Those of us who are
currently in our forties seem to have a collective memory when it comes
to the experience of Saturday morning television in the 1970's; getting
up early, grabbing a bowl of cereal (with extra sugar) and sitting down
to enjoy hours upon hours of wild, inventive and entertaining television
bizarreness. With three networks to choose from (just imagine!)
the selection of shows was daunting. Remember, these were the days
before DVRs . . . heck, before VCRs! The only way to experience
everything the networks had to offer was wait for the 13 episode series
to end their runs and then check out what you’d been missing on the
other networks . . . or, more likely than not, rewatch your favorites
It was in this era of television that a unique and creative show debuted; one which made an indelible impression on those who saw it (and continues to bewildered those who somehow missed it.) The Kids from C.A.P.E.R. (technically it should be written as the kids from: C.A.P.E.R.) was an eclectic mix of practically everything appealing to the Saturday morning crowd; crime-fighting, broad comedy, pop music, bizarre props, colorful costumes, and four good-looking young men. It seemed like a sure-fire formula for success. And indeed the show was successful . . . it had to be to be so vividly etched on the minds of fans some thirty-odd years later.
But how did this show come to be? It all started with a noted music impresario, a prolific television producer and one of the most creative writers the entertainment industry ever had to offer.
C.A.P.E.R.’s Executive Producer, Don Kirshner, had already enjoyed an incredible amount of success as a music producer. Credited with discovering such talents as Bobby Darin, Neil Diamond and Carol King, he had gathered together an unbelievable array of songwriters which he kept under contract with Aldon music, a publishing company Kirshner co-founded with Al Nevins. Though Aldon was initially located a block away from the Brill Building in New York, the company's songwriters would become closely associated with the legendary "Brill Building" sound of the 1960's, and under contract with Aldon they were readily available to churn out songs for Kirshner's many projects. Kirshner had already been working at Screen Gems when he was assigned the role of music supervisor on a new program created by the up-and-coming team of Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson called The Monkees. Utilizing his stable of songwriters, Kirshner successfully provided hit after hit for the series. Because Kirshner did not have the actors and musicians on the show play their own instruments on their first albums, instead opting to use studio musicians, there was growing resentment between The Monkees members and the producers against their music supervisor. Realistically, though, Kirshner's decision made sense; with a television show to produce and a limited amount of time to get a huge amount of work done, how much time could be devoted to making sure the guys would be able to perform their own music in the studio right away? After all, this was first and foremost a television series and not a band. Kirshner felt that he was doing his job well and was not shy about vocalizing his success to the media. The others didn’t see it that way; they felt that by touting his talent over theirs he was hurting the band, leading to criticism and speculation about their actual talents.
Eventually Kirshner was fired from Screen Gems because of the controversy (he later won a large court settlement from the company for breach of contract.) In 1968, he was hired by Filmation to provide the music for their upcoming animated series, The Archies. Based on the popular comic book characters, Kirshner did for this fictional pop band what he had so successfully done for The Monkees; turned them into a pop sensation. The animated series featured music performed by Kirshner’s studio musicians with lead singer Ron Dante singing the lead vocals on the songs, one of which was the very popular "Sugar, Sugar." The band enjoyed chart success much the way The Monkees had, and Kirshner finally had a pop group that wouldn’t turn on him after becoming successful!
Many look upon C.A.P.E.R. as Kirshner’s attempt to recreate the success he’d had with The Monkees. But it might be fairer to say he was trying to echo that success as well as the success he’d had with The Archies, and rightfully so! After doing so much for both The Monkees and The Archies it was only natural he would want to create his own successful group so that he could share in a larger percentage of the profits! And as it turns out, C.A.P.E.R. was not Kirshner’s first attempt to create a live-action entity with a band as its basis. There were actually two previous attempts, both in 1970 and neither of which proved successful. Kirshner produced and composed the music for an unsold pilot series entitled The Kowboys, which he co-created with Ernest Pintoff. According to IMDb, the plot involved a singing group in the old west of the late 19th century who try to save a town from an evil rancher who is determined to destroy it. There was also a movie which Kirshner produced called Toomorrow, which told the story of a struggling alien race which kidnaps a band (the band’s name being Toomorrow) who’s musical vibrations are deemed necessary to help the alien race survive. It seemed obvious that the movie was created with the idea of possibly creating a franchise around the band, which may have proved successful considering the lead singer was a young Olivia Newton-John, but it was not to be.
In 1972, Kirshner acted as the music supervisor on another animated band series, The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan, this time for Hanna-Barbera. But that year was more notable for Kirshner when he was asked to be Executive Producer on the ABC series In Concert. The following year he left that program to create his own syndicated series, Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. His ever-present introductions in the show were parodied with great aplomb by Saturday Night Live performer Paul Shaffer. It's interesting to note that Paul Shaffer would be brought in to act as the musical arranger on The Kids from: C.A.P.E.R. album, as well as working with both Kirshner and Norman Lear on the 1977 series A Year at the Top, in which Shaffer co-starred with Greg Evigan. In fact, as Shaffer explained in his book "We'll Be Here For the Rest of Our Lives," that show was originally to be called Hereafter, and there were plans for the band of the same name featured in the show to record and go on tour, making it yet another entry in the "shows based around bands" attempts which technically pre-dated C.A.P.E.R. (A Year at the Top was in production for a couple of years before finally airing on television.)
Don Kirshner had formed Don Kirshner Productions Inc. (which interestingly enough had produced a television special called The World of Sid & Marty Krofft at the Hollywood Bowl in 1973!) and in 1976 joined forces with Alan Landsburg Productions Inc. to produce C.A.P.E.R. (they also jointly produced the television movies The Savage Bees in 1976 and The Triangle Factory Fire Scandal in 1979.) Alan Landsburg was a hugely prolific television producer, writer and director best known for his work on documentary-style shows like the Time-Life Specials: The March of Time and National Geographic specials, as well as the popular series In Search of . . . (1976) and That’s Incredible! (1980). Because of these latter shows, many credit Landsburg with inventing the concept of reality television! (It should be noted that his daughter, Valerie Landsburg, got her first professional acting job appearing on C.A.P.E.R.! You may remember her best as Frannie in the movie Thank God It’s Friday, which also featured Cosie Costa. She later gained recognition in the television series Fame, playing Doris Schwartz.)
Acting as Developer / Supervisor on C.A.P.E.R was Merrill Grant, who worked as an Executive Producer on several Alan Landsburg and Don Kirshner Productions, including the aforementioned The Savage Bees and The Triangle Factory Fire Scandal, as well as The Night They Took Miss Beautiful.
The Associate Producer of the series was Kay Hoffman, who worked on several projects with Alan Landsburg Productions in the late 70's and early 80's. Her memories of working on C.A.P.E.R. are fond ones. As she recalls, "It was great fun to do. The boys were so young, fresh and eager. They made it special. The bus (Big Bologna) broke down constantly. We were all learning."
If anyone questions the reason why C.A.P.E.R. was so inventive, creative and fanciful, they need look no further than the show’s creator and writer, Romeo Muller. You may not recognize his name, but you certainly will recognize his work! His longest association as a writer was with the animation company Rankin / Bass, and he is the man who wrote a vast majority of the holiday specials which our generation grew up with, including the classics Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, Here Comes Peter Cottontail, Frosty’s Winter Wonderland, Rudolph’s Shining New Year, Nestor, the Long-Eared Christman Donkey and The Little Drummer Boy. He also wrote for both The Osmonds and the Jackson 5ive cartoon series, so he was no stranger to Saturday morning television. On Rankin/Bass’ profile page, one colleague pointed out something very interesting about Romeo Muller’s work: "One thing that Romeo always did, he never killed off the villains. Villains never died . . . he would make them look ridiculous or reform them in the end." This is something that certainly held true for C.A.P.E.R. as well!
Another creative force behind the show was Stanley Z. "Zack" Cherry who both directed and produced C.A.P.E.R., as well as being an uncredited writer for the series. Cherry was a television veteran, having directed many episodes of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis in the early 1960's, as well as episodes of The Donna Reed Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Burke’s Law, Flipper, Petticoat Junction, The Addams Family and Gilligan’s Island. His association with Kirshner may have started when he co-wrote an episode of The Monkees entitled "Some Like it Lukewarm" with Joel Kane (who had also worked on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.) He had also co-written the 1971 film Bunny O’Hare with Coslough Johnson, (Johnson had also written for The Monkees as well as writing and producing a C.A.P.E.R. Saturday morning predecessor, The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show.) Cherry reportedly wrote the music for many of his television projects, so he was well familiar with the role of music in television, which made him perfectly suited for C.A.P.E.R.
Others brought in to work on C.A.P.E.R. included Production Executive Mace Neufeld. Neufeld started out working for the Dumont Network and then began his own television production company and personal management firm, promoting comedians like Don Adams, Gabe Kaplan and Don Knotts, as well as musical performers such as The Carpenters, Randy Newman and Jim Croce. He even acted in an episode of Get Smart! Music was also amongst his talents, and not only did he write musical material for the likes of Rosemary Clooney and Sammy Davis Jr., he also wrote the theme song for the Heckle & Jeckle cartoon series! In the late 1970's he moved into television production with his work on C.A.P.E.R. as well as The Captain and Tennille (say, maybe that’s what inspired Bugs’ hat!) for ABC and the short-lived but respected science-fiction series Quark.
One of the most notable and unforgettable features of the series were the unique costumes worn by the four main principles. It's impossible to think of C.A.P.E.R. and not think of Bug's oriental-inspired ensemble topped with a sailor's cap or Doc's stunning three-piece crushed velvet leisure suit. The creative force behind the costumes was designer Joseph Roveto, who shared his memories of working on the show with us (and you can read his comments by clicking here!)
Also credited as having worked on the series was Roger Duchowny, who is listed as a director for C.A.P.E.R. within various sources. His credits include second unit director work on the series That Girl! before directing several episodes himself. He also directed episodes of the series Arnie, The Brady Bunch, The Doris Day Show, The Partridge Family and The Love Boat (later credits include Still the Beaver and Friends.)
Ralph B. (Bradshaw) White was a field producer and cameraman on the Alan Landsburg productions Those Amazing Animals and Real People, as well as on C.A.P.E.R. White was a noted underwater photographer who specialized in deep sea photography and he worked extensively with the various crews filming the recovery of the RMS Titanic.
(Note: Credits for those working on the musical side of the series will be covered in The Music section of this website.)
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