn’t even have opening credits with the fun theme tunes that all their previous series had. When most of the Kroffts’ programs were repackaged for syndication, these were not included. When four or five episodes from most of their programs were released on VHS in the mid-eighties, these weren’t among them. Columbia House ignored them, and so did the celebrated repeats in the mid-90s on the Family Channel. Exactly one installment of Horror Hotel has been released on DVD. It’s included as a bonus feature on this 2011 collection of H.R. Pufnstuf.

Even today, with IMDB, Wikipedia, and that Live Action ’70s Kid Vid page that still has frames (it’s cool, we all get busy), the Superstar Hour is still determinedly obscure, in part because there are almost no decent, high-resolution images available. Thanks to the Bay City Rollers’ active fanbase, nth-generation washed-out bootlegs of some of the episodes have survived on VHS, allowing us to catch glimpses on YouTube. The show was directed by Jack Regas, and written by Mark Evanier, Lorne Frohman, and Rowby Goren. Only eight of the Lost Island segments ever aired before the show was retooled. The remaining five were never broadcast.

Horror Hotel reimagines Witchiepoo as the owner of a crummy hotel, with Orville, Seymour, Stupid Bat, and Dr. Blinky as her staff. Hoo Doo, the villain from Lidsville who is played by Paul Gale here, is a cantankerous permanent resident. Guest characters are usually played by Jay Robinson, Louise DuArt, and Mickey McMeel.

Lost Island is even more bizarre, but I’ll cover that separately in a footnote / comment.

And there’s one more weird oddity from this production. You remember that in the seventies and early eighties, the networks would have Friday night preview shows for their new Saturday morning lineups? NBC’s 1978 showcase is effectively a bonus episode of this series, entitled The Bay City Rollers Meet the Saturday Superstars. It brought along Erik Estrada from CHiPs and Joe Namath from The Waverly Wonders as guests. Namath also appeared in an additional episode of Horror Hotel, which, although it was probably taped last, was shown as the very first episode. The bootleg of this special that’s been floating around YouTube for a few years is missing the first half of the Horror Hotel spot, among other things; evidently the original taper of this copy was not interested in the parts that didn’t have the Rollers in it. The complete version is, I can attest, pretty darn funny. It’s on one of about twenty-five VHS tapes I still own. Sadly, I have not had a VCR in years.

Counting the Namath episode as the first of fourteen, then, assuming that the date on the YouTube bootleg of this full episode of The Bay City Rollers Show is correct (Nov. 18 1978), this episode of Hotel should be the twelfth broadcast. Like many of the others, Robinson and DuArt appear as one-off characters.

Horror Hotel was never going to win any awards, but the whole show is, thanks to Billie Hayes’ amazing energy, just bizarrely dynamic for a sitcom with only one principal set, and I really regret missing it as a child, because its dopey, kid-friendly shenanigans are packed with the kind of lovably dumb jokes that elementary school-aged kids absolutely adore. Cut loose from the power struggle and danger of H.R. Pufnstuf, Witchiepoo actually made a very funny good guy in this, trying to run a hotel and simultaneously be a star, with four incompetent monsters on the staff and her one grouchy, demanding permanent guest. Watch this nonsense with a kid of knock-knock joke age, and that kid will clutch his sides from laughing so hard.

Our son adored this. He giggled and laughed all through the thing, interjecting “Horror Hotel? They should have called this Silly Hotel!” as the characters went through one of those corridor scenes so beloved of seventies Saturday mornings. (He’s seen it a time or two on The Ghost Busters, of course.) Sure, it’s dopey, but for a show pitched at five year-olds, it’s a downright triumph, and I really hope that a few more episodes emerge from the Kroffts’ vault before we all get too old.

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Bigfoot and Wildboy 2.10 – Return of the Vampire

Bigfoot and Wildboy is a very unusual example of a Krofft show that got a second lease on life. It started as the dramatic, cliffhanging installment of the second season of The Krofft Supershow in the 1977-78 season, with sixteen two-part episodes comprising eight stories. These featured Monika Ramirez as a character called Susie, who assisted Bigfoot and Wildboy as they defended “the great northwest” from a variety of alien, supernatural, and super-scientific threats.

ABC asked the Kroffts for another season of twelve half-hour episodes, even as they lost the overall variety show that was Bigfoot and Wildboy‘s home to NBC. More on that tomorrow. Then, weirdly, ABC put the twelve half-hours on the shelf and didn’t screen them until the tail end of the 1978-79 season, burning them off in the summer instead of promoting them in the fall. I’ve always been curious about this. It feels like petulant retribution for the Kroffts decamping their successful program to another network.

Of course, Bigfoot was never bigger than in the 1970s. Kids today – like ours – have no frame of reference for what a bizarre icon of popular culture Bigfoot was back then. Ours also had no prior experience with the 1970s shorthand for showing a character running really fast by having the character run in slow motion. He’ll be seeing that again in the future, you can bet. Bigfoot made as much sense as the lead character in a 1970s kids’ show as a dune buggy did. It was the seventies, man.

The twelve half-hour episodes of Bigfoot and Wildboy, which saw Yvonne Regalado replace Ramirez as another character, Cindy, hint at what Shazam! and Isis might have been like with supervillain threats. Each week, Bigfoot (Ray Young) and his human pal Wildboy (Joseph Butcher) save the land from space invaders, babbling subterranean magic-users, low-rent Incredible Hulk knockoffs, mummies, and, in this episode, a vampire countess played by pretty Deborah Ryan. (You remember her from KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park; she was the one who figured that rock bands keep track of all the members of the audience, as opposed to, you know, venue security.)

I was a little disappointed that Rhino picked a slightly atypical episode of the show. Most episodes that I’ve seen were filmed on 16mm almost entirely on location, but this one is mostly a studio venture set in a labyrinth of caves. On the other hand, that worked perfectly for our kid, who was scared out of his wits by the vampire and her plans, and the feel of getting lost underground in a “jigsaw puzzle” of tunnels. This was one of the scariest things he’s ever seen, even though it follows the tame rules of children’s TV and doesn’t allow the vampire to bite anybody onscreen, and has her power cut off by the lid of her box, which isn’t referred to as a coffin. She certainly isn’t staked through the heart. That didn’t matter; he was scrunched up in a tight ball with his head under the blanket for about the whole show.

While neither Butcher nor Regalado had very many acting parts, Ray Young stayed pretty busy until his death in 1999, usually playing really big, mean-looking people. I’m afraid the casting director this week sort of worked against him by hiring Mickey Morton – Solomon Grundy in Legends of the Superheroes – as one of the human servants of the vampire. Everybody in these shows should be looking up at Bigfoot, not meeting the actor’s sight line!

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Magic Mongo 1.8 – Huli’s Vacation

When The Krofft Supershow came back for its second season in 1977, there were a few changes. Two-thirds of the shows were different, and the hosts, Kaptain Kool and the Kongs, had a major makeover.

I always got the impression that the Kongs were many people’s least favorite part of the program – even as kids, few of my friends were at all interested – but I thought they were so much fun. I’d rank them second – a distant second, mind – behind Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem in that odd category of best fictional groups for children. They put out an album on Epic Records and everything. The original lineup was a five-piece: the Kaptain (Michael Lembeck), Superchick (Debra Clinger), Nashville (Louise DuArt), Turkey (Mickey McMeel), and Flatbush (Bert Sommer). They dressed in flashy, glam satin. For season two, Flatbush was dropped and they dressed in more subdued denim outfits – still seventies garish, but disco seventies, not Roy Wood glitter rock seventies. Neither the LP nor the single, “And I Never Dreamed,” charted, but the group appeared on all the Kroffts’ evening variety shows, like Donny & Marie.

As for the shows they hosted, Magic Mongo replaced Dr. Shrinker with another batch of sixteen 15-minute episodes. Bigfoot & Wildboy replaced Electra Woman, with sixteen cliffhanging episodes that comprised eight stories. And Wonderbug was back, with six new installments and ten repeats from the first year. This season’s lineup was commemorated by Gold Key/Western in a comic book that ran for six issues over nine months, along with a second Kaptain Kool LP on Peter Pan, one of those audio adventure records that I adored as a kid in the days before home video.

Magic Mongo is absolutely lovable and ridiculous. It’s about an incompetent genie played by Lennie Weinrib. Mongo’s good guy master is Donald, who is played by Paul Hinckley, and his only other credit listed at IMDB is the last episode of Isis‘s first season.

Donald hangs out at the beach all the time with his two always-platonic girl buddies, sharp-tongued Lorraine, who is played by Helaine Lembeck, and Kristy, by Robin Dearden. Lembeck would later play Judy in Welcome Back, Kotter. Dearden, who wears a bikini in every single scene of this series, has had small roles in many shows like Magnum PI and TJ Hooker, along with one of the second season Bigfoot & Wildboy episodes. Constantly antagonizing the foursome: two leather-clad ne’er-do-wells, Ace and Duncey. Ace is played by Bart Braverman, who has been in a million things.

Daniel absolutely loved this episode, giggling through all the special effects and dumb jokes. We have to emphasize “dumb,” because, like most of the TV cartoons and comic books of the period, we have to believe that somehow the villains have access to disguises and a printing press to carry out their bizarrely complicated schemes. (I’m reminded of a very dumb comic book called Dial H for Hero, in which baddies would use atomic submarines and dozens of henchmen to rob the Littleville minor league ballpark of its gate receipts.)

Marie started having trouble suspending disbelief as soon as Ace and Duncey turned up in leather jackets on the beach, so the rest of this was twelve minutes of wincing. For any adult who didn’t love this as a kid, it’s probably a trial. But I always adored the stupid jokes, and Mongo not quite understanding what Donald wants him to do. This time out, he turns Lorraine into a Saint Bernard to track down the bad guys, and doesn’t understand that Donald means “money” when he asks for “bread.” I’m sure a binge of all sixteen episodes would be about fourteen too many, but one’s just fine.

So, here’s some trivia you did not know: Magic Mongo and Wonderbug are set in the same universe. Soon after they taped these sixteen episodes, Sid and Marty Krofft pitched ABC a prime-time sitcom – for families, not just children – in which Braverman’s character, Ace, runs a restaurant. Ace’s Diner wasn’t picked up, but they did tape a pilot, in which David Levy and John-Anthony Bailey’s Wonderbug characters, Barry and CC, also appear. The Kroffts also taped a pilot for another sitcom called Looking Good, starring Sheryl Lee Ralph. ABC passed on both, but ran the two pilots together with some more Kaptain Kool and the Kongs interstitials and special guests Sha Na Na as a summer prime-time special called The Krofft Comedy Hour in July 1978.

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Wonderbug 1.5 – The Maltese Gooneybird

“Dad,” our son said, “this is not real. Dune buggies don’t have eyes.”

Of course it’s real. You just saw it.

“And cars don’t fly. This isn’t real.”

It is real, you just watched it.

“And cars and dune buggies don’t go by themselves.”

You just saw Wonderbug do it.

*deep exhalation*

Well, did you like it?

“YES! It was funny!”


I was going to mention that Wonderbug was the third new installment of The Krofft Supershow and that it starred David Levy, John Anthony Bailey, and Carol Anne Seflinger, with Frank Welker doing the spit-n-sputtin’ voices of Schlepcar and Wonderbug. I would have also mentioned that they did sixteen episodes in the first season and that, unusually, it came back for a second go-around with six new installments in 1977. But as cute and silly as Wonderbug is, my son’s attempt at sanity and common sense is even more amusing.

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Dr. Shrinker 1.9 – Slowly I Turn

It’s true that I wear Krofft blinders and adore most of the company’s output beyond reason, but there are three of their shows that I just don’t enjoy: Lidsville, The Lost Saucer, and this ridiculous show, Dr. Shrinker.

In the 1975-76 season, ABC was really pleased with the numbers they were getting from Krofft productions, both on Saturday morning with Saucer and in prime time with their first variety show, Donny & Marie. So for the 1976-77 season, ABC ordered a blend of the two: a variety show for kids with different comedy and adventure programs within it. The Kroffts had actually started their Saturday morning careers building the suits for another example of the format in 1968: The Banana Splits Adventure Hour.

The first season of The Krofft Supershow was comprised of edited repeats of Saucer along with three new series: Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, which we watched earlier this year, Wonderbug, and this comedy adventure, which starred Jay Robinson as the maddest of all mad scientists. The Supershow was hosted by a kid-friendly band of five glam rockers called Kaptain Kool and the Kongs, and their interstitial segments, musical numbers, and comedy bits were taped at the Omni complex in Atlanta, where the Kroffts were losing money in an ill-fated indoor amusement park, while all the actual shows were, of course, taped in Los Angeles.

So, cast-wise, we’ve got Jay Robinson, finding one note and playing it precisely and without any others in his repertoire, as Dr. Shrinker, the “madman with an evil mind,” and Billy Barty as his assistant Hugo. The unfortunate “shrinkies” are all-American Brad, played by Ted Eccles, his girlfriend B.J., played by Susan Lawrence, and her brother Gordie, played by Jeff MacKay, who later went on to star in several prime-time shows in the next decade. Everybody argues with each other, nobody is happy, and I have always found this show to be tedious. Even as a kid, I questioned why Dr. Shrinker needed to recapture “the shrinkies.” He doesn’t actually need them anymore, not to “prove” that his shrinking ray works, does he? All he has to do is take the weapon to the next mad scientist convention and shrink something else.

But we’re watching this with my kid, and he enjoyed the daylights out of it. The example installment on this Rhino sampler set is an amnesia episode, but I guess our son hasn’t seen enough of these yet to find them tiresome. He was captivated, concerned for “the shrinkies,” jumped up and giggled during the climactic chase, and went upstairs singing the theme song. Whaddaya know?

Incidentally, a couple of years after this show, writer Mark Evanier worked with Jay Robinson on another Krofft show, about which more in a couple of weeks. When Robinson died in 2013, Evanier penned one of his fascinating obituaries about the actor, which includes a remarkable incident where Robinson had a lengthy “come to Jesus” talk with one of the Bay City Rollers. Hollywood’s a strange place.

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The Lost Saucer 1.10 – Return to the Valley of the Chickaphants

I sort of picture Sid and Marty Krofft meeting in the office one afternoon trying to figure out what to do since one of ’em sold ABC on a “lost in space” comedy that morning, at the same time that the other sold CBS on a “lost in space” comedy. They had to come up with two different enough programs so as not to confuse the public. I can’t swear that they did, because people constantly confuse The Lost Saucer with the much, much funnier Far Out Space Nuts, but I really think the shows are very different.

Space Nuts is pretty much the same show every week, enlivened by the genuinely hilarious antics of Chuck McCann and Bob Denver. Every episode, it’s a different villain with some scheme that involves one or both characters. The Lost Saucer isn’t about villains. It’s usually about weird cultures and odd sci-fi ideas taken to extremes, like a planet where nobody has a name or individual identity, or one where everybody must smile, and the conflict comes down to bureaucracy. These “lost in space” travelers refuse to fit in! Of course, the one on Rhino’s World of Sid and Marty Krofft DVD set is one of two that don’t have a weird future city and isn’t a decent sample of the show at all.

The problem, once you watch a couple of episodes of each series, is that Space Nuts could easily repurpose the same barren desert set as a dozen different planets, and redress the villain base a few different ways. The Lost Saucer had to create the illusion of larger worlds and populations, and it seemed like all the money went into the downright impressive flying saucer exterior and interior. With the moths escaping from the wallet, what was left behind for set design and costuming for the sixteen episodes was nowhere near enough. The Kroffts were always mocked – really unjustly – for bargain-basement costumes and special effects even as their shows were running, but not even I can defend the woeful props and robots on offer in this program. The suit in “My Fair Robot” is frankly the worst robot costume I’ve ever seen on television.

And of course they didn’t want to waste money on sets when they had good actors to pay. Everybody on this show is better than the material and the production. Guest stars included Billy Barty, Johnny Brown, Gordon Jump, Marvin Kaplan, Joe E. Ross, and Vito Scotti. They’re backing up the headliners Jim Nabors and Ruth Buzzi as the androids Fum and Fi, and they get to talk real slow when their batteries wind down, and slap each other in the back when they start repeating words. That kind of comedy. Lost in space and time with them: ten year-old Jarrod Johnson, who was the first person of color to get transported from our world into one of the Kroffts’ weird fantasy lands, and Alice Playten, who played his babysitter. They usually get to bring along the perspective that hey, the 20th Century may not have the technology of the future, but we knew how to treat each other respectfully.

But I was talking about the lack of money, and nowhere is that more evident than in the two chickaphant stories, the second of which was included in Rhino’s collection that we’ve resumed watching. Having made the modest investment into this goofy puppet, they decided to use it again in another episode, prolonging the audience’s misery. They saved a little more of the budget by taping these two on the Land of the Lost jungle set at General Service, while the crew put together a new city plaza/apartment set to use in the next couple of episodes.

Our son mostly enjoyed it, but there’s a bit where two cavemen start fighting that actually had him worried and unhappy. On the other hand, the bit where one of the cavemen chases Ruth Buzzi around a cave had him roaring with laughter. (I can actually hear them putting this show together as I type… “We’ve got a bit where a caveman chases an android woman around a cave and she’s running out of power. We need Ruth Buzzi for this part.”) And somehow, through the eyes of a five year-old, the giant and hopelessly phony chickaphant has a surprisingly potent ability to shock and startle.

We have five other Krofft shows to sample. It’s going to get a whole lot better, but not immediately.

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Far Out Space Nuts 1.13 – Birds of a Feather

“This is really going to try your patience,” I told Marie, and I was right. There’s only one episode of Sid and Marty Krofft’s Far Out Space Nuts available commercially, and I swear it’s the worst of the series. It ran in the fall of 1975 on CBS, alongside Filmation’s Shazam!, Isis, and The Ghost Busters, and six or seven of the episodes are really, really funny.

In 2002, Rhino released a three-disk sampler set containing one installment each from thirteen different Krofft shows. They didn’t pick the one with the space haunted house, and they didn’t pick the one with John Carradine (!!). They picked the one with the chicken-people. The adults suffered in silence. The five year-old loved it to pieces. He laughed and giggled all through the thing somehow.

Far Out Space Nuts starred Chuck McCann and Bob Denver. Many of the episodes were either written by McCann and his writing partner Earle Doud or, like this one, by Ray Parker, who wrote dozens and dozens of Hanna-Barbera cartoons in the 1970s, but I don’t believe he did any other work for the Kroffts beyond this. FOSN is typical mid-period Krofft, with the gigantic and intricate sets of their earliest days abandoned in favor of smaller sets – meant to represent different places on different planets but invariably all looking the same – and guest stars. The fun is watching Denver and McCann do their delightful physical comedy – it’s Gilligan and Hardy, basically – and grumbling wordplay while being threatened by various ridiculous aliens, almost all of whom observe them from the same “monitor” prop. I guess all alien supervillains shop at the same electronics store.

It’s a shame this one hasn’t been properly collected. Most of the show appears to be on YouTube in various quality bootlegs, but I’d really like to teach our son to respect artists and creators by buying official releases where possible. He’d love to laugh at some more of this show, and I’d love to see the space haunted house one again.

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