How Television was Made in the 1970s

In the 1970s, I spent my Saturday mornings on an orange carpet, where I would consume Shreddies with about a half cup of sugar on top and a plastic cup of Tang and, like every other kid, I’d watch the cartoons.

Super Friends was a favourite because it combined the ubiquitous Hanna-Barbera cartoons of the 70s with the Justice League of America to come up with gems like this:
One of my other favourites was Scooby-Doo. In those days it was a love song to skepticism. Invariably, Shaggy and Scooby would be frightened of a ghost. Fred, Daphne, and Velma would prove that it wasn’t real. OK, so the dog spoke and once in a while Sonny and Cher would join them on their adventures but still, skeptical. Over the years, the show would start incorporating elements of the supernatural but most people in the forties would agree, I believe, that the show went to shit when Scrappy Doo showed up.

Still, back in the early halcyon days of Scooby-Doo, it was the centrepiece of my Saturday morning routine. I wondered, then, how such a show was made.

We had two TV channels at the time and the one I watched most was CHSJ located at channel 4. CHSJ was a sort-of CBC affiliate as New Brunswick didn’t have a proper CBC Station until about 25 years ago. Most programming was either produced locally, from the CBC, or was from the U.S.

On the corner of McAllister Drive and Rothesay Avenue, there used to be a TV transmitter which I mistook for the actual TV and radio station which was silly because there was no way they could run a TV station and a radio station and TV studio all from all 500 by 500 foot building. That was actually done at the real studio uptown.

Where the magic happened.
Where the magic happened. It’s now the offices for a tire warehouse or something.

I naturally assumed Super Friends came from the US because the resources to create such stunning special effects as “Aquaman rides flying fish” would only come from a nation with its own space programme. Miss Ann, a Romper Room style children’s show was filmed locally because my sister was on it and I remember being kept outside the studio doors when they were filming.

Scooby Doo was a mystery to me. I was aware that most programmes were created somewhere far away. And I knew, in a general way, how animation worked. Scooby Doo had similar production values to Super Friends but the audience laughter clearly, clearly, indicated that it was shot before a live audience. And the only place I ever saw an audience was at CHSJ when they’d run the Empty Stocking Fund.

Therefore Scooby Doo was filmed before a live studio audience in a small regional television station in New Brunswick. It’s the only explanation that made any sense.

Luckily, my brother, who was seven years older than me, knew everything. He explained that actors record the voices of the characters which is then set to animation . This meant the cast would gather round a microphone as the animation would play before them and their lines would synch with the action on screen. And all this would happen before a live audience. That’s why you’d hear laughter.

I imagined that the characters of Scooby Doo were drawn to look like the actors who portrayed them.  And, yes, the cast included a specially trained Great Dane.

Clearly, the resemblance is uncanny.
Clearly, the resemblance is uncanny.
In later years, I would somehow imagine that the actress who voiced Velma looked like this. This would result in experiencing some unfamiliar feelings.
In later years, I would somehow imagine that the actress who voiced Velma Dinkley looked like this. This resulted in new feelings.

(image source: Gina B Cosplay at Deviant Art)

Of course, as I grew older I realized that Shaggy’s voice could also be heard in just about every other cartoon character back then and that most of my entertainment came from Toronto or California and that the stuff that was produced locally wasn’t quite up to the same standard. It actually took me a while to connect Robin the Boy Wonder and Norville “Shaggy” Rogers as the same voice.

I would also learn that, despite the resemblance to the King of Kensington actor, my father was not actually Al Waxman.

I am not convinced that realizing any of the actual facts surrounding television production has made me a happier person.


The Twelve (or Fewer) Days of Christmas, Part Two: A Very Special Christmas Special Message

It’s a well-worn trope of current show’s annual Christmas episode to feature a central character learning about the True Spirit of Christmas. What happens is a character is behaving uncharacteristically greedy and self-centered and is then put through an hommage to It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Carol. The 1980’s series Moonlighting did this for the former and WKRP in Cincinatti did it for the latter when Mr. Carlson opted to use the station’s profits to buy a new sound board instead of bonuses for the staff. Remember Dr. Johnny Fever as the Ghost of Christmas Future showing the all-automated WKRP of tomorrow in which Herb is the only employee?

Christmas episodes walk a weird line in that while they can discuss “the spirit” of the holiday, they rarely explicitly mention the holiday’s religious origin. Not because Hollywood is run by godless gay atheists (although it is true) but because the overall tone of the show would feel off if, say, on an earlier episode of Two and a Half Men, Charlie Sheen, while repeatedly touching his nose, started talking about what the birth of Jesus meant to him.

Note- I have never watched an episode of Two and a Half Men so I’ve actually no idea if Charlie Sheen ever gave a speech about Baby Jesus. I’m just assuming.

This vague confusion about the holidays was sent up rather well in the Trailer Park Boys Christmas episode, Dear Santa, Go Fuck Yourself:

And, of course, Ricky gives a speech at the end of the episode in which he discovers the true meaning of Christmas.

I think no matter what our beliefs are, we can all agree that at least once a year, you need to have a brain-learning thing pop in your head that wasn’t there a second ago.

“Why is the Red Lantern Green?!”

I blew off Fringe the first season, assuming it was an expensive remake of The X-Files and, well, I watched the X-Files. So why didn’t anyone tell me it was this awesome thing about a mad scientist who kidnapped his late son’s alternate universe counterpart? And Leonard Nimoy is the bad guy? And there are these bald guys from the future, maybe, who eat banana pepper sandwiches, and in the alternate everyone travels by zeppelin, you can’t get coffee, and Green Lantern was red, and most insane of all, Eric Stoltz was in Back the Future.

Why am I only seeing this now? Damn it, I’m supposed to be on top of this stuff. Damn this middle-aged life and its responsibilities.

Todd and the Book of Pure Evil

“It’s indicating that you’re about as smart as a monkey but, sadly, not one of those smart monkeys.”
Atticus Murphy, Guidance Counselor.

I’m not sure when it happened but the low-budget Space channel original programme, Todd and the Book of Pure Evil, has quietly become one of the funniest things on TV. The series fallows high school metalhead Todd who, aided by his friends, must save the school from an all-powerful book that grants your darkest wish but with disastrous results. So deadly are the consequences that the school janitor has a special “blood mop”.

I’ve no idea what kind of audience it gets but whatever it is, it should be larger. Of course there are several hits against it:

  • It’s Canadian. While no place names are ever used, the show is filmed in Winnipeg and the teenagers are closer in spirit to Terry and Deaner of Fubar than, say, Bill and Ted. I wasn’t sure as I was watching the thing where it was supposed to exist until a character made a reference to poutine. That gave it away. And there’s just something about Canadian headbangers that sets them apart from their American counterparts. Not sure what it is, though. Maybe it’s the plaid flannel. As funny as it is, it’s hard to get English-Canadians to watch their own programming.
  • It’s on cable.
  • It’s a genre show.

There’s also an ongoing story arc involving the evil cult trying to get its hands on the book through its agent, the school guidance counselor, as well as Jenny’s, Todd’s crush, attempts to find her missing parents who were investigating the book at the time of their disappearance. But really, it’s Evil Dead in high school. What else do you need to know?

Anyone watching Big Brother this year?

(image source)

Because if there one thing television in the summer needs, it’s more of the delightful Britney. She is single-handedly saving what otherwise has, so far, been an underwhelming season. Sure, she’s a mean girl with her relentless snarking on everyone in the house but, come on, these are Big Brother contestants. It’s not like it’s uncalled for. I hope she makes it to the end.