Kids couldn’t get enough cartoons but, after a while, TV stations in the early ‘60s felt they needed to do something besides run the same packages of Warner Bros. and Popeyes over and over and over. So syndicators, looking at the success of Hanna-Barbera in the TV field, offered new cartoons to fill time. Hanna-Barbera, itself, was among them, producing the Lippy the Lion/Touché Turtle/Wally Gator shorts. Not only could the cartoons be used individually on a kids show with a live host but, stations could turn them into 15-minute, half-hour or any-length blocks to fit holes in morning or late afternoon programming. Ingenious, those syndicators.
A couple of cartoon series offered in 1962 and 1963 were at the opposite ends of the scale. “The Funny Company” was an outgrowth of criticism of cartoons by do-gooder groups that felt all children’s programming should be like a school house. So producer Ken Snyder offered a series with an educational component.
Sponsor reported on August 19, 1963 that WOR-TV in New York was going to spend a million dollars advertising the cartoons which it planned to air in a 90-minute block. Ah, but a problem cropped up. Mattel had exclusive advertising rights. And the FCC said “no.” Said Sponsor on September 23, 1963:
Sponsor must be identified, FCC rules on Mattel caseRegardless, “The Funny Company” settled into the WOR schedule, listed for 90 minutes every weekday beginning at 3:30 p.m. Despite that, the local-area TV station which ran the cartoons when I was a kid inserted them as part of its animation blocks in the morning and afternoon. I don’t recall any mention of Mattel.
FCC last week put its foot down on proposed exception to the sponsorship identification requirements by a kiddie cartoon series. In response to a request from California toy manufacturer, Mattel, for a waiver of the rule in the “Funny Company” program, FCC said Mattel sponsorship would have to be announced by stations carrying the series. Commission says present instance is similar to the “Living Should be Fun” program offered in 1961, not overly sponsored, but in effect underwritten by Foods Plus, in exchange for spot announcements by stations. FCC rules the sponsorship had to be acknowledged. Mattel bought exclusive distribution rights in U.S. and Canada for the “Funny Company” program, helped finance pilot film. Through its advertising agency, the company has offered to take adjacent spots at a cost that will reimburse the stations for the cost of rights to use the program. FCC holds this as the same as sponsorship. Also, Mattel has exclusive rights to merchandise toys, games, et al, based on the program characters. The toy company wanted to let stations offer the program to other sponsors, but if Mattel has to be named, fewer stations would use the program, it claimed. FCC was not beguiled by reproachful argument that the commission would, in effect, be discouraging sorely needed “good children’s programs.” The law is the law: identify, says FCC.
Down the dial at WPIX Channel 11, “The Funny Company” was going up against another cartoon series from 4:30 to 5. It wasn’t educational in the slightest, unless you wanted to learn how to make comically bad cartoons. “The Mighty Hercules” was “A Trans-Lux Television presentation produced by Adventure Cartoons for Television, Inc.” Trans-Lux had scored a TV success in the late ‘50s by reviving Felix the Cat, thanks to the help of veteran New York animators, and Famous/Paramount studio stalwarts Jack Mercer and Win Sharples. Weekly Variety, on February 7, 1962, announced the series (then called “The Amazing Adventures of Hercules”) would consist of 130, 5½ minute cartoons. Again, New York animators were paid to sit at their lightboards, and Jack Mercer and Win Sharples were brought in.
Some animation historians say it looks like those New York animators had copies of the Superman model sheets from their Fleischer studio days as the Man of Olympia’s design (attributed to George Peed) looks a lot like the Man of Steel. Despite the extremely limited animation, there must have been cost problems. Mercer and David Hartman, who played Hercules, disappeared, and their voices replaced with Canadian (read “cheaper”) talent from Montreal. TV hosts Jimmy Tapp and Helene Nickerson (“Miss North American Van Lines” of 1960) and CFCF radio programme director Gerry Bascombe took the roles. Nickerson’s performance as the evil villainesse is unintentionally hilarious; she sounds like she’s spent her life smoking five packs a day. In fact, “unintentionally hilarious” aptly describes the cartoons, right from the get-go with Johnny Nash wailing about “Iron in his thighs.” Just don’t try to watch more than a couple in a row. A couple in a row, Herc, a couple in a row.
If you’re wondering what else was for sale to cartoon-hungry stations, Sponsor listed the 18 distributors at an NAB trade exhibition in its April 1, 1963 edition. The trade publication pointed out close to all syndicated film sales were being made directly to stations. Here’s what was being offered:
CBS Films: Deputy Dawg (third series).
Desilu Sales: Rod Rocket, 130 3½-minute cartoons with authentic space background.
Jay Ark Film: Bozo’s Cartoon Storybook, 52 cartoons, featuring lead-ins by Bozo, in color.
King Features Syndicate: Beetle Bailey-Barney Google & Snuffy Smith-Krazy Kat, 150 new cartoons based on the comic strip, in color; Popeye, 220 tv cartoons starring Olive Oyl’s boyfriend, in color.
MGM TV: MGM Cartoons, 135 fully animated cartoon comedies.
NBC Films: Astroboy, 52 half-hour cartoon series.
Official Films: Cartoons, 41 cartoon: Little King, Bunny Bear [sic], etc.
Screen Gems: Top Cat, 30 half-hours animated cartoons, produced by Hanna-Barberra [sic], wall [?]; Hanna-Barbera Cartoons: Touche, Wally, Lippy, 156 five-minute cartoons in color.
Trans-Lux Television: The Mighty Hercules, 30 5½-min. cartoons about Hercules and his enemy, Daedalus; Felix the Cat, 260 four-minute cartoons starring the well known cartoon character.
United Artists Associated: Popeye Cartoons, 234 theatrical animated Popeye cartoon adventures; Warner Bros. Cartoons, 337 theatrical animated Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and others.
Video House: Out-of-the-Inkwell, 100 5-minute cartoons created by Max Fleischer, featuring Koko the Klown in colour.
Walter Reade-Sterling: Capt’n Sailorbird Cartoons, group of 184.
Of course, there were others being syndicated and then there were cartoons on networks. And that brings us to our last photo from Sponsor in 1963. People were employed to dress up in large cartoon character costumes and make appearances at department stores, fairs, TV stations and so on. Hanna-Barbera promoted Yogi, Quick Draw McGraw and even Wally Gator this way. But I feel sorry for the poor young guy who was forced to wear a huge Mr. Magoo head at a bowling alley.
I’d rather watch 50 “Hercules” cartoons in a row than be forced to wear that.
Well, maybe not.