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Scooby-Doo in Hanna-Barbera Universe
When somebody thinks of Hanna-Barbera, there are a few names that come to mind: The Flintstones, Yogi Bear, Jonny Quest. But there’s one name that resonates possibly louder than any other and across more generations, a character who may be the biggest name amongst the Hanna-Barbera pantheon. That character is Scooby-Doo.
September 13, 1969 - October 31, 1970
Late 1960s Television Landscape
The conception of the idea that would become Scooby-Doo was partly out of necessity. Fred Silverman, an executive from CBS, had seen the potential for Saturday mornings as a market for children's television and led the charge toward expanding the network’s schedule from old reruns and shows created by cereal companies to original programming that would be engaging for the target audience. To this end, in 1966, he got Hanna-Barbera and then-unknown studio Filmation to both develop shows for the network with an emphasis on action and superheroes. With shows like Space Ghost and the New Adventures of Superman, Silverman’s idea hit it off with audiences and propelled CBS to number one on Saturday mornings. In the 1967 season, CBS expanded the lineup to include an additional four brand new action cartoons (and reruns of Jonny Quest), with rival networks ABC and NBC following suit with their own plethora of superheroes. During September of 1967, there were roughly 16 action cartoons airing within a weekly five-hour span of time.
However, around this time, media watchdog groups began to protest against the violence displayed on television, in particular on shows aimed towards children. The networks would continue to show action cartoons during the 1968 season, but outside of Filmation’s The Superman/Batman Hour and ABC’s Spider-Man (which had its budget severely slashed), none of those series were renewed and only continued due to contractual obligations. Under mounting pressure, the network heads promised that the violent content would be purged from their schedules by the 1969 season, and scrambled to find alternative programming. CBS pushed all their action cartoons to the later hours, plugged in reruns of Looney Tunes and Go Go Gophers, and (besides Batman) only picked up two new shows for 1968. One was Hanna-Barbera’s “Wacky Races”, which in itself did very well and would later be given two spin-offs. However, the other show would influence the development of their next hit series.
A Surprise Hit
The surprise hit of CBS’s 1968 Saturday lineup, Filmation’s The Archie Show featured a group of four teens and a large dog, who each week would perform in a band and get into hijinks with an ever-present laugh track (the first Saturday morning cartoon to have one). After exceeding expectations in the ratings, the network wanted more programs like Archie. As their output had been greatly affected by the anti-violence media movement, Fred Silverman contacted Hanna-Barbera to hire their studio for a new idea he had. He saw potential with the concept of a group of teens and a dog, and the idea of that group being a band would stick for the time being, but he wanted to put a twist on it. Inspired by old radio shows like “I Love a Mystery”, he foresaw this group of characters as a traveling band who would inevitably encounter mysterious crimes that they would need to solve.
A Clue to the Gang's Origin: Mysteries Five
Hanna-Barbera accepted Silverman’s idea, with Joe Barbera attempting himself to create a concept called “House of Mystery”. However, after struggling with the idea, he tasked the development to Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, two men who were initially hired as sound editors until they were given writing positions on Space Ghost and The Herculoids. Taking inspiration from the characters in the CBS sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gills, Ruby and Spears developed a group of five (later four) teens and a dog who would be a band collectively called “Mysteries Five”: Geoff (the leader), Kelly (the observationalist), Linda (the intellect), W.W. (the beatnik), and another boy named Mike (who was quickly dropped). In this initial concept, W.W. and Linda were brother and sister, an idea that would remain very late into development, with elements of this still being seen in the pilot episode. There was also the de facto mascot of the group, a sheepdog named Too Much. Ruby and Spears had originally conceptualized Too Much as a Great Dane, but went with a sheepdog because they were worried he’d be too similar to comic strip character Marmaduke. Eventually, they were reassured otherwise and changed him back.
Enter Iwao Takamoto
The look of the characters can be credited to artist Iwao Takamoto, a former Disney animator who joined Hanna-Barbera in 1961, with one of his first creations there being Astro from The Jetsons. Takamoto consulted with a Great Dane breeder who also worked at Hanna-Barbera, taking notes on all the traits of a prize winning Great Dane. He then took those notes and intentionally did the exact opposite, giving the dog bowed legs, a drooping chin, and a sloped back.
The band would travel across the country in their vehicle, a colorful van named the Mystery Machine, going to different performance venues, but inevitably running into some mystery that needed solving. The original idea also called for addressing some of the issues of the youth of the time, with the character interactions having more drama behind them. It was, at some point in development, decided that the show was becoming too bloated, and everything relating to the group being in a band (except the Mystery Machine) was cut, and the drama was left out to focus more on the mystery-solving aspect. It was around this time that the main characters also received name changes: Geoff became Ronnie, Kelly became Daphne, Linda became Velma, and W.W. became Shaggy. The name Ronnie stuck for a while, at least as late as the storyboarding process for the first three episodes, but he was eventually given the same first name as the man who came up with the initial idea, Fred.
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Just before being submitted to the CBS executives for approval, Fred Silverman requested that the name of the show be changed to “Who’s S-S-Scared?”. Ironically, it was exactly the answer to this question that concerned the executives when they reviewed the pitch. They felt concerned that the show leaned too far into horror aspects with its mysteries, and that there wasn’t enough comedy. In short, the ones they felt would be scared would be the children watching the show. “Who’s S-S-Scared?” was rejected by the network.
The Birth of Scooby-Doo
With both Hanna-Barbera and Fred Silverman scrambling to retool the show, as it was their big play for the 1969 season, the decision was made to focus more on the dog character, Too Much. It was apparent to them that the dog was becoming the real star of the show in the scripts they had written, being a good easy source of comedy between his friendship with Shaggy, his lovable cowardice, and general marketability. It was decided that the dog would now be put into the spotlight as the title character. Just as with the rest of the cast, a name change was in order, with Too Much being renamed as Scooby-Doo, a name which allegedly came from the closing scat from Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” (which ends with Sinatra singing “dooby dooby doo”), though there also happened to be a song from The Archie Show that was also titled “S.K.O.O.B.Y.D.O.O.”.
A Clue to a Winning Formula
In this new incarnation of the show, “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!”, the format would now typically something like this:
The gang arrive at a location (usually because the van broke down) and meet the locals who speak of a monster terrorizing them. They go to investigate, splitting up to search for clues; Fred and Daphne would go off in one direction (Ruby and Spears would later admit it was because they weren’t as interesting to write), while Shaggy, Velma, and Scooby would go off in another. While the other three find the clues and begin to piece together the mystery, Shaggy and Scooby would inevitably run into the monster-of-the-week, resulting in a chase sequence that would rope in the others at some point.
Following this, Fred would set up a trap for the ghoul, and task Shaggy and/or Scooby to lure them into it. There’d be comedic blundering at attempting this, but the monster would eventually be caught. With a tug at their face, it’d be revealed to be a mask, with a greedy person (always an adult) who they met earlier in the episode behind it, using the scheme for selfish gain (the oft-quoted phrase “meddling kids”, usually attributed to being said by these villains after being caught, was actually said very rarely in the original series). There’d usually be a gag involving Scooby at the end, the characters laugh, and the episode ends.
To breathe life into the characters, Hanna-Barbera hired a core cast of five voice actors, several of whom would stick with their characters for decades. The role of Scooby-Doo went to Don Messick, the studio’s go-to guy for dog characters like Astro, Muttley, and Ruff. Shaggy would be voiced by Casey Kasem, a popular disk jockey from Michigan who had just recently gotten into voice acting. For Fred, Hanna-Barbera hired a then-unknown actor by the name of Frank Welker in his first real voice acting role (Welker had actually auditioned for Shaggy and Kasem for Fred, but the studio felt they fit the opposite roles). Velma was voiced by Nicole Jaffe, a Canadian actress in her only voice-over credit. Daphne was initially voiced by actress Stefanianna Christopherson during the first season. However, she soon left the show and for the second season was replaced with Heather North, a soap opera actress who was Nicole Jaffe’s roommate.
The intro, arguably one of the most well-known theme songs to come from Saturday morning cartoons, was written by Ben Raleigh and David Mook, and was initially performed by Larry Marks. During the second season, it was rerecorded with Austin Roberts doing the vocals. Additionally, perhaps as a throwback to the initial band idea, the second season introduced pop songs during the chase sequences, an aspect that would continue to be used well into the future.
Becoming a Staple of Saturday Mornings
“Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” premiered on September 13, 1969 at 10am, airing between “Dastardly & Muttley” and “The Archie Comedy Hour”. Almost immediately it was a hit with audiences, being picked up for a second season and airing an additional third year of reruns. Not long after, everyone wanted a piece of the action, resulting in a slew of sleuthing cartoons across all three networks, the majority of which came from Hanna-Barbera. Series like The Funky Phantom, Goober and the Ghost Chasers, Inch High Private Eye, Speed Buggy, Jabberjaw, and Clue Club, just to name a few.
As for Scooby himself, once the third year of “Where Are You!” finished out in 1973, CBS ordered the first of many sequel series for the franchise: “The New Scooby-Doo Movies”. “Where Are You!” aired another year of reruns afterwards until the fall of 1975 when, possibly mirroring Fred Silverman’s departure from CBS to ABC, it left the airwaves. However, the franchise followed Silverman and continued strong with new shows on ABC starting in 1976 (including, in 1978, the so-called third season of “Where Are You!”), and Scooby retained a continuous presence on the network in various incarnations until the conclusion of “The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo” in 1985. He would return, in a smaller form, in the 1988 prequel series “A Pup Named Scooby-Doo” (the final Scooby series produced by Hanna-Barbera) until 1991, with one last year of reruns from 92-93 before leaving ABC for good. This lined up with the franchise’s move to Cartoon Network around 1994, where it has enjoyed some representation to the present day.
Still Being Chased, Half a Century Later
But to say that Scooby-Doo has had a life after the original series would be a massive understatement. Between everything that has been produced over the 50 year history of the Scooby-Doo franchise, there have been 12 TV series with nearly 400 combined episodes, 4 TV movies, 33 direct-to-video films (and counting), 3 theatrical films, and numerous specials. Not to mention the various comic books, video games, theme park attractions, and even appearances the characters have made on other shows like Laff-A-Lympics, Johnny Bravo, Harvey Birdman, and Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
Scooby-Doo, with its premise initially born out of popular 60s trends and a love of old radio programs, has withstood the test of time better than any other Hanna-Barbera franchise, being one of the few to outlive even the studio itself. At 50 years old and no signs of slowing down, it’s no mystery that this dog will be continuing on well into the future.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Josh Measimer