The bottle-captured lightning I’m referring to is Scooby-Doo.
Its formula of a tight group of friends, an anthropomorphic star/sidekick, some adventures, some bubblegum pop music playing behind scenes of the characters running (often times past the same background image several times) continues to be as successful today as it was when it premiered in 1969.
|“It’s weird. I mean, they’re running straight, but they’ve passed that same lamp 7 times, already.” “Well, maybe the villain just really wanted to decorate using that lamp. It’s a nice lamp.”|
In the entertainment world, a hit show is rare.
When a premise works, the natural inclination is to continually copy that idea over and over (and over), until the public bands together and storms the television studio carrying torches and pitchforks.
Hanna-Barbera, which is Latin for ‘We sometimes have an original-esque idea’, had in Scooby-Doo a ratings hit and, most importantly, a merchandizing bonanza.
What do you do when all of the Scooby lunchboxes have been sold that are going to be sold?
You create a new show that is basically the same, that’s what!
The Funky Phantom was a take on the Scooby formula, but with a twist.
The twist was that ghosts are real and not always someone going through an elaborate scheme involving real estate development.
A group of teenagers with no discernable source of income, a cool car and a talking dog solve mysteries with the help of two ghosts. Mudsy, a Revolutionary war-era ghost, aids the gang with the help of his talking, dead cat, Boo.
As it turns out, all other ghosts in the Funky universe are, in fact, someone going through an elaborate scheme involving real estate development. In order for them to discover this, of course, they have to get the “ghosts” to slip up and reveal themselves. Now, I’m not a paranormal investigator and don’t claim to know the first thing about ghosts, but it would seem that either Mudsy or the talking, dead cat could just pass through the “ghost” and discover the truth. I mean, if either Mudsy or Boo passed through and see, say, organs and a beating heart, then said ghost is, in fact, not a ghost, but a scheming human.
|“Gosh, even with us all crammed in here, there’s still room enough to swing a dead cat. Whoops, sorry, Boo.”|
Sadly, the one true ghost turned out to be the show itself.
It died after only 17 episodes.
Taking what worked with Scooby-Doo and learning from what didn’t work with The Funky Phantom, Hanna-Barbera came up with Speed Buggy.
If you’ve never seen an episode of Speed Buggy, here’s the basic premise: Three teenagers (one that looks like Shaggy’s twin brother, one that looks like Daphne’s older sister and one that is Fred with black hair) have an anthropomorphic dune buggy. While travelling from race to race (where they presumably race), they solve mysteries. Mysteries and crimes are rampant in the Hanna-Barbera worlds. Now, HB cartoons never come out and say cops are useless and inept, but it’s sort of implied.
|“This is a cease and desist letter from a Shaggy, Daphne and Fred ordering you to stop being them. You can keep your goggles, though, Not Shaggy.”|
Speed Buggy was somewhat cowardly, had a funny voice and always came through in the end.
Still, this Scooby-Doo on wheels couldn’t capture the audience adoration and died (was murdered?) after 16 episodes.
The Scooby-Doo formula didn’t work with dead cats and it didn’t work with a dune buggy, so HB went back to basics with Goober and the Ghost Chasers. The title, which is a clever way of HB telling its audience, ‘Hey, we’re just gonna stop trying, altogether’, takes fans back to what they presumably wanted.
Goober is an anthropomorphic dog *sigh* that solves mysteries *of course* with the help of a group of *here we go* teenagers. Goober had the ability to turn invisible and did so when he was scared, which happened often because mysteries are everywhere and ghosts are forever in abundance. Among Goober’s friends are a Fred-type named, of all things, Ted; a Daphne-type named Tina and a sort of Shaggy-Daphne hybrid named Gillie.
|“Like, I’m a love child of Shag and Daphne? Zoinks!”|
Despite such guest stars as Wilt “I had 20K lovers” Chamberlain, neither Goober nor the Ghost Chasers were able to save themselves from a short life of 16 episodes.
Goodnight, sweet Goober. We hardly knew ye.
Because HB didn’t know the meaning of the phrase ‘stop trying’, Shaggy’s DNA once again gave birth to a clone named Clamhead. Along with anthropomorphic great white shark Jabberjaw, this group of mystery-solving teenagers played in a band… under water.
Repeat: played in a band… under water.
And they solved mysteries… under water.
Apparently, lots of criminals who were too inept to commit crimes on land, invariably turn their nefarious deeds to the only other place available… under water.
|“Hey, Jabberjaw, I was wondering… How is it that you can breathe so well out of water? I mean, you spend most of your time indoors.”|
Despite the adorable factor of a great white shark in post-JAWS pop culture, Jabberjaw couldn’t make the leap to icon that Scooby had.
After 16 episodes, Jabberjaw’s undersea rock ‘n roll lifestyle had played itself out. It is assumed by most (me) that Jabberjaw then ate Clamhead and the others.
Sadly, no one missed them.
Television and movie studios both will continue to recapture the magic and popularity of a successful franchise as long as there are unimaginative people who want to make money. That’s harsh, actually. It’s a business and businesses exist to make profits. As with anything that requires the public’s adoration to thrive, you just keep pounding away until something works. Once it does, you stick with it.
|“Hey, gang. This isn’t a ghost, at all; it’s Mr. So and So from that thing earlier. Wait… is anyone else getting déjà vu?”|
They didn’t live long, but they were innocent and charming fun.
And they made Shaggy clones. Lots and lots of Shaggy’s.
So very many Shaggy’s.
|During a game of Truth or Dare, Velma dares Shaggy to kiss Fred, a well-known homophobe, as passionately as he might a salami and peanut butter pizza burger.|