Sure, you kids today might have your fidget spinners and your YouTube stars, but you know what we rapidly fading Gen X’ers had? Saturday morning preview shows, self-indulgent, half hour programs in which television networks promoted upcoming cartoons. Many of these shows featured stars who were already in established shows, and doing an almost adequate job of acting like they’re not there under contractual obligation.
There were dozens of Saturday morning preview specials, spanning all three major networks over nearly three decades. Why I don’t recall ever watching any of them I can’t imagine, other than probably after 8 P.M. most nights was when my father declared eminent domain on the television. CBS had specials featuring the cast of Good Times, and then, years later, one starring Hulk Hogan, Captain Lou Albano, Pee-Wee Herman, Herve Villechaize, and Patti Labelle–all in one show! ABC countered with shows starring Tony Danza and Weird Al Yankovic. But try as they may, none of them could top the sheer insanity of one of the earliest specials aired, 1974′s NBC Saturday Morning Preview Revue.
You don’t need the opening credits, or the shots of H.R. Pufnstuf sitting in the audience, to tell you that this is a Sid and Marty Krofft production. From the very beginning everything about this show is baffling, a loud, non-stop trip to downtown Angel Dust City, veering wildly from charming to disturbing and back again.
The show opens with singing and dancing marionettes, which is fine, except when you notice that many of them are dressed as scantily clad Vegas showgirls, some of which look like younger versions of Madame. Evidently because Donny Osmond, by then a jaded, world-weary sixteen, was considered too old for the task, youngest Osmond Jimmy, age eleven, was given the honor of hosting. There’s something disturbingly fetal about Jimmy Osmond. He looks like he was taken from a premature newborn ward and kept away from sunlight and fresh air until he was old enough to learn how to sing and dance. Osmond was best known for the single “Long Haired Lover From Liverpool,” recorded when he was just nine. There are a few things that don’t make sense about this–one, no nine year old-should be describing himself as a “lover,” unless perhaps it’s prefaced with the word “sports” or “candy.” Also, Osmond neither had long hair, nor a Liverpudlian accent, so why anyone, let alone his own mother, thought this song was a good fit for him is a mystery. It’s terrible, but it was still a smash hit in the UK anyway, while barely making a dent on U.S. charts.
Osmond overdoes everything, even just talking, in that “playing to the back row” way that all child performers do when the last thing they hear before going on stage is “Now, don’t you disappoint me.” His enthusiasm is in stark contrast to the audience, which is populated by some of the most unimpressed looking children you’ll ever see. Despite the show being a big budget all singing, all dancing extravaganza, these kids look like they’re stuck in an Amway convention.
Osmond’s co-host is Petey, a peacock that looks like a purple feathered dildo wearing a rainbow cape. Petey keeps trying to steal the show so he can perform with his girlfriend Dinah the Dinosaur, but Osmond isn’t having it, calling out Mr. TV, a sentient television on legs, to introduce the new Saturday morning cartoons. The first is Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch, a show about a red VW Beetle (vocalized by, guess who, Frank Welker) who goes on adventures as a race car. His nemeses, the Chopper Bunch, are a group of bullying motorcycles that can talk and wear hats. The Chopper Bunch, were, of course, a direct influence on Kurt Sutter when creating Sons of Anarchy.
Next is a live-action show called Run, Joe, Run! A narrator gravely intones “Joe…he’s on the run…for something he didn’t do!” Wow, that sounds pretty intense for kids, maybe we’re going to get The Young Richard Kimball Chronicles here. Alas, not quite: Joe is a dog, and all he did was lunge at his trainer. Though only a mere $200 bounty has been put out for Joe, which even by 1974 standards wasn’t a huge amount of money, apparently the entire countryside where Joe is on the run is out looking to collect. Somehow, this paper-thin premise managed to last two seasons.
The half-naked showgirls and phallic birds weren’t enough for you? How about Jimmy Osmond, now wearing a child-sized Elvis jumpsuit, performing a musical number with marionettes made to look like…uh, how can I put this delicately? Let’s say stereotypes of urban folk, including one wearing what definitely looks like a pimp outfit. The song they perform is an Osmond Family original composition called “Down by the Lazy River,” which makes it all the more puzzling whenever Jimmy sings “down by the lazy riv-uhhhhh” in an old black man voice. If that doesn’t send you hurtling into the abyss, later into the song he’s accompanied by a marionette band called the Electric Mushroom, with a lead singer that belts like Big Mama Thornton while swiveling her hips in a suggestive manner. Later still, she twerks, or whatever the equivalent of twerking would have been in the early 70s. Unlike the thing above about Sons of Anarchy, I am not making this up. If you don’t believe me, here’s the show itself, skip right to 12:17 and then apologize for calling me a liar.
When you awaken from that nightmare, there’s a whole new one, when Petey the Peacock finally gets to do a number with his girlfriend Dinah the Dinosaur, whose tongue lewdly lolls out of her mouth. Also, her arms never move (even though a giant lollipop hangs limply from one claw), giving the whole thing an air of seedy tragedy. Thankfully we never see her again after that.
Next we get to rest our nerves a bit with a preview of Land of the Lost, though sadly without the totally awesome banjo-heavy theme song. While watching this I recalled that, when I was a kid, I was convinced that Will and Holly Marshall were played by Barry Williams and Susan Olsen, in their off time from various Brady-related duties. It was the poofy hair and blonde braids that threw me, what do you want? I used to think James Dean was associated with the Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage empire too.
The children in the audience remain unimpressed.
After that, Johnny Whitaker, a cute child actor who entered an incredibly awkward phase and then just stayed there, performs “By the Sea” with the giant heads of broccoli and piles of lettuce that make up his co-stars on Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. Later we’ll be introduced to a hot new cast member of Sigmund who’s sure to be a hit with all the kids–Rip Taylor, playing Sheldon, a magical “sea genie.” Thankfully, Taylor does not actually appear on stage, only in a clip, but that’s more than enough.
Though the new TV shows seem secondary to all the puppet and Elvis jumpsuit madness on stage, we are given previews of a few more: Emergency +4, an animated spinoff of Emergency! in which the “+4″ were a group of kids that joined the paramedics on their lifesaving runs (I’m not sure that’s legal, but whatever), Go, a live action news program that actually looked pretty neat (who wouldn’t want to see how The Pink Panther cartoon is created?), and, finally, the fondly remembered animated version of Star Trek, which, compared to the quality of Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch, looks like Avatar.
Well, that’s it for all the new Saturday morning shows NBC is premiering, so we can go, right? Oh no, sit your ass back down, because the circus is rolling into town. Jimmy Osmond is your ringmaster, accompanied by terrifying clowns with yet more marionettes. The kids in the audience finally show a little enthusiasm during the last two minutes of the show, but only after what looks to be about three hundred pounds of confetti and balloons are dumped on them.
Whew! If you ever require a visual aid to describe what a “sugar rush” means, use The NBC Saturday Morning Preview Revue. Even if you maintain a strict macrobiotic diet, watching this will make you feel like you’ve just eaten one of those extra large Pixy Stix, followed by a cherry Kool-Aid chaser. It makes Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory look like My Dinner With Andre. The audience shots of kids looking like they’re being shown the morning farm report instead just make it seem all the more nutty.
Like the best kind of hallucinogenic drug, it’s fun for a little while, and then you find yourself desperately clawing for some sign of reality, just a hint that terra firma still exists. The really odd thing is that, with the possible exception of Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, none of the shows previewed seem particularly out there, which makes you wonder why it was deemed necessary to make some sort of grade school version of the Monkees’ Head. Nevertheless, that was the magic of Krofft Productions, going full tilt boogie even when it came to promoting a TV show about a dog that goes on adventures. Kids of the 60s and 70s didn’t need peer pressure to be tempted with drugs–Sid and Marty already gave us our first one for free.
Original airdate: September 6, 1974
Watch it here