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Comic science fiction
|Written by||W. Watts Biggers
|Starring||Wally Cox (voice of Underdog)
Norma MacMillan (voice of Sweet Polly PureBred)
Allen Swift (voice of Simon Bar Sinister)
|Narrated by||George S. Irving|
|Theme music composer||W. Watts Biggers , Chet Stover, Joe Harris, Treadwell Covington|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||124|
|Producer(s)||W. Watts Biggers|
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Original channel||NBC, CBS|
|Original run||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, appeared whenever love interest Sweet Polly Purebred was being victimized by such villains as Simon Bar Sinister or Riff Raff. Underdog nearly always speaks in rhyme, 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. At the end of the decade, Total Television folded when General Mills dropped out as the primary sponsor in 1969 (but continued to retain the rights to the series until 1995).
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 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, 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 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!" 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") 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 were multi-parters, but the first four were stand-alones:
Underdog also aired on ABC in Australia 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 thus they are the new owners of the series.
Underdog was an anthropomorphic superhero. 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:
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 plane!" "It's a bird!" 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 a lot of 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?" This she would sing, to the music of the song "Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone", whenever in jeopardy. Recurring villains included:
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 Men of the Magnet Planet, the aliens from the Planet of 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 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. 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 a shoeshine boy. Like Superman, when trouble calls, he hurriedly dresses in a phone booth (which would inexplicably explode upon his conversion). On occasion, in order to replenish his powers, he would take an "Underdog Super Energy Pill". 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. 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 easily to bend thick steel bars.
His powers shown include:
The "Underdog" theme is covered by Ted Kooshian's Standard Orbit Quartet on their CD "Underdog, And Other Stories..." (2009).
In the Harry Dresden novel Death Masks, Harry is captured by the Denarians and as Shiro Yoshimo bursts in to the rescue, Harry starts belting out the Underdog song, offering the Mighty Mouse theme song as an alternative.
In 1993 American hip-hop producer and members of the Wu-Tang Clan the RZA sampled "Underdog" theme in the song titled "Wu-Tang Clain Ain't Nuttin To F' Wit". This song was released in Wu-Tang debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).
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.
On February 21, 2012, Shout! Factory (under license from Classic Media) released a 10-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 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 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, 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.
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).
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