Underdog (TV series)
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Underdog in opening credits
Comic science fiction
|Created by||W. Watts Biggers|
|Written by||W. Watts Biggers
|Narrated by||George S. Irving|
|Theme music composer||W. Watts Biggers, Chet Stover, Joe Harris, Treadwell Covington|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||124 (list of episodes)|
|Producer(s)||W. Watts Biggers|
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Total Television
|Original network||NBC, CBS|
|Original release||October 3, 1964 – 1973|
Underdog is an American animated television series that debuted October 3, 1964, on the NBC network under the primary sponsorship of General Mills, and continued in syndication until 1973 (although production of new episodes ceased in 1967), for a run of 124 episodes.
Underdog, Shoeshine Boy's heroic alter ego, appears whenever love interest Sweet Polly Purebred is being victimized by such villains as Simon Bar Sinister or Riff Raff. Underdog nearly always speaks in rhyming couplets, as in "There's no need to fear, Underdog is here!" His voice was supplied by Wally Cox.
In 1959, handling the General Mills account as an account executive with the Dancer Fitzgerald Sample advertising agency in New York, W. Watts Biggers teamed with Chet Stover, Treadwell D. Covington, and artist Joe Harris in the creation of television cartoon shows to sell breakfast cereals for General Mills. The shows introduced such characters as King Leonardo, Tennessee Tuxedo, and Underdog. Biggers and Stover contributed both scripts and songs to the series. When Underdog became a success, Biggers and his partners left Dancer Fitzgerald Sample to form their own company, Total Television, with animation produced at Gamma Studios in Mexico. In 1969, Total Television folded when General Mills dropped out as the primary sponsor (but continued to retain the rights to the series until 1995; however, they still own TV distribution rights through The Program Exchange).
The syndicated version of The Underdog Show consists of 62 half-hour episodes. The supporting segments differ from the show's original network run. The first 26 syndicated episodes feature Tennessee Tuxedo as a supporting segment (Tennessee Tuxedo originally aired as a separate show and also has its own syndicated adaptation). Thereafter, for most of the balance of the package, the middle segments include Go Go Gophers and Klondike Kat for three consecutive half-hours and Tennessee Tuxedo in the fourth. Commander McBragg is featured in the majority of episodes, replaced by three segments of The Sing-A-Long Family (in shows one-three, 28-30, and 55-57). The final two syndicated Underdog half-hours feature one-shot cartoons originally part of an unsold pilot for a projected 1966 series, The Champion (Cauliflower Cabbie and Gene Hattree), with Commander McBragg appearing in show 61 and Go Go Gophers in show 62.
The syndicated series, as shown in the United States, is a potpourri of segments from previously aired versions of the show. Prior to a 1994 remaster, each episode included a "teaser" at the top of the show, asking viewers to stay tuned for a clip from "today's four-part story." (This originates from a 1969–1973 NBC Saturday morning rerun version of the show.) However, never more than two parts of the Underdog stories were shown in any half-hour program. Prints of such would either be followed by a closing and credits or no credits at all. The closing (which showed the first portion of a variation of the Underdog theme showing a giant terrorizing the city with George S. Irving, the series narrator, saying, "Looks like this is the end!" in place of the theme music) followed by the end credits (re-edited from the cast credits for Underdog and Tennessee Tuxedo), originated from a 1965 repackaged syndicated series, Cartoon Cut-Ups, which originally featured Underdog, Tennessee Tuxedo, and Commander McBragg.
For many years starting with NBC's last run in the mid 1970s, all references to Underdog swallowing his super energy pill were censored, most likely out of fear that kids would see medication that looked like the Underdog pills (red with a white "U") and swallow them. Two instances that did not actually show Underdog swallowing the pills remained in the show. In one, he drops pills into water supplies; in the other, his ring is damaged and he explains that it is where he keeps the pill—but the part where he actually swallows it was still deleted.
Most stories had multiple parts, but the first four were stand-alones:
- "Safe Waif", the pilot, featured a rescue, but no villain. Underdog is shown causing major destruction while trying to help people.
- "March of the Monsters", the first appearance of Sweet Polly Purebred, has giant robots running amok.
- "Simon Says" is the first appearance of Simon Bar Sinister. "Simon says HOLD IT!" is the maniacal refrain, as Bar Sinister uses a weird camera to turn his victims into full-sized, two-dimensional photographs.
- "Tricky Trap by Tap Tap" is an epilogue to the multipart story "From Hopeless to Helpless" featuring Riff Raff.
The show aired on Nickelodeon from June 1992 until the mid 1990s.
Underdog also aired on Australian Broadcasting Corporation on February 18, 1966. In 1995, Biggers, Stover, Covington, and Harris (with General Mills) negotiated a sale of their creations to Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels, who later sold the rights to Golden Books. When Classic Media took over Golden Books, it acquired the underlying rights to Underdog. In 2012, Classic Media was sold to DreamWorks Animation, and ultimately became the property of the series' current owners, Universal Television. IGN ranked Underdog as number 74 on its Best 100 Animated Series list.
Underdog was an anthropomorphic superhero. The premise was that "humble and lovable" Shoeshine Boy, a cartoon dog, was in truth the superhero Underdog. George S. Irving narrated, and comedy actor Wally Cox provided the voices of both Underdog and Shoeshine Boy. When villains threatened, Shoeshine Boy ducked into a telephone booth, where he transformed into the caped and costumed hero, destroying the booth in the process when his super powers were activated. Underdog almost always spoke in rhyme:
- "When Polly's in trouble (or When help is needed), I am not slow,
- For it's hip-hip-hip and AWAY I GO!!!"
Underdog's most frequent saying when he appeared was:
- "There's no need to fear--
- Underdog is here!"
The majority of episodes used a common template as the final scene. A crowd of people looking up into the sky would say, "Look in the sky!" "It's a plane!" "It's a bird!" After this, an old woman wearing glasses would exclaim, "It's a frog!" Another onlooker would respond, "A frog?!?" To this, Underdog replied with these words:
- "Not plane, nor bird, nor even frog,
- It's just little old me ... [at this point, Underdog would crash into something, then sheepishly finish] "Underdog".
Underdog usually caused collateral damage. Whenever someone complained about the damage, Underdog replied:
- "I am a hero who never fails;
- I cannot be bothered with such details."
The villains almost always managed to menace Sweet Polly Purebred (voiced by Norma MacMillan), an anthropomorphic canine TV reporter, as part of their nefarious schemes; she was a helpless damsel in distress most of the time and had a habit of singing in a somewhat whining tone of voice, "Oh where, oh where has my Underdog gone?" This she would sing, to the music of the song "Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone", whenever in jeopardy. Recurring villains included:
- Simon Bar Sinister, voiced by Allen Swift, is a mad scientist with a voice reminiscent of Lionel Barrymore. He has an assistant named Cad Lackey. A bar sinister is a diagonal line, running from top right to bottom left on medieval family crests, indicating the person is a bastard by birth; this was a clever inside joke typical of animation writing at the time.
- Riff Raff, also voiced by Allen Swift, is an anthropomorphic wolf gangster based on noted actor George Raft. His gang consists of Sandy the Safecracker, Mooch (the underworld syndicate's top gunman), Spinny Wheels (who drives the gang's getaway car), Dinah Myte (the underworld syndicate's greatest bomb tosser), Nails the Carpenter, Needles the Tailor, Smitty the Blacksmith, the Witch Doctor, and other unnamed members.
Other villains included The Electric (Slippery) Eel, Battyman, Tap-Tap the Chisler, and Overcat. Underdog also regularly faced enemies from alien worlds, such as the Marbleheads from Planet Granite, the Magnet Men of the Magnet Planet, the aliens from the Planet of Zot, and the Flying Sorcerers of the Saucer Planet.
The majority of the Underdog adventures were presented in the form of four-part serial episodes. Other cartoons, including Go Go Gophers and The Hunter, filled the middle segments. A 1969–1973 NBC run featured all four parts of an Underdog storyline in one half-hour show. The series was first syndicated in the U.S. in the mid-1960s under the title Cartoon Cut-Ups, which presented two Underdog segments along with Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales and The World of Commander McBragg. This package was revised in the 1970s under the Underdog Show title, now including all 124 Underdog segments and featuring Tennessee Tuxedo, Commander McBragg, Go Go Gophers, and Klondike Kat in various episodes. A syndicated package prepared for distribution outside the United States (and also aired on the Boomerang cable network) usually featured two brief Underdog episodes in a single show along with a wider variety of other Total TV cartoon shorts which appeared between such segments: Go Go Gophers, The King and Odie, Klondike Kat, Tennessee Tuxedo, The Hunter, Tooter Turtle, and Commander McBragg.
On these interstitial cartoons, Tennessee Tuxedo, a penguin, was accompanied by two friends, slow-witted walrus Chumley and professor Phineas J. Whoopie. Tennessee Tuxedo was voiced by Don Adams of Get Smart (and later Inspector Gadget) fame; knowledgeable professor Phineas J. Whoopee was voiced by Larry Storch of F Troop fame. With the possible exception of Tennessee Tuxedo, none of these characters ever reached Underdog's level of popularity.
A total of 62 Underdog episodes were made. Underdog also ran with Tennessee Tuxedo, Commander McBragg, the Sing-A-Long Family, Klondike Kat, Go Go Gophers, King Leonardo and His Subjects, and other Total Television cartoons. A typical 30-minute show included two Underdog episodes bracketing either two or three other cartoons.
When he is not Underdog, he is incognito as Shoeshine Boy. Like Superman, when trouble calls, he hurriedly dresses in a phone booth (which would inexplicably explode upon his conversion). On occasion, to replenish his powers, he would take an "Underdog Super Energy Pill". This pill was first introduced in episode 9. He keeps one of these pills inside a special ring he wears at all times. (Before taking one, he would often utter the words: "The secret compartment of my ring I fill / With an Underdog super energy pill.") Several episodes starting with RiffRaffville show Underdog without his ring and being powerless, since he must take another pill as his super powers begin to fail ("Without my Super Energy Pill / I grow weaker and weaker and weaker still") and he can die, but of course, no one does kill him, even when he is at their mercy. He tells everyone who will listen this "secret" of his super powers. When the series was syndicated in the 1980s and 1990s, the scenes of him taking his energy pill were edited out. In the recent release, "Underdog: The Ultimate Collection", the word "energy" was replaced with "vitamin".
Underdog is shown to have incredible superhuman powers. However, the number and scope of his superpowers are inconsistent from episode to episode, being subject not only to the conventions of superhero comics, but also to the conventions of humorous cartoons. In one episode, he easily moved planets, safely butting against them with his rear end. In another episode, his super energy pill, diluted billions of times when added to a city's water system, was capable of giving normal humans who drank the water enough strength easily to bend thick steel bars. Among his many powers shown on the show are: super strength, super speed, supersonic flight, physical invulnerability, X-ray vision, super breath, cosmic-ray vision, atomic breath, atomizing eyes, heat vision, ultrasonic hearing, supersonic high-pitch hi-fi voice, and a great calculating brain.
Books and comics
- Underdog has also appeared in one Little Golden Book, Underdog and the Disappearing Ice Cream.
- Charlton Comics produced a comic book that ran 10 issues from July 1970 to January 1972.
- Gold Key Comics produced a comic book that ran 23 issues from March 1975 to February 1979.
- Spotlight Comics did three issues in 1987.
- Harvey Comics did a one-shot in 1993, and a five-issue series from November 1993 to July 1994.
The show is also remembered for its title song, "Underdog", which was written by Chester Stover, W. Watts Biggers, Treadwell Covington, and Joseph Harris. Several notable covers of the theme song have been made. The song was sung by Peter Tevis.
- The Butthole Surfers released a version included on the 1995 tribute album Saturday Morning: Cartoons' Greatest Hits, produced by Ralph Sall for MCA Records.
- Ted Kooshian's Standard Orbit Quartet included the song on their 2009 CD Underdog, And Other Stories... .
- An extended a cappella version was done by The Blanks on the TV program Scrubs during the episode titled "My Hero". They later recorded it on their 2004 album Riding the Wave.
- The hip-hop music producer and members of the Wu-Tang Clan the RZA sampled "Underdog" theme in their 1993 song titled "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuttin To F' Wit". This song was released in Wu-Tang debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).
- The Underdog theme was used in a commercial for Reebok ZQuick shoes in 2014.
On July 24, 2007, Classic Media released Underdog on DVD in region 1 in a three-volume collection, following a previous three-volume set released in the late 1990s. Each volume features six digitally remastered episodes, each featuring two Underdog segments along with additional cartoons from the Total TV library.
On February 21, 2012, Shout! Factory (under license from Classic Media) released a 9-disc Complete Series set containing new bonus material, including commentaries. According to Shout! Factory- 'they're rebuilding the shows to their original television airing as best as they can'.
In 2005, Variety reported that a live-action Underdog motion picture was in development by Spyglass Entertainment, scripted by Joe Piscatella and Craig A. Williams. As announced, the story introduces "a diminutive hound named Shoeshine [who] gets superpowers after a lab accident. When he's adopted by a 12-year-old boy, the two form a bond around the shared knowledge that Shoeshine is really Underdog." Actor Peter Dinklage was cast to play Simon Bar Sinister, while Alex Neuberger was cast to play Underdog's human companion Jack Unger. The movie started filming in Providence, Rhode Island, in March 2006 and was released on August 3, 2007. The film was distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. Shoeshine/Underdog, voiced by Jason Lee, was played by a lemon beagle named Leo sporting a red sweater and a blue cape. The film got mostly negative reviews.
In 1999, Biggers created a new episode of Underdog as a half-hour radio show narrated by veteran Boston newsman Tom Ellis with new original music composed by Biggers. Radio stations were asked to participate in Biggers' Victory Over Violence organization by airing the adventure in which the evil Simon Bar Sinister develops a Switchpitch baseball to turn positive people negative. His attempt to become king of Boston is foiled by Underdog (played by Biggers) and Sweet Polly Purebred (portrayed by Nancy Purbeck).
- Tom Heintjes. ""Whatever Happened to Total TeleVision productions?," ''Hogan's Alley'' #15, 2009". Cartoonician.com. Retrieved 2014-04-15.
- Perlmutter, David (2014). America Toons In: A History of Television Animation. McFarland. pp. 91–92. ISBN 978-0786476503. Retrieved 2015-06-24.
- Underdog (1964)
- CD liner notes: Saturday Mornings: Cartoons' Greatest Hits, 1995 MCA Records
- CD liner notes: Saturday Morning: Cartoons' Greatest Hits, 1995 MCA Records
- "Underdog DVD news: Box Art and Details for Underdog - The Complete Collector's Edition". TVShowsOnDVD.com. Retrieved 2014-04-15.
- Biggers, Buck & Stover, Chet (2005). How Underdog Was Born. Albany: BearManor Media ISBN 1-59393-025-9
- Arnold, Mark (2009). Created and Produced by Total TeleVision productions: The Story of Underdog, Tennessee Tuxedo and the Rest. BearManor Media ISBN 1-59393-345-2
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