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Written By:

Alan Boon
The New Adventures of He-Man, 1989

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!


America loved to laugh in 1989, with CBS’ sole hit show 60 Minutes the only non-comedy show to make a top ten dominated by NBC’s The Cosby Show, A Different World, and Golden Girls, and ABC’s Roseanne and The Wonder Years. Waiting in the wings were both The Simpsons and Seinfeld (making their debuts on Fox and NBC, respectively), while Kids in the Hall was arriving on HBO for some weird, surreal fun (and gayness).

Kids in the Hall wasn’t as weird as TV would get in 1989 with Twin Peaks bursting onto ABC, although even that show – and its slightly less weird and definitely warmer (if not weather-wise) cousin Northern Exposure – might have been outdone by the sight of SO MUCH SPANDEX over on American Gladiators. Friday the 13th: the Series and Freddy’s Nightmares were both bowing out of first-run syndication, but horror anthology fans were treated to HBO’s Tales from the Crypt as a more than adequate replacement. Away from all that adult stuff there was also serious business being done on Saturday mornings…

Ring Raiders (syndication): Ring Raiders was a short-lived range of toys from Matchbox, looking to enhance their range of toy cars with a series of toy planes, only with a gimmick. These planes were attached to a ring which, when worn by the lucky owner, would enable the planes to achieve a semblance of flight, albeit flight closely attached to a human hand.

Ring Raiders, 1989

As was the way with such things, DIC Entertainment were brought on board to produce an animated series to help sell the toys, staffer Phil Harnage coming up with a backstory for the series which told of the ongoing battle between the evil Skull Squadron and the heroic Ring Commanders in the far-flung future of 1998. The Ring Commanders are a selection of history’s greatest pilots, plucked from their own times to save the world of the future; can Victor Vector lead the to victory against Scorch’s sinister forces?

Ring Raiders debuted as a syndicated mini-series, a tried and tested method of establishing whether a show had the legs or the audience for a full series order. Five episodes aired weekly in the US in September and October 1989, with a UK comic book heralding Ring Raiders’s debut on ITV. However, by the time the sixth issue of the comic book was released, the toyline and cartoon were shelved, fuel only for puerile schoolyard jokes about sphincters.

Rude Dog and the Dweebs (CBS): Rude Dog was created as a clothing mascot by Brad McMahon, while under contract to Sun Sportwear in 1986. A white bull terrier with attitude, he appeared on surf and skate clothing, although Sun never quite achieved the visibility of Ocean Pacific, Vision Streetwear, and their other major competitors. Seeking to remedy this, Sun partnered with Marvel Productions to produce a Saturday morning cartoon, with Rude Dog joined by a gang, the Dweebs. The Dweebs weren’t much of a gang, to be fair, but they were good for comedy set-ups and enjoyed an ongoing rivalry with both dogcatcher Herman and evil cat Seymour.

Rude Dog and the Dweebs, 1989
Radical! Rude Dog and the Dweebs, 1989

The show was made under the watchful eye of Hank Saroyan, the award-winning creator of Muppet Babies, and he recruited a who’s who of cartoon scripters and voice-over artists, with the ubiquitous Peter Cullen and Frank Welker performing several roles, alongside Rob Paulsen’s New York accented Rude Dog. Thirteen episodes were produced, each with two stories per week, and CBS threw the show into their Saturday morning line-up from September 1989, opposite new arrival Saved by the Bell on NBC.

Despite his outrageously cool persona, kids just didn’t seem to identify with Rude Dog or the Dweebs, and there was no season two for McMahon’s creation. The show remains the property of Marvel (and thus now Disney) but there is no sign of it on streaming services. However, if you want to see one of the shows that was declared “an animated atrocity” by pop culture site io9 in 2014, there’s plenty up on YouTube.

Captain N: The Game Master (NBC): Back in 1989, videogames hadn’t quite ruined kids’ entertainment the way they went on to do and TV sought to build partnerships with the videogame properties that would ensure both sides made the most of both old and new forms of screentime. Japanese giant Nintendo were particularly keen to have their characters beamed into the homes of American kids on Saturday mornings and engaged DIC Entertainment to produce a series of shows based on their properties.

Captain N, 1989

Captain N: The Game Master was produced by DIC Animation City and Saban Entertainment, starring a character that had first appeared in Nintendo Power magazine. Created by magazine editor Randy Studdard, Captain N was intended to be a company mascot outside the existing game characters, but the hero was further developed by DIC to be ordinary teenager Kevin Keene, zapped into the world of videogames while playing Mike Tyson’s Punch Out and looked to by heroes such as Mega Man and Kid Icarus to help them free Videoland from Mother Brain’s tyranny.

Characters from games such as Castlevania, Donkey Kong, Dragon Warrior, Kid Icarus, Mega Man, Metroid, and The Legend of Zelda made appearances throughout the series, with a thirteen-episode first season doing well enough to earn second and third seasons, aired as a block with first The Adventures of Super Mario Bros 3 and then Super Mario World. A comic book adaptation (with some major differences and a more serious tone) was produced by Valiant Comics as part of their Nintendo Comics System anthology in 1990 but otherwise the character has lain mostly dormant ever since, waiting for his Super Smash Bros call.

The New Adventures of He-Man (syndication): Mattel’s Masters of the Universe line was a massive success for the company, aided in no small part by He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Filmation’s Saturday morning cartoon which provided toy-hungry kids with a walking advert (and readymade characters and storylines) for the hot new action figure line. By 1987, the five-year-old line was retired, with sales dwindling and the big-screen adaptation falling flat despite a brilliant performance by Frank Langella as Skeletor. It was a perfect time for a rebrand, then, and after two years off the shelves a new range of He-Man action figures was ready to go, this time with a space setting to differentiate them from the sword and sorcery of the original line.

The New Adventures of He-Man, 1989

There was a hitch, however, as Filmation had shut down a year earlier and so a new animation partner was sought, with Jetlag Productions – formed by former DIC Entertainment head Jean Chalopin – winning the race to provide what seemed to be a brand-new storyline with little connection to the original. He-Man found himself summoned to the far future and the planet of Primus, brought by the Galactic Guardians to help them fend off the evil mutants from the neighbouring planet Denebria. Unfortunately, Skeletor is able to follow him, inveigling himself into the inner circle of Flogg, leader of the evil mutants, and thus the battle is joined anew.

Jetlag produced sixty-five episodes for the syndicated market, even managing to tell a full story with a definite end, a rarity for the time. At the end of the final episode, the Guardians succeed in driving the mutants away, Skeletor flees in an escape pod with sexy female mutant Crita, and He-Man presumably staying on Primus to hang out with his new pals. The cartoon was given a lukewarm reception and the toyline disappeared from shelves until 2001, when a more traditional rebrand was launched. Over the years, fan theories and official canon have aligned, with the 1989 show’s characters released in the original toy style, until Kevin Smith’s Masters of the Universe: Revelation in 2021 formally brought the new show into the main continuity.

Beetlejuice (ABC): Only Tim Burton’s second full-length film as a director, Beetlejuice firmly established the quirky style for which the auteur would become known, its protagonists firmly falling on the gothic side of life, even if they did enjoy differing states of being alive. Michael Keaton’s Betelgeuse was a ghostly con-artist, fleecing newly-deads Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis as they hire him to exorcise their house of living people.

Beetlejuice, 1989

Despite the film’s PG-13 rating, the main character proved a surprise hit with younger kids who thrilled to his wacky antics, and a series of videogames and a toyline was soon greenlit by Warner Bros executives eager to cash in on the surprising new addition to their character bank. It wasn’t long, then, before an animated series was pitched and Canadian studio Nelvana were given the job of bringing it to air. The cartoon jettisoned the Baldwin and Davis characters to focus on the escapades of Beetlejuice and his best goth pal Lydia (played by Winona Ryder in the original movie).

Nelvana brought in a primarily Canadian voice cast, with Stephen Ouimette in the title role and Alyson Court as Lydia, and across four seasons, the pair got into scrapes in both the human world and Netherworld, encountering all manner of spooky beings and situations, with Beetlejuice always looking for a way to work an angle and con the dead and the living. A total of ninety-four episodes were produced, with all manner of merchandising accompanying the show, although a range of action figures specific to the cartoon was halted while in production by Kenner, fans having to make do with movie figures including Exploding Beetlejuice, Headless Adam Maitland, and Hungry Hog with Corncob Accessory.

The Super Mario Bros Super Show! (syndication): Some casting decisions are just perfect. Once in the role, you can’t imagine anyone else playing the character, and especially not Bob Hoskins. Yes, whoever decided that Captain Lou Albano, formerly of the WWF and Cyndi Lauper video fame, would get to be Mario in The Super Mario Bros Super Show! deserves an award. A better journalist could probably find out who it was but that’s not why we’re here.

The Super Mario Bros Super Show!, 1989

Shown each weeknight for thirteen weeks from September 4th 1989, The Super Mario Bros Show! featured the animated adventures of everyone’s favourite plumbing duo as they do battle with King Koopa to save Princess Toadstool, Toad, and the rest of the Mushroom Kingdom (except on Fridays when The Legend of Zelda took centre stage). The cartoons were topped and tailed by live-action sequences featured Albano and Danny Wells as Mario and Luigi, enjoying a relationship that wouldn’t have been out of place in an Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy short. The live action segments would often be loosely related to that day’s action and often feature guest stars, with Lauper, Albano’s wrestling pals Roddy Piper and Sgt Slaughter, and the likes of Nicole Eggert and Danica McKellar making pre-Baywatch and Wonder Years appearances.

The reaction to the live action segments was mixed, although its target audience of kids must have loved the slapstick element, and they were gone when the show returned for the Fall 1990 season . Confusingly retitled The Adventures of Super Mario Bros 3 to cash in on the current instalment of the videogame series, it was all animated, all the way. After a brief spell working the insane Herb Abrams and the UWF, Albano returned to the WWF in 1994, still looking every inch the Italian-American plumber he would have become in an alternate universe.

Next on The Telephemera Years: We jump back to 1978 and meet Columbo’s wife!

Check out our other Telephemera articles:

The Telephemera Years: 1966 (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: 1975 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1977 (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: 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)

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: 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: 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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