by KC Carlson
Following up on my piece about the complete Underdog box set, here’s some more information on the other cartoons that ran with Underdog, produced by Total TeleVision as back-up features. In each half-hour episode, Underdog occupied two of the four cartoon slots. The primary back-ups were Go Go Gophers and The World of Commander McBragg.
Go Go Gophers was set in the late 19th Century in the American West. U.S. Army Colonel Kit Coyote and his Sergeant (named Okey Homa, but his name was seldom mentioned in the cartoons) are tasked with securing the town of Gopher Gultch by wiping out the last two (very clever) surviving Gopher Indians: Ruffled Feathers and Running Board. Ruffled Feathers was the brains of the operation, although he only spoke faux “Indian” (mostly it sounded like gibberish).
Go Go Gophers was blessed with a real earworm of a theme song (“Go Go Gophers, watch ‘em Go Go Go…”), and the series was popular enough that it was spun out into its own series in 1968. Reportedly, it was, at least in part, based on the comedy/western F Troop, staring Ken Berry, Forrest Tucker, and Larry Storch. If you’ve ever seen the show, it was about as close as a live-action show could get to a cartoon. (Well, that and The Great Race.)
The World of Commander McBragg was a very short cartoon (usually lasting all of 90 seconds). McBragg was a pompous braggart (good name, huh?), and the cartoons were pure formula, consisting of McBragg cornering a member of his gentleman’s club and relating a far-fetched or impossible adventure, always concluding with an unlikely escape (and a terrible pun from the listener). Many of McBragg’s stories were inspired by the tales of Baron Münchhausen. McBragg also cameos in a 2006 episode of the Simpsons, “The Seemingly Never-Ending Story.”
Klondike Kat first appeared on the third season of Underdog. (I think… There’s a lot of confusion and misleading information about TTV’s secondary characters floating around, so it’s hard to know what to believe.) Klondike Kat was a Canadian Mountie (leading to speculation that he was a parody of Jay Ward’s Dudley Do-Right), but the real star of the cartoon was the sly and mischievous Savoir-Faire, a French-Canadian mouse thief with the wonderful catchphrase “Savoir-Faire is everywhere!” As a viewer, you always wanted to root for the spunky mouse, but somehow the bumbling Klondike Kat would “always gets his mouse”, which usually meant an unsatisfying ending.
Tooter Turtle was a repeat segment on Underdog, as the series was originally created in 1960 and originally aired on King Leonardo. He was kind of a dimwitted character, who would always call on his friend Mr. Wizard (a lizard) with “another favor to ask” — usually a desire to be transported to some other destiny. Mr. Wizard would always oblige, things wouldn’t work out, and Mr. Wizard would always have to return him, with the magic catchphrase “Drizzle, drazzle, druzzle, drome; time for this one to come home.”
What was bizarre about Tooter Turtle was his impact on popular culture, with references to him (or the cartoons’ many catchphrases — most of which were big hits on childhood playgrounds back in the day) in such places as The Matrix, The Replacements’ album Tim (in which Mr. Wizard’s incantation is a part of a song lyric), a reference in the novel Bright Lights Big City, and an episode of Lost. The cartoon obviously also made an big impact on Tom Servo of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, as he would frequently quote the cartoon’s catchphrases (especially “Drizzle, drazzle, druzzle, drome”).
Underdog v. Rocky and Bullwinkle
I have one last misconception to dispel, this time about Total TeleVision in general. Many people thought that the TTV group and the cartoons of Jay Ward (Rocky and Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-Right, Hoppity Hooper, George of the Jungle) were all part of the same production company. A lot of this was based on how all these shows had a similar sense of writing style and humor (slapstick for kids, inside jokes for the adults) and a very similar animation style (deceptively crude to many adults, but kids didn’t care). The production studios were, in fact, completely separate, but both companies had their animation done at the Mexican studio Gamma Productions, which explains why all the shows look very similar.
The other major connection is that most all of the shows (especially the early ones) shared the same sponsor, General Mills cereal. Since General Mills was footing the bill for many of these shows, they technically “owned” them (or at least controlled them). After many of the shows were no longer first-run on Saturday (or Sunday) morning, they entered the syndication process, And since General Foods controlled both the TTV and Jay Ward shows, they occasionally “mixed and matched” elements between the two animation companies. A Commander McBragg (TTV) segment might air alongside a Rocky and Bullwinkle (Jay Ward) adventure, or a Fractured Fairy Tale or Bullwinkle’s Corner (Ward) segment might appear on the TTV Underdog show, leading viewers to believe there was a connection between the two companies when there was not.
Interestingly, Underdog includes an inside joke about the similarities of the animation between TTV and Jay Ward shows. At the end of most of the four-part Underdog stories, the townspeople would look up in the sky and say (just like in Superman), “Look up in the sky!” “It’s a bird!” “It’s a plane!” Then an old woman would say “It’s a frog!” And another guy would look at her funny and say “A frog?!?” Then Underdog would charmingly chime in with, “Not bird, nor plane, nor even frog, It’s just little old me… (and then Underdog would clumsily crash into something before finishing, sheepishly) “…Underdog.”
According to Mark Arnold, the frog in question was Jay Ward’s Hoppity Hooper, which debuted shortly before Underdog in fall 1964. Another animation mystery solved. I’ve waited 48 years to find that one out.
More on the Way
There’s more on the way! Also out now from Shout! Factory is a six-DVD collection of Tennessee Tuxedo and His Pals: The Complete Collection. And I’ll be back to review it — just as soon as Mr. Wizard brings me back home… Drizzle, drazzle…