Suspended Animation #254
It is hard to believe that the live action Ghostbusters film premiered thirty-five years ago in 1984. It was a huge hit so naturally there were efforts to produce related items for the franchise including an animated television series.
However, Filmation held the rights to the Ghostbusters name because of its previous 1975 Saturday Morning live-action show. So to take advantage of the success of the film, they made their own animated series in 1986 featuring Jake Kong Jr. and Eddie Spencer Jr. who were the sons of the original Ghost Busters from the live action series of the same name and were teamed with Tracy the Gorilla who had worked with their fathers.
The series utilized the catch phrase: “Let’s Go, Ghost Busters!” with the logo of a smiling ghost head in a circle. It ran for sixty-five episodes and featured a Ghost Buggy vehicle. A four issue comic book series and some toys were released.
Filmation had attempted to work with Columbia (now Sony) to produce an animated series based on the actual movie but Columbia rejected the idea. Columbia had licensed the name from Filmation for the movie and decided to work with DiC instead to produce their own animated show. In later years, Filmation’s Lou Scheimer regretted they had not asked for the animation rights as part of the legal settlement for the use of the name.
In regards to the animated series, Scheimer recalled in a 2007 interview with writer R.J. Carter, “We had the gorilla as part of our original show. They put a black man in the (movie Ghostbusters) team, and I got a phone call from a nice man and he was horrified that we had turned the African-American into an ape. And I tried to explain, ‘No, you don’t understand, that was in our original picture.’ It was sad. I couldn’t convince that guy that we hadn’t somehow done something terrible.”
Actually, there was wider negative feedback from viewers who were expecting to see the familiar characters from the movie and had no memory of the original live action show that had lasted just one season.
DiC called their show The Real Ghostbusters. In the first episode aired, the secretary Janine answers a phone call with “We’re the real Ghostbusters; not those other guys.” In the context of the episode, a team of ghosts had set up a phony ghost-hunting business but the writer for the episode later confirmed in a commentary track for the DVD that the line was meant as a jab at the Filmation version.
In The Real Ghostbusters episode “The Spirit of Aunt Lois”, Dr. Bassingham, a charlatan spiritualist, wore an outfit similar to that of Jake Kong.
Michael Gross who had been the art director on the movie and Joe Medjuck who had worked with Ivan Reitman on the movie as an associate producer were brought in as executive producers to protect the interests of the original filmmakers and review the scripts to keep the series in line with the movie.
In 1987, third-rated ABC turned to the Q5 Corp in developing Saturday morning animated series. Q5 was a consulting company made up of Ph.D.s in psychology as well as marketing, advertising and research professionals and had done some work with ABC’s prime-time offerings as well.
Jennie Trias, vice president of ABC’s children programs, stated to the Los Angeles Times on September 3, 1987, “They are a product testing group, and programs are basically a product that we want the public to buy. If it works, hopefully, we’ll succeed in getting good numbers.”
J. Michael Stracyznski who was a story editor for the animated series The Real Ghostbusters series stated, “I think that they are evil. They wanted us to knock off all the corners. Janine was a strong, vibrant character. They wanted her to be more feminine, more maternal, more nurturing, like every other female on television. It is a truly insidious organization. A lot of their research and theories are strictly from voodoo. I think they reinforce stereotypes – sexist and racist. I think they are not helping television. They are diminishing it.”
The L.A. Times article pointed out that due to input from Q5, “Last season, Janine, the secretary of The Real Ghostbusters produced for ABC by DiC Enterprises was a sharp-edged, mini-skirted wisercracker with pointed glasses, dangling bracelets and a fountain of spiky hair. As a result of Q5 input, she will have softer features, smoother hair, big round glasses and no jewelry. ABC will complete the package with a demure knee-length skirt.”
Her voice was also softened with Kath Soucie taking over the voice role from Laura Summer. The notes on one of the new character drawings from DiC stated: “generally less harsh and slutty, has a warmer, more nuturing relationship with Slimer, her face and expressions are prettier”.
“The change of Janine was not done on anyone’s gut feelings about what’s creative and what’s not creative or what’s sexist and what’s not sexist,” stated Q5’s President Thomas J. Heinz. “It’s back to how we can involve more girls when we have primarily men characters. The female was not working for the female target and we’re sorry she’s not the way she was originally designed but she’s not.”
However, the changes did have recuperations. As Laura Summer (Janine was her first voice acting gig) stated, “They took away all her character and personality and wardrobe. And, of course, talking with a Queens accent meant ‘tramp’ so they stopped with that too. They dumbed her down and made her look like everybody else.”
Straczynski was incensed. In a 2000 interview he recalled, “I said, ‘You’re out of your mind. I will not do that, and if you try and push that though, I will leave’. I always tell people that when I work for them, I have very few rules. I don’t lie. I don’t bullsh*t and I never bluff. If I say I’m going to go, I’m going to go. And I went.”
Other suggestions by Q5 included removing “scary” scenes and occult references and to add in “kid-friendly” elements such as the “Junior Ghostbusters”, and suggesting that Winston simply be just the “driver” for the Ghostbusters. Len Janson and Chuck Menville were brought in as new story editors.
Writer Michael Reaves remembered, “After their (Q5) first round of notes had been implemented and had met with resounding failure, Q5 slunk away into richly deserved oblivion. I was giving notes on a storyboard and in one of the panels, hardly noticeable unless you knew the whole story, was an exit sign on an expressway that read ‘EXIT Q5’.”
Straczynski declined an offer to return as story editor when the tweaks did not improve ratings but he did write a handful of episodes including “Janine, You’ve Changed” (September 8, 1990 Season 6) which addressed the changes in the character.
Looking through a scrapbook book of photographs, Slimer realized Janine has gone through numerous changes over the years. Slimer takes his concerns to the guys who suddenly wonder why they hadn’t noticed all the changes. Egon suggests that maybe a supernatural force has been involved. It turns out that Janine’s fairy godmother (actually an entity known as Makoveris Lotsabucks that feeds on people’s desires) is responsible for the changes. The team eventually traps the entity and Janine is transformed.
The Real Ghostbusters was a very successful series generating 140 episodes from 1986 to 1991 and having an animated spin-off series The Extreme Ghostbusters (1997). They appeared in comic book series, toys, and more. The series has been released on a deluxe five volume set with supplemental material.
The show proved you didn’t need to be afraid of ghosts, only consulting firms like Q5.