Animation Cel-ebration
September 4, 2023 posted by Michael Lyons

Cereal Killers, Part III: Fifty Years Ago, on Saturday Morning 1971

As a kid, Saturday mornings were our time. The rest of the week seemed to belong to adults – teachers and parents -who filled our lives with homework and chores. But, Saturday mornings? Oh, they were beautiful! The house was quiet. Clad in our pajamas for much longer than we should be, we would sit cross-legged on the floor, bowl overflowing with sugary cereal, trying to decide which of the many shows to watch this week.

The 1970s was part of a Golden Age of Saturday morning cartoons. So many studios were in the game, and children had so many choices. Fifty years ago, near the start of this decade, the three major networks were fully invested in Saturday morning cartoons, and the programming was an essential part of their fall line-up.

In this last part of a three-part article, we take a trip back in time fifty years ago to “throwback” to the cartoons that debuted that season. We had just come out of a summer in which Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory had debuted in theaters, and All in the Family was changing prime time TV. While all of that was happening, here are the cartoons that premiered in September of 1971.


Hanna-Barbera’s The Funky Phantom debuted this fall on ABC. The studio took its “Scooby-Doo Model” and applied it to a new format. Here, instead of a group of “meddling kids” paired up with a Great Dane, the kids were partnered with a ghost.

That ghost was Johnathan Wellington Muddlemore, who went by the name “Mudsy.” The kids found The Phantom (along with his ghost cat, Boo) when the gang ducked into a creepy house on a rainy night. Adjusting a grandfather clock that was displaying the wrong time, Mudsy appeared.

The legendary Daws Butler provided the Phantom’s voice, doing a “riff” on Snagglepuss. Instead of “Exit, stage left!” Mudsy had lines like, “Who needs secret panels? A scared ghost makes his own exits!”

Butler is essentially doing his take on Bert Lahr, playing the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, and that trembling performance is perfect for The Funky Phantom.

Also debuting on ABC in the fall of 1971 was The Jackson 5ive. From Rankin/Bass, the studio synonymous with prime-time holiday specials, came this animated version of one of music’s most iconic singing groups, premiering at the height of their popularity.

Because of this, the Jacksons’ schedules didn’t allow them to record the voices of their animated counterparts, which instead were provided by sound-alike voice actors. However, each episode also featured one of the group’s hit songs played over the soundtrack (these included tunes like “ABC” and “The Love You Save,” which opened the show).

The brothers were even given “pet sidekicks,” adding a bit of animated fun to the proceedings: a snake named Rosey and two mice called Ray and Charles (yup, named after the legendary singer).

And, in a touch of Rankin/Bass “comfort,” one can hear Paul Frees, (another voice acting legend, who appeared in so many of the studio’s work) as The Jacksons’ manager.


Over on CBS, Hanna-Barbera was back in sitcom-like format with Help!…It’s the Hair Bear Bunch, a great high-concept show with a unique title. Taking place at the “Wonderland Zoo,” Help!…It’s the Hair Bear Bunch, centers on three bears, Hair Bear (voiced by Daws Butler, sounding a lot like comedian Phil Silvers), the leader of the “Bunch,” with his groovy, 70s afro; Square Bear, the dimwitted member of the group (voiced by Bill Callaway) and the diminutive Bubi Bear (Paul Winchell, with an inventive vocal tick).

The three are always looking to outsmart the Zookeeper Mr. Peevely (John Stephenson, doing a perfect caricature of Joe Flynn from McHale’s Navy) and his sidekick botch (Joe E. Ross at his “Ooh! Ooh!” best).

It’s fitting that the main character on the show sounded like Phil Silvers, as Help!…It’s the Hair Bear Bunch has similarities to Sgt. Bilko/The Phil Silvers Show (which, in turn, inspired Hanna-Barbera’s Top Cat).

Also on CBS, this fall saw a sequel to The Flintstones entitled The Pebbles and Bamm Bamm Show. In this series, Fred and Barney’s daughter and son are teenagers, and it follows their misadventures with their friends. As part of the show, there’s a new, eclectic group of supporting characters, including Penny and Wiggy, Pebbles’ best friends, Moonrock, the “brainiac” science student, Bronto, head of the chopper gang and Shleprock, the unluckiest and most entertaining character on the show.

Regarding secondary players, Fred, Barney, Wilma, and Betty are relegated to supporting roles in this series (and, interestingly, none of them aged).

Sharp-eared fans will note that the voices of the two main characters were two prominent sitcom stars: Pebbles, voiced by Sally Struthers, had just debuted that same year as Gloria on All in the Family. Bamm-Bamm was Jay North, most famous for playing Dennis the Menace on the sitcom that ran from 1959-1963.


Over on NBC…no new cartoons debuted in the fall of 1971. The network instead continued with already popular cartoon series like The New Pink Panther Show and The Further Adventures of Dr. Dolittle, as well as live-action shows that had debuted in previous seasons and had been successful for them.

The fact that no new programming was introduced on the network, coupled with the fact that CBS and ABC only premiered a select few new cartoons, demonstrates just how prevalent Saturday morning TV was at this time, in that shows were popular enough to return for another season.

Decades later, this wouldn’t be the case, as many shows barely made it through half the season.

But, fifty years ago, Saturday morning television was thriving. Sadly, that’s not the case anymore.

Cable gave way to home video, and home video gave way to streaming. Saturday morning programming for kids somehow became an antiquated notion within that and all the other technology in-between.

Somehow, however, it was more than the shows. For multiple generations, Saturday morning television was an experience.

Authors (and brothers) Timothy and Kevin Burke summed it up best in their 1999 book, Saturday Morning Fever when they wrote: “We discover in Saturday morning that we share our childhood memories with strangers, that others sat in front of their televisions and thought the same things we did. It’s a glorious discovery. No wonder everyone babbles excitedly at the outset of such a conversation.”


  • You overlooked a personal favourite that debuted in September 1971: Chuck Jones’s “Curiosity Shop”. Granted, it was mostly live-action, but it showcased a lot of interesting cartoons that I otherwise would never have had a chance to see.

    The TV networks did everything they could to work us up into a fever of anticipation. There were primetime specials promoting the new Saturday morning shows; ABC aired theirs immediately prior to their Friday night lineup of “Nanny and the Professor”, “The Brady Bunch”, “The Partridge Family”, “Room 222”, “The Odd Couple” and “Love, American Style”. (I looked forward to Friday evenings as much as I did to Saturday mornings.) There was always some framing narrative that involved getting the film canisters to the network in time for Saturday morning. And the weekend before the new shows premiered, the Sunday funnies would run big, detailed ads for them. All this promotion was not only exciting, but it helped us plan our viewing schedule for the big day. “Goober and the Ghost Chasers? Nope! Doctor Doolittle? And he’s wearing bell-bottoms? Sold!”

    Who could forget Bad Luck Shleprock’s immortal catchphrase: “Oh, wowzy wowzy woo-oo!” I know I never will! Believe me, I’ve tried!

    Thanks for this look back at a special part of my childhood. To you I raise my heaping spoonful of Super Sugar Crisp!

    • Your mention, Paul, of Super Sugar Crisp, also reminds me how great the Saturday Morning commercials were too!

    • I remember the prime time special promoting this season on ABC featured the live-action kids from The Brady Bunch touring the ABC studios and being shown clips from all the new shows. There’s a lost episode for all you Brady Bunch fans.

    • Bad Luck Shleprock was an outright ripoff of “Li’l Abner” character Joe Btspflk, who also had a rain cloud constantly hovering over him.

  • I fondly remember every one of these cut-rate, low-quality limited animation shows, and most are still guilty pleasures for me. But it wasn’t about the quality. It was the heady thrill of having all this entertainment at one time…Saturday morning was the ONLY time in that pre-internet, pre-digital world when we could have it. It was over too soon.

  • Perhaps “Lidsville,” being a live action show, doesn’t rate mention in an animation blog aside from its appearance in the YouTube clip of ABC’s Saturday morning lineup. But it was the liveliest and most fun, an improvement on the previous season’s “HR Puffinstuff” but with a similar theme: a boy finds himself in a fantasy world combining the most unimaginative elements (as opposed to all those derivative cartoon shows?) of “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Wizard of Oz”; only this time they’re all hats, and the great Billie Hayes was Weenie the Genie instead of the immortal Witchiepoo she was best known for. Sid and Marty Krofft introduced a generation of children to camp–and I don’t mean summer.

    Actually, “Funky Phantom” probably would have worked better as a live action show. I’m surprised no one’s ever tried it along with those “Scooby Doo” movies.

    Best of all, of course, was still “The Bugs Bunny Show.”

  • I had already turned into a surly teenager by September of 1971 – which is when the “TV season” used to start – and really, none of these shows listed above caught my imagination – except for THE NEW PINK PANTHER SHOW and old favorites like THE BUGS BUNNY SHOW. (Did it become THE BUGS BUNNY-ROAD RUNNER SHOW by then?)

    I watched episodes of THE FUNKY PHANTOM and THE JACKSON FIVE and even THE PEBBLES AND BAM-BAM SHOW, because they were on the air and my younger brothers would watch them, but I don’t get that warm glow of “nostalgia” when I recall them or see episodes of them now. HELP! IT’S THE HAIR BEAR BUNCH? No thanks!

  • Despite being low-budget and repetitive, the visuals for that Jackson 5ive “video” are engrossing and have a trippy quality. Rankin/Bass learned from Yellow Submarine well.

  • “As a kid, Saturday mornings were our time. The rest of the week seemed to belong to adults – teachers and parents -who filled our lives with homework and chores. But, Saturday mornings? Oh, they were beautiful!”

    That pretty much says it all! Sums up my existence back then. With Monday through Friday devoted to school and Sunday devoted to church, it left only Saturday as the free day of the week. Of the above listed cartoons, the one that “rocks’ with me the most is “The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show.” It took me weeks to adjust to seeing my favorite Stone-Age tots as teenagers–going from younger than me to way older than me in one fell swoop–but it seemed less formulaic than the other shows and plus it had the Flintstones in it so of course I would naturally gravitate to it. I was less of a fan of Penny and Wiggy, although Moonrock was OK and Schleprock was very funny. But the best moments were when the classic Flintstones characters interacted with their now-teen age kids. That was the best! And looking back, it’s nice to hear Alan Reed performing his classic Fred voice once again. Much as I appreciated Henry Corden when he later was cast in the role, there was no one who could top the original!

    • Alan Reed as Fred was classic! After “The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show,” Alan voiced Fred again the following season in “The Flinstone Comedy Hour” (1972-73). Except for a 1977 PSA (“Energy: A National Issue”), he wouldn’t voice him again. He passed away in June of 1977.

  • “The day after turkey day on NBC”. . . .

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