As Land of the Lost limped to its end, I’d like to take a moment to look at the bigger picture. Well, first I’d like to note that I really do question the decision to end the season, and therefore the series, with a “can’t we all get along” morality tale instead of something with meat on it. Even if these thirteen were made with the expectation and hope that they’d be back for a fourth year, they darn well should have shuffled the order and run “Timestop” last and go out on a high note instead of this weak thing.
Anyway, when we watched the first episode of this season back in May, I wrote about the show’s internal problems, but there were big external issues as well. NBC’s Saturday morning lineup was a real mess in the fall of 1976. As subpar as the last year of Land was, it was, by leagues, the best thing on the network’s schedule.
I think part of the problem came from a resistance to cartoons that had worked its way into the NBC mindset. To be fair, most of what Hanna-Barbera and their peers were pitching in 1976 was truly terrible, but the kidvid censors and advocacy groups were really, really loud then, and I think NBC decided to cave. Their 1976 lineup featured a half-hour of Woody Woodpecker repeats followed by a 90-minute anthology package of godawful cartoons under the Pink Panther banner: forgettable junk like Texas Toads and Misterjaw. Then the live-action started: Land was the anchor at 11 am, preceded by McDuff the Talking Dog and Monster Squad, and followed by Robbie Rist in Big John, Little John, Don Kirshner’s oddball Monkee-lite Kids from C.A.P.E.R., and the real square peg, Muggsy, a videotape drama about a thirteen year-old girl on the mean streets of Bridgeport, with no fantasy elements at all. I have no memory of Muggsy; it is possible that WSB, which was then the NBC station, did not show it in Atlanta.
The night before the new lineup, Freddie Prinze hosted the customary Saturday morning preview show, with the Kids from C.A.P.E.R., Robbie Rist, and the Monster Squad at the Magic Mountain amusement park. You can watch it on YouTube here. Pop ahead to 21:45 to see how NBC’s publicity department has no idea whatsoever how to promote Muggsy. I love these preview shows, they’re all pretty bugnuts, but this one has the amazing aura of complete and total desperation.
We’ll come back to Monster Squad before the end of the year. Time has proven it to be pretty dire, but I absolutely adored it as a kid, and I’m keen to watch it with Daniel. ABC had the incredibly popular Scooby-Doo, teamed with the popular new characters Blue Falcon and Dynomutt, as their Saturday morning anchor, leading into the hugely successful Krofft Supershow. This may have been the only occasion that the Kroffts had two of their programs broadcast at the same time, and the Supershow just destroyed Land, along with Monster Squad and Big John, Little John. I can’t swear to my little kid memories, but I think that I probably watched Monster Squad and Land before switching over to the last half-hour of the Supershow. Not many other people did that. The Scooby-Doo/Supershow combo was huge, and would take down a couple of CBS programs that we will also discuss before the season was finished.
NBC shuffled some of their fall ’76 programs around, and dusted off some ancient Speed Buggy and Space Ghost cartoons to sub for some of the live-action bombs, but nothing worked. The whole lineup was axed in the end, but wouldn’t you know it, the exact same thing happened the following season. In the fall of 1977, NBC launched five hours of turkeys that flopped so badly that, within a few months, they were once again digging around in the archives for older shows to prop the numbers up a little bit. To save their bacon, they put on some repeats of Harlem Globetrotters, Hong Kong Phooey, and… Land of the Lost.