Underdog in opening credits
|Created by||W. Watts Biggers|
|Narrated by||George S. Irving|
|Theme music composer|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||124 (list of episodes)|
|Producer(s)||W. Watts Biggers|
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Distributor||NBCUniversal Television Distribution|
|Original release||October 3, 1964 – 1973|
Underdog is an American animated television series that debuted October 3, 1964, on the NBC network under the primary sponsorship of General Mills, and continued in syndication until 1973 (although production of new episodes ceased in 1967), for a run of 124 episodes.
Underdog, Shoeshine Boy's heroic alter ego, appears whenever love interest Sweet Polly Purebred is being victimized by such villains as Simon Bar Sinister or Riff Raff. Underdog nearly always speaks in rhyming couplets, as in "There's no need to fear, Underdog is here!" His voice was supplied by Wally Cox.
In 1959, 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, Treadwell D. 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 and Stover 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. In 1969, Total Television folded when General Mills dropped out as the primary sponsor (but continued to retain the rights to the series until 1995; however, they still own TV distribution rights through NBCUniversal Television Distribution).
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 one-three, 28-30, and 55-57). The final two syndicated Underdog half-hours feature two one-shot cartoons that were originally part of an unsold pilot for a projected 1966 series, The Champion (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, never more than two parts of the Underdog stories were ever shown in any half-hour program. Prints of such would either be followed by a closing and credits or no credits at all. The closing (which showed the first portion of a variation of the Underdog theme showing a giant terrorizing the city with George S. Irving, the series narrator, saying, "Looks like this is the end! But don't miss our next Underdog Show!" 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 1965 repackaged 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 medication that looked like the Underdog pills (red with a white "U" on them) 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 is where he keeps the pill—but the part where he actually swallows it was still deleted.
Most stories had multiple parts, but the first four were stand-alones:
The show aired on Nickelodeon from June 1992 until the mid 1990s.
Underdog also aired on Australian Broadcasting Corporation on February 18, 1966. In 1995, Biggers, Stover, Covington, and Harris (with General Mills) negotiated a sale of their creations to Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels, who later sold the rights to Golden Books. When Classic Media took over Golden Books, it acquired the underlying rights to Underdog. In 2012, Classic Media was sold to DreamWorks Animation, and ultimately became the property of the series' current owners, Universal Television. TV Guide ranked Underdog as number 23 on its "50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time" list, and IGN ranked Underdog as number 74 on its Best 100 Animated Series list.
Underdog was an anthropomorphic dog superhero. The premise was that "humble and lovable" Shoeshine Boy 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 superpowers were activated. Underdog almost always spoke in rhyme:
Underdog's most frequent saying when he appeared was:
The majority of episodes used a common template as the final scene. A crowd of people looking up into the sky would say, "Look in the sky!" "It's a bird!" "It's a plane!" After this, an old woman wearing glasses would exclaim, "It's a frog!" Another onlooker would respond, "A frog?!?" To this, Underdog replied with these words:
Underdog usually caused collateral damage. Whenever someone complained about the damage, Underdog replied:
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? Oh where, oh where can he be?" She would sing this to the music of the song "Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone", whenever in jeopardy. Recurring villains included:
Other villains included The Electric Eel (a.k.a. Slippery Eel), Battyman, Tap Tap the Chisler (an evil look-alike of Underdog who does not speak in rhyme) and Overcat. Underdog also regularly faced enemies from alien worlds, such as the Marbleheads from the planet Granite, the Magnet Men of the Magnet Planet, the aliens from the planet Zot, and the Flying Sorcerers of the Saucer Planet.
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 which 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 between such segments: Go Go Gophers, The King and Odie, Klondike Kat, Tennessee Tuxedo, The Hunter, Tooter Turtle, and Commander McBragg.
On these interstitial cartoons, Tennessee Tuxedo, a penguin, was accompanied by two friends, slow-witted walrus Chumley and Professor Phineas J. Whoopie, "the Man With All The Answers". Tennessee Tuxedo was voiced by Don Adams of Get Smart (and later Inspector Gadget) fame; the knowledgeable Professor Phineas J. Whoopee was voiced by Larry Storch of F Troop fame. With the possible exception of Tennessee Tuxedo, none of these characters ever reached Underdog's level of popularity.
When he is not Underdog, he is incognito as Shoeshine Boy. Like Superman, when trouble calls, he hurriedly dresses in a phone booth (which would inexplicably explode upon his conversion). On occasion, to replenish his powers, he would take an "Underdog Super Energy Pill". This pill was first introduced in episode 9. 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, starting with RiffRaffville, show Underdog without his 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.") and, as a result, he can die; but of course, this being a children's cartoon show, no one actually kills him, even when he is at their mercy. He tells everyone who will listen this "secret" of his super powers. When the series was syndicated in the 1980s and 1990s, the scenes of him taking his energy pill were edited out. In the recent release Underdog: The Ultimate Collection, the word "Energy" was replaced with "Vitamin".
Underdog is shown to have incredible superhuman powers. 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 to easily bend thick steel bars. Among his many powers shown on the show are: super strength, super speed, supersonic flight, physical invulnerability, X-ray vision, super breath, cosmic vision, atomic breath, atomizing eyes, heat vision, ultrasonic hearing, a supersonic high-pitch hi-fi voice and a great calculating brain.
The show is also remembered for its title song, "Underdog," which was arranged and produced by Robert Weitz, with lyrics by Chester Stover, W. Watts Biggers, Treadwell Covington, and Joseph Harris. Several notable covers of the theme song have been made. The original song was sung by Peter Tevis.
On July 24, 2007, Classic Media released Underdog on DVD in region 1 in a three-volume collection, following a previous three-volume set released in the late 1990s. Each volume features six digitally remastered and uncut, original broadcast episodes, each featuring two Underdog segments along with additional cartoons from the Total TV library.
On February 21, 2012, Shout! Factory (under license from Classic Media) released a 9-disc Complete Series set containing new bonus material, including commentaries. According to Shout! Factory, "they're rebuilding the shows to their original television airing as best as they can".
In 2005, Variety reported that a live-action Underdog motion picture was in development. 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 Bar Sinister, while Alex Neuberger was cast to play Underdog's human companion, Jack Unger. The movie started filming in Providence, Rhode Island, in March 2006 and was released on August 3, 2007. The film was distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Shoeshine/Underdog, voiced by Jason Lee, was played by a lemon beagle named Leo sporting a red sweater and a blue cape. The film got mostly negative reviews.
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 Bar Sinister 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).
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