On Tuesday, Sept. 8, the East Valley Animal Shelter in Los Angeles will be celebrating the 40th birthday of two tremendous canine celebrities.
The first is Cesar Millan, best known as miracle-working pet behavioral specialist the “Dog Whisperer.” But he’s not the main attraction. The star of the show is the true top dog of animation, a crime-solving man’s-best-friend whose fumbling and meddling has debunked ghost chasers, would-be werewolves and wannabe-witches since he took his first bow on the small screen back on Sept. 13, 1969.
Generations of fans know this Great Dane of Saturday morning memories as Scooby Doo.
Scooby’s origins are now the stuff of TV folklore. At the time, the king of TV cartoons was the legendary programmer Fred Silverman, who was in charge of kids’ programming at CBS. Back in the late ’60s CBS ruled the Saturday morning block with an iron fist with the likes of “Archie,” “Superman” and “Jonny Quest.” But Silverman wanted to steer CBS away from its heavy reliance on superheroes and he remembered some of his favorite radio programs as a kid were mystery shows.
Silverman took his germ of a concept to the equally legendary animation studio Hanna-Barbera to see what they could think up. Their initial ideas led to a pitch called “Mystery Five,” later called “Who’s Scared?” CBS rejected both pitches as being too scary for youngsters.
After the last failed pitch, Silverman was flying back home. On the plane they were playing Frank Sinatra’s then-hit-single “Strangers in the Night.” When Ol’ Blue Eyes went into the last refrain of “scooby-dooby-doo,” lightning struck. No, not the plane, but inside Silverman’s brain. The dog companion was only a minor character in the original pitches, but now given his new name the show was reworked to elevate Scooby and his master Shaggy, a supposed-to-be hippie modeled after Maynard G. Krebs, to lead status.
Throw in a highly memorable pop theme song and some rather sophisticated scripting (for kid’s shows anyway), and “Scooby Doo, Where Are You?” would soon become the new No. 1 show on Saturday mornings.
Four decades later, and the Scoob has gone through a number of incarnations, but has always managed to be the leader of the animation pack. (Click here for Newsarama’s look at the top 10 cartoon canines.) His 40 years in the limelight has included 10 different TV series (with an 11th starting on Cartoon Network this year), two live-action movies (with a third also airing on Cartoon Network on Sept. 13), seven TV specials, 13 direct-to-DVD/VHS releases and tons upon tons of Scooby merchandise.
“It’s really interesting. It’s funny. It’s goofy. It’s sweet. It’s weird,” says Brian Levant, who directed the new live-action film, “Scooby Doo: The Mystery Begins.” “It’s something they’ve done 50 different incarnations of, and it’s a franchise that just keeps on growing. I mean it’s Warner Bros. top license! Scooby is more popular that Bugs Bunny, Superman, Batman! They’ve done something very, very right. It set the mold and now it’s much imitated.”
Levant thinks the show hit on a unique concept for its time.
“There were very few cartoons that involved teens, even adults, solving problems,” he said. “These kids would debunk these elaborate schemes using just their brains and not much else.
“There are just some things that just work. You can analyze and just feel silly. So go for the ride. That’s what I do.”
Apparently that’s exactly what Scooby’s legions of fans intend to do as this mighty mystery-solving mutt and his pals continue to meddle in the affairs of mischief-making malcontents.