Without a word, C.A.P.E.R.
disappeared from the NBC Saturday morning lineup at the end of November
1976. But it wasn’t the only casualty. For unknown
reasons, NBC shook up the schedule, canceling McDuff outright
after only airing 11 of its 13 episodes (sadly it appears original prints
from that series were lost in a fire.) C.A.P.E.R. was put
on an indefinite hiatus; not canceled, but its future not at all certain.
Fans were confused and dismayed. What had happened? Darlene D. from Baltimore echoed the sentiments of many C.A.P.E.R. fans when she wrote to Tiger Beat Star (March 1977) and asked, "I have a very hard case for the Kids from C.A.P.E.R. to crack -- it’s their disappearance? Why aren’t they on TV any more -- they had such a great show and I watched it all the time. I especially loved John Lansing. Don’t tell me they’ve been cancelled?" The magazine’s answer to her: "Darlene -- the disappearance is only temporary. They’ll be back on TV sometime in February!"
Over this period of confusion, the teen magazines tried to answer the fans' questions, but it seems they were as much in the dark about what had happened as anyone! Tiger Beat (February 1977) put in their mock classified ads section: "The C.A.P.E.R. Kids were LOST for just a while! Their show was taken from the air at the end of November! But, it was FOUND in February -- back on the air with no explanation for the missing months! Who cares? We’re just glad it’s back!" This February return date does not match information we have which indicates the show actually didn’t return to the NBC schedule until April. When it did resurface, 16 Magazine (May 1977) explained, "Here’s what happened -- in fact, The Kids From C.A.P.E.R. had been cancelled -- but that turned out to be only temporary! The powers-that-be changed their collective mind and as you read this, C.A.P.E.R. should be right back on the air, with brand-new episodes!"
So what did happen? Why was the show so unceremoniously dumped in November only to be revived months later? We may never know NBC’s thinking behind the move, but one excuse that did come up involved the two "missing" episodes which were skipped over during the show’s first run (when they only aired eleven of the thirteen episodes.) This would be the two earliest episodes filmed, the ones that later became known to fans as the "When the Big Bologna was blue" episodes. In these first two entries, the Big Bologna was, indeed, blue and everyone except Doomsday wore different clothes. Apparently the "powers-that-be" were concerned that these two episodes didn’t fit in with the rest of the series and would only end up confusing the fans.
This specific issue was cited by Tiger Beat Star (March 1977) which addressed the missing program in their article, "The C.A.P.E.R. Caper: The Disappearance of the Show -- & Why!!" The article states, "Who can figure out the decision-making people in the world of television? What makes them ‘tick’ and why do they do the things they do? To confuse us? Perhaps you were slightly puzzled and upset when you read in the paper that ‘C.A.P.E.R.’ was being ‘shelved’ and there was no explanation given! You probably asked yourself, ‘Does this mean it’s really cancelled or what?’ It wasn’t very polite of the network to leave the hundreds of loyal and devoted ‘C.A.P.E.R.’ fans just ‘hanging’ there in suspense, so we decided to get the scoop on the case of the missing ‘C.A.P.E.R.’
"Here’s what we found out. Apparently the show was never cancelled. Rather it was taken ‘out of circulation’ for awhile. The producers were unhappy with several of the remaining episodes that had been filmed during the fall TV season. So, instead of going ahead and airing them, the producers decided not to release them to the television public! That raises another question: Why were they unhappy with those episodes? Every show that did go on the air was simply terrific and of the highest quality! ‘C.A.P.E.R.’ shows have always been in the best of taste, the stories are genuinely funny and interesting, never ‘heavy’ or melodramatic, and the stars of the show are four of the most talented (and cutest!) guys on television!
"There wasn’t any deep, mysterious reason for stopping the series so suddenly. The unviewed episodes didn’t have anything seriously wrong with them other than not being quite as good as all the other episodes. They were filmed at the start of the season, in fact, they were the first two shows filmed! With any new show, it takes a while to ‘get into’ the show, and it really made a difference in the finished product. The producers realized this and, after screening the episodes carefully (followed by lots of discussion and soul-searching), reached their decision. They decided it would be in the best interest of the viewers if they kept the episodes from going on the air. They didn’t want you to be disappointed or unhappy with ‘C.A.P.E.R.!’
"Unfortunately, you were disappointed by not being able to see the rest of the shows. And because you love ‘C.A.P.E.R.’ so much, it probably wouldn’t have mattered to you if the shows weren’t as excellent in the network’s eyes, right? You care most about seeing your favorite ‘C.A.P.E.R.’ kids -- John, Biff, Cosie and Steve -- each and every week! Well, everything’s going to be back to normal now! The show will hopefully resume its Saturday morning position in February. At least, that’s the latest news from the network executives who make all the ‘programming’ decisions.
"No four people could be happier to hear the news about going back on the air than the guys responsible for most, if not all, of its success: none other than Cosie, Steve, John and Biff! They had no idea the producers were planning to ‘shelve’ the last few episodes. They were really surprised (shocked?) to find out about it and for awhile, were uncertain of the show’s future (or even if it had one!) But the producers quickly assured them that the series had not been cancelled and proceeded to explain the whole story. Actually, the plans could still be changed and all the guys are waiting to see the February lineup!"
While it's certainly possible, it seems unusual that the "producers" would have been the ones to make this decision. It’s much more likely that the "network" was the one who ultimately shelved the show, since they purposefully skipped over those two episodes during the first run. And the fact that McDuff was cancelled after only eleven episodes aired would indicate that this may not have been the sole reason behind the decision (it’s unlikely that McDuff also had two oddball episodes which didn’t fit in with the rest of the series.) This seemed to be a very polite way for the producers to explain the situation to the fans via the teen magazine without throwing the network under the bus.
As it turned out, these two episodes did eventually air, and the problem of them not matching the rest of the series was cleverly solved by adding updated footage in which the episodes became memories. The episode would begin with some event calling to mind a past case, which Doomsday would fail to remember. They would then remind him, singing a song about "When the Big Bologna was blue," and the episode would be shown as a flashback. They had a lot of fun with this, with Doomsday making comments such as "Boy, you guys sure dressed funny in those days." Some fans report that the visuals on the theme song were also changed when the show returned in 1977, saying that clips from the actual episodes were used in parts instead.
But even with the series back on the air, the lack of merchandise and the still not adequately explained disappearance from the NBC Saturday morning lineup made it clear to the fans that C.A.P.E.R. was in trouble. As Tiger Beat (July 1977) would warn in their article, "The C.A.P.E.R.s: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?", "The saying goes ‘nothing good lasts forever’! If that’s true, will ‘The Kids from C.A.P.E.R.’ be just a temporary thing? If you’ve got a lot of mixed feelings about the C.A.P.E.R. guys, relax -- you’re not alone! For every other C.A.P.E.R. fan is probably as confused, if not more, than you are! Ever since they debuted on Saturday morning last September, they’ve been playing guessing games and doing disappearing acts! (Not on purpose, of course!) They were merely what you might call ‘victims of circumstance’! Because as all C.A.P.E.R. fans know, after only a few months on TV, their show was unexpectedly pulled! No explanations, no reasons, no answers were given to their already faithful fans as to the disappearance of the show! NBC executives wouldn’t talk and offered only, ‘It will be back in the spring,’ as information. All their fans had to go on was some small hope that they would be back soon. They would just have to wait and see.
"Finally the spring came, and with it, to the delight of every fan, ‘The Kids from C.A.P.E.R.’ Once again Biff, Cosie, John and Steve were up to their usual antics and entertaining you with their own special somethings that won your love in the beginning. You can’t wait until Saturday morning comes along to watch your favorite C.A.P.E.R. guy! And now you really appreciate the show more because there was a time when you probably weren’t sure you’d ever see it again! ‘The Kids from C.A.P.E.R.’ is not taken for granted in most households, these days! Or is it? Do you feel that just because NBC put them back on the air for now, they’ll automatically return in the fall, too? Well, we may all be disappointed if we get our hopes too high! You know how fickle and unpredictable TV executives are! They’re known for keeping television audiences in suspense from one season to the next. They’ve pulled shows that you love, and kept on shows you really didn’t like very much for years! Just because ‘Kids from C.A.P.E.R.’ is on today, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be tomorrow! So -- calling all C.A.P.E.R. fans, on the double! If you want the chances to be greater that your favorite fellas will be on in the fall, run, don’t walk to the nearest post office, and mail your protest letter today! Tell them we want ‘Kids from C.A.P.E.R.’ on this fall!"
But the writing was on the wall. Despite everything, the show aired for the last time on September 3, 1977. For the 1977 / 78 season, NBC returned to animation for the first half of their lineup but introduced the new live-action shows Thunder, Search and Rescue: The Alpha Team and The Red Hand Gang. None of the live-action series which debuted in NBC’s Saturday morning 1976 / 77 season survived for a second year.
After that, teen magazine articles about the guys became fewer and farther between. The only one who seemed to speak out at all about the demise of the show was Cosie Costa, who apparently gave statements to a couple of teen magazines about the situation. In a Q&A session for Tiger Beat Star (April 1977), Cosie was asked, "How would you change ‘C.A.P.E.R.’ this next season if you could?" Cosie answered, "The very first thing is to get some good writers, and make sure the writing is something that kids are getting a kick out of. Each of us would have more identity, more meat to our roles -- with good, funny roles every week. And I would fire every NBC executive, so we could do it our way and they would leave us alone! They don’t give kids enough credit, and I feel we know kids better than the executives do!" In the Tiger Beat Annual (Summer 1977) under "Quotes of the Year," Cosie was quoted as saying, "We never really found out why the show was cancelled. There was a lot of politics involved."
So the show came and went but for some reason it continues to live on in the hearts of its fans, even though those fans often feel like they are completely alone in the universe (the most common quote heard from any fan of C.A.P.E.R. is, "I thought I was the only one who knew about this show!") The series has never been rerun on television and has never been released on either videotape or DVD. It is unclear where the original episodes (the masters) may be or if they even still exist, as well as who currently owns the rights to them (best guesses would be that they are either held by NBC, who was the show's distributor, or possibly by FreemantleMedia, which acquired Alan Landsburg Productions' library several years ago.) And even if the masters could be found and the rights cleared, there could potentially be further complications to any release of the series concerning the music rights, which are probably still owned by CBS Records.
But even with the episodes being "lost" and not even circulating amongst collectors (with the sole exception of some 16 mm prints which have now surfaced as being Phantom of the Drive-In and King Cone, as well as a few short clips, all of which you can find posted on our C.A.P.E.R. Video pages) fans refuse to let this show disappear completely into oblivion. There was reportedly even talk about a reunion movie happening sometime before Biff’s death! But sadly it was not to be.
And sadly we have already lost several of the people involved with C.A.P.E.R. Stanley Z. Cherry passed away in 2006. Romeo Muller sadly left us in 1992. And cameraman Ralph B. White recently died in 2008. But Mace Neufeld is still working in the industry as a highly noted producer of action films, including the Jack Ryan series! Alan Landsburg retired from show business and spends much of his time now focusing on his other passion: horse racing. He is a founding director of the Thoroughbred Owners of California and also joined the board of directors of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. Kay Hoffman continued to produce movies for television as late as 2003. As for Don Kirshner, he all but disappeared from show business for quite a while, then resurfaced in the early 2000's to create Kirshner International, Inc. with the idea of creating a TV-style music network for the Internet. Kirshner International was acquired by Veracity Management Group in 2006. A more recently proposed project was the creation of a chain of restaurants called Don Kirshner's Rock Diner. Sadly, Don Kirshner passed away at the age of 76 of heart failure in Boca Raton, Florida, on January 17, 2011.
And so what of this obscure little series that many considered to be Don Kirshner’s failed attempt to recreate his success with the Monkees? One may want to remember that Monkees’ creators Bert Schneider and Bob Rafleson’s former partner, Steve Blauner, also attempted to relive the glory days by producing The New Monkees (another show which was far better than it was ever given credit for.) And attempts to recreate that successful formula are still being produced. The most recent is a series for Nickelodeon called Big Time Rush by Scott Fellows, who cites The Monkees as a definite inspiration. And one must not forget that The Monkees themselves were created following the formula set by Richard Lester who directed The Beatles movies A Hard Day’s Night and Help! So C.A.P.E.R. is part of a long-standing tradition which continues today!
Thanks to the internet and a lot of dedicated fans, C.A.P.E.R. will continue to live on, if only in the hearts and memories of those who were lucky enough to catch them on Saturday mornings back in 1976 and 1977.
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