What were the main influences and trends in 1970s TV animation?

On the heels of my post about the main trends and influences in 1980s and 2010s TV animation, I thought I’d look at a different decade, the 1970s. It’s an era defined by the large number of “Scooby-Doo” clones, but there were a few other trends prevalent.

While I reference “the 70s,” the trends associated with that decade probably started as early as 1968 (the debut of “The Archie Show”; changes in violence standards for children’s TV; the waning popularity of superhero shows) and lasted until 1981 (the debut of “The Smurfs”; the first year of Reagan in office, including his FCC’s deregulation of children’s TV advertising; nearly all of the various “Scooby-Doo” clones were cancelled).

Teens solving mysteries or fighting supervillains (“Scooby-Doo,” “Josie and the Pussycats,” and their clones)

The Scooby-Doo Show title cardThe signature trend of this decade was the prevalence of shows that were copies of 1969’s “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?” and 1970’s “Josie and the Pussycats.” Both shows and their knockoffs featured either teens solving mysteries (like Mystery, Incorporated) or teenage rock groups fighting villains (like the Pussycats).

The massive success of “Scooby-Doo” led the networks (and Hanna-Barbera itself) to produce a lot of similar shows. Said shows also had the advantage of complying with prevalent anti-violence standards (more on that below), versus the superhero shows of the 60s.

The number of clones was large enough that Boomerang once had them as a programming block, titled “Those Meddling Kids.”

The clones of “Scooby-Doo”/”Josie and the Pussycats,” unless I missed any, are as follows:

  • The Funky Phantom: the first of the numerous spin-offs, debuting in 1971.
  • The Buford Files
  • Clue Club
  • Jabberjaw
  • Goober and the Ghost Chasers
  • Speed Buggy
  • The New Shmoo
  • Fangface
  • Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids
  • The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan
  • Rickety Rocket: a backup segment on Plastic Man’s show.
  • Pebbles, Dino, and Bamm-Bamm: a backup segment on 1980’s “The Flintstone Comedy Show,” where the kids (as teens) and Dino solved mysteries around Bedrock.

After the 1970s

After 1980, this craze seemed to have died out, with only Scooby’s various spin-offs continuing into the Reagan years. The rise of other animation trends and fads in the 1980s meant cartoon producers had newer ideas to use for cartoons.

These days, Scooby’s still around, as popular as ever. There’s also still some shows about kids or teens dealing with mysteries or the supernatural (such as “Gravity Falls”).

As for the Pussycats, they still appear occasionally in Archie comics. A few cartoons in the 80s and 90s featured the adventures of teenage musical groups. However, since then there’s been very few cartoons about teenage musical groups. Most such shows tend to be live-action instead, as seen on Disney Channel sitcoms (“Hannah Montana,” etc.).

Spin-offs, parodies, and pastiches of popular primetime TV shows (“Emergency +4,” “The Partridge Family 2200 AD”)

Partridge Family 2200 ADFor some reason, spin-offs of then-current or recent primetime TV shows was also a popular 70s trend. One example is “Emergency +4,” a spin-off of the paramedic primetime show “Emergency.” In this case, the “+4” comes from the quartet of kids that followed the paramedics around on emergency missions.

Some similar animated spin-offs include:

  • “My Favorite Martians”: a spin-off of “My Favorite Martian.”
  • “The Brady Kids”: a spin-off of “The Brady Bunch” featuring only the Brady kids, with two pandas and a magical myna bird in tow. As bad as it sounds, especially if (like me) you weren’t a big fan of “The Brady Bunch” in the first place. It’s also noteworthy as featuring the first appearance in animation of Wonder Woman.
  • “The Partridge Family 2200 AD”: the Partridge Family in a Jetsons-like future. Some sources online claim Hanna-Barbera had pitched a “Jetsons” spin-off with an aged-up Elroy and Judy, but the network insisted on this show instead.
  • “Jeannie”: a spin-off of “I Dream of Jeannie” with a teenage Jeannie and bumbling genie-in-training Babu.

And of course, there’s shows that were pastiches or parodies of popular primetime shows. Examples of those include:

  • “The Houndcats”: an early 70s pastiche of an also-short-lived primetime show called “The Bearcats.”
  • “The Barkleys”: a family of talking dogs based on “All in the Family.”
  • “These Are the Days”: a “Waltons” pastiche by Hanna-Barbera, about the lives of the turn-of-the-20th-century Day family.
  • “The Oddball Couple”: an “Odd Couple” takeoff featuring a sloppy dog and neat cat as roommates.

After the 1970s

Post-1970s, animated spin-offs have stuck around, but they tend to be based on movies instead of TV shows. Examples include “The Real Ghostbusters,” “Beetlejuice,” and “Back to the Future.” Even recently, it was announced there’ll be an animated spin-off of the “Fast and the Furious” franchise.

Meanwhile, spin-offs or pastiches of primetime TV shows didn’t seem to stick around past the disco years. “Trollkins” might’ve been one of the last examples of this decade’s trend, despite that it debuted in 1981, opposite “The Smurfs.” If wondering, “Trollkins” was basically “trolls meet ‘The Dukes of Hazard,'” though an actual “Dukes” cartoon later aired in the 80s. Modern cartoons usually limit pastiches or parodies of primetime TV shows to specific characters, jokes, or episodes, rather than serve as the basis for an entire series.

Shows featuring or starring African-Americans (“Fat Albert,” “The Harlem Globetrotters”)

Harlem Globetrotters1970 was a landmark year for animation. That’s because it was the first time non-stereotypical African-American characters were the leading stars of an animated TV show, with “The Harlem Globetrotters” cartoon debuting on CBS.

That said, 1970 also saw the debut of “Josie and the Pussycats,” which featured Valerie, the first time a Black female character was a supporting character in a TV cartoon. While the first Black character in a TV cartoon was on 1969’s “The Hardy Boys,” it’s this decade that saw a major shift. Previously, Black characters in cartoons were either non-existent or racist stereotypes.

As the decade wore on, African-Americans appeared more and more, usually as supporting or background characters. However, the most successful show starring Black characters was “Fat Albert”; the series debuted on CBS in 1972, and ran (with some gaps) until the mid-80s in syndication. (In spite of Cosby’s status today, “Fat Albert” is still worth noting as a landmark show.)

Other non-White minority groups didn’t seem to fare as prominently. However, the worst stereotypes from previous decades about Asians, Latinos, etc. at least started to wane.

After the 1970s

These days, diversity is still important in animation. While there’s still a lot of room for improvement, a diverse cast is now assumed to be the norm for any new children’s cartoon.

Anti-violence standards at their peak (“Super Friends”)

Super Friends
“The All-New Super Friends Hour” cast.

Finally, the anti-violence standards that took hold in the late 60s reached their peak during this decade. Gone were firearm gags, and firearm usage, period. Definitely gone were on-screen deaths, such as those that occurred in “Space Ghost” or “Jonny Quest.”

The stricter standards didn’t hurt some slapstick characters as much (edits to Saturday morning “Looney Tunes” shorts aside). However, it did hurt action/adventure characters, particularly superheroes.

The chief example is the long-running “Super Friends” series. Despite a galaxy of heroes and villains famous for titanic showdowns, in “Super Friends” the heroes couldn’t so much as punch Lex Luthor or Solomon Grundy, or vice-versa. Instead, things would be thrown at foes; also, various freeze guns, stun rays, etc.  would be used to incapacitate each other. Non-combative or more creative use of superpowers also would be employed.

After the 1970s

Post-1970s, the following decade brought with it a rise in syndicated programming that was more violent than what network TV allowed. The 1990s also saw syndication, cable TV, and newer animation outlets like Fox offer more violent fare.

Nowadays, superheroes are allowed to punch each other again. However, some violence aspects haven’t return post-1970s. The main example is firearm usage; while guns are now seen in action/superhero shows, they’ve otherwise never returned to their pre-1970s level of usage in cartoons.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *