Not much is known
about how the show was sold . . . whether NBC ordered it specifically or
if it was shopped around to all the networks first. In the fall of
1976, NBC was planning to launch a schedule of (mostly) all-new Saturday morning
fare. Their schedule was changing almost
completely . . . the only hold-overs from the previous season were a
block of Pink Panther cartoons which also featured other
DePatie-Freleng characters (not unlike the very popular Bugs Bunny /
Road Runner Hour which alternately ran on ABC and CBS for many, many
years), expanding it from half an hour to an hour and a half, and
the third season of the popular live action adventure series Land of
the Lost. Shows like the animated Emergency Plus 4, the
live-action Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, the animated and live
action The Secret Lives of Waldo Kitty, the live action series Run,
Joe, Run and Westwind and the animated series Return to
the Planet of the Apes (which had lasted only one season) and Josie
and the Pussycats (reruns of the original series) were dropped from
the previous year's schedule. Also dropped from NBC’s late
morning schedule was Go-USA, which was an educational program
that presented live-action historical dramas.
With the popularity of live-action shows on other networks (including The Shazam / Isis Hour, Far Out Space Nuts and Ghost Busters on CBS and The Lost Saucer on ABC,) NBC was banking on an exceptional number of new live-action kids’ shows for their 1976 / 77 season. Starting the morning with half an hour of Woody Woodpecker cartoons (not shown on all affiliate stations), NBC was finished with animation after ninety-minutes of The Pink Panther and started their live-action lineup at 10:00 a.m. with the new series McDuff, The Talking Dog! While the show sounds like a rehash of Disney’s The Shaggy D.A., it was actually more complicated than that, considering that McDuff was the ghost of a sheepdog which resided in the haunted residence of a veterinarian. Following McDuff at 10:30 was Monster Squad, a pre-cursor of sorts to the current A Night at the Museum movies, which followed the adventures of a teenage night watchman in a wax museum (played by Fred Grandy) who invented a "Crime Computer" which inadvertently brings the wax figures of Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman to life. Naturally, the monstrous trio aid the teen in battling crime.
At 11:00 a.m. came the third season of Land of the Lost. This was the year in which Will and Holly’s father, Rick Marshall, was replaced by his brother Jack (funny how casting changes can be explained away even in a show such as this . . . sadly the theme song would never the same.) This was followed at 11:30 by the new series, Big John, Little John, which starred Robbie Rist as Little John and Herb Edelman as Big John. When a forty-year-old middle school teacher accidentally drinks from the legendary Fountain of Youth, he finds his body constantly and unpredictably morphing between his normal self and that of a twelve-year old boy. This show included one of those fabulous theme songs which explain the whole premise of the series in a few simple bars! At noon was the debut of The Kids from C.A.P.E.R., followed at 12:30 by a more down-to-earth series, Muggsy. Muggsy was the nickname of a 13-year-old girl who lived in the inner-city and dealt with real-life issues facing teens at the time.
(For information about these and many other live action kids’ series from the 70's, we highly recommend visiting the 70's Live Kid Vid website!)
A Saturday morning sneak preview special (remember those??) called The Great NBC Smilin’ Saturday Mornin' Parade aired on the evening of Friday, September 10th. The executive producers of the special, directed by Bob Wynn, were Don Kirshner and Alan Landsburg, and as a result the Kids were prominently featured, co-hosting with Freddie Prinze as they introduced young viewers to the new Saturday morning line-up of shows. The description from the September 4-10, 1976 issue of TV Guide reads, "NBC's fall Saturday-morning lineup is previewed with a parade and clips from the shows. Freddie Prinze is grand marshal for the march, which includes the stars from the new children's series 'The Kids from C.A.P.E.R.,' high school bands, and floats representing the new shows. Taped at Magic Mountain amusement park, near Los Angeles." The special ran half an hour (as opposed to the hour-long special on ABC the same night . . . CBS' sneak preview show ran on Tuesday night.) Apparently it did not air on all affiliates and as such NBC did not take out ads for the program (at least not in the North Georgia edition of TV Guide.) Along with Freddie Prinze and a group of four girl clowns (dubbed Eenie, Meenie, Mienie and Mo), the Kids performed the "Smilin' Saturday Mornin'" song written by Mitch and Phil Margo, as well as joining in on a song and dance routine set to the Cole Porter classic "Be A Clown." The Kids were also featured in a "romp" through Magic Mountain set to "When It Hit Me," which was the song that would be featured on their premiere episode the next morning.
The Kids also reportedly appeared in a series of Smilin’ Saturday Mornin' (for some reason the habit of dropping the 'G's from words in songs and jingles seemed to be quite popular at the time) television spots to promote their series as well as the rest of the Saturday morning lineup. In the print ad for the NBC Saturday line-up published in TV Guide the Kids appear to be sitting on a roller coaster. The photo may very well have been taken during the filming of the episode The Goodfather, as they are wearing the clothes seen only in the first two episodes of the series (the Magic Mountain roller coaster scene in The Goodfather was actually the very first scene filmed for the entire series!)
Oddly enough, TV Guide's 1976 Fall Preview issue managed to give the show a rather lackluster description in its Daytime TV section. After giving all the other new shows on NBC's Saturday morning a brief but adequate description (i.e.: "Monster Squad, about a teen-age caretaker in a wax museum where Dracula, Frankenstein and Bruce Werewolf come to life) they summed up C.A.P.E.R. with this puzzling sentence: "Kids from C.A.P.E.R., which is roughly what it sounds like." It would seem that already the show was not getting much respect. Or was it simply a matter of not receiving adequate press materials? C.A.P.E.R. fan Geoff had the opportunity to look through TV Guide's archives at one point and said that promos for the show sent out prior to its debut were sparse at best, not even mentioning anything specific about the characters or their abilities. They just simply referred to "four kids who help their local police department." This would indicate that NBC might not have even understood exactly what they were getting, which could imply things were still being worked out right up until the very last minute!
C.A.P.E.R. debuted on September 11, 1976, and from the first time fans heard the theme song (which was co-written and sung by Ron Dante and J. Holmes . . . remember Dante had been the lead singer for The Archies!) they knew they were in for something special. Over the next ten weeks kids across the United States and Canada came to know and love P.T., Doc, Bugs and Doomsday. Teen magazines helped herald the show, introducing the guys behind the Kids to an audience eager to learn all they could about their new favorite idol (everyone seemed to have a favorite . . . which was yours?) Teen Super Star (October 1976) promised, "The show will be ala The Monkees -- sort of a combination Mel Brooks, MAD Magazine, Monty Python and Mick Jagger -- frantic, hilarious and wild! Be sure to tune in starting in September . . . NBC, Saturdays at Noon!" (Not sure which part of the show was supposed to be Mick Jagger. Hmmmm . . . . )
Everyone seemed confident that C.A.P.E.R. was going to take the country by storm. Promotional ads for the forthcoming album claimed that the powers-that-be had estimated that 6,300,000 fans would tune in every Saturday morning, but that the numbers were actually more than 10,000,000 fans (how these numbers were actually derived is anyone’s guess.) The ads also claimed there were going to be C.A.P.E.R. dolls, toys, foods, buttons, badges, whistles - a vast array of merchandise tie-ins with some of the biggest American manufacturers. And all this within a few weeks!
This merchandising bonanza was something everyone had been promised and was expecting. As Teen Super Star (January 1977) reported: "Have you been noticing the "secret word" the four C.A.P.E.R. guys give you at the start of each show? That’s part of a special C.A.P.E.R. plan to let you in on their fun every week! Very soon (if they’re not doing it already, by the time you read this) the guys will give you special code instructions at the end of each show . . . and if you have a special decoder to go with the instructions, you’ll be able to figure out a clue as to the plot of next week’s program! How can you get a special decoder? The Kids will be telling you themselves, on the program . . . or, for information, write to: The Kids from C.A.P.E.R., Kirshner Entertainment Corp.!" As far as we know, no such decoders were ever made available to the fans. Even the album, when released, was not easily found in record stores and often had to be special ordered by determined fans seeking copies!
The article continued with: "If you’ve been watching closely, you’ll see Doc (John Lansing) use a special C.A.P.E.R. walkie talkie on the show, and you’ll be able to get those, too!" The irony is that fans may have been able to pick up a C.A.P.E.R. Band Radio from stores already without knowing it! Sharp-eyed C.A.P.E.R. fan "Ancient" pointed out that the walkie-talkies used on the show look suspiciously similar to the Star Trek Communicators marketed by Mego. Upon closer inspection it appears that they are, indeed, the same! The Star Trek Federation logo has been removed and C.A.P.E.R. Band written in crossword style sharing the 'A' within a black circle has taken its place. It makes sense that for the low budget show something simple like this would have been done. And now after all these years fans can create their own C.A.P.E.R. Band radios . . . if they can find reasonably priced communicators on eBay.
The article also went on to claim that instead of waiting months and months before you can get any information on the merchandise, that C.A.P.E.R. would be different, and that very soon you’d be able to buy the decoder, walkie talkie, bookcovers, sweaters, lunch boxes, towels, stationery, watches, dolls, even home movies and wallpaper! Yet another magazine article mentioned C.A.P.E.R. rings as part of the proposed tie-ins. As it turned out, none of this merchandise ever materialized. The closest fans came to having anything C.A.P.E.R.-related to play with were a set of proposed action figures produced by Ideal. Prototypes of the Big Bologna and the four individual C.A.P.E.R. character action figures were pictured in toy catalogues in 1976, but none of these seemed to have ever come to market with the sole exception of a miniature version of the Big Bologna released by Ideal under their Micro Mighty Mo line of toy cars (they also released a Monster Squad van.) You can view the proposed figures by visiting The Mego Museum website. There was also a fan club run out of Connecticut, but chances are it was not official and we have no information on how long it was in operation or what they offered.
The teen magazines also created a friendly "rivalry" between The Kids from C.A.P.E.R. and their contemporaries over at ABC, Kaptain Kool and the Kongs. The similarities were apparent . . . Kaptain Kool was a band (fronted by Michael Lembeck) put together to host The Krofft Supershow and they appeared in comedic and musical interstitial segments that bridged the Krofft shows featured on the program. The first year, Kaptain Kool’s image was quite glam, but this was toned down over time. As Teen Super Star reported (January 1977): "The ‘fight’ between The Kids from C.A.P.E.R. and Kaptain Kool and the Kongs should be interesting to watch! They’re on different channels, opposite each other on Saturday morning, with somewhat similar shows (singing, comedy, all young members in the group!) C.A.P.E.R. has Don Kirshner behind them, which means guest shots on all his shows and lots of "pull" in the right places . . . and Kaptain Kool has ABC and Sid and Marty Krofft behind them, which means guest starring on all of ABC’s shows! Which show do you like best? When it comes down to it, that’s what really counts!" Indeed, Kaptain Kool and the Kongs did make appearances on Krofft’s primetime shows, and no one can deny that Krofft was a real powerhouse when promoting their properties. In the long run, C.A.P.E.R. wasn’t as lucky.
There was even talk about the two shows moving into prime time! As Tiger Beat Star reported (May 1977): "Both these shows have a big following among older ‘kids’ -- not the usual 5-to-10-year-old Saturday morning viewers. Many teenagers are tuning in (and sometimes giving up other Saturday morning activities to do it!) and really getting to like the Kids & Kongs! Now that both teams are releasing records, it’s doubly sure that an older audience is going to be watching and listening more often! In fact, the Kids and the Kongs are beginning to guest-star on prime-time shows. So why can’t they have their own prime-time shows? Both shows are popular enough to 'carry' the responsibility of a regular nighttime show, and all their fans would like it, too! The networks have been thinking about ‘The Kids from C.A.P.E.R.’ and ‘Kaptain Kool’ for nighttime, but sometimes it takes a while for the ‘thought’ to become ‘action!’ If you’d like to help it along a little (think of the Saturday mornings you’ll be able to ‘sleep in’!), why not write to the networks and let them know how you feel?"
Tons of merchandise? A possible prime-time series? Continuing coverage in the teen magazines? C.A.P.E.R. fans seemed to have it made!
And then in November 1976 . . . without warning . . . everything came to a crashing stop.
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