Friday, October 28, 2011

Nostalgia Theater: Fake Ghostbusters Edition

I was finally able to catch the original Ghostbusters flick last night at the very tail end of its re-release (which I previously mentioned here), and with that experience still fresh in my rearview, plus Halloween coming up on Sunday, this one seemed an appropriate pick for this week's NT. When Ghostbusters became a huge theatrical hit in 1984, home studio Columbia Pictures began development almost immediately (as was the custom at the time) on a tie-in animated show. But this isn't about that. No, today we're going to talk about the other Ghostbusters.

Here's the backstory: In 1975, Filmation, one of the preeminent sources of TV kidvid from the '60s into the '80s, had produced a live action Saturday morning show called The Ghost Busters, which starred F-Troop's Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch (along with a guy in a monkey suit) as a team of hapless, well, Ghost Busters. The show came and went inside of 15 episodes, and that would have been that, except for Columbia licensing the name for their completely unrelated movie, and its subsequent success suddenly making the title (if not the property) very valuable. Here's the intro:

Who knew, right?

Anyway, when it came time to turn the Bill Murray-Dan Aykroyd-Harold Ramis movie into a kids' show of its own, Filmation threw up a legal roadblock. The subsequent out-of-court settlement saw Columbia having to distinguish their property from Filmation's, and Filmation walking away with a nice chunk of change (but not the rights to make the movie-based cartoon -- clearly the most valuable prize -- which they inexplicably didn't demand). Thus, on September 8, 1986, Filmation's animated Ghostbusters debuted in syndication, and a mere five days later, Columbia's The Real Ghostbusters (with its title a final jab directed at the routed Filmation), premiered on ABC.

While The Real Ghostbusters found great success with a fairly faithful translation of the film (notwithstanding the different appearances of the main characters, necessitated by animation studio DiC not securing the likenesses of the lead actors), Filmation's Ghostbusters played as a sequel to its live action predecessor, with the sons of original GBs Kong and Eddie, along with gorilla 'buster Tracy, teaming up to battle recurring nemesis Prime Evil (who looked sort of like a cross between Marvel's Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom). I've actually never sat through an entire episode of this series, but I have to admit that it did have a weirdly catchy theme song:

I have a feeling my initial reaction to this show mirrored that of millions of other kids who tuned in, said, "Hey, cool, Ghostbusters!" and then, after several minutes of uncomfortable silence, said, "What the hell is this?" Given that, the tale of the tape here isn't hard to puzzle out: The Real Ghostbusters would go on to run an impressive (especially for an animated series) seven seasons, with 147 episodes produced. Filmation's "fake" Ghostbusters, meanwhile, lasted for one 65-episode season, ending with a whimper in 1987, and two years later, the whole studio was defunct.

With how long The Real Ghostbusters ended up lasting, and how successful it ended up being for all parties involved, it's not too far a stretch to assume that, had the Ghostbusters situation broken differently for Filmation, it could very well have meant the difference between the studio's survival and its actual eventual fate. There are a lot of common sense lessons one can take away from this, but I suppose the most important one is to make sure you have a lawyer who knows what the heck he's doing!

While Filmation's Ghostbusters is now long out-of-print on DVD, it can still be acquired relatively cheaply. Bear in mind though that, if you haven't seen it, all the usual caveat emptor stuff applies.

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