Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Rooting for the “Underdog”! Initial Observations.

Just got my copy of “UNDERDOG THE COMPLETE COLLECTOR’S EDITION” on DVD, from Shout! Factory on Friday, February 27. 

I’ve only scratched the surface of Set One (of THREE multi-disc sets contained therein), so it will be a long time (if ever) until I get around to doing one of my “Loooong DVD Reviews” of the entire package.  But, I will offer some early observations…

The FIRST EPISODE (presumably the pilot for the series) is unlike any other episode of UNDERDOG that I recall seeing over the decades. 

There are FIVE separate segments – 3 Underdog, 1 Go-Go Gophers, and 1 featuring perhaps my favorite character to emerge from the Total TeleVision animation studio … the stuffy, tall tale-telling Commander McBragg – and, unlike that which is to come, none of the Underdog segments are part of a longer, continued story. The three Underdog segments are:

  • Safe Waif”: Underdog rescues a “child” (quotes mine) locked in a bank vault.

  • March of the Monsters”: Underdog finds the almost literal “glass jaw” (well, not exactly a “jaw”) of an army of invading giant robots. 

  • Simon Says”: In which we meet evil genius Simon Bar Sinister, whose fiendish device can turn people into flat, 1-dimensional, life-size, black and white photographs.  (…Um, what’s a “black and white photograph”?)
The odd thing is that these three Underdog segments have a much higher “humor quotient” than does the typical Underdog segment. 

The recurring theme in these early entries is that, while Underdog always saves the day, he leaves a great deal of gratuitous property destruction in his wake!  Much like this very early SUPER GOOF entry!  Unlike Super Goof, however, Underdog is not completely oblivious to the damage he causes – but flies off, dismissing it as “details”.  In an odd way, this MIGHT actually make the casual carnage all the more humorous. 

In fact, in “Simon Says”, you can actually SEE the upcoming destruction telegraphed – and your advance cringing only adds to the fun.  Fun, the type of which, I must emphasize again, that one does not ordinarily associate with UNDERDOG. 

Once we move beyond the “pilot” (?), things settle into their familiar pattern. 

The next show offers Parts One and Two of “Go Snow”, in which Underdog faces Simon and his “Snow Gun”.  Surely, you remember this:  Simon Says… Goooo Snooow!”  This is followed by Parts Three and Four of “Go Snow” in Show Number 3. 

Each show also features a Go-Go Gophers segment – and the expected adventurous whopper from Commander McBragg! 

Shows 4 and 5 follow suit with the Underdog serial “Zot”, where a spoiled, whiny, plus-sized, three-eyed alien princess desires a strong champion for a husband – and sets her sights on Underdog.  Go-Go Gophers and Commander McBragg follow along as before. 

Odd thing is the Underdog “Pilot” runs for 22:07 (somewhat the norm for a show of this type), while the first four “regular” shows I’ve seen so far clock in at an average of just over 17:00. 

This cannot be… and something must be missing.  Perhaps it’s because the Commander McBragg segments average less than two minutes each, and other “standard cartoons” run anywhere from 5 to 7 minutes. 

According to the liner notes, the third set of the package, comprising the last 14 episodes (and described as “Season Three”), dispense with the short McBragg segments in favor of other TTV “stable characters” such as Klondike Kat, Tooter Turtle, and The Hunter.  As these cartoons were more of a standard length, than was McBragg, I’ll presume these shows to have longer running times.  It’ll be a long while before I get there, though – because I wanna see ‘em in order… assuming they *are* presented in anything resembling Original Broadcast Order.  I’m not familiar enough with UNDERDOG to know that for certain. 

One the plus side, these shows are chock full of interstitial segments that you just don’t see on TV anymore, even on the rare occasions that you might find UNDERDOG on Cartoon Network or Boomerang.  Even WITH these, they still come up short in length!

I have one “bootleg” UNDERDOG SHOW broadcast from the sixties – and it is comprised of the two expected Underdog segments… and one each of “Aesop and Son” (from Jay Ward’s BULLWINKLE SHOW) and “The Hunter” from Total TeleVision’s KING LEONARDO AND HIS SHORT SUBJECTS. 

As the Ward properties are already licensed for DVD, one would figure that they could not be included here – and this may account for the shortfall in running time.

At this point in time, I’m not sure it is at all possible to properly reconstruct multi-segment shows like this – that were “sliced and diced” in countless ways for various syndication packages.  And, I’m certain that Shout! Factory did the best they could in reconstructing the original “Underdog Experience”.  So, I’m willing to concede this, and give ‘em points for trying. 

Longtime friend Mark Arnold and others supply commentary and other Extra Features, including a 20 page (!) booklet in which Mark details the history of Underdog, making this package a worthy addition to anyone’s animation DVD collection. 


joecab said...

Oh man, I'd love to have King Leonardo and His Short Subjects on DVD. I've got some crappy bootleg I bought at a con once but it just ain't the same.

Li'l bit of trivia: you'll hear George S. Irving's familiar (and unmistakable) voice all over these cartoons as the Narrator and as Chief Running Board of the Go-Go Gophers plus a few incidental ones here and there. He was the voice of Heat Miser in Year Without a Santa Claus. George is still around and kickin' and got to reprise that role some 34 years later (!)

joecab said...

(Also, I had no idea this had even been released! Thanks for the review.)

Joe Torcivia said...

Though I stand by my choice of Commander McBragg as my favorite TTV *character* (“Quite!”), “King Leonardo and his Short Subjects” was – and will always remain – my favorite TTV show.

“King L.” was better than Underdog and Tennessee Tuxedo – and (as I often assert), like “Huckleberry Hound” and “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” in their own respective areas, is undeservedly obscure today! “King L.” was funnier than both of its TTV successors. Particularly the original shows, before the characters were later folded into “Tennessee Tuxedo and his Tales”.

I recall George S. Irving as one of the repertory company on an early ‘70s show called “The David Frost Revue” (starring guess who) – and immediately recognized him as one of the predominant voices of the TTV shows. He’s even briefly featured on a commentary for the “pilot” episode, if that makes for an extra inducement to buy the set.

Another alert: “Tennessee Tuxedo and his Tales” will have a similar release on March 06 (Next week, as I write this!). I’ve got THAT pre-ordered too! No planned release for “King L.”, though. Sadly, that would be the one I’d want most.

For all the reasons I cite in my post, I don’t think it’s possible to do Underdog better than it’s been done here, so consider it highly recommended!

joecab said...

Woo hoo! King Leonardo's my fave TTV show too. Tooter Turtle's prob my second. I still come across someone saying "Help, Mr. Wizard!" every now and then ... I wonder if they realize what that's from?

Oh yeah about those interstitals .. do they run them all just once, or over and over ad infinitum interspersed within the epsiodes like on TV? I'm thinking ahead and wondering how many times we might have to hear Chumley asking "Duhhh, here's a riddle ... what is it that asks no questions but gets many answers?" when the Tennessee Tuxedo DVDs come out.

Oh! I just remembered another Total Television property. Do you recall the Sing-A-Long Family? The skating one is the one most people remember ("Skating's such fun to do-oo..."), and there was a picnic one, maybe a few more?

Joe Torcivia said...

The interstitials, in the small number of early shows I’ve seen thus far, are the same ones – interspersed throughout the show, in what appears to be their proper place. The lone exception would be Commander McBragg, who has his beginning and ending theme interstitials – in at least three different sets of “beginnings and ends”, with different words to the theme and different animation.

Now, what’ll be interesting is if the interstitials *change* as the series progresses. My bootleg has a series of them with a guy posting bills on a brick building. It continues into the end credits, where a cop hauls the guy off, after pointing to a “Post No Bills” sign. Some of those made it into syndicated versions I’ve seen in recent years.

My bootleg seems to be a later show, so maybe these were brought in later. The later shows on the set also feature Tooter and the Hunter, so maybe The Underdog Show was reconfigured by then. I may have to skip ahead and find out. Yes, I bet we’ll see those Tennessee interstitials over and over. But, that’s part of the charm. And, since interstitials were always the first bits to get “lost”, it’s great to see them in any form!

Tooter, if I can trust my memories on this, did not receive new episodes for the Tennessee Tuxedo show. Only King Leonardo and The Hunter did. Each one of these also underwent a change in format. King L. got a new, regular villain, “Mr. Mad”, for whom Biggie and Itchy Brother were now working. And The Hunter got a nephew – “Horace”, or was it actually “Horrors”. Anyone else remember this?

But, I’d figure ANY Tooter on the Underdog set, would date from the original King Leonardo show. I’ll be able to tell once I see one.

Thankfully (It would seem), I do not remember “The Sing- A-Long Family”! What show did that run on? Not any one that I recall. But, I’ve never been as big into TTV as I was with Hanna-Barbera or Warner Bros.

Chris Barat said...


Just ordered this via amazon... for some reason, it hasn't shown up at either the local Best Buy or the local Barnes & Noble.

I've seen George Irving in vintage commercials that run during original college basketball broadcasts on TV4u. He was part of the repertory company that did Xerox commercials back in the late 70s and early 80s. He usually played the obligatory "pompous salesperson" who wanted to sell people something OTHER than a Xerox.

I think I'll be getting the TENNESSEE TUXEDO set as well.


Joe Torcivia said...


Mine was from Amazon too! Can’t speak for B&N, but it seems that Best Buy no longer carries the wide range of DVDs that they once did. Oh, you can still find all the recent stuff like The Simpsons, Futurama, Family Guy, Cleveland Show, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, DCU Direct-to-Video animated films, and, of course, SpongeBob.

But, you won’t find Underdog and Tennessee Tuxedo, and I’m certain the upcoming Mister Magoo theatricals set (I’ve NEVER SEEN THOSE!!!) will not be found there either.

It’s not only animation, the more recent volumes of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Fugitive, Gunsmoke, Perry Mason, Dragnet, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents also came from Amazon. Earlier volumes of all these titles were available at Best Buy.

Pity, because I now reflexively pre-order something from Amazon that I DO eventually see on Best Buy’s shelves (like the last Rocky and Bullwinkle, or the recent Pepe Le Pew sets) -- except that I now assume they are not going to stock anything that’s not current or recent.

You will enjoy Underdog!


Joe Torcivia said...

…And, back to Joe C:

Curiosity got the better of me, and I skipped ahead to a pair of Underdog shows from the final volume – the one designated as “Season Three”.

There was only one combination of two shows that allowed for a complete four-part Underdog serial – and would also allow me to see one-each of The Hunter and Tooter Turtle. Each show also featured an installment of Klondike Kat (with intro interstitials) – the Go-Go-Gophers and Commander McBragg having, apparently, been used up in earlier volumes.

Both The Hunter and Tooter were recycled from the great original show KING LEONARDO AND HIS SHORT SUBJECTS! You CAN tell the difference from a later TTV series in the animation, design, etc. The original intro interstitials for both Tooter and The Hunter are included, as well. (Though the interstitials vary in picture quality.)

There are 12 Tooters and 2 Hunters, overall. So, there’s another reason to enjoy the set.

And, as I suspected, the shows with Klondike Kat, Tooter and The Hunter run more onto 20 minutes – vs. 17:00 for the earlier shows. I think that if you slipped in a repeat of McBragg (as I’m sure they did, back in the day) that puts them at about 22 minutes.

The Underdog interstitials in these two episodes do not vary from those in the early shows, alas. I was hoping we’d have the full gamut of them as the show progressed. And, the end credits are also the same as before. Voice actors credited. A blanket animation credit for “Gamma”, and no credits for the writers – whoever they were! Too bad! I’m always interested in the identity of animation and comic book writers.

Still, I feel there’s just so much you can reclaim from a show that’s been put through the (General?) Mill(s), as Underdog has been over the decades. I remain satisfied, overall. And you will be too!


joecab said...

Thanks for the extra details! I know I'll get the DVDs, but I'll pobably wait because I already have a ton of other stuff to read and watch first. (and maybe they'll be a sale).

The Sing-A-Long Family was originally was tossed in randomly in Underdog reruns but may have originally been part of King Leonardo. See if any of these ring a bell:

Chris Barat said...


Good to hear that THE HUNTER is included in this package. Remember that William Van Horn worked on that series, which was at least partially animated by a studio in California.

I'd guess that creators Buck Biggers and Chet Stover did most, if not all, of the writing for UNDERDOG and the rest of the TTV series. I'd have to check Mark's TTV history to be sure, however.


Joe Torcivia said...

Joe C:

Now that you’ve jogged my memory (more like doused it with ice water and ran it through with electric current!), I DO remember “The Sing- A-Long Family”, after all!

Though I must have seen them in ‘80s syndicated UNDERDOG repeats, or perhaps ‘90s Cartoon Network shows. I have no recollection of it from original ‘60s runs, though it must have been added-on at some point. By the length of it, it looks as if it were intended to replace Commander McBragg, and inject something “fresh”, as THE UNDERDOG SHOW wore on.

If true, though, it’s odd that they were not included on the DVDs. But, if it would mean losing Tooter or The Hunter on those later shows (whether or not they were there originally), I’ll happily keep things as they are.

And, hey… I’ve also got “a ton of other stuff to read and watch first”. Didn’t let it stop me, and look at all the fun I’m having, sharing my thoughts with you guys! …You’re a COLLECTOR, Mister! Never forget that! (Says the guy who just stopped buying new comics!)



There are only TWO installments of The Hunter on the UNDERDOG set. But, if Shout! Factory is successful in recreating TENNESSEE TUXEDO, he will be regularly featured on that set.

I guess the animation on those things were “farmed-out” to anywhere and everywhere – including getting into the capable hands of William Van Horn. You’re likely correct on the writers – but some identifying credits would have been nice.


joecab said...


William Van Horn worked on the Hunter??? I had no idea his animation experience went back so far! I've always loved his take on the Ducks. As much as I love Don Rosa's stories, they're all in the shadow of Unca Carl (and I don't want anyone else touching Barks' original concepts), but Van Horn really had a great and unique take. What beautiful stuff.


(FYI I haven't failed once at knowing someone would remember Sing-A-Long Family once I reminded them. Huzzah!)

Chris Barat said...


You can tell that THE HUNTER is not being animated by the usual cast from Gamma Productions -- the design is more abstract.

Van Horn also did some self-animated films, one of which I've seen, and you can see the holdover effect from his time at the studio that worked on THE HUNTER, with a touch of George Herriman thrown in.


Joe Torcivia said...

Skipping ahead to THE HUNTER, are we Chris?

What you say is likely true and TTV or Gamma must have farmed-out pieces of animation to different sources but, also bear in mind (and Joecab will concur) that the entire early original KING LEONARDO series (from which THE HUNTER came) was animated in a different, rougher, and (as you say) “more abstract” style than the later TTV efforts like Underdog and Tennessee Tuxedo.

Or, to put it in more familiar Hanna-Barbera animation terms, it would be like comparing Yogi Bear’s “Pie Pirates” to a later season of THE FLINTSTONES. Same studio, but vastly different look.