ANIMATION ANECDOTES
May 1, 2020 posted by Jim Korkis

The Origin of Scooby Doo

Suspended Animation #265

Producer Joe Barbera told me, “It’s been my experience that it’s almost always the original characters like Yogi, Huck and Scooby-Doo who rise to the level of perennial superstar.”

The creation of an animated character is often a colloborative process that takes place over a period of time. While we have all accepted the stories about the birth of Scooby-Doo, there are still some things left to be discovered.

Scooby-Doo was probably the first major cartoon star to come from television and has had a decades long career in a number of different series and films as well even helping spawn the creation of a new television animation studio. Scooby has appeared in a number of comic book titles toys, children’s books and records. A costume character version of Scooby has appeared in theme parks.

Comic book advertisement for the first season of “Scooby Doo, Where Are You”?

In 1968, Saturday morning, the home for cartoon shows, was in trouble. For several years, the networks had done well in the ratings with such action shows as Space Ghost, Superman, and The Herculoids among others.

The trouble was parent groups were getting upset about the violence on television that they associated with the superhero-type cartoon shows. Soon the networks were switching over to softer shows that toned down even physical slapstick. None garnered the same ratings and attention as the earlier shows.

When The Archie Show debuted on CBS in September 1968, the musical antics of the characters from the popular comic book series were immediately popular. CBS’s head of children’s programming, Fred Silverman decided that success could be duplicated with teenagers who solved mysteries like the old radio series I Love A Mystery and like Archie’s gang were part-time musicians.

Writers Joe Ruby and Ken Spears from Hanna-Barbera came up with the idea of a group of teenagers traveling the country solving supernatural mysteries. It was the success of this series that led to them opening their own studio.

Joe Barbera and William Hanna pitched the show as Mysteries Five. It featured five teens (Geoff, Mike, Kelly, Linda, and Linda’s brother “W.W.”) and their dog (since Silverman liked dog characters), Too Much, who were all in a band called “The Mysteries Five”. The dog played the bongos in the band.

When the teenagers weren’t performing at gigs, they were out solving spooky mysteries involving actual ghosts, zombies, and other supernatural creatures. The challenge was not to make the dog “too much” like the sheepdog Hot Dog who appeared on The Archie Show. At first, it was discussed to make it a large cowardly dog and then perhaps a small, feisty dog that was too courageous for its small size.

The original color model of the main characters

With input from Barbera, it was determined to make the dog a Great Dane. Ruby and Spears were initially fearful that it might be too similar to the comic strip character Marmaduke. Character artist Iwao Takamoto consulted a studio colleague who happened to be a breeder of Great Danes.

After learning the characteristics of a prize-winning Great Dane from her, Takamoto proceeded to break most of the rules and designed the dog with overly bowed legs, a double-chin, and a sloped back, among other abnormalities and that made the dog funnier and also less likely to be confused with Marmaduke.

The presentation was full of haunted houses, monsters, and eerie locales. Silverman planned to use the show as the centerpiece for the new Fall Saturday Morning schedule. When it was presented to the network brass, CBS president Frank Stanton said, “We can’t put that on the air. That’s just too frightening.”

Silverman was now without a centerpiece show for the new season. He told an interviewer, “I had always thought that kids in a haunted house would be a big hit. As a kid, I would go and look at Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and movies like that. I was convinced this was going to be the biggest hit that we’d ever had, even though nobody knew what the hell it was.”

Silverman had Ruby and Spears rework the show to make it more comedic and less frightening. Silverman said, “In a matter of two hours we had revised the concept and it worked great.”

They dropped the rock band element. Geoff and Mike were merged into one character called “Ronnie” (later renamed “Fred” at Silverman’s request), Kelly was renamed to “Daphne”, Linda was now called “Velma”, and Shaggy (formerly “W.W.”) was no longer her brother. Also, Silverman, not being very fond of the name Mysteries Five, had rechristened the show Who’s S-S-Scared?

There is an urban legend that the characters were each crafted to represent different prestigious East Coast colleges but that wasn’t the case. Silverman was a fan of the television series The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis and insisted the characters be personality doppelgangers which is one of the reasons why Silverman is sometimes credited with the creation of the series.

Writer Mark Evanier, who would write Scooby-Doo teleplays and comic book scripts, identified each of the four teenagers with their corresponding Dobie Gillis character, “Fred was based on Dobie, Velma on Zelda, Daphne on Thalia and Shaggy on Maynard.”

For the dog’s name, Silverman as well as Ruby and Spears for years claimed that the ad-lib “doo-be-doo-be-doo” Silverman heard at the end of Frank Sinatra’s interpretation of Bert Kaempfert’s song Strangers in the Night on the way out to one of their meetings was the source for Scooby’s name.

Evanier asserts that “It was actually another hit record, Denise (1963), a doo-wop classic by Randy and the Rainbows that still turns up incessantly on oldies stations. Randy and his Rainbows sang, ‘Scooby-Doo’ over and over, whereas ol’ Blue Eyes kept putting that “Doobie” in there.”

The network bought the show when it was revised to make the dog funnier and the star. It was now considered more of a comedy than a frightening mystery and it was renamed to reflect that the dog was the star.

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? debuted in the Fall of 1969 and became an instant hit. The combination of humor and mystery proved equally enjoyable to a young audience as it did an older demographic.

There were scary monsters (all shown to be people in costume during that first season and not supernatural), funny characters, silly gags and real clues to solve the mystery. The format was so popular that studios, including Hanna-Barbera, tried to recycle it many times over the years in other series like Goober and the Ghost Chasers, Clue Club, Butch Cassidy and The Buford Files.

However, that iconic and beloved format and characters almost didn’t make it onto television at all until it was all radically changed thanks to Fred Silverman.

20 Comments

  • Zoinks! And while I’m at it, Jinkies! Thank you for giving Scooby-Doo his due. I thought he started out pretty mediocre and then went quickly downhill from there; but the 21st-century reboots have been wonderfully clever, funny and imaginative, and the franchise has shown real staying power. Its longevity is ironic, given that the Great Dane is one of the shortest-lived of dog breeds.

    The “parent groups” you mentioned essentially amounted to just one single group: Action for Children’s Television (ACT), founded in 1968 by a cabal of mothers in Newton, Massachusetts. Their primary target was advertising and the commercialisation of children’s TV; at their urging the FCC banned single-sponsor cartoon shows, which spelled the end of the Jay Ward, Total TV, and Post Cereals productions. But ACT did also target cartoon violence, describing Saturday morning TV as “wall-to-wall monsters”. It’s easy to get the impression that all three TV networks and the FCC just rolled over and gave ACT whatever it wanted, but that was not the case; for example, ACT wanted a total ban on advertising in children’s programming, and that, of course, never happened.

    As a small child I noticed that Saturday morning cartoons changed drastically and suddenly in the late sixties, and not for the better. I could not figure out whether cartoons were getting worse, or I was simply outgrowing them. With the benefit of fifty years’ hindsight I can safely say that I have not outgrown cartoons.

    One of the few positive changes at that time, which resulted in programs like “The Archie Show” and “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?”, is that cartoons were now being designed to appeal to girls as well as boys. Saturday morning TV had hitherto operated under Samuel Z. Arkoff’s famous dictum: a girl will watch anything a boy will watch, but not vice versa; a younger child will watch anything an older child will watch, but not vice versa; therefore the way to maximise viewership is by targeting the teenage male. Before 1968, few cartoons had more than one female character, and many had none at all; of course girls will watch anything a boy will watch if they’re not given any alternative. The new crop of shows with a more or less equal balance between female and male characters represented progress of a sort. My sister and I both watched Scooby-Doo in 1969, because it something we could agree on; but she liked it better than I did.

    In 1984 the FCC under the Reagan Administration deregulated TV cartoons, much to the chagrin of ACT. Once again cartoons changed immediately, and for the worse, turning into blatant 30-minute toy commercials. For the first time there were separate cartoons for boys and girls, because they were produced by toy companies like Hasbro and Mattel who wanted to promote their different toy lines. Yet somehow Scooby-Doo weathered all the storms and endured.

    By 1995 Peggy Charren, one of the founders of ACT, seemed to have learned a lesson from her experience: “Too often, we try to protect children by doing in free speech.” Five years earlier, Marge Simpson made an even wiser observation in the aftermath of her campaign against Itchy & Scratchy: “I guess one person CAN make a difference… but most of the time they probably shouldn’t!”

    • You made some interesting points in your comment, as somebody who’s a few years older than me. (My cartoon-watching years spanned from the early ’70s to the early ’80s.) The only place where I disagree with you is when you said the original “Scooby Doo” was mediocre at best and got much better in the most recent versions. (Again, I haven’t really seen them, so I can’t really say. They’re probably pretty good.) But to me, the original is the best in a long line of pretty good. It’s not only the nostalgia factor – of which there’s plenty, it’s the combination of cartoon silliness and spooky mystery with lovable characters. As a kid, I loved the sheer spookiness of it; as an adult, I appreciate the details of the background animation and music that sets the mood – whether lighthearted and playful or dark and foreboding. It was a masterful blend that makes the original a classic.

    • First season, mediocre? Foul! Foul!
      Now, granted that I’m another one of those folks old enough to remember watching the first season when it first premiered, I have to say that I liked that at the end the “ghost” or “monster” was revealed through investigation to be someone perpetrating a hoax.
      That, in my opinion, is a positive message for kids.

    • I absolutely agree that anyone making supernatural claims deserves to be unmasked as a fraud, John, and that kids need to know that ghosts and monsters aren’t real. My assessment of the original series was that of an eight-year-old whose favourite cartoons had been cancelled, so I think I’m being charitable here. There’s no denying that Scooby-Doo had gone downhill by the late seventies, reaching its nadir with that macrocephalic freak Scrappy-Doo. As for the recent series “Mystery Incorporated” and “Be Cool”, I can’t recommend them highly enough; the former in particular is one of the few animated shows that can justly be described as “epic”. So I’m grateful to all the young fans who kept the franchise going through the years.

  • “….perhaps a small, feisty dog who was too courageous for its’ small size.”
    That’s how close we came to having Scrappy-Doo right from the start. A one-season flop instead of a 50+ year franchise.

  • “Scooby Dooby Doo” was Barney Rubble’s catchphrase on several episodes of “The Flintstones.” I always figured that was where the name came from for “the dog with Astro’s voice,” which was how I thought of this canine when he first appeared..

    • I wouldn’t exactly call it a catchphrase, but Barney certainly did use it in his scat-singing. I recall one instance where Wilma and Betty joined in, all three singing: “A razzamatazz and a scooby dooby dooby, a ricky ticky ticky and a boom boom sha boom!” As Jim noted above, there was a lot of musical scooby-dooing going on in the sixties. Even the Archies had a “Scooby Doo” song, though I believe they spelled it differently.

    • I’ve also heard “Scooby-Doo” being scatted on “Beany and Cecil” episodes dating back to 1961 (such as “So What and the Seven Whatnots.”)

  • The late Fred Silverman was arguably the most influential figure in television history, the first network executive to become a household name. Shows like “Scooby-Doo”, “All in the Family”, “M*A*S*H” and “Roots” would never have been aired had it not been for him. But we must never forget that Silverman was also responsible for some of the medium’s most spectacular failures, like “Supertrain”, “Pink Lady and Jeff”, “Thicke of the Night”, “Hello, Larry”, “The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island”, and worst of all — “The Brady Bunch Hour”!

  • A repeated story. With the 1990s revisiting of Schoolhouse Rock(one of the many scraps Disney picked up when they bought ABC),I asked my first-born,a nwly minted adult,what he remembered about Schoolhouse Rock. “Nothing”,he replied. Why? It was my fault. I never let my kids see Scooby-Doo,and in effect,any ABC Sat. AM shows.(sometimes Porky Pig,since that usually came on before Scooby and the rest of the crud). I still say:Good parents don’t let their kids watch Scooby-Doo.

    • Of course you have every right to raise your children as you see fit, Mac. But just out of curiosity, what exactly were your objections to Scooby-Doo?

    • I say good parent shouldn’t control what their kids watch on Saturday mornings. They have enough control at school.

    • Sorry, but your throwing shade at Scooby Doo reminds me too much of “The Simpsons” episode “Bart the Lover” where Maude Flanders describes her son Todd’s viewing habits, “Well, he used to watch Davey and Goliath, but he thought the idea of a talking dog was blasphemous…”.

  • Out of curiosity, who draw the Scooby Gold Key comics such as the one pictured in the article?

    • Nic – That might be a good Mark Evanier question, as he worked on Scooby comics for Gold Key and Marvel, as well as writing scripts for Hanna-Barbera.

    • If I remember correctly, Evanier once identified the artist as Dan Spiegle, and that working with Spiegle was the main incentive for Evanier accepting the assignment in the first place.

  • Thanks for all the groovy history from you and the others you credited in the story, Jim. Scooby-Doo can be a polarizing subject for some Hanna-Barbera fans, but it was the product of major change. It came along after Taft Broadcasting had purchased the studio, and as the networks and various others had gained a stronger voice in creative aspects.

    The volume of work made meticulous detail less possible. However, if you look at many of those Scooby cartoons closely you will also see the touch–however fleeting due to the pressures of time and budget–of great animation masters. Many backgrounds alone are breathtaking. There is memorable voice work and a winning formula that has endured.

    CBS added a handful of Scooby episodes to the original 1969 shows (these had pop songs and a slightly different theme performance), then went with the hour-long celebrity “Movies” edition in 1972. Silverman had moved up and his replacements let Scooby go–but Michael Eisner picked up the characters for ABC, where it lasted even longer, through the Scrappy/Dynomutt days and the Laff-A-Lympics (with classic H-B characters) and even some prime time appearances.

    Scooby-Doo has never been out of the public eye since. The new animated theatrical feature, Scoob! was to appear in theaters this month but obviously cannot, so it is going to start streaming on Friday. I have high hopes for Scoob! because instead of bringing in a “look who we got” director, they had the sense to allow Tony Cervone to direct. Along with Spike Brandt, Cervone has always tried to stay true to the Warner and Hanna-Barbera properties.

  • I have read in various places that Carl Sagan was a fan of the show because he felt that it taught young people to be skeptical of claims of the supernatural and investigate them thoroughly.

  • Scoubidou is a 1958 song recorded by Sacha Distel that was very popular in France. More about it : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scoubidou_(song)

    It then became a gadget, no less popular on its own self : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scoubidou

    Incidently Scoubidou sounds just like Scooby-Doo and was the french name of the character until the eighties. Of course, that may just be a coincidence.

  • Jim, I’m surprised that you didn’t mention Scruffles, Quick Draw McGraw’s tracker hound dog. His “begging for treats” gimmick — minus his orgasmic reaction to its taste — was the template for Scooby’s lust for Scooby Snacks…and Snuffles was INFINITELY funnier at it, too.

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