Ten Best: Kid’s TV in the ’70s

by Daniel Bayer

“Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp” With no Jerry Falwell around in the early ’70s to bash the “Evolution Revolution” as pro-science propaganda, these real-life monkeys were free to rock out and influence future bubble-punk generations: the opening guitar riff of the Donnas’ “Forty Boys in Forty Nights” sounds uncannily like the intro to the Revolution’s “Magic Feeling.” “The Banana Splits Adventure Hour” There was only one monkey (or gorilla) in this psychedelic circus, along with three other guys masquerading as ultra-groovy anthromorphic animals. The show combined the Splits’ sub-Three Stooges slapstick with cartoons and live action drama, some of which was directed by a pre-Lethal Weapon Richard Donner, and LA punksters the Dickies later covered the theme song. “HR Pufnstuf” Creators Sid and Marty Krofft deny any connection between this show or its followup, “Lidsville”, and the recreational pharmaceutical revolution sweeping the United States in the early ’70s. “I’m no goody two-shoes, but you can’t create this stuff stoned,” said Marty in an interview. Watching it, however, is another matter. Like most 1970s children’s TV fare, it had an annoyingly catchy theme song. Which brings us to our next entry… “Dastardly and Muttley in their Flying Machines” ”Stop that pigeon/stop that pigeon/stop that pigeon….” Hey, you don’t suppose there’s a pigeon in this show, do you? There is, along with a dog that curses under his breath, a pair of incompetent sidekicks and a disembodied voice of authority in the form of Dastardly’s commanding officer, the General. Spoiler alert: They do not stop the pigeon. “The Space Giants” I preferred this Japanese import to the far more popular “Ultraman,” though I can’t really put my finger on why, since it basically follows the same “giant superhero[s] battle guys in cheesy rubber monster suits” formula. Like several shows in this list, it actually dates from the 1960s, but didn’t arrive stateside until the late ’70s, when the success of Star Wars had created an insatiable demand for anything even remotely resembling sci-fi. “Batman” Another ’60s holdover, and it wasn’t even intended as a children’s show in the first place. Still, I was a sucker for the ridiculous cliffhanger endings, and religiously tuned in at 5:30 p.m., “same bat-time, same bat-channel” (Channel 17 in the Tri-state area, if I remember), to find out if Batman and Robin had evaded yet another campy demise. It’s this show, incidentally, that convinced me, in retrospect, that sexual orientation is largely genetic. I didn’t know anything about sex (I was nine at the time), but there was definitely something intriguing about Catwoman (Julie Newmar or Eartha Kitt, didn’t matter). I mean if I was gay, I would’ve had a crush on Adam West, right? “Star Blazers” Known in Japan as “Space Battleship Yamato,” this was a revelation to my sixth grade contemporaries and I, who had been subsisting on after-school dreck like the Krofft brother’s “Far Out Space Nuts.” Complex plots, multi-episode story arcs, character development – we used to rush home as soon as school let out to catch the latest episode, ’cause if you missed one you were lost, and no one wanted to waste time clueing you in the next day. “Land of the Lost” The Krofft brother’s magnum opus, their Citizen Kane, if you will, “Land of the Lost” was the bridge between post-psychedelic whimsical fare like “HR Pufnstuf” and the Japanese anime that came to dominate commercial children’s programming in the late ’70s/early ’80s, and its self-contained universe of Sleestaks, Skylons and time portals arguably prepared a generation of kids for George Lucas’s Star Wars mythology a couple of years later. “Speed Racer” According to creator Tatsuo Yoshida, “Speed Racer” was inspired by Elvis Presley’s character in Viva Las Vegas, though it’s his brother, the enigmatic Racer X, who moonlights in true Elvis fashion as a secret agent. The choppy, rapid-fire dialogue (to cover up the translation from Japanese to English) and characters named with an almost Zen-like directness (Speed’s father is called – what else? – “Pops Racer”) tapped into a mid-1960s modernist, minimalist vibe. But when I was six, all that mattered was the flying car. “Battle of the Planets” This Japanese anime adaptation actually hit the US airwaves before the aforementioned “Star Blazers,” but lacked the latter’s multi-episode story arcs and tended to follow the “one monster per show” formula of “Ultraman” and its ilk, with a few two-part cliffhangers thrown in. The main villain, Zoltar, looked a bit like Batman with lipstick (the original Japanese character was apparently transgendered, a detail left out of the US adaptation), and the voice of the male protagonist was provided by none other than Casey “American Top 40” Kasem.