Bill Murray, Steve Martin, and Bugs Bunny: The Looney Tunes 50th Anniversary Special

In the 1970s and 1980s, Warner Bros. did not take great care with its animation legacy. The studio spit out a new, clumsily assembled “special” for every remotely notable occasion, with a lack of care and inventiveness that would have shamed Bob Hope. The programs were comprised of 75 percent recycled old cartoons, strung together with unfunny, ugly looking new animation that contained none of the craft and anarchic humor of the source material.

Not so with the The Looney Tunes 50th Anniversary Special. Produced in 1986 to mark the titular occasion (and loosely tied to a Museum of Modern Art retrospective), it too made heavy use of classic Warner Bros. cartoons. The similarities ended there, however, as the 50th anniversary program tapped into the true spirit of the original cartoons and channeled it into something completely new.

I taped this special when it first aired and watched it many times, mostly for the classic cartoons it contained, before forgetting about it. Years later, I sifted through all my old VHS tapes and rewatched the show with more mature eyes. I could barely believe what I was seeing. How had this show been made in the mid-1980s? How had it been made ever? I would describe it breathless to friends and force them to watch it, just to convince them that no, I didn’t just imagine this bizarre thing. READ MORE


Grinning From Eyeball to Ear: The Psychic Timebomb of Steampipe Alley

The "classic" kids show of the days of early television have a curious amount of nostalgic pull, considering they did not flourish for long. I blame Baby Boomers, who consider all of their cultural touchstones vastly superior to what followed. Whatever the reason, the children's programming of the 1950s — Howdy Doody, Bozo the Clown, Captain Video, and the like — is still what many people think of when they think "kids show." A puppeteered or costumed ringleader, a series of corny recurring characters, a few cartoons, and a studio audience of cheering preteens. Think Krusty the Klown without the Percodan-addicted host.

In the late 1980s, decades after most stations had abandoned such programming, a local station in the nation's largest media market unilaterally decided to revive it. Secaucus, New Jersey's WWOR — a channel with TBS-like superstation aspirations, and the point of origin for such diverse programming as Romper Room, Joe Franklin, and Morton Downey Jr. — launched a kids' show curiously entitled Steampipe Alley, which ran on Sunday afternoons from 1988 to 1993.

With its Our Gang meets Super Mario Brothers set and studio audience of squealing tweeners, Steampipe Alley was clearly intended to evoke the memory of Howdy Doody and similar kids shows of yesteryear. The reality was much, much weirder. Watching Steampipe Alley now, the show does not come across as a throwback to days gone by. It doesn't seem ahead of its time, either. If anything, Steampipe Alley appears to originate from some parallel dimension where our simple rules of decorum and physics mean nothing. It’s hard to imagine that any of it was allowed on the air at any hour, let alone aimed at kids. But it was. READ MORE


"It's All My Fault, Although I Also Blame Others": The Curious Case of the Ed Grimley Cartoon

In 1988, Martin Short collaborated with fellow SCTV alumni Catherine O'Hara, Joe Flaherty, and Andrea Martin, plus legendary comedian Jonathan Winters, to produce a Saturday morning cartoon called The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley. I'm writing this down plainly because, even though I was one of the very few who watched this show during its initial run, I can still barely believe it happened. Despite the presence of these comedic heavyweights, Ed Grimley remains unavailable on DVD, rarely rerun, and in desperate need of rediscovery.

The show was the product of a very brief period of fortuitous timing. According to Short, he was approached by Hannah-Barbera a few times over the years about doing an animated version of the Ed Grimley character. He rebuffed the offers, thinking Ed wouldn’t really appeal to children, until one Halloween, when “two kids came to the door dressed as Ed Grimley. I thought it was strange because it had been a few years since Saturday Night Live, plus it was on late at night, and here were these kids looking like Ed.” READ MORE