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How Not To Make A Pilot Adaptation For A Successful Comic Book/Strip. PART ONE: Add a Lot of Sitcom Crap!
WITH the great Golden Age of the Comic Book being in full flower, being spearheaded by the likes of Superman, Batman, The Sub-Mariner, The Human Torch, Captain Marvel, Spy Smasher and seemingly a thousand other costumed super heroes; a rather unassuming comical teen-age made its rather unheralded bow as a back-up feature to the likes of THE SHIELD and THE COMET, super-powered costumed types, both. This was in the monthly PEP COMICS, No. 22, dated December, 1941. The feature, entitled ARCHIE chronicled the adventures, misadventures, fun and foibles of a fictional group of teenagers from Riverdale H.S. in the mythical town of the same name.
DESIGNED by its creator, MLJ Comics Co-Publisher, John Goldwater to be a comics equivalence to the ANDY HARDY Movie Series or HENRY ALDRICH, who had great success in movies as well as being an unqualified success on both CBS and NBC Radio Networks through the 1940's.
WITHOUT any feeling of exaggeration or puffing, we can say that the stories of Archie Andrews, Veronica Lodge, Betty Cooper, 'Jughead' Jones, Reggie Mantle and all of the other characters had become an on-going fictional Teenaged iconic body of fiction that is second to none, in any medium.
THE result of such an unprecedented and doubtless unexpected success of the ARCHIE franchise had far reaching effects on the MLJ Comics Company, itself. The publishing company derived its name from the first names of the troika of publisher-partners: MORRIS Coyne, LOUIS Silberkleit and JOHN Goldwater. They were soon rechristened as "Archie Comics Publications", a division of MLJ. Over the years, PEP COMICS was followed by such titles as ARCHIE Comics, LAUGH Comics, ARCHIE'S PAL, JUGHED, BETTY AND VERONICA, ARCHIE'S MADHOUSE, LITTLE ARCHIE and all kinds of Annuals, Giants and Specialty Titles over the ensuing years.
SUCH a phenomenal popularity would soon lead to some branching out of the Riverdale Legend to new horizons. First off, there was instituted a Daily & Sunday ARCHIE Newspaper Comic Strip, prepared by the Archie Comics Studios, drawn by the original and main Archie cartoonist, Bob Montana; which was originally distributed by Hearst's King Features Syndicate. (Later by someone else.) RADIO was the next frontier for the Archie Juggernaut to cross, as the Series titled ARCHIE ANDREWS, while pressing his surname into service, also managed to span the decade from 1943-53 over the Blue Network, Mutual and NBC. The next logical step would seem to be either motion pictures in either animated cartoons or in live action adaptations with flesh and blood actors. Well, if the cinema had been a possibility, it never materialized. So, what would be the logical next step?
TELEVISION was the rapidly developing medium in the Post World War II period; ergo, would Archie & Company join the likes of Superman, Sergeant Preston of The Yukon, The Lone Ranger, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Groucho and so many others in jumping from the Crosley (Radio) to the DuMont (TV)? ANSWER: Not right away.
FROM 1968 to 1973 (and beyond in reruns) the character's storyline was very much in demand on CBS through Filmation's Saturday morning lineup. Although the title and format would undergo a little evolution, the Archie Story was there under the varying titles: "THE ARCHIE SHOW", "ARCHIE'S COMEDY HOUR", "ARCHIE'S FUNHOUSE", "ARCHIE'S TV FUNNIES; as well as spin-offs such as "JOSIE" and "SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH".
BUT as to the subject of a live action Archie, there was an attempt to get a series. We, the public, were privy to the possibility of the series from little snippets released to the Radio-TV Editors and Writers of our newspapers; strictly for publicity. There was a Pilot made; but alas, like so many others, it was just a 'flash in the pan', 'a disappointment, 'a flop'.
THIS tele-film has long been out there in fan produced quasi-legal tapes. We bought one from a vendor at a movie collectibles & memorabilia show (or was it on Ebay?). It's grouped with some other failed projects like THE PHANTOM, MANDRAKE, THE SHADOW and the like. It's only recently that it has been listed in the IMDb.com listings and are we ever glad to see it.
ALTHOUGH we enjoyed seeing it and having it for posterity; we have to be honest and call it as (not "like", Schultz) we see it. In short, it has to be classified as a well intentioned misfire. There is a certain indication that the essence of the Archie Comics Stories is there, but it is overshadowed by the introduction of some typically sit-com elements; that only succeed in confusing the viewing audience. E.G., Archie is shown using some sort of Rube Goldberg-type contraption and being declared to be some sort of mischievous sort of Walter Denton clone (from OUR MISS BROOKS on Radio & TV.)
NEXTLY, we have the matter of casting. As far as the kids we saw, he job was pretty good; but with the Adult members, well, there was not always the best person in the right role. About the best of the non-juveniles is Miss Grundy (Mary Grace Canfield). In the middle o the road we have the Principal, Mr. Weatherby (veteran Roland Winters) and with Archie's Pop (a very slender William Schallert). We all know that Mr. Andrews is definitely "sort of heavy set." Perhaps many of these problems would have worked themselves out with the luxury of having a few more episodes to do so; but alas, it was not to be.
IF the above shortcomings weren't enough, the Pilot signs off with (to this writer, anyway) an extremely annoying signature song; which seemed to be a cross between the "I Married Joan" theme blended in with Mott's Applesauce jingle and rendered by an ensemble of overly enthusiastic amateur singers with not less than a touch of tone deafness. (Maybe it's me, but this was most annoying; good thing it was the end, the real and true end, man!). POODLE SCHNITZ!!
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