From the Archives: Deck Log Entry # 58 Saturday Morning Silver Age: Part Two--DC's Silverman Age

If credit for the upheaval about to hit Saturday-morning children’s programming had to be given to any one man, then it would have to go to television executive Fred Silverman.

 

Fred Silverman would become more well known as the executive who, in the 1970’s, turned around the dying prime-time schedules of both ABC and NBC.  His instinctual acumen for spotting prospects and turning them into ratings hits earned him the nickname of “the Man with the Golden Gut”.  But in 1965, Silverman was CBS’s vice president of daytime programming.  Saturday-morning programming fell to him because there was no executive directly assigned to children’s programming for CBS.  Saturday mornings were considered the limbo of television.  As Filmation producer Norm Prescott put it, “Saturday was considered worse than the mailroom job.”

                                       

Instead of allowing Saturday-morning programming to continue coasting along on auto-pilot, Silverman adopted the attitude that Saturday morning was important and treated it as though it was as competitive as CBS’s nighttime schedule.  If Saturday morning lacked status, thought Silverman, then he would create it. 

 

Through this attitude, Fred Silverman would almost single-handedly revolutionise Saturday-morning television.  Just as when he was in charge of prime-time programming a decade later, Silverman did not simply default to the recommendations of his assistants.  Instead, he trusted his instincts.   His taste in shows, his sense of what would and would not fly, determined what sort of material appeared on Saturday mornings.

 

In 1966, America was in the throes of Batmania.  Under the old laissez-faire attitude toward kid-vid, the Bat-craze would have flown right over the heads of Saturday-morning programming.  But Silverman, determined to create an empire where one had not existed before, saw the potential in marrying super-heroes with limited animation. 

 

A Batman cartoon, at the time, was out of the question, since rival network ABC held the rights to the character.  But Batman was DC’s number-two character.  Silverman wasn’t going to settle for number two; he was going for number one.  Silverman contacted National Periodical Publications (as DC was known then) and worked out a deal to purchase the rights for a Superman cartoon.  DC’s liaison to Silverman on the project was Mort Weisinger, the editor of the Superman family of titles.  It would be up to Weisinger to select the animation studio which, in his experience with the Man of Steel, would do the most justice to the character of Superman in a cartoon.

 

Enter:  Filmation Associates.  Formed in 1963, Filmation Associates were animators Lou Scheimer and Hal Sutherland (who had worked together on a series of Bozo the Clown shorts) and former radio man Norm Prescott.  Since then, Filmation’s sole feature product was Journey Back to Oz, based on L. Frank Baum’s second Oz book.  However, financial and contractual delays had kept the feature from being released.  Thus, Filmation was subsisting almost completely on television commercial work.  Scheimer and Sutherland and Prescott, who comprised the total payroll of Filmation, were barely a step ahead of their creditors.

 

Then they received a call from Mort Weisinger.  He was considering hiring Filmation to produce the new Superman cartoon and wanted to come out to visit their studio.  It would not do for Weisinger to see a nearly vacant studio, manned only by Scheimer, Sutherland, and Prescott.  So, as the story goes, they went out and recruited as many friends and family members as they could to fill the place up and look busy.   It worked, and Mort gave Filmation the nod to produce the animated adventures of Superman.

 

The New Adventures of Superman debuted on 10 September 1966.  Though obviously developed for children slightly younger than the typical comic-book-reading age, the flavour of the cartoon stayed true to the Superman of the comics.  With the advance money provided by National Periodical, Filmation hired several DC writers, most notably George Kashdan, to generate scripts.  Consequently, there were few contradictions with the established Superman mythos.  Most often, the cartoon Man of Steel ran up against familiar foes, such as Luthor, Brainiac, the Toyman, the Parasite, and Mr. Mxyzptlk, rather than adversaries created for the cartoon.  In fact, some storylines, such as Superman’s encounter with Titano, were lifted straight out of the comics.

 

It helped that the animators’ depictions of the characters, if not identical to Curt Swan’s art, replicated his clean, realistic lines closely enough.  And Filmation made sure it included many of the iconic symbols associated with the Man of Steel.  Nearly every cartoon included the traditional shot of Clark Kent changing identities by opening his shirt to reveal the red “S” beneath.  And the lines “Up, up, and away!” and “This is a job for Superman!”, popularised by the old radio show, were heard frequently.

 

Lastly, Filmation scored a coup by hiring the voices of Superman and Lois Lane from the old Fleischer cartoons---Bud Collyer and Joan Alexander---to reprise their vocal rôles for the new cartoon.  As before, the versatility of Collyer’s voice permitted him to voice both Superman and Clark Kent.  Collyer had impressive control of the register of his voice.  He would speak Kent’s lines at an octave higher than his usual tone, “This is a job . . . “---and then shift down in mid-sentence to achieve the Man of Steel’s profundo--- “ . . . for Superman!

 

Despite the sentimental value in returning Collyer and Alexander to the old parts, there was one snag, at least as far as I was concerned when I watched the cartoons fifty-one years ago.  While time seemed not to have affected Collyer’s voice, Joan Alexander had not been so fortunate.  Age had crept into her tone.  It was a bit disconcerting to see a thirty-something Lois Lane speak in a voice that sounded like your spinster aunt.  That may have been one of the reasons why Miss Alexander was replaced by actress Julie Bennett after the first season.

 

The audio nostalgia was completed by having the cartoons narrated by Jackson Beck, who had done the opening narrations for the Fleischer shorts.

 

There were eighteen episodes of The New Adventures of Superman produced, with each episode featuring two six-minute Superman cartoons book-ending a cartoon featuring Superboy, expertly voiced by McHale’s Navy alumnus Bob “LT Carpenter” Hastings.  Like the Superman cartoons, the Superboy chapters closely adhered to the Boy of Steel’s comic in both look and details.

 

Really, only the plots were scaled back for younger viewers.  They were a bit simplistic, fewer twists to possibly confuse less adept brains.  But the premise, the characters, and the action remained the same.  To all intents, watching the cartoon wasn’t a great deal different from reading a Superman comic book.

 

 

  

The New Adventures of Superman was a monster hit, so for the 1967 season, National and the now financially healthy Filmation capitalised on their success.   The Superman animated series was folded into a new show, The Superman-Aquaman Hour of Adventure, and with its debut on 09 September 1967, there were DC super-heroes popping out all over the tube.

 

The Superman-Aquaman Hour of Adventure continued a second season of Superman and Superboy cartoons, in the same structure as before---two new Superman episodes with one of Superboy inserted between.  To fill out the rest of the hour, Filmation delivered animated episodes of Aquaman, King of the Seven Seas.

 

As with the Superman scripts, the Aquaman stories were simplified.  Atlantis was used essentially as a backdrop for the Sea King’s adventures, with none of its citizens providing anything more than an occasional line of dialogue.  The plots centered on the adventures of Aquaman and his boy sidekick, Aqualad.  Mera, Aquaman’s wife, appeared regularly, but in a marginalised presence.

 

The underwater heroes confronted familiar faces from their comic, primarily Black Manta and the Fisherman.  But, probably because the Sea King’s comics foes were much less memorable than Superman’s, the television Aquaman faced more enemies created specifically for the cartoon.  For someone who patrolled under the oceans, he faced a considerable number of alien invasions and threats from outer space, too.

 

Each “Hour of Adventure” sandwiched a separate feature between the two Aquaman cartoons.  This middle cartoon was not dedicated to a single star, but rotated among various other heroes in the DC universe.  Cycling through that centre slot were the Flash, the Green Lantern, the Atom, Hawkman, the Teen Titans, and the Justice League of America.

 

Often, this middle, rotating cartoon was the most-looked-forward-to segment of the show, and of those, the three Justice League episodes proved the most popular.  For all three, the JLA line-up was Superman, the Flash, the Atom, Green Lantern, and Hawkman.  (Aquaman was shown as part of the team in the opening credits, but he never appeared in any of the JLA cartoons.)  A fan of the JLA comic book probably wondered why the Batman was absent from the JLA cartoon, when, under the wave of Batmania, he had practically taken over the comic.  (I did.)  The answer was ABC still owned the television rights to Batman and that kept him out of the CBS-run FIlmation cartoons. 

 

Otherwise, the JLA cartoons were strongly evocative of the JLA comic, including the Gardner Fox trademarks of dividing the group into sub-teams and a strong emphasis on teamwork.  No doubt this was due to George Kashdan’s hand.  Again, the plots were more basic, but nothing else was held back:  ray guns blasted, power rings zapped, and punches flew.  It was not uncommon for attacking villains to perish in explosions or as victims of their own schemes.

 

Despite Kashdan’s involvement, discrepancies began to appear in the stories.  Certain details deviated from what was presented in the comics.  Some of them were explainable, at least to adults.  Contractual restrictions prevented the appearances of Batman and Robin.  (In the Teen Titans episodes, the Green Arrow’s teen partner, Speedy, replaced the Boy Wonder.)  And certain heroes’ costumes were slightly---and sometimes, not so slightly---altered to make it easier on the animators, who had to draw (or, more likely, trace) them over and over.

 

But nothing seemed to explain such things as why Aquaman was given the power to form water into solid objects (the “hard water” power was Mera’s schtick).  Or why the occupation of Hawkman’s civilian identity, Carter Hall, was changed from museum curator to research scientist.  Or why Green Lantern’s confidant, Pieface, was replaced by a pointy-eared boy from Venus named Kyro (who didn’t show half of Pieface’s smarts or resourcefulness).

 

Even so, it was easy for DC fans to shake off these gaffes since so much of what was shown was straight out of the DC comics themselves.  For fans of the show who, perhaps from living on a remote mountaintop all of their lives, had never seen the comics, they were driven to seek them out.  And DC fans were constantly reminded of the Saturday-morning shows by a ceaseless barrage of advertisements in the comics.  It was a win-win arrangement for National Periodical and Filmation.

 

CBS wasn’t hurting either.  Its Saturday-morning ratings soared from third to first, and Fred Silverman’s parking spot was moved closer to the front door.

 

Thanks to Silverman and Filmation, DC became a constant presence on Saturday morning, and in cartoon animation in general.  DC hero-based cartoons have been running steadily on television for over four decades.

 

But DC wasn’t the only company to benefit from producing super-hero cartoons in 1966-7.  It didn’t even have the biggest output of super-hero cartoons.  But we’ll get to that.

 

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Aquaman was created by Mort Weisinger which was why he was spotlighted. Also visually he was so different from Superman that he made a great counterpart for the Man of Steel. And swimming (which was basically flying underwater) took up less animation time.

Was Mera his wife in the cartoon? I thought she was his girlfriend/person to be rescued.

Hawkman had a couple of gimmicks I liked. His helmet gave him a kind of x-ray vision and he wore a gauntlet that gave him some offensive capabilities.

Strange that Speedy and Wonder Girl got animated before their mentors, Green Arrow and Wonder Woman!

At least Aquaman made it to the JLA credits! Poor Martian Manhunter only got to the print ads!

In 1966 DC's five longest-running superhero features were "Superman" (1938), "Batman" (1939), "Aquaman" (1941), "Wonder Woman" (1941) and "Superboy" (1945 [on sale 1944]).

Granted, Aquaman was the odd man out among the heroes of those features as he didn't receive his own title until until 1961, after a Showcase try-out in 1961 (1960-61).

Of DC's newer superheroes, I think the Atom would've been the best cartoon partner for Superman.

Wonder Woman didn't make it because she wouldn't stop staring at her mirror and singing "Oh You Beautiful Girl." Maybe she should have skipped music on that island.
 
Philip Portelli said:

Aquaman was created by Mort Weisinger which was why he was spotlighted. Also visually he was so different from Superman that he made a great counterpart for the Man of Steel. And swimming (which was basically flying underwater) took up less animation time.

Was Mera his wife in the cartoon? I thought she was his girlfriend/person to be rescued.

Hawkman had a couple of gimmicks I liked. His helmet gave him a kind of x-ray vision and he wore a gauntlet that gave him some offensive capabilities.

Strange that Speedy and Wonder Girl got animated before their mentors, Green Arrow and Wonder Woman!

At least Aquaman made it to the JLA credits! Poor Martian Manhunter only got to the print ads!

Green Arrow also started in 1941 going from More Fun Comics to Adventure and World's Finest.

Luke Blanchard said:

In 1966 DC's five longest-running superhero features were "Superman" (1938), "Batman" (1939), "Aquaman" (1941), "Wonder Woman" (1941) and "Superboy" (1945 [on sale 1944]).

Granted, Aquaman was the odd man out among the heroes of those features as he didn't receive his own title until until 1961, after a Showcase try-out in 1961 (1960-61).

Of DC's newer superheroes, I think the Atom would've been the best cartoon partner for Superman.

He didn't have a slot by that point, although he had continued to appear in Justice League of America. His World's Finest Comics series ended in 1964 when Mort Weisinger took the title over.

So the next longest-running DC superhero was the Martian Manhunter, as he was still appearing in the back of House of Mystery.

At the start of the 1960s DC's third longest-running feature after "Superman" and "Batman" was "Congo Bill"/"Congorilla", as it debuted in 1940. But it ended in 1961.

At the start of 1966 it was "Blackhawk", as it commenced before "Aquaman" and "Wonder Woman" in 1941. But I don't know if DC owned or leased the feature in 1966. Another long-running feature was "Tomahawk" (1947).

Marvel's longest-running features were "Patsy Walker" (1944), "Millie the Model" (1945) and "Kid Colt, Outlaw" (1948).

Back in England, we only got the Superman stuff. Interesting to learn about all the rest of it.

As I recall Wonder Woman made her debut in the Brady Bunch cartoon the Brady Kids, which was also done by Filmation but ran on ABC.

Wikipedia has it listed she first made her appearance there. Earlier the same show had brought in the Lone Ranger, Tonto, and Superman. As I remember Cindy found a kryptonite rock somehow and Clark has to trick her into getting rid of it without revealing he's Superman.

  Between the magic myna bird and the two panda's those kids got into stranger stuff than they ever did on the live action show.  I remember the Lone Ranger, but not Superman.

Ronald Morgan said:

Wikipedia has it listed she first made her appearance there. Earlier the same show had brought in the Lone Ranger, Tonto, and Superman. As I remember Cindy found a kryptonite rock somehow and Clark has to trick her into getting rid of it without revealing he's Superman.

A friend of mine has been critiquing the boxed set for me. And yes, way bizarre.

Mark S. Ogilvie said:

  Between the magic myna bird and the two panda's those kids got into stranger stuff than they ever did on the live action show.  I remember the Lone Ranger, but not Superman.

Ronald Morgan said:

Wikipedia has it listed she first made her appearance there. Earlier the same show had brought in the Lone Ranger, Tonto, and Superman. As I remember Cindy found a kryptonite rock somehow and Clark has to trick her into getting rid of it without revealing he's Superman.

ITEM: I could not have loved those Superman cartoons more. I STILL love 'em!

ITEM: I didn't have too much issue with Aquaman, and Marvin Miller (IIRC) gave him a super heroic voice like no other. But I never got why he didn't appear in the Justice League segments (well, besides forcing the adventures to take place near water... tough enough, I guess.) And yes, Mera appeared in these cartoons, but never specified as Aquaman's wife... more like his Lois Lane. She even had her own female giant riding sea horse...

ITEM: Certainly Mort would have his way, as he always did, and thus Aquaman. But I couldn't help but reflect that, after the fact, it should have been the Superman-Hawkman hour. It would have been a LOT easier to make Hawkman cartoon stories, Hawkgirl would have fit right in (no offense, Screel), and - again, after the fact - it would have put an entirely different polish on Superfriends.

ITEM: Fun trivia that many may not know. Bob Hastings, who voiced Superboy, got his return to DC animation 30 years later, doing a superb voice acting job as Commissioner Gordon in "Batman: The Animated Series."

ITEM: Further reflection on the Winged Wonder. In the cartoons, he had some splendid offensive capabilities added that, at the time, I thought were much cooler than just a club. Razor talons that could tear through steel, defensively resistant wings to block bullets and energy rays, the afore-mentioned radar vision... it made him quite a strong character. YMMV, of course.

ITEM: The Teen Titans segment was really cool too. They caught the sense of the comic, and even some of the dialogue... well, okay, it was a little stilted. Then again, if you read the comics... brr. ;) I really think that Wonder Girl was easier to get rights to than Supergirl (Mort, you wart) but that seemed to be a crossover character in the cartoon. And to this day, I have no idea why they pretty much reversed Kid Flash's colors.

Commander, a superlative report on the Filmation super heroes. I think Filmation lot a lot after they had to drop their super hero and adventure series; I was not at all fond of the Archie or Jerry Lewis cartoons. Perhaps at some point, you might wax further about Filmation's heroic and adventure cartoons (e.g., "Fantastic Voyage", "Journey to the Center of the Earth", "Star Trek", etc.).

Eric L. Sofer said:

And to this day, I have no idea why they pretty much reversed Kid Flash's colors.


So he wouldn't be the odd man out without a red shirt?

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