The strange story of M-U-S-H, the M*A*S*H cartoon spoof that nearly ruined its studio

Filmation never made a show for ABC again.

Images: Filmation

Animation studios never had to look far for ideas. Many of the beloved cartoons from your youth were thinly veiled remakes of classic sitcoms. Just look at Hanna-Barbera. The production house modeled The Flintstones on The Honeymooners, Top Cat on The Phil Silvers Show, and the Scooby-Doo gang on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Jabberjaw jabbered like Curly from The Three Stooges. The North Carolina twang of Huckleberry Hound reminded many folks of Andy Griffith's folksy manner.

Hanna-Barbera was not alone in recycling flesh-and-blood primetime characters into Saturday morning toons. The studio's primary competition was Filmation, the company behind The Archie Show and The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure. Filmation crafted many direct spin-offs of hit shows, from Star Trek: The Animated Series to Gilligan's Planet.

But in 1975, Filmation attempted something a little riskier and more sophisticated, an outright spoof of TV giants that perhaps went over the heads of kids. A bitter edge ran through Uncle Croc's Block, which cast Charles Nelson Reilly as the crocodile host. Uncle Croc loathed his job, like an actor believing he deserved better, as he presented parodies of Sherlock Holmes ("Sherlock Domes"), The Six Million Dollar Man ("Steve Exhaustion, The $6.95 Man") and I Dream of Jeannie ("Junie the Genie").

And then there was M-U-S-H, another of the six-and-a-half-minute shorts bundled in Uncle Croc's Block.

An acronym for "Mangy Unwanted Shabby Heroes," M-U-S-H satirized M*A*S*H, turning the Korean War dramedy into a cast of canines in some frozen Arctic outpost. The character names were on-the-nose.

Bullseye, Cold Lips, Col. Flake and Sonar were obvious parallels. Far stranger was "Trooper Yoe," the "Trapper" of the bunch who looked like Hoss Cartwright and talked like John Wayne. And then there was Major Hank Sideburns, who morphed the despised "Frank Burns" into a dastardly Mountie with a twirly mustache.

There was real comedic talent behind the voices. Robert Ridgely (Bullseye, Trooper, Sonar, etc.) and Kenneth Mars (Sideburns, Cold Lips, Burns, etc.) did all the work. Mars is best known for his work with Mel Brooks, notably Franz Liebkind in The Producers and as Inspector Kemp in Young Frankenstein. Ridgely, on the other hand, might be most familiar for his final screen appearance, as a porn producer in Boogie Nights.

New Line Cinema / 20th Century Fox'M-U-S-H' voice actors Robert Ridgely and Kenneth Mars

Filmation Studios co-founder Lou Scheimer enjoyed the results more than viewers. In his 2012 autobiography Lou Scheimer: Creating The Filmation Generation, written with Andy Mangels, Scheimer defended, "M-U-S-H was a good idea for a show because you were supposed to laugh at it, not with it."

ABC did not share his opinion.

"Uncle Croc's Block was in trouble right out of the gate," Scheimer recalled. "The network already hated it, and, when it got some negative reviews and the ratings weren't great, things got ugly." 

The network cut the short the hourlong program in half, jettisoning the wrap-around live-action segments. Of the 30 M-U-S-H episodes written, only 23 were finished, some of which were salvaged and bundled with The Groovie Goolies and Friends

In February of 1976, ABC canceled Uncle Croc's Block. It was the first time in the company's history that Filmation had one of its series axed. "It was also the last time that ABC bought anything from us," Scheimer added.

Oddly, on the financial sheets, the news was better. ABC had paid for the entire season, but only a portion of them was completed. "So, we ended up making more money on not doing the rest of the show than would have ever made on doing the whole show!" Scheimerly said. "Uncle Croc's Block has never been shown in its entirety and probably never will be."

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ttenchantr 29 days ago
I would any any price for a Uncle Croc's Block DVD collection!
JoeSHill 9 months ago
"UNCLE CROC'S BLOCK" should've moved over to either NBC or CBS, which Filmation live and animated TV shows had thrived much better on, back in the 1970s. ABC's politics and failure of good material is typical of network stupidity back in those days, and Filmation once thrived on ABC Saturday Mornings, beginning with "JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH" (1967), "FANTASTIC VOYAGE" (1968), and "THE HARDY BOYS" (1969), among the numerous shows that Filmation produced for this network. In December 1976, ABC aired Filmation's first-ever, full-length animated film, "JOURNEY BACK TO OZ" (1974), just months after severing its ties with Lou Scheimer's studio, after their failure with "UNCLE CROC'S BLOCK", likely the best children's show ever made, even returning Charles Nelson Reily back to ABC Saturday Morning TV since his Sid and Marty Krofft TV show, "LIDSVILLE" in Fall 1971. This kind of network stupidity still flourishes, but in the case of "UNCLE CROC'S BLOCK", it was overkill on ABC's part, but that didn't stop Filmation Associates from thriving and moving on to bigger and better things and, after they produced "GILLIGAN'S PLANET" for CBS in Fall 1982, they left Saturday Morning TV and entered into a whole new chapter-first run syndication! when Group W/Westinghouse acquired Filmation from TelePrompter in 1981, the studio secured the rights from Mattel Toys for "HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE" in Fall 1983, and that became a critical success for Lou Scheimer and Filmation, and annoying setbacks like the BS with ABC over "UNCLE CROC' BLOCK" was simple water under the bridge! what the ABC people failed to understand, was that the show was spoofing both Primetime and children's shows, but ABC didn't see that, which was their loss! The Filmation show had also cast former "LOST IN SPACE" star, Jonathan Harris, who began working with the studio by doing the cartoon version of "MY FAVORITE MARTIAN" for Fall 1973 on CBS, as "MY FAVORITE MARTIANS"-and casting Harris as "Basil Bitterbottom", the obnoxious and irate director, was pure genius! The spoof of ABC's "THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN" series was also a pure genius, doing "The $6.95 Man, Steve Exhaustion was laugh-out hilarious! and this same actor later went on to voice "TARZAN: LORD OF THE JUNGLE" (1976-84), "THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN" (1980-1985), and "FLASH GORDON" (1979). Bottom line: "UNCLE CROC'S BLOCK" was an amazing Filmation jewel and ABC's loss!
JonSea31 22 months ago
I also think "Gilligan's Planet" was a failure on CBS, though it did air for the entire 1982-83 season. Maybe that series being unsuccessful, caused CBS to cut ties with Filmation in 1983, and that could explain the absence of new Filmation cartoons on all of the big three broadcast networks by 1984.
Filmation did continue producing cartoons for a few years afterwards, but only for syndication.
HerbF JonSea31 20 months ago
"Gilligan's Planet" was not a failure - CBS did not cut ties with CBS - Filmation shifted focus to the first-run syndication market with higher profits and best of all, less censorship. No longer did they have to deal with Network censors - just the standard FCC rules for Children's programing - which were actually kind of lax at the time! They were able to present hard-hitting stories on FAT ALBERT in it's last direct-to-first-run Syndication season than they ever could on CBS. They could also have more action and violence (per se) on "He-Man" and "Bravestar".

Filmation WAS in a good place when Group W/TelePrompTer shut it down in the mid-1980's. They had several properties in development at the time of the close-down including a Sherlock Holmes concept.
Actually, L'Oreal was the company that shut Filmation down in March of 1989 as a tax write-off. One proposed series which was in production at the time was Bugzburg.
JonSea31 22 months ago
Hanna-Barbera also did a cartoon spinoff of "The Little Rascals" in the early 1980s, but the principal characters were almost exactly identical to the original actors' counterparts from the 1930s, though Buckwheat was modified to make him a science whiz, Woim was modified to make him a shorter person, with his dialogue always starting with "Yeah!" then mimicking a key word in Butch's dialogue, and Waldo was made into a wealthy person possibly inspired by "Richie Rich" which aired on ABC, which also aired the Rascals cartoon. The likenesses of many of the key characters would later be the subject of a lawsuit filed by Eugene Lee, who played Porky in the late 1930s; and since the case was settled, it seems as if ABC and Hanna-Barbera want to forget the show even existed, as if Hanna-Barbera disowned the series. The Rascals enjoyed a two-year run on ABC from 1982 to 1984. I truly loved that series, despite that it got low ratings.
nightshade JonSea31 19 months ago
I remember that series .......I also remember Filmation also had an extremely cheap animated tom and jerry show on CBS Also one thing that happened to cartoons is they started outsourcing the actual animation to asia ......
EmBee 25 months ago
Hanna Barbera also did an I Dream of Jeannie cartoon titled simply Jeannie but it had little in common with it's live action parent. For one thing, she didn't blink to be magical. It was her pony tail which would invert when she gave a command. One episode had her go into a beauty salon and she's just saying, "...just don't cut off my pony tail" and that's just what happened and hilarity ensued.
JoeSHill 26 months ago
ABC was foolish in closing its ties with Filmation Associates because "UNCLE CROC'S BLOCK" was essentially an intelligent spoof of Primetime shows- and, in fact, they even spoofed Hanna-Barbera's "YOGI BEAR", so whatever ABC was thinking here, it wasn't very smart! shortly after canceling "UNCLE CROC'S BLOCK", ABC actually aired reruns of another Filmation series, "THE GROOVY GOOLIES". but two of the co-stars of that short-lived Filmation series later became icons-Robert Ridgley, who originally played "The $6.95 Man" was actually a co-star of "THE GALLANT MEN", a Warner Bros produced TV series from ABC's Fall 1962 lineup-he later became the voice of "TARZAN: LORD OF THE JUNGLE" that Filmation produced for CBS in 1976, and later as "FLASH GORDON", another impressive Filmation milestone- and also as the voice of "THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN" for Ruby-Spears in Fall 1980. Jonathan Harris, as everyone remembers, was "Dr. Smith" on CBS's "LOST IN SPACE" (1965-68), and two years after "UNCLE CROC'S BLOCK", he was the lead on "SPACE ACADEMY" in Fall 1977 for CBS. and, for the record, the very last Filmation material that ABC aired, was "JOURNEY BACK TO OZ" in 1976, the studio's first full-length animated feature. the ABC special was hosted by Bill Cosby as "The Wizard".
F5Twitster 26 months ago
Filmation just might’ve gone on making series for ABC had it occurred to Scheimer to offer to return to the network the overage for the unmade episodes.
LucyImHome1951 26 months ago
Sometimes weird shows like that. In 1975 DePatie–Freleng Productions made a show called The Oddball Couple. It was an adaptation of the TV series The Odd Couple, which had ended its run that year, after five seasons on ABC (but this shows aired on CBS.) It was a dog and a cat, the dog was Oscar (on the show called Fleabag) and the cat was Felix ( on the show named Spiffy because Felix the cat was already taken). One thing was switched though, Spiffy the neatnik is a writer and Fleabag the slob is a photographer. It only lasted 16 episodes.
madmark1 LucyImHome1951 26 months ago
I used to love the oddball couple I kind of wish they would’ve kept that cartoon going it was pretty good I enjoyed that and Hong Kong phooey.
Hogansucks1 madmark1 26 months ago
Yes,yes- Hong Kong Phooey, Thank-You for the reminder! 😊
UTZAAKE LucyImHome1951 26 months ago
Frank Nelson and Paul Winchell voiced Spiffy and Fleabag respectively.
I only saw The Oddball Couple once, and Hong Kong Phooey 3 times, when staying at the homes of relatives (our rural home's antenna didn't pick up the local ABC affiliate). I wasn't excited by either, The Oddball Couple was harmless enough but I thought Hong Kong Phooey was dumb as a box of rocks - the first episode I saw, he got tricked into helping bank robbers by showing a threatening note to a bank teller - TWICE! (first as his janitor alter-ego and then as HKF). :D
Well remember cartoons like that were made for kids and they were supposed to be stupid and goofy that’s what made them funny and appealing to younger audiences I for one enjoyed Hong Kong phooey I used to recognize the voice of Scatman Cruthers that did the voice of Hong Kong phooey I thought it was kind of a funny and charming cartoon but to each his own
ChristopherSmigliano 26 months ago
I think "Trooper Yoe" was actually named "Tricky John" in the series from the episodes I saw on Youtube. There where also no counterparts to Father Mulcahty and Klinger (This series was made around MASH's earliest seasons) The other cartoon component in CROC (other than Wacky and Packy) was FRAIDY CAT, an unlucky alley cat literally down to his last life, and whenever he said a number from one to eight, a ghost from one of his former eight lives would appear and make things worse for him. (saying NINE brought up a nine-shaped storm cloud that would chase after him and try to blast him with lighting bolts) Filmation actually tried for some dark humor on this series, and it's a concept that deserved better that its budget allowed.
ChristopherSmigliano 26 months ago
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stephaniestavr5 26 months ago
This comment has been removed.
Kiyone57 stephaniestavr5 26 months ago
Klinger could also have been omitted because he wasn't yet a principal character, at least when Uncle Croc was produced. Klinger wasn't added to the opening credits until 4th season, when Potter and BJ replaced Henry and Trapper.
I always thought the 1950’s Tex Avery cartoons were the most violent and borderline racist, along with the pre- 1980’s Looney tunes. One of the funniest cartoons I’ve ever seen is Tex Avery’s (Rocka-bye-Bear) ! Holy smokes, it’s a wonder why these 3 past generations grew up TOUGH!! 😊
Wiseguy stephaniestavr5 26 months ago
...and probably "am."
Hogansucks1 26 months ago
“Jocularity” ! Jocularity!!”😇 (Father Francis John Mulcahy).—- NOT “Mulcah hy” (Winchester). 😂
UTZAAKE 26 months ago
Watched all episodes when it originally aired. Show was hilarious. Even my oldest brother watched and he was a college sophomore at the time who mostly avoided Saturday morning programming as if it was bubonic plague. Another cartoon featured in the series was Wacky and Packy about a caveman and his pet woolly mammoth ("Packy" is short for "pachyderm"). Wacky's favorite catchphrase was "One of these days...POW!...right in the kisser." https://www.gettyimages.com/photos/uncle-crocs-block?family=editorial&phrase=uncle%20croc%27s%20block&sort=best#license
Wacky and Packy's voices were both provided by Allan Melvin. And of Course, Wacky's "One of these days" saying is a liftoff from Ralph Kramden yelling at Alice in "The Honeymooners" Gee..A caveman that sounds like Jackie Gleason- isn't THAT original? (Though Wacky looked like a cross between Moon Mullins and Alley Oop)
Kiyone57 UTZAAKE 26 months ago
I loved Uncle Croc, and I was a university freshman! It was many years later when I found out why it suddenly disappeared.
Your description of Wacky is so apt. Packy also had a catchphrase which was "What I do? What I do?" As for M*U*S*H, Bullseye and Trooper Yoe look more like the canine Terence Hill and Bud Spencer.
UTZAAKE Kiyone57 26 months ago
Fred Silverman's scheduling of Uncle Croc's Block on Saturday mornings foretold of his programming ineptitude at NBC. Like MST3K, the show was an absolute spoof which could've been a success had it been geared towards viewers 14 and over instead of younger even though I understood the humor as a nine-year-old. Silverman also should've known about those loopy Filmation knuckleheads Lou Scheimer, Norm Prescott and Carroll...er...Dick Rosenbloom.
MrsPhilHarris 26 months ago
I would like to see that show. It sounds amusing.
stephaniestavropoulos 26 months ago
Clips from UCB can be found on You Tube. Once again, Charles Nelson Reilly has a rabbit sidekick like he had on Lidsville with Raunchy {to be clear, Raunchy was on Lidsville.}. One of clips is with Phyllis Diller as a witch. Jonathan Harris guest starred as the director/producer, something like that. The episodes come complete with laugh track. To quote a line from I think "Monkees Marooned." {I have no idea where the Monkees writers "stole" it from.} "Who writes this stuff?!?!"
While viewing another clip, it dawned on me: I think Fimation was trying to do their '70's version of The Banana Splits. It failed...miserably. BS was better. The fonts on the sign and the coloring on the desk that says the name of the show, reminds of the the type used on the Bic Banana commercials. I wonder if they chose those, because CNR did the BB commercials.
Speaking of the Banana Splits, anyone interested in behind-the-scenes stories? Check out a book from Bear Manor Media Publications that just came out called: "From the Inside: My Life As Bingo Of the Banana Splits," By Terrance Winklessom. The author was the man who brought Bingo The Beagle to life. His two brothers were responsible for bringing Fleegle and Drooper to life.
Loved the Banana Splits.
Smedley the cartoon dog’s LAUGH was the greatest- I think it was. 🤣
The sidekick was named Mr. Rabbit Ears. He had a TV screen built in his stomach and his suit buttons where the channel dials, Of course TV antenna stuck out of his ears. When it was time for one of the cartoons, he'd tune them in on himself.
ChristopherSmigliano 26 months ago
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The character that was portrayed by Jonathan Harris was Basil Bitterbottom. He had previously voiced "Uncle Martin" on My Favorite Martians and later guest starred on another Filmation series, Ark II before later starring as Commander Issac Gampu on Space Academy.
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