There was a singular joy to being a kid in the 1970s, the hey day of Saturday morning cartoons. You’d be up early, just as the sun was rising, and you’d have the whole house to yourself (because God help you if you woke up your parents) as you snuck downstairs and flipped on the television for your weekly dose of animated goodness. You might grab a bowl of sugary cereal between toy commercials and the ever-informative Schoolhouse Rocks segments, but the real draw was the shows, one of TV history’s most eclectic and flat-out fun lineups ever. Join us won’t you, as we take a stroll down memory lane and relive the good old days of Saturday morning primetime. The best part is, you don’t have to be up at 6 a.m. to get in on the fun.
1. Cartoons Starring Famous Kids
The late-1960s-early-1970s’ obsession with singing families eventually found its way onto Saturday mornings, well mostly. The cartoon versions of the popular sitcom and musical acts featured basically zero adults (they were mostly replaced by talking animals). There was The Brady Kids, in which the famous sitcom stars got into scrapes and sang songs. There was the oddly spelled The Jackson 5ive, in which the famous musical act got into scrapes and sang songs. And there was The Osmonds, in which the famous musical family got into scrapes and sang songs.
2. Harlem Globetrotters
1970’s Harlem Globetrotters actually holds the distinction of being the first Saturday morning cartoon to feature a primarily African-American cast. Created by cartoon legends William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, the show followed fictionalized versions of the most popular Globetrotters roster (one of whom was voiced by actor Scatman Crothers). Every week, the Globetrotters would basically travel to some new place, involve themselves in some local issue, and then squash said beef with the funky power of basketball.
3. Scooby Doo, Where Are You?
The continuing adventures of a prima donna, a nerd, a tool, a pothead, and their dog is one of the most celebrated cartoons in history, and for good reason. Sure, by the time you were six you realized that the weekly culprit was always the one adult character they introduced, but that didn’t take away from Shaggy and Scooby’s weak-kneed journey towards the truth, fortified with Scooby snacks.
4. Josie and the Pussycats
Josie and the Pussycats is a Hanna-Barbera cartoon that’s based on a band of girls living in Riverdale, the same neck of the woods as Archie, Jughead and that lot. Lots of members of Archie and the gang got their own cartoon shows throughout the seventies, but Josie and the Pussycats was far and away the most endearing and the most enduring. Have you seen Archie and the gang get their own live-action theatrical release? Sure, the movie version of Josie and the Pussycats may have stunk, but you can’t deny it exists.
5. Sealab 2020
On the level, there are only 15 episodes of the original Sealab 2020, because it kinda sucked. The reason it’s here is a story that takes place 23 years after the show was cancelled, when Archer creators Adam Reed and Matt Thompson were lowly production assistants working at Cartoon Network. They stumbled upon the cartoon, dubbed in new, racier dialogue and pitched the concept of Sealab 2021, one of the more bizarre (and hilarious) offerings in cartoon history.
6. The Shazam!/Isis Hour
Beginning in 1974, the folks at CBS gave kids an hour long doubling helping of superheroes teaching heavy-handed lessons. The first half, Shazam!, belonged to DC comics superstar Captain Marvel, a teenager powered by some of histories wisest and most powerful figures. The second half featured The Secrets of Isis, about a schoolteacher who went around saving high school kids from bad decisions. It was also TV’s first female-anchored superhero show.
7. The Pink Panther
Originally created for the opening credits of the classic Peter Sellers’ comedy of the same name, The Pink Panther is Saturday morning’s original arthouse cartoon, starring a mute hero getting into jazzy hijinks while backed by Henry Mancini’s film score. In some way, shape, or form, the Pink Panther stayed on the air for a full decade before people realized that jazz sucks and cartoons need to talk.
If there’s any character that a child can identify with, it’s Underdog, the little hero with a knockout right hook. He was sweet, he was overlooked, and he was always underestimated, some things most kids know backwards and forwards. The rhyming superhero spent his time saving his one true love, Polly Purebred, from the evils of local villains Simon Bar Sinister and Riff Raff. To this day, the cartoon is so beloved that fans are willing to forget 2007’s live action reboot ever happened.
9. Scooby’s All-Star Laff-A-Lympics
For a kid in the ’70s, Scooby’s All-Star Laff-A-Lympics was the equivalent of an adult at the time having the opportunity to watch a variety show starring the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. The 2-hour block of cartoons starred some of Hanna-Barbera’s most treasured animated creations like Captain Caveman, Dynomutt and more. The best segment, though, was the titular “Laff-A-Lympics,” which saw 45 of Hanna-Barbera’s characters duke it out in silly, Battle of the Network Stars-style mayhem.
10. Super Friends
Who needs all of today’s interpersonal conflict and unrepentant evildoers when you can watch a show where everyone gets along and villainy is mostly just a matter of a small misunderstanding? For more than 100 episodes, Superman, Batman and the rest of DC’s Justice League battled the forces of miscommunication with open hearts, open minds and closed fists. It may not have been the most dramatically demanding cartoon in the morning, but it was inevitably fun.
11. Hong Kong Phooey
Another role voiced by film and music icon Scatman Crothers, Hong Kong Phooey belongs to a long line of completely inept heroes whose butts are routinely saved by their sidekick. Sure, it wasn’t exactly groundbreaking material, but certain unique touches (like the fact that Phooey’s martial arts skill comes from an instruction handbook he purchased from a correspondence course) combined with the spirited performances of its leads helped make the show shine in midst of Saturday mornings.
12. The Krofft Supershow
Who said variety shows had to be just for kids? Brothers Sid and Marty Krofft brought the concept to Saturday mornings in 1976 with The Krofft Supershow, hosted by fictional band Kaptain Kool and the Kongs (until the show took a crazy left turn and they were replaced by the Bay City Rollers for whatever reason). Live action segments formed the meat of the show, the most popular of which was “Electra Woman and Dyna Girl,” a story about two reporters who did double duty as crime fighting superheroes.
13. H.R. Pufnstuf
H.R. Pufnstuf is another contribution from Sid and Marty Krofft, Saturday morning cartoon icons and huge fans of acid, apparently. It followed the adventures of a young kid, his talking flute and a giant silly-voiced dragon. There was also some stuff about a witch and parodying famous movie stars. Oh, and everything on the show (houses, books, trees, all of it) was alive. It was a weird, trippy mess that somehow tapped directly into the psyche of cheering children the world over.
14. Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan
Okay, so the crime-solving hijinks of Charlie Chan and his music-playing teen charges only lasted for a single year in 1972, but it still bears mentioning because of how awesomely racist it was. Those who aren’t familiar with Charlie Chan can just get an idea of how incredibly bigoted his presentation was by this fact. The cartoon show based on his exploits was the first and only time someone of Chinese ancestry played the character. Typically, he was portrayed with buck teeth, slant-eye makeup and a terrible accent. The show was cancelled after 16 episodes. Fun fact: Jodie Foster was actually a member of the original voice cast.
15. Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids
Bill Cosby’s reputation may be going down in flames like a slow-motion Hindenburg, but his contribution to pop culture history is still undeniable. In 1972, Cosby dreamed up Fat Albert and the gang, a group of kids who hang around a junkyard, play instruments of questionable quality, and learn a really valuable lesson each week. Cosby’s custom brand of light-hearted humor was etched into the show’s bones; it remained a crowd favorite until the show ended more than a decade later in 1985.
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