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THE TELEPHEMERA YEARS: 1974, part 5

Written By:

Alan Boon
Hong Kong Phooey, 1974

Ah, telephemera… those shows whose stay with us was tantalisingly brief, snatched away before their time, and sometimes with good cause. They hit the schedules alongside established shows, hoping for a long run, but it’s not always to be, and for every Street Hawk there’s two Manimals. But here at STARBURST we celebrate their existence and mourn their departure, drilling down into the new season’s entertainment with equal opportunities square eyes… these are The Telephemera Years!

1974-75

The sitcom ruled the roost in 1974, with the top seven shows all falling under that heading, although the situation for the comedies ranged from a bigoted dad and his liberal children to urban Chicago, through a junkyard, an odd couple, and the never-ending Korean War. Those shows not looking for laughs but still finding an audience included The Waltons, Hawaii Five-O, and Kojak, with newcomers The Rockford Files, Little House on the Prairie, and Police Woman all delivering their own charms for NBC, which pretty much shared the viewing figures with CBS, ABC nowhere to be seen.

Kung Fu and the actual Odd Couple both started their final seasons for the alphabet network but they pinned their hopes on a trio of new arrivals in Baretta, Barney Miller, and Kolchak: The Night Stalker, all of which made either a commercial or critical impact for ABC. CBS introduced the world to The Jeffersons and Rhoda, with Petrocelli and Chico and the Man joining NBC’s already star-studded line-up, but what about those shows that didn’t even make it to series? This is the story of 1974’s unsold pilots…

Hong Kong Phooey (ABC): Never shy of jumping on board a bandwagon, 1974 finally saw Hanna-Barbera climb aboard the kung-fu train with Hong Kong Phooey, the story of a mild-mannered janitor who transforms into a crime-fighting superhero with the aid of a filing cabinet and his trusty cat, Spot. Reading that back, Hong Kong Phooey sounds like a fever dream but it was just another day at the H-B offices…

Hong Kong Phooey, 1974 2

Voicing both Penry and his costumed alter-ego was Scatman Crothers, a teenage musical prodigy who’d moved into the movies in the 1950s and had recently voiced Scat Cat in Disney’s The Aristocats. Crothers added cool to the character, especially in opposition to Joe E Ross’s Sgt Flint, Penry’s uptight boss at the police station he worked out of. Completing the crew were Kathy Gori as telephone operator Rosemary (who seemed to have something of a crush on the obviously non-human superhero) and Don Messick as the narrator and the “voice” of Spot.

Despite its considerable place in popular culture legend, Hong Kong Phooey lasted for just a single season of sixteen episodes, shown endlessly in re-runs. The character also popped up as a member of the Scooby Doobies in Laff-A-Lympics in 1977 and had seven issues of a comic book published by Charlton Publications. In 2009, it was reported that a movie adaptation was underway, with Eddie Murphy attached at one point, but all has gone quiet on that front, and Hong Kong Phooey is even yet to appear to in post-modern Hanna-Barbera uber show Jellystone!

Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch (NBC): If you created a mood board of the early 1970s, it’s likely that – alongside kung-fu, car chases, and Blaxploitation – you’d find motorbikes. As we’ve seen on countless occasion, Hanna-Barbera was always keen to reflect the zeitgeist on Saturday mornings and so Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch was born.

Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch. 1974

Wheelie, the hero of the piece, wasn’t a motorbike. Instead, he was an anthropomorphic stunt car, resembling (but legally distinct from) the Volkswagen Beetle that had starred in the Herbie series of Disney films from 1969 onwards. Each episode saw the evil Chopper Bunch – led by the Frank Welker-voiced Chopper and also including Revs, Hi-Riser, and Scrambles (voiced by animation legends Paul Winchell, Lennie Weinrib, and Don Messick) – scheme to run Wheelie off the road, their chief motivation being Chopper’s unrequited desire for Wheelie’s girlfriend, Rota Ree.

Throw in police car Captain Tuff and police motorbike Deputy Fishtail and you have a recipe for, well, thirteen episodes of a show which managed to bore children and upset adults with its depiction of motorcycles (and therefore motorcyclists) as violent ne’er-do-wells. Like, Hong Kong Phooey, Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch got seven issues of a Charlton comic book but have otherwise vanished from history, save for a cameo by Hi-Riser on Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law and an appearance in Jellystone!

Korg: 70,000 BC (ABC): Hanna-Barbera didn’t just make cartoons, however, and their 1974 line-up also included Korg: 70,000 BC, an attempt to cash-in on the success of films like One Million Years BC and a general craze for pre-history through the books of Erich von Daniken and others. It arrived in September 1974 with the assistance of the American Museum of Natural History to assist with its accuracy, which at least ensured there would be no dinosaurs in this show, both a positive and a negative.

Korg 70000 BC, 1974

Each episode was set in the time period of its title and so the show featured no dialogue other than grunts, but Burgess Meredith was on hand to provide narration. Square-jawed Jim Maldina starred as Korg, his only regular role in a twenty-two-year acting career, with caveman, cavewoman and cavechild back-up from former Star Trek occasional Naomi Pollack, Bill Ewing, and Janelle Pransky.

The show was created by former Star Trek and future Space: 1999 producer Fred Freiburger, who also wrote two episodes and acted as creative consultant with Myles Wilder (who would go on to create McDuff the Talking Dog two years later, in case you need a measure of his credentials).

A typical show placed Korg and his family in some manner of peril, including curses, earthquakes, snakebites, and love trysts, but kids didn’t seem to have much time for any caveman show that didn’t have dinosaurs. After one season of nineteen episodes, Korg disappeared from the (pre)history books and the cast returned to occasional guest riles, if they were lucky.

Partridge Family 2200 AD (CBS): Another Hanna-Barbera show? Of course! This time, the animation workhorses turned their attention to The Partridge Family, the musical ABC sitcom which made a star of teen idol David Cassidy, and which had finished its five-season run the previous month. That wasn’t the original plan for the show, however, which was to feature an updated version of The Jetsons’ Elroy, now a teenager and working as an ace reporter in the future world of the 1960’s prime-time show.

Partridge Family 2200AD, 1974

 

CBS rejected the idea but liked the future setting, plugging The Partridge Family (who had already appeared in animated form on Goober and the Ghost Chasers) into it and assembling most of the cast of the live-action show to voice their animated counterparts. The show’s main stars, Cassidy and Shirley Jones, were unavailable but Danny Bonaduce, Suzanne Crough, Susan Dey, and Brian Forster had nothing better on.

With Joan Gerber filling in as Shirley Partridge, there was no explanation as to how the Partridge Family came to find themselves over two-hundred years in the future, but they were now “galaxy-famous” and enjoyed the company of pals from Mars and Venus, as well as a robot dog. Over the course of sixteen episodes, the family got trapped in Texxxas (not as exciting as it sounds), saw their duplicates stolen from Madame Mussaud’s Wax Museum, and had to rescue their dog from a two-headed alien after he had become a quiz show sensation.

These Are the Days (ABC): If there was one thing that the kids of 1974 wanted, thought ABC executives, it was an animated show that resembled The Waltons, the desiccated biscuit of a show that had weirdly become a hit for the network in 1972. ABC turned to Hanna-Barbera (who else?), who delivered These Are the Days, a period piece set at the turn of the twentieth century in the Great Plains region.

These Are The Days, 1974

A clever title, the show revolved around the Day family, headed up by widowed Martha (because kids love dads dying) and consisting of her three children and her father, the wacky inventor Jeff. Danny, the oldest of the Day brood and something of a tearaway, was voiced by a young Jackie Earl Haley, with Lost In Space’s June Lockhart as his mother, Henry Jones as Grandpa Day, and child actors Pamelyn Ferdin and Andrew Parks as the other Day children.

Despite sounding as appealing as a dose of cod liver oil to your average child, the show was warmly received by critics and parents’ groups, who liked its warm, fuzzy depiction of the past during a time when the US was gearing up for its two-hundredth birthday, unsure of just what it meant to be American anymore. Although the show has never been released on home video, you can view episodes on YouTube if you want to see a show that one reviewer called “too boring for children, too childish for adults.”

Valley of the Dinosaurs (CBS): Completing a clean sweep of Hanna-Barbera shows is Valley of the Dinosaurs, an animated depiction of the life of Stone Age man, only this time with dinosaurs and a family from the modern day. All this was explained away by the titular valley existing in a mysterious realm, to where the Butler family – scientist dad John, mum Kim, and their teenager children, Katie and Greg – are transported via cave and whirlpool, befriending a Neanderthal family and learning to live in harmony with their new surroundings.

Valley of the Dinosaurs, 1974

Debuting on the same day as Land of the Lost, a live-action Sid and Marty Krofft production with a similar premise, Valley of the Dinosaurs saw the two families help each other to survive, with Gorok, Gara, Lok, and Tara lending their caveman skills to help the Butlers find their way home, while John and the crew introduce labour-saving devices to the Neanderthals, such as the wheel and the boat, probably affecting the future course of human evolution in an ugly way.

The voice cast included Mike Road (Race Bannon in Johnny Quest), The Six Million Dollar Man’s Alan Oppenheimer, Jackie Earl Haley, and Shannon Farnon, alongside a clearly in his element Frank Welker, who “voiced” Digger the dog and pet stegosaurus Glump, as well as teenage caveman Lok. As is the way with the vast majority of these shows, just a single season of sixteen episodes was produced, but Valley of the Dinosaurs got eleven issues of a comic book from Charlton, as well as a board game.

Next on The Telephemera Years: We’re off to 2002 where The Twilight Zone is waiting. Again.

Check out our other Telephemera articles:

The Telephemera Years: pre-1965 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1966 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1967 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1968 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1969 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1971 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1973 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1974 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1975 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1977 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1978 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1980 (part 12, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1982 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1983 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1984 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1986 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1987 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1989 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1990 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1992 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1995 (part 12, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1997 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1998 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2000 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2003 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2005 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2006 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2008 (part 1, 23, 4)

Titans of Telephemera: Irwin Allen

Titans of Telephemera: Stephen J Cannell (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

Titans of Telephemera: DIC (part 1, 2)

Titans of Telephemera: Hanna-Barbera (part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Titans of Telephemera: Kenneth Johnson

Titans of Telephemera: Sid & Marty Krofft

Titans of Telephemera: Glen A Larson (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

Titans of Telephemera: Quinn Martin (part 1, 2)

Titans of Telephemera: Ruby-Spears

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