Producer Joe Barbera told me, “It’s been my experience that it’s almost always the original characters like Yogi, Huck and Scooby-Doo who rise to the level of perennial superstar.”
The creation of an animated character is often a colloborative process that takes place over a period of time. While we have all accepted the stories about the birth of Scooby-Doo, there are still some things left to be discovered.
Scooby-Doo was probably the first major cartoon star to come from television and has had a decades long career in a number of different series and films as well even helping spawn the creation of a new television animation studio. Scooby has appeared in a number of comic book titles toys, children’s books and records. A costume character version of Scooby has appeared in theme parks.
In 1968, Saturday morning, the home for cartoon shows, was in trouble. For several years, the networks had done well in the ratings with such action shows as Space Ghost, Superman, and The Herculoids among others.
The trouble was parent groups were getting upset about the violence on television that they associated with the superhero-type cartoon shows. Soon the networks were switching over to softer shows that toned down even physical slapstick. None garnered the same ratings and attention as the earlier shows.
When The Archie Show debuted on CBS in September 1968, the musical antics of the characters from the popular comic book series were immediately popular. CBS’s head of children’s programming, Fred Silverman decided that success could be duplicated with teenagers who solved mysteries like the old radio series I Love A Mystery and like Archie’s gang were part-time musicians.
Writers Joe Ruby and Ken Spears from Hanna-Barbera came up with the idea of a group of teenagers traveling the country solving supernatural mysteries. It was the success of this series that led to them opening their own studio.
Joe Barbera and William Hanna pitched the show as Mysteries Five. It featured five teens (Geoff, Mike, Kelly, Linda, and Linda’s brother “W.W.”) and their dog (since Silverman liked dog characters), Too Much, who were all in a band called “The Mysteries Five”. The dog played the bongos in the band.
When the teenagers weren’t performing at gigs, they were out solving spooky mysteries involving actual ghosts, zombies, and other supernatural creatures. The challenge was not to make the dog “too much” like the sheepdog Hot Dog who appeared on The Archie Show. At first, it was discussed to make it a large cowardly dog and then perhaps a small, feisty dog that was too courageous for its small size.
With input from Barbera, it was determined to make the dog a Great Dane. Ruby and Spears were initially fearful that it might be too similar to the comic strip character Marmaduke. Character artist Iwao Takamoto consulted a studio colleague who happened to be a breeder of Great Danes.
After learning the characteristics of a prize-winning Great Dane from her, Takamoto proceeded to break most of the rules and designed the dog with overly bowed legs, a double-chin, and a sloped back, among other abnormalities and that made the dog funnier and also less likely to be confused with Marmaduke.
The presentation was full of haunted houses, monsters, and eerie locales. Silverman planned to use the show as the centerpiece for the new Fall Saturday Morning schedule. When it was presented to the network brass, CBS president Frank Stanton said, “We can’t put that on the air. That’s just too frightening.”
Silverman was now without a centerpiece show for the new season. He told an interviewer, “I had always thought that kids in a haunted house would be a big hit. As a kid, I would go and look at Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and movies like that. I was convinced this was going to be the biggest hit that we’d ever had, even though nobody knew what the hell it was.”
Silverman had Ruby and Spears rework the show to make it more comedic and less frightening. Silverman said, “In a matter of two hours we had revised the concept and it worked great.”
They dropped the rock band element. Geoff and Mike were merged into one character called “Ronnie” (later renamed “Fred” at Silverman’s request), Kelly was renamed to “Daphne”, Linda was now called “Velma”, and Shaggy (formerly “W.W.”) was no longer her brother. Also, Silverman, not being very fond of the name Mysteries Five, had rechristened the show Who’s S-S-Scared?
There is an urban legend that the characters were each crafted to represent different prestigious East Coast colleges but that wasn’t the case. Silverman was a fan of the television series The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis and insisted the characters be personality doppelgangers which is one of the reasons why Silverman is sometimes credited with the creation of the series.
Writer Mark Evanier, who would write Scooby-Doo teleplays and comic book scripts, identified each of the four teenagers with their corresponding Dobie Gillis character, “Fred was based on Dobie, Velma on Zelda, Daphne on Thalia and Shaggy on Maynard.”
For the dog’s name, Silverman as well as Ruby and Spears for years claimed that the ad-lib “doo-be-doo-be-doo” Silverman heard at the end of Frank Sinatra’s interpretation of Bert Kaempfert’s song Strangers in the Night on the way out to one of their meetings was the source for Scooby’s name.
Evanier asserts that “It was actually another hit record, Denise (1963), a doo-wop classic by Randy and the Rainbows that still turns up incessantly on oldies stations. Randy and his Rainbows sang, ‘Scooby-Doo’ over and over, whereas ol’ Blue Eyes kept putting that “Doobie” in there.”
The network bought the show when it was revised to make the dog funnier and the star. It was now considered more of a comedy than a frightening mystery and it was renamed to reflect that the dog was the star.
Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? debuted in the Fall of 1969 and became an instant hit. The combination of humor and mystery proved equally enjoyable to a young audience as it did an older demographic.
There were scary monsters (all shown to be people in costume during that first season and not supernatural), funny characters, silly gags and real clues to solve the mystery. The format was so popular that studios, including Hanna-Barbera, tried to recycle it many times over the years in other series like Goober and the Ghost Chasers, Clue Club, Butch Cassidy and The Buford Files.
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