Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Arthur Fonzarelli, time traveler: 22 animated extensions of live-action TV series

Illustration for article titled Arthur Fonzarelli, time traveler: 22 animated extensions of live-action TV series

1. The Brady Kids (1972-1973)
Of the many trends that infiltrated the animated TV series of the ’70s, one that proliferated on a regular basis—and continued to thrive for the next few decades—involved adapting existing prime-time programs into animated spinoffs. In most instances, that meant adding a new element to the existing series premise, generally something more fantastical in nature, which could capture the imaginations of the younger set. In the case of The Brady Kids—which premièred on ABC in the fall of 1972, just before The Brady Bunch began its fourth season—the Bradys were joined by a magical, talking mynah bird named Marlon, twin panda cubs named Ping and Pong who spoke in ostensibly Chinese gibberish, and a dog named Mop Top. (The live-action Brady cast initially did their own voices, but departed after the first season.) Most of the action took place in an absurdly large tree house, with the majority of the episodes involving magic spells cast by Marlon, such as transforming Bobby into his favorite movie star or sending the kids back in time to meet King Arthur. DC Comics historians probably know the series for providing Wonder Woman her animated debut.

2. The Addams Family (1973, 1992-1993)
Given that The Addams Family—which aired for two seasons from 1964 to 1966—was based on the cartoons of Charles Addams, transitioning the creepy, kooky, mysterious, spooky, and altogether-ooky family from live-action to animation was relatively simple. Using Addams’ original cartoons for the character designs, Hanna-Barbera first introduced the animated Addamses via a 1972 episode of The New Scooby-Doo Movies, with original cast voicing their characters. But when the family earned its own series the following year, only Ted Cassidy (Lurch) and Jackie Coogan (Uncle Fester) remained, with Lennie Weinrib and Janet Waldo assuming Gomez and Morticia Addams. (A 10-year-old Jodie Foster performed Pugsly’s voice.) The animated series found the Addamses traveling around the country in an RV that looked suspiciously like their house, accompanied by their pet alligator and octopus. Although the series only lasted for 16 episodes, the popularity of the 1991 Addams Family feature film led Hanna-Barbera to create a new animated series, which ran for two seasons and featured John Astin, reprising his role as the original Gomez.

3. Lassie’s Rescue Rangers (1972-1973)
Eric Knight debuted pop culture’s most famous collie in The Saturday Evening Post in 1938, expanding to a book in 1940, a series of seven films beginning in 1943, a radio show, and starting in 1954, a TV series which would ultimately run for 19 seasons and more than 500 episodes. In an attempt to further expand the franchise, Filmation produced an hour-long episode of The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie in 1972 titled “Lassie And The Spirit Of Thunder Mountain,” which placed Lassie in the care of Ranger Ben Turner (voiced by Ted Knight), his wife Laura, and their children Susan, Jackie, and Ben Jr., all of whom—along with Gene Fox, the wise Native American—helped Ranger Ben keep Thunder Mountain National Park safe. Lassie had her own team, featuring Groucho the owl, Old Toothless the mountain lion, Musty the skunk, Robbie the raccoon, among other members of the menagerie. The episode served as a back-door pilot for a series, Lassie’s Rescue Rangers, which premièred in the fall of 1973, lasted only 14 episodes.

4. Jeannie (1973)
As a rule, studios have next to no concern about maintaining continuity between series and their source material, but so little ties Hanna-Barbera’s Jeannie to the 1960s sitcom I Dream Of Jeannie—to the point that Sidney Sheldon, creator of the original series, doesn’t appear in the credits—that it barely qualifies as an extension. (IMDB claims that Hanna-Barbera had overspent on guest stars for The New Scooby-Doo Movies so it couldn’t afford any of the original cast.) Disposing with everyone from I Dream Of Jeannie except the title character—and tweaking her to have red hair and deliver magic by whipping her ponytail instead of blinking—Jeannie is now in the possession of high school student Corey Anders, voiced by Mark Hamill, and is accompanied by Babu, a “junior genie” whose proficiency at magic leaves something to be desired. Although the series only lasted for 16 episodes, Babu returned to appear in Scooby’s Laff-A-Lympics.

5. My Favorite Martians (1973)
Like Hanna-Barbera with Jeannie, Filmation used no original cast from My Favorite Martian in its animated spin-off, which expanded the premise from alien visitor Uncle Martin (voiced by Jonathan Harris of Lost In Space) to include his actual nephew, Andromeda, a.k.a. Andy, and a pink sheepdog-ish pet named Okey. As one good teenage character deserves another, Tim, Martin’s adopted Earth “nephew,” was also joined by his niece, Katy, with the whole bunch living under the same roof. Although My Favorite Martians reportedly repurposed scripts that had been intended for the aborted fourth season of the live-action series, it ended after 16 episodes.

6. Emergency +4 (1973-1974)
In an effort to emulate Hanna-Barbera’s success with teaming teenagers with animals, Universal greenlit an animated spin-off of Emergency!, its successful series about on-duty firefighters and paramedics. Randolph Mantooth and Kevin Tighe provided the voices of their prime-time characters, John Gage and Roy DeSoto, who were joined by four teenagers—Carol, Matt, Jason, and Randy—whose life-saving training was apparently enough to entrust them with an ambulance. In addition, the teens had a trio of helper animals: Flash the dog, Bananas the monkey, and Charlemagne the mynah bird. Although fire departments around the country requested prints of the episodes to show children during school presentations, and the series regularly offered first-aid instruction, some parents criticized it for placing its young characters in life-threatening situations. Emergency +4 lasted for 23 episodes before the last new episode aired in November 1974, but aired in reruns through 1976.


7. Star Trek (1973-1974)
Relieved of concerns about bad special effects and cheesy makeup, the animated Star Trek series was able to introduce new, more alien crewmembers like Arex and M’ress, and buck continuity with the source material in favor of storylines with more elaborate visuals. In addition to the original cast reprising their roles (except Walter Koenig, whose Chekov didn’t appear in the animated version), several writers from Star Trek: The Original Series wrote for it, resulting in sequels to fan-favorite episodes (“More Tribbles, More Troubles,” “Mudd’s Passion”) and the return of familiar elements such as the Guardian Of Forever (“Yesteryear”) and the amusement-park planet from “Shore Leave” (“Once Upon a Planet”). Although Trek creator Gene Roddenberry viewed the animated series as non-canon, elements from its stories have found their way into other incarnations of Star Trek, including Kirk’s middle name (Tiberius), Spock’s mother’s last name (Grayson), and—in “The Practical Joker”—a rec room that was, for all practical purposes, a holodeck.

8. Partridge Family 2200 A.D. (1974-1975)
Hanna-Barbera’s decision to do a second animated series about a family in the future began as planned spin-off of its first, The Jetsons, with Elroy as a teenager and Judy working as a reporter. Instead the company opted to send the Partridges nearly 250 years into the future, with decidedly Jetsons-esque technology, a robot dog named Orbit, and friends from other planets. Although Danny Bonaduce, Suzanne Crough, and Brian Forster reprised their roles, Susan Dey only returned for a few episodes, and Shirley Jones, David Cassidy, and Dave Madden did not participate at all. Although the series remains unavailable on DVD, two episodes—“My Son, The Spaceball Star” and “Car Trouble”—can be found as bonus material on The Partridge Family: The Complete First Season.

9-10. The New Adventures Of Gilligan (1974-1975)/Gilligan’s Planet (1982)
Gilligan’s Island had enjoyed success with a younger demographic in syndication, and the castaways were still on the island when the show was canceled in 1967, so Filmation teamed with ABC to continue the adventures of Gilligan, the Skipper, the Howells, Ginger, the Professor, and Mary Ann on Saturday mornings. Although Dawn Wells was unavailable to reprise the role of Mary Ann and Tina Louise barely acknowledged that she’d ever even been Ginger, the rest of the cast provided the voices of their characters. Aside from the addition of Snubby the monkey, The New Adventures Of Gilligan tended to be similar to Gilligan’s old adventures (not a surprise, given how far-fetched the series had been to begin with), earning the animated series a 24-episode run. After its conclusion, the cast returned to live-action for three TV movies, before the producers took a cue from Robinson Crusoe On Mars and sent the castaways on a rocket ride to another planet. Although the cast returned, this time with Dawn Wells voicing Mary Ann and Ginger, Gilligan’s Planet only lasted 13 episodes.

11. The Fonz And The Happy Days Gang (1980-1981)
Considering his cool-guy demeanor and talent for getting chicks into bed, Arthur Fonzarelli would never work as a cartoon, which helps explain why the creators of The Fonz And The Happy Days Gang shifted focus and put him, Richie Cunningham, and Ralph Malph—still portrayed by Henry Winkler, Ron Howard, and Donny Most—in time-travel scenarios. For 24 episodes, Fonz and the gang, plus the Fonz’s heretofore-unmentioned dog, Mr. Cool, traveled through time with a cute girl from the future named Cupcake. Although trying to figure out where the events of The Fonz And The Happy Days Gang fall in relation to original series seems unnecessary, the show’s Wikipedia page helpfully notes that the opening narration by Wolfman Jack references the characters’ efforts to “‘get back to 1957 Milwaukee,’ placing the temporal abduction sometime in late season two or early season three of the live-action series.”

12. Laverne & Shirley In The Army (1981-1982)
Just as Happy Days spawned Laverne & Shirley, so did The Fonz And The Happy Days Gang apparently inspire another questionable Saturday-morning cartoon, this one imagining the stars of Laverne & Shirley (then entering its penultimate season) in the army under the thumb of a talking pig named Sgt. Squealy. (The opening credits find the trio battling a King Kong-like ape and space aliens for good measure.) Although Laverne & Shirley In The Army only lasted for a single season, the characters returned the following year, this time accompanied by more characters from Garry Marshall series in Mork & Mindy Laverne & Shirley Fonz Hour.

13. Mork & Mindy Laverne & Shirley Fonz Hour (1982-1983)
With the Fonz having quietly concluded his time-traveling adventures and Laverne and Shirley’s military service maintaining less-than-impressive ratings, the decision was made to bring all three characters together by having Fonzie—still accompanied by his canine companion, Mr. Cool—work as a mechanic at the motor pool. To keep his coffers overflowing, Garry Marshall approved a cartoon version of Mork & Mindy as well, adjusting the premise so that Mork and Mindy (voiced by Robin Williams and Pam Dawber) were high school students but still keeping secondary characters like Mindy’s dad, Fred (Conrad Janis), and Mork’s young friend, Eugene (voiced by Shavar Ross rather than original actor Jeffrey Jacquet). The animated series also continued the concept of Mork reporting in to Orson on a regular basis and added a six-legged dog-like alien pet named Doing. The Mork & Mindy Laverne & Shirley Fonz Hour only lasted a season, but its chances for a sophomore year effectively ended before the series even premièred in September 1982, due to Cindy Williams’ abrupt departure from Laverne & Shirley that August.


14. The Dukes (1983)
While CBS can’t be blamed for trying to wring a bit more money out of The Dukes Of Hazzard by turning it into an animated series, the network couldn’t have picked a worse time to do it: Just as the series entered production, stars John Schneider and Tom Wopat, a.k.a. Bo and Luke Duke, departed Hazzard County over a royalties dispute. As a result, the first 13 episodes of The Dukes feature Coy and Vance Duke (Byron Cherry and Christopher Mayer), the conveniently created Duke cousins who also replaced the original stars in the live-action series. Not that it necessarily mattered to the premise, which pitted the Duke boys and their cousin Daisy against Boss Hogg, Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane, and Rosco’s dog, Flash, in a car race around the world to win the money to save the family farm. Along the way, they’d send postcards to Uncle Jesse, who related their adventures to his pet raccoon, Smokey. Although the series only lasted for another seven episodes after Schneider and Wopat joined, all 20 episodes have since been released on DVD through Warner Archive.

15. Muppet Babies (1984-1991)
By the time the baby Muppets debuted during a fantasy sequence in 1984’s The Muppets Take Manhattan, the animated series starring the toddlers was well under way. Appearing as part of CBS’s Saturday-morning lineup only three months after the film hit theaters, Muppet Babies became a consistently clever, creative, and hilarious expedition into the imagination—which has kept it off DVD, thanks to those flights of fancy frequently including clips of TV series and films like Star Wars, Star Trek, and Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Muppet Babies also avoided introducing new characters for the most part, sticking predominantly with the familiar faces of Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, Scooter, Gonzo, and Rowlf; the only new addition was Skeeter, Scooter’s cousin, whom the producers added because they felt the series needed another female character. Muppet Babies ran for eight seasons, its success eventually reaching a point where it held 90 minutes of the Saturday-morning schedule.

16. It’s Punky Brewster (1985-1986)
Perhaps realizing that Punky Brewster couldn’t possibly be made more saccharine, It’s Punky Brewster—which also featured Soleil Moon Frye as the titular character—introduced Glomer. A magical gopher-like creature who lived in a city at the end of a rainbow, he regularly cast spells that sent Punky and her friends on weird, wild adventures through time and space or sometimes just wreaked general havoc on their lives. It’s Punky Brewster was canceled after two seasons, but Frye reprised the character for a 2009 Robot Chicken sketch, revealing what happened after Punky outgrew Glomer and how he reacted to the slight.

17. Fraggle Rock (1987)
If anyone could make lightning strike twice, it was Jim Henson, but the animated version of Fraggle Rock didn’t repeat the success of Muppet Babies. Maybe viewers were less familiar with it because the original show aired exclusively on HBO when having cable was far less common, or maybe it was because, where Muppet Babies reinvented its characters, the animated Fraggle Rock was just, well, an animated Fraggle Rock. In an interview on the complete-series set, co-producer Michael Frith admitted that the shift from puppet to cartoon proved both freeing and challenging, allowing for more intricate maneuvers by the characters while necessarily simplifying certain aspects of the characters and the setting.

18-19. ALF: The Animated Series (1987-1988) / ALF Tales (1988-1989)
Most animated adaptations of primetime series tend have little connection to the creators of the original series, but ALF: The Animated Series was the brainchild of ALF creator Paul Fusco (who also provided ALF’s voice). Animation allowed Fusco to delve into all the details of ALF’s home planet, Melmac, and fill in ALF’s backstory. In addition, ALF spawned a second animated series, ALF Tales, which re-imagined familiar fairy tales, fables, and stories with ALF as a main character, while maintaining Fusco’s comedic sensibilities.

20-21. Tales From The Cryptkeeper (1993-1994) / New Tales From The Cryptkeeper (1997)
The idea of re-imagining a pay-cable horror anthology as Saturday-morning cartoon takes serious nerve, but such things are possible when Robert Zemeckis, Richard Donner, Walter Hill, and Joel Silver are executive producers. Even with John Kassir continuing as the Cryptkeeper, the animated Tales was decidedly less blood-curdling than the original HBO series, but still provided enough scares for the younger crowd to keep the series on ABC for two seasons. After R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps novels became a popular TV series, CBS revived Tales, but for once, slapping the word “New” in front of the title actually meant something: New Tales From The Cryptkeeper not only looked different, it also now featured a moral in every episode. Whether as an act of rebellion or a lack of interest, audiences didn’t latch onto the updated version of the series, and it was gone after a 13-episode run.

22. Mr. Bean: The Animated Series (2002-2003)
Kids understand slapstick comedy, so Rowan Atkinson’s bumbling Mr. Bean character seemed like a good candidate for an animated spin-off, especially considering his adventures seldom strayed into racy territory. Atkinson continued to voice Bean’s mumblings, and Matilda Zielger returned as his girlfriend, Irma, but the series expanded to include Mr. Bean’s landlady, Julia Wickett, and her nasty one-eyed cat, Scrapper, as well as myriad neighbors, shop owners, and others to cross Bean’s path. Mr. Bean lasted 52 episodes and earned a spot on the prime-time schedule in the U.K., but is known in the U.S. mostly through DVD.

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