Saturday Morning Science Fiction

Addendum:  it appears that the nebula/spacescape background for the intros to both The Jetsons and Space Ghost are the same – or one is a close copy of the other.  Just an interesting factoid.

I grew up during one of science fiction’s boom phases (similar, on a smaller scale, to what we have all been experiencing for the past couple of years).  Speculation suggests that the intensifying space race (a metaphor for the ICBM race) may have had a little something to do with it.

That particular boom began in the late 40s, heralded by the publication of several ground-breaking anthologies and the introduction of SF-themed television shows (among the first regularly scheduled dramas on that new-fangled idiot box), persisted through the glut of red scare B flicks in the 1950s (not to mention a few very fine blockbuster offerings like Forbidden Planet), reached its apogee in the 1960s and was already fading out by the time the US stopped putting men on the Moon.  (The next blip would occur in 1977 with the release of Star Wars that created a boom – for Star Wars – but did little for the rest of the field beyond increasing bookstore shelf space for tie-in novels.)

During those early to mid-60s years there was plenty of SF-related television to keep me entertained:  Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Time Tunnel, Lost in Space, Land of the Giants, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Star Trek, of course, Lost in Space, My Favorite Martian, The Invaders, One Step Beyond, Batman, The Green Hornet, and a few more loosely related offerings such as I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, It’s About Time, The Addams Family, The Munsters, the Alfred Hitchcock Hour, One Step Beyond.  (I had to sneak in watching a few of those as they were either past my bedtime or deemed something I ought not to watch.)

But it was on Saturday morning that I got my real kicks in, starting with Jonny Quest.  I don’t think there was a boy in America who didn’t want to be Jonny, a kid whose scientist father had his own jet.  Jonny and his Indian friend Hadji, along with their trouble-making dog Bandit always managed to get in on the action that Jonny’s father, Doctor Quest and the Professor’s companion/bodyguard (and who knows what else) Race Bannon had been tasked with for the latest episode.  Produced by Hanna-Barbara, the show didn’t feature any women at all, but it did have lizardmen, invisible energy monsters, giant daddy longlegs robots with laser beams, jetpacks, pterodactyls, mummies and a whole lot more. Pretty violent too.  What were they thinking back then?

There was more, much more:  Fireball XL 5 (the first supermarionation series I was exposed to), featuring Steve Zodiac, Dr. Venus, Robert the Robot and Professor Matt Matic. I rewatched a few of the episodes about a year ago and was surprised at how sophisticated it actually was, with characters voicing concerns over ballistics, orbits and other technical details. Among other things notable was the inclusion of a female lead character (Dr. Venus), though I think she spent more time preparing meals and coffee for Colonel Zodiac than just about anything else. And of course there was the ship – Fireball XL #5. It took off on a rail (reminiscent of When Worlds Collide) and had a forward section that could detach from the main body and land on planets. I had the toy, I know whereof I speak.

Mr. Magoo sometimes had an SFnal episode, as did some of the Looney Tunes characters (Duck Dodgers in the 25th and a half Century springs to mind) presented as The Bugs Bunny Show.

Then of course there was The Jetsons, Hanna-Barbara’s futuristic answer to the Flintstones, that originally aired in prime time but soon found its way to Saturday morning. If you want to have a bit of fun, contrast the Flintstones ‘stone age” technology with that of the Jetsons.

Another show aired the same year but must not have been picked up by my local stations – Space Angel. I’ve watched a couple of episodes now on Youtube and wish I’d seen it back in 1962; it’s got minimal animation, employing the moving lips system made famous by Clutch Cargo (a show I did watch that had one or two SF-themed story lines), but the visuals are pretty cool.

The following year – Astro Boy. Thinking about having watched it with enthusiasm now makes me cringe, but this re-tell of Pinnochio was pretty popular back in the day, leading to an ill-fated feature film treatment just a few years ago. Fighting monsters high in the sky, indeed.

A few years earlier than this, Courageous Cat and Minnie Mouse, a Bob Kane creation, aired. It’s got the same love for gadgets and techno-crime fighting as the Batman, but its themes are toned down a bit for the kids.

Davy and Goliath aired at the same time. While much more religiously oriented than most SF fare of the day, the characters did visit interesting times. And who can ever forget Goliath’s “Well, Daaaavy”…?

Another show I missed (stupid Philadelphia station managers!) was Rod Rocket. I’ve never seen an episode, but this description from Wikipedia intrigues me: “The television series focuses on the adventures of a boy named Rod Rocket and his best friend, Joey. The wise codger, Professor Argus, sends Rod and Joey on an exploratory mission in a spaceship called the Little Argo and he waits for them to come home with his teenage granddaughter, Cassie. While in space, Rod and Joey constantly battle two bumbling cosmonauts.”

Of course I watched Gigantor. Who didn’t? Gigantor, the space aged robot, his power is in your hands! (I wish!)

Another robot character (a human turned into a robot- shades of Robocop!) was Tobor the Eight Man. “What can we do, who can we call?”

Underdog was more of a superhero spoof than SF, but it still fits in nicely, especially with the rhyming voice characterizations of Wally Cox.

Atom Ant was another superhero cartoon of the day. A tiny ant with atomic power.

Atom was accompanied by Secret Squirrel, a James Bondish rodent. (The two shows would be combined in later years.) He’s got a flying car and tricks up his sleeve, so it kind of qualifies.

Then there was The Astronaut Show which was packaged with Deputy Dawg, though I don’t remember it.

Rounding out the year was – THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO!

Another Supermarionation effort, Thunderbirds had more than enough cool tech for any kid. And too many model kits for any one kid to be able to collect on allowance and lunch money savings.

Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles was a strange combo of hippy culture and futurism.

Released the same year was Space Ghost (a parody of which, Space Ghost Coast to Coast, was pretty popular a few years back). The show combined SF and superhero themes and had some pretty good visuals for its day. I never could figure out what the monkey was doing in there.

At the same time, other super hero fare was being featured – New Adventures of Superman, The Impossibles (same gang as hooked up with Frankenstein Jr.), and the Marvel Superheroes Show –

The following year saw a doubling down of superheroes with The Herculoids, Shazzam, Birdman, Galaxy Trio, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Aquaman, Superboy, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Justice League of America, Superman, Teen Titans, The Atom, The Flash. (Kinda sounds like whats going on with blockbusters these days….)

And Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, the final supermarionation production.

The decade rounded out with more superhero fare, Marine Boy – famous for his oxygum that let him breath underwater (never worked for me) and the first season of Scooby Doo, which was more supernatural than SF, but still seemed to capture the spirit.

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