13 super live-action Saturday morning kids shows of the 1970s
There was far more than cartoons on offer.
Top image: plaidstallions.com
When people reminisce about Saturday morning television, the first thing that comes to mind is cartoons. Certainly, there were dozens of delightfully weird animated series packed into the Saturday breakfast lineup in the 1970s. The networks also served a healthy dose of live-action fare. It was a kooky kaleidoscope of sketch comedy, puppetry, science fiction, and rock 'n' roll.
There were shows starring basketball players, former F Troop actors, roller-skating birds, scientists, pop musicians and Star Trek crew members. Let's take a look at some of these fascinating, if sometimes fleeting, series.
1. Mr. Wizard
Don Herbert was no stranger to children's television. The former B-24 bomber pilot and actor came up with the Mr. Wizard character at the dawn of the 1950s, and his educational show Watch Mr. Wizard ran from 1951 to 1965. Sorry, he did not have a Ph.D. in chemistry. In 1971, NBC ran a Canadian-produced revival that lasted a couple years. Herbert staged another comeback in 1983 with Mr. Wizard's World on Nickledeon, which ran until the early '90s. Just think of all the generations that learned about static electricity from the man.
Image: The Everett Collection
2. The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show
Bill, Brett and Mark Hudson were a bubblegum rock trio from Oregon with a savvy for television. The Hudson Brothers appeared on The Love Boat and alongside Captain Kangaroo. CBS gave the threesome an amusingly named showcase on Saturdays, which featured the requisite anthropomorphized animal, in this case a bear named "the Bear." Bill Hudson would marry Goldie Hawn and become the father of Kate Hudson.
Image: CBS via Wikimedia Commons
3. The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine
The spectacular basketball squad did far more than repeatedly whip the Washington Generals on the court. The Globetrotters had this fantastically named CBS variety show, which featured star players like Meadowlark Lemon and Curly Neal, and the requisite child stars of the day like Rodney Allen Rippy.
Image: CBS via 14dhawk / YouTube
4. The Ghost Busters
No, not those Ghostbusters. Long before Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd were chasing Slimer, Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch of F Troop starred in this supernatural slapstick, which also featured a gorilla wearing a propellor beanie. It would spawn a cartoon a decade later, which would lead to those other Ghostbusters having to title their cartoon The Real Ghostbusters. But who was first, guys?
5. Ark II
A crew of scientists and their chimpanzee (there has to be an ape, of course) wander the post-apocalyptic Earth of the 25th century. Inside a super R.V. The crew also zipped around in an awesome ATV and jet pack, too. If you have the time, watch this great little documentary about the CBS series that features some of the cast and creators.
6. Monster Squad
Of no relation to the great 1987 movie, this NBC series similarly featured classic Universal creeps Dracula, the Wolfman and Frankenstein's Monster. Buck Kartalian of Planet of the Apes was the man in the Wolfman fur. Fun prop fact: The remote control for the crime computer was merely an off-the-shelf Mego Star Trek Communicator walkie talkie toy, painted over.
If you remember this brief, 10 episode variety showcase, congrats on your rock 'n' roll cred. Tom Petty performed on this music-heavy showcase, even playing bass with cult power-pop act Dwight Twilley Band. Jonathan Winters and Don Rickles brought the laughs, and Rodney Allen Rippy popped up again.
8. The Red Hand Gang
What sounds like an adversary for Daredevil in the comics was actually five inner-city pre-teens and their pooch. The team left their hand prints in red to mark where they had been. The skateboarding Frankie was played by Matthew Labyorteaux of Little House on the Prairie fame.
Image: NBC via bionicdisco.com
9. Search and Rescue: The Alpha Team
Emergency! had its Saturday morning spin-off, Emergency! + 4, a cartoon about EMT kids… and their pet monkey. This Canadian production from NBC's lineup was similar, though live-action, with young rescue workers and their trained animals.
Image: NBC via tvrage.com
10. The Skatebirds
Knock-Knock, Satchel and Scooter were roller-skating birds (a woodpecker, pelican and penguin, to be specific) who foiled the nefarious attempts of their nemesis, Scat-Cat, voiced by Scatman Crothers. Much like the Banana Splits, these costumed kooks also showed shorts between their skits. There was the live-action Mystery Island and the animated antics of the Robonic Stooges.
11. Space Academy
Filmation, known for its cartoon adaptations of popular sitcoms, further dipped its toes into this impressively produced live-action series, released in the wake of Star Wars mania. Ric Carrott, formerly the forgotten older brother of Happy Days, lead the squad, and Jonathan Harris of Lost in Space gave the show some sci-fi gravitas. Though kids were most likely tuning in for teen idols Pamelyn Ferdin and Maggie Cooper, pictured here.
Horses! The titular black stallion did his best to woo fans of Black Beauty and National Velvet. A young Melora Hardin (The Office) was the main character, who lived near the wild horse. There was also a burping mule named Cupcake.
13. Jason of Star Command
Another sci-fi Filmation production, spun-off from Space Academy, this otherwordly adventure featured James Doohan of Star Trek, speaking with his normal North American accent, as well as Sid Haig and a host of awesome stop-motion-animated aliens.