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Underdog

Underdog

Underdog is an American animated television series that debuted on October 3, 1964, on the NBC network and continued in syndication until 1973 for a run of approximately 124 episodes.

Underdog, Shoeshine Boy’s heroic alter-ego, appeared whenever love interest Sweet Polly Purebred was being victimized by such villains as Simon Bar Sinister or Riff Raff. Underdog always speaks in rhymes, such as, “There’s no need to fear: Underdog is here!” His voice was supplied by the frequent guest on Hollywood Squares, Wally Cox (probably best remembered as Mr. Peepers). [1]

HistoryEdit

In 1969, 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, Tread 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 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. At the end of the decade, Total Television folded when General Mills dropped out as the sponsor in 1969.

Underdog was an anthropomorphic superhero parody of Superman and similar heroes with secret identities. 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, I am not slow,
So 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 when Underdog first reveals himself. A crowd of people look up in the sky would say, "Look in the sky. It's a plane! It's a bird!," after which an old woman wearing glasses exclaims, "It's a frog!" Another onlooker responds, "A frog?" To this, Underdog replies with these words:

Not plane, nor bird, nor even frog,
It's just little old me, (at this point, Underdog crashes into something) Underdog.

Underdog usually caused a lot of 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?", which she sings to the tune of the song "Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone" when in jeopardy. Recurring villains included:

  • Simon Bar Sinister (voice by Allen Swift) - A mad scientist with a voice reminiscent of Lionel Barrymore. He has an assistant named Cad Lackey. A 'Barre Sinister' is a diagonal line on medieval family crests indicating the person is a bastard by birth - a clever inside joke typical of animation writing at the time.
  • Riff Raff also voiced by Allen Swift - An anthropomorphic wolf gangster based on noted actor George Raft. His mafia consists of Sandy the Safecracker, Mooch (the Mafia's top gunman), Spinny Wheels (who drives the Mafia's getaway car), Dinah Myte (the Mafia's greatest bomb tosser), the new members, Nails the Carpenter, Needles the Tailor, Smitty the Blacksmith, the Witch Doctor and other unnamed members.

Other villains include 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 Planet, home to the Magnet Men, the Planet of Zot, and the Saucer Planet, home to the Flying Sorcerers.

Underdog-Macys-1979

Underdog at 1979 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

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 in between such segments: Go Go Gophers, King Leonardo and his Short Subjects, Klondike Kat, Tennessee Tuxedo, The Hunter, Tooter Turtle and Commander McBragg.

Tennessee Tuxedo, a penguin, was accompanied by two friends, slow-witted walrus Chumley and 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.[1] With the possible exception of Tennessee Tuxedo, none of these characters ever reached Underdog's level of popularity.

Super powersEdit

Unlike Superman, Underdog's super powers are not a natural part of his physical makeup. When he is not Underdog, he is incognito as a shoeshine boy. Like Superman, when trouble calls, he hurriedly dresses in a phone booth (which would inexplicably explode upon his conversion). In order to release his powers, he must take an "Underdog Super Energy Pill" (like Hourman, Roger Ramjet or Mister Terrific). The "Underdog Super Energy Pill" was first introduced in Episode 10. 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 show Underdog losing the 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"). When the series was syndicated in the 1980s and 1990s, the scenes of him taking his energy pill were edited out. Animation fans lambast this as a form of political correctness, as they believe the scenes were removed in an attempt to prevent any glorification of drug use.

Underdog is shown to have powers similar to Superman, including those of flight, super strength, and invulnerability to conventional weapons. 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. However, these strengths are not consistent; e.g., in another episode a simple metal sword stuck down the back of his outfit gave him disabling fits of pain.

Other powers shown include:

  • X-Ray Vision
  • Super Breath
  • Cosmic Ray Vision
  • Atomic Breath
  • Atomizing Eyes (?)
  • Ultrasonic hearing
  • Great Calculating Brain

History abroad and in syndicationEdit

Underdog also aired on ABC in Australia in February 18, 1966, and he appeared in some comic books and one Little Golden Book, Underdog and the Disappearing Ice Cream.

In 1995, Biggers, Stover, Covington and Harris negotiated a sale of their creations to Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels, who later sold the rights to Golden Books. Classic Media currently owns the underlying rights to Underdog.

The character's appeal has survived into the 21st century. A balloon of Underdog has also been an annual attraction in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

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 #1-2-3, #28-29-30, and #55-56-57). The final two syndicated Underdog half-hours feature one-shot cartoons (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, there were never more than two parts of the Underdog stories shown in any half-hour program. Prints of such would either be followed by a closing outro and credits or no credits at all. The closing outro (which showed the first portion of a variation of the Underdog theme showing a big ape terrorizing the city with a 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 1960s 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 real 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's where he keeps the pill - but the part where he actually swallows it was still cut.

Most stories were multi-parters, but four were stand-alones:

  • "Safe Waif" (the pilot, which featured a rescue, but no villain)
  • "March of the Monsters" (first appearance of Sweet Polly Purebred.)
  • "Simon Says" (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-size, two-dimensional photographs.)
  • "Tricky Trap by Tap Tap" (a sequel to the multi-part story "From Hopeless to Helpless", featuring Riff Raff.)

Theme song Edit

The show is also remembered for its title song Underdog, which was written by Chester Stover, Watts Biggers, Treadwell Covington and Joseph Harris.[2] The lyrics begin:

When criminals in this world appear,
And break the laws that they should fear,
And frighten all who see or hear,
The cry goes up both far and near for
Underdog! Underdog! Underdog! Underdog!
Speed of lightning! Roar of thunder!
Fighting all who rob or plunder!
Underdog! Underdog!

A cover of the theme song Underdog, performed by Butthole Surfers, is included on the 1995 tribute album Saturday Morning: Cartoons' Greatest Hits, produced by Ralph Sall for MCA Records.[3]

EpisodesEdit

See: List of Underdog episodes

Comic booksEdit

Charlton Comics produced a comic book that ran 10 issues in 1970-72. Gold Key Comics produced a comic book that ran 23 issues from 1975-79. Spotlight Comics did 3 issues in 1987, and Harvey Comics did a one-shot in 1993 and a 5-issue series in 1993-94.

RadioEdit

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 Barsinister 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).

Film adaptationEdit

Main article: Underdog (film) 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 Barsinister, while Alex Neuberger was cast to play Underdog's human companion Jack Unger. The movie started filming in Providence, Rhode Island in March of 2006, and was released on August 3, 2007, and rated by the MPAA Film Board at PG. 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.

Other mediaEdit

  • The Robot Chicken episode Dragon Nuts featured a parody of Underdog (voiced by Seth Green). He came to the rescue of a woman having her purse stolen in an alleyway, only to have everyone (including the woman and the criminal robbing her) drop everything, awed over the fact that he was a talking dog.
  • In a 2005 commercial for the Visa Check Card a woman's credit card is stolen, prompting the appearance of Marvel Comics superheroes. Dismissing the threat, the heroes leave, just as Underdog arrives.
  • In the Powerpuff Girls episode "Super Zeroes", when Bubbles adopts the identity of Harmony Bunny, she parodies one of Underdog's catchphrases:
When trouble is near, I am not slow,
For it's hop! hop! hop! and away I go.
  • In a Thanksgiving-themed Reba episode, Van is revealed to be a huge Underdog fan, owning the complete DVDs and ecstatic over the prospect of seeing the Underdog Macy's balloon in the annual parade. Later his daughter Elizabeth is seen at the dinner table in a full Underdog super-suit.
  • Dennis Miller has given regular guest Jake Tapper, ABC News Senior National Correspondent and Senior Political Correspondent, the nickname "Tap Tap The Chiseler," a reference to an Underdog villain that was only explained to Tapper on the May 6, 2008 installment of Miller's nationally syndicated radio talk show.
  • Wally Cox died on February 15, 1973. The next day's broadcast of The Hollywood Squares was preceded by Peter Marshall explaining to viewers that since the show was taped some time in advance, Cox would continue to appear for some time. He ended with the words, "Dear Lord, have no fear; Underdog is there!"

DVD releasesEdit

On July 24, 2007, Classic Media released Underdog on DVD in Region 1 in a 3 volume collection, following a previous three-volume set released in the late 1990s. Each volume features 6 digitally-remastered episodes, each featuring two Underdog segments along with additional cartoons from the Total TV library. It is expected that other releases will follow in the future. [2]

Further readingEdit

  • Biggers, Buck & Stover, Chet (2005). How Underdog Was Born. Albany: BearManor Media ISBN 1-59393-025-9

See also Edit

External linksEdit


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