Nerd History (w/ Tom Elmore): 50 Years of Those Meddling Kids – the Golden Anniversary of SCOOBY DOO

2019 marks the fiftieth anniversary of one of the most successful cartoon franchises in television history: Scooby-Doo. The anthropomorphic Great Dane debuted on CBS on September 13, 1969 and has been solving mysteries ever since in numerous televisions series, made-for-video movies and live action feature films. Over the years, Scooby and his compatriots, Fred, Daphne, Velma and Shaggy have become some of the most recognizable characters in modern pop culture.

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The origins of the show are indirectly linked to the 1966 Batman television show. To take advantage of “Bat-mania” Saturday morning cartoons were dominated by super-hero characters. This resulted in parent groups complaining that these cartoons were too rough and violent.

In response Fred Silverman, CBS’s executive in charge of daytime programing, ordered The Archie Show based on the popular series of comic books. Each show featured a song, one of which, Sugar, Sugar was named by Billboard Magazine as the most popular song of 1969. In the longstanding television tradition of milking an idea to death, Silverman contacted Oscar and Emmy winning animation directors/producers William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, owners of Hanna-Barbera Studios (H-B), to create a cartoon about a teen rock group that solves mysteries between gigs. Silverman suggested that the series be a cross between Archie, the 1940s radio series I Love a Mystery and the early 1960s television show The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.

            Using House of Mystery as the working title, Hanna and Barbera passed the assignment on to story writers Joe Ruby and Ken Spears (who eventually became successful animation producers in their own right) and artist/designer Iwao Takamoto, who had worked on Disney animated films in the 1950s. This team came up with Mysteries Five about a band by that name consisting of five teenagers, Geoff, Mike, Kelly, Linda, and Linda’s brother W.W. and their bongo-playing dog, Too Much. Between gigs, the band would solve mysteries involving supernatural creatures.

There was some debate if Too Much should be a big cowardly dog or a small feisty one, with the former being chosen. At first, he was going to be a Great Dane, but was changed to a sheepdog (similar to a dog in Archie) out of fears of being too much like the comic strip Great Dane, Marmaduke.

However, the first pitch was rejected by Silverman, and after consultations with Barbera, it was decided that Too Much would be a Great Dane after all. Takamoto consulted with an H-B employee who bred Great Danes, but decided to do a stylized dog with bow legs, a double chin, and a slope back, traits not associated with the breed.

For the second pitch, Ruby and Spears made the proposed show a variation of Dobie Gillis. Though the dog was kept, the number of teenagers was reduced to four, and were based on the main teen characters from Dobie Gillis. Mike was scratched. The gang’s leader, Geoff became Ronnie, later renamed Fred at the request of Fred Silverman. Kelly became Daphne, a beautiful, but klutzy and danger-prone woman. Linda was Velma, the nerdy brains of the goup, and W.W. lost his sibling but became the eternally hungry Shaggy. Shaggy was based on the cult character, Maynard G. Krebs, a beatnik with a goatee, played by Gilligan’s Island’s Bob Denver.

The new concept was pitched to Silverman. While he liked what he saw, the hated the name Mysteries Five and renamed it Who’s S-S-Scared? He then presented to the CBS executives as the centerpiece of the 1969-1970 Saturday morning line-up. However, it was rejected out of fear that the show would be too scary.

A now desperate Silverman had H-B revise the presentation materials and make the show less scary and more comedic. The rock band concept was dropped (though it would be recycled by H-B in many of their 1970’s cartoon shows) while more attention would be given to Shaggy and Too Much, both whom were also based on the “brave coward” persona Bob Hope played in many of his films. One final tweak occurred when on a flight Silverman heard Frank Sinatra’s classic tune Strangers in the Night and was inspired by song’s final lyrics “doo-be-doo-be-doo” to rename the dog Scooby-Doo and renamed the show Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? CBS executives approved of the changes and green-lit the show.

Seventeen episodes were made. Veteran H-B voice actor Don Messick was the raspy voice of Scooby, which he claimed was the result of his smoking habit. Fred Jones was voiced by newcomer Frank Welker. Indira Stefanianna voiced Daphne Blake. Velma Dinkley was voiced by Nicole Jaffe who had appeared in Disney’s The Love Bug and Elvis Pressley’s The Trouble With Girls. Voicing Norville “Shaggy” Rogers was radio personality Casey Kasem, who would host the long running syndicated radio program, American Top 40.The now-famous theme song was written by David Mook and Ben Raleigh, and performed by Larry Marks.

A sixth character of sorts, was the gang’s psychedelic, multi-colored van “The Mystery Machine” which has become one of the most popular and famous vehicles in television history. In 2016 Road Authority ranked it #6 on its list of the top 50 cars in television histoy, while Popular Mechanics ranked it 14 in their list of the 30 greatest T.V. cars in 2018.

The 30-minute shows were formulistic. The gang would arrive at a location where people were being terrorized by some supernatural or alien being. The gang would then investigate by splitting into teams, with Fred and Daphne (who were hinted at being a couple) and Shaggy and Scooby together, with Velma floating between the two teams. Shaggy and Scooby were often bribed into action with “Scooby-Snacks,” though exactly what is in it remains a mystery.

Each episode would also feature a “chase segment.” Eventually the gang realizes that the whole thing is a hoax and an elaborate trap is set up to capture the “monster” though it usually does not work as intended and Shaggy and Scooby wind up, accidently capturing the monster, who is generally a local person trying to cover up a crime or chasing away people to get valuable land cheap. After the truth is explained to the police, the villain would add “and I would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for you meddling kids!” The final shot would be of the dog looking into the camera saying “Scooby, Scooby-doo!”

Although produced in H-B’s “factory” style, Scooby-Doo was an above-average production. The voice cast was perfect, the character designs, especially the villains were first rate and the atmospheric backgrounds and music were better than what was commonly seen in television cartoons of the era. And despite having a set formula, the writing was often clever.

In the 1960s, usually only one season of a Saturday morning cartoon was produced, and it would be aired between 9 a.m. and noon. The next season it would re-run very early on Saturday or on Sunday. However, Scooby-Doo was such a smash hit, capturing almost 65% of the viewing audience, that CBS made the rare decision to order a second season. Eight episodes were produced, with new opening and closing sequences and a remake of the theme song sung by Austin Roberts, who also sang songs during the chase segment in seven of the episodes. Another change in season two was Heather North taking on the role of Daphne as Stefanianna had married and was retiring from acting.

The success of Scooby-Doo resulted in H-B producing numerous knock-offs throughout the 1970s, most notably Josie and the Pussycats, in which Kasem voiced a variation of Shaggy. Others that followed the Scooby-Doo formula included The Funky Phantom and Jabberjaw.

In 1972 The New Scooby-Doo Movies debuted on CBS. This series also broke with tradition as the episodes were now an hour long. It also had a new theme song written by H-B’s musical director Hoyt Curtin.

While it followed the same basic formula of the first series, there was an added twist of the gang being helped by, or helping, a guest star. Some were real-life celebrities, such as Don Knotts, “Mama” Cass Elliot (The Mamas and the Papas), Johnathan Winters, and Sonny and Cher. They also joined forces with other H-B characters, including Josie and the Pussycats, and the historical comedy teams of Laurel & Hardy and The Three Stooges.

Two episodes served as de facto pilots for future series. The first involved the Addams Family, which featured John Astin (Gomez), Carolyn Jones (Morticia), Jackie Coogan (Uncle Fester), and Ted Cassidy (Lurch) reprising their roles from the 1960s T.V. series. The next year the Addams Family had their own series.

The other one had Batman and Robin joining the gang to fight the Joker and the Penguin. Veteran television actor Larry Storch, (F Troop) a master of dialects, voiced the Joker while Ted Knight (Caddyshack, The Mary Tyler Moore Show) was the Penguin. Kasem did double duty as Robin and Shaggy with Olan Soule as Batman. The next year Kasem and Soule would reprise their roles when the long-running Super Friends debuted, with Baxter as the narrator.

The New Scooby-Doo Movies ran for 24 episodes over two seasons. For many it marks the end of the golden era for Scooby-Doo. Starting with the fall 1974 schedule, CBS ran re-runs of the original half-hour show until they lost the rights in 1976.

Not coincidently, this was a year after Silverman became president of ABC. There he contracted with H-B to make more Scooby-Doo. (Silverman left ABC to be President and CEO of NBC in 1978.) From 1976 until 1991 ABC aired eight different new Scooby-Doo shows:

 

  • The Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Show (1976-1977) which introduced Scooby-Doo’s dimwitted cousin Scooby-Dum, voiced by veteran actor Daws Butler. All the voice actors from 1972 returned save for Jaffe (Velma) who retired from acting and was replaced by Pat Stevens.
  • Scooby’s All-Star Laff-A-Lympics (1977–1978) a two hour block that featured eight new episodes and the Olympic parody Laff-a-Lympics. Scooby-Doo was captain of the “Scooby Doobies” which included Shaggy and Scooby-Dum.
  • Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo (1979-1980) Scooby’s tiny, feisty nephew Scrappy-Doo was introduced in a successful attempt to boost ratings. Lennie Weinrib voiced Scrappy in the 1979–80 episodes, with Don Messick assumed the role thereafter. Marla Frumkin replaced Pat Stevens as the voice of Velma mid-season. Though Scrappy was a character you either loved or hate, his signature charge “Puppy Power” became a popular catch-phrase.
  • The Richie Rich/ Scooby-Doo Show (1980-1982) though Scrappy had revived the series, Scooby had to take second billing to the popular Harvey Comics character. Instead of half-hour adventures, there were three seven minute adventures featuring only Scooby, Shaggy and Scrappy battling real monsters. At this time early episodes started being rerun in syndication on both broadcast and cable t.v.
  • The Scooby-Doo/Scrappy-Doo/Puppy Hour, (1982-1983) a co-production with Ruby-Spears Productions which featured two Scooby and Scrappy shorts, a Scrappy and Yabba-Doo short featuring Scrappy-Doo and his Western deputy uncle Yabba-Doo, and The Puppy’s New Adventures, based on characters from a 1977 Ruby-Spears TV special.

·       The New Scooby and Scrappy-Doo Show (1983-1985) was a half-hour show with two 11 minute mysteries. Daphne (again voiced by North) rejoined the team, with her, Scooby, Shaggy and Scrappy worked for a teen magazine. The second season saw Fred and Velma make appearances again with Welker and Frumkin resuming their roles for the show.

·       The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo (1985-1986) is one of the more interesting Scooby series. Vincent Price voiced Vincent Van Ghoul, a warlock (who looked like Price) who helped Daphne, Scrappy, Shaggy and Scooby recapture “thirteen of the most terrifying ghosts upon the face of the Earth” which Scooby released from a chest. Aiding them in the hunt was a new character, “Flim-Flam” a young small, dark skin, black haired boy voiced by Susan Blu. Flim-Flam was also a con-man whose origins, nationality and ethnicity is never fully explained. Thirteen episodes were produced, but it was not until 2019’s Scooby-Doo! and the Curse of the 13th Ghost that the story line was wrapped up.

·       A Pup Named Scooby-Doo (1988-1991) followed the trend of other successful children’s shows of the era of depicting popular characters as children, Scooby was a puppy and the gang were elementary school children. Aside from the changed premise and new character designs the show followed the original 1960s formula. The show was a success and was in production for four seasons. It is also noteworthy for revealing that “Scoobert” is Scooby’s proper name.

In addition to the ABC shows, three made-for-television movies were syndicated by H-B in 1987 and 1988. In 1991 Hanna-Barbera Productions was bought by cable t.v. mogul Ted Turner. In 1994, Turner’s TBS aired Arabian Nights, which was based on the Arab folk tales of One Thousand and One Nights, and designed to cash in on the popularity of Disney’s Aladdin. The film featured two tales using classic H-B characters, with Shaggy and Scooby in wrap-around segments. It is noteworthy as it was the last performance of Scooby by Don Messick. Two years later he suffered a stroke and died in 1997 at the age of 71.

With all the rights now owned by Turner, Scooby and the gang were featured on his various channels until the debut of Cartoon Network and Boomerang in 1992. Four years later, Turner merged his company with Warner Bros., giving the rights to all H-B properties to the entertainment conglomerate. Meanwhile, reruns of Scooby-Doo were so popular that in 1998 Warner Bros. Animation released the first new Scooby-Doo adventure in seven years.

Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island was in essence a “reunion” film, with the tag line “This time the monsters are real!” The film took place years after their last mystery, and there was no references to Scrappy-Doo or any of the characters or adventures from the ABC era.

In the film, Mystery Inc. had gone their separate ways, and were now a little bit older. Daphne, with the help of Fred, is the host of a successful television show. Velma owns a bookstore that specializes in mysteries, while Scooby and Shaggy bounce from job to job. All are missing the days when they were on the road solving mysteries.

For a birthday surprise for Daphne, Fred gets the gang back together for a road trip to be taped for her show. They go to New Orleans where they are invited to Moonscar Island, allegedly haunted by the ghost of Morgan Moonscar, where they uncover the most dangerous mystery in their career, and yes, real monsters.

Of the original cast members, only Frank Welker (Fred) returned. Billy West (Ren & Stimpy, Futurama) replaced Casey Kasem as Shaggy. (Kasem, a strict vegan and animal rights activist, had quit after having to voice Shaggy for a Burger King commercial.) Mark Kay Bergman (South Park) voiced Daphne while veteran voice actress B.J. Ward played Velma.

Though the gang’s clothing was somewhat updated, and Daphne became more of a modern woman, the look and the storyline were basically a throwback to the classic episodes of the 1960s, with a darker tone. The direct-to-video film exceeded sales expectations, thanks to generally favorable reviews and a $50 million marketing campaign.

The success of Zombie Island led to more direct-to-video films with the early ones, in particular, following its successful formula. One film, 1999’s Scooby-Doo! and the Witch’s Ghost introduced a goth rock band called the Hex Girls which have become recurring characters in the franchise. To date there have been thirty-two direct-to-video Scooby-Doo movies, some of whom featured team-ups with Batman, WWE wrestlers and the rock group Kiss.

Zombie Island’s success also led to the first new Scooby-Doo series in over a decade, 2002’s What’s New Scooby-Doo? which aired on the Kids’ WB and was a 21st century update of the original show. Welker did double duty as the voice of both Fred and Scooby while Kasem returned as Shaggy on the promise that the character would now be a vegetarian. Veteran voice actress Grey DeLise voiced Daphne while Mindy Cohn (The Facts of Life) voiced Velma. The show ran for forty-two episodes in three seasons.

In 2004 Scooby-Doo broke the record held by The Simpsons for the most episodes of any animated television series produced, though it would only hold it for a short period as The Simpsons reclaimed it in 2005.

In 2006 Shaggy and Scooby-Doo Get A Clue! premiered on the Kids WB. The premise of this show was that Shaggy had inherited  a fortune and a mansion from an uncle who has gone into hiding from a group of villains, led by Dr. Phibes (based on Austin Powers Dr. Evil, and named after a Vincent Price character) who want to steal the uncle’s secret invention. In most of the twenty-six episodes, Shaggy and Scooby had to handle the situation themselves, though Fred, Velma and Daphne made occasional appearances. The show ran for two seasons.

In 2010 Scooby-Doo Mystery Incorporated debuted. Reflecting the changing landscape of television, this was the first new Scooby series to air on cable, appearing on the Cartoon Network, as opposed to traditional broadcast television.

The series was yet another reboot, expanding the lives, the families and backstory of the characters. It also borrowed bits and pieces from previous Scooby-Doo shows and other H-B productions. In another break from tradition, the series aired as a 52 part television novel, set in the gang’s hometown of Crystal Cove, California. The three-part finale aired in April 2013, three years after the first episode. This would be the last Scooby-Doo series featuring Casey Kasem. Kasem had retired from radio and voice acting in 2009, after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but he agreed to do Shaggy’s father, Colton Rogers if his performance went uncredited.

The next year the Cartoon Network aired Be Cool, Scooby-Doo, set in the summer after the gang graduated from high school. The show featured a redesigned look that left many fans unhappy. Though 52 episodes were made, the show lasted only two season, with some of the final episodes airing on the Boomerang network.

In time to celebrate the character’s fiftieth anniversary in 2019, Boomerang announced Scooby-Doo and Guess Who? A throwback to the 1970’s “movies.” Fifty years after he created the character, Frank Welker was still playing Fred, and also Scooby. Among the real-life celebrities the gang meets are “Weird” Al Yankovic, Mark Hamill, Neil deGresse Tyson, Bill Nye, and Sia, as well as fictional characters as Batman, Sherlock Holmes, and Urkel. Again reflecting the changing television landscape, this one has, of this writing, only been offered on Boomerang’s streaming services.

Beside the animated productions there have been two theatrical live-action Scooby-Doo films (with Scooby done in CGI) and two live-action made-for-television films. The characters have also crossed over to other television shows including Johnny Bravo, Supernatural and Batman, the Brave and the Bold. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer there’s a group that called themselves “The Scooby Gang.” The show has been spoofed in the films Wayne’s World and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back as well as in the animated t.v. series Futurama.

            Many aspects of the show have become ingrained in American pop culture. The chase sequence has been spoofed in numerous comedy films, television shows and other cartoons. While the catch phrase “I would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for you meddling kids!” has become a part of the American lexicon.

Reflecting the show’s long-running popularity one will often see at pop culture conventions, toy or comic shows cos-players dressed like characters from the show and/or fan made Mystery Machines. There are over 73 million websites related to Scooby-Doo according to Google. Many of them dealing with fan based conspiracy theories such as Shaggy and Scooby are stoners, (Both Ruby and Spears deny this), what make and model van is the Mystery Machine or what is Velma’s sexuality? They also delve into the greatest unanswered question regarding the show: what on Earth is a Scooby-Snack?

The first bit of Scooby-Doo merchandise was released in 1973, a board game by Milton-Bradley. Today Scooby-fans can purchase over 4000 Scooby-Doo items on Amazon, ranging from clothing items, toys based on the show (The Hot Wheel’s Mystery Machine has been one of the most popular cars in the toy line’s history), electronics, video games and even food products for both humans and dogs. Furthermore almost every Scooby-Doo episode or movie ever made prior to 2019 has been released on DVD. By 2004 Scooby-Doo had generated over a $1 Billion in net profits for Warner Bros. Between 2015 and 2017 it generated $1.5 billion in gross sales.

TV Guide listed Scooby-Doo at #22 in their listing of the 50 greatest cartoon characters of all time in 2002. In 2006 Animal Planet cable channel ranked Scooby at #13 in its list of the 50 greatest television animals, while in 2009 the IGN entertainment website ranked Scooby-Doo at #24 of the 100 best animated television shows. Yet despite its longevity, the franchise has never won an Emmy and has received only two nominations (1989, 2003).

In dog years, Scooby-Doo is now 350 years old. Despite his age and the fact that he has been on television almost constantly since 1969, the world’s most famous Great Dane shows no sign of slowing down or losing his popularity. Today’s children are the third generation to grow up watching new episodes featuring “those meddling kids” and it is seems highly unlikely that they will be the last.

– Tom Elmore
Staff Writer/Resident Historian: Nerd Nation Magazine

 

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