The Kids from
C.A.P.E.R. was a product of its generation. It roots were based
firmly in the wonderful and wacky era of 1970's Saturday morning
television where teens weren’t just
teens . . . teens were
super heroes, crime-fighters or rock stars (or, as in the case of C.A.P.E.R.,
all three at once!) in both animation and live action!
The show’s title was obviously inspired by the hugely popular NBC prime-time series, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which had aired from 1964 to 1968. That series followed two spies, an American, Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughan,) and a Russian, Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) who worked for the international law enforcement agency (whose acronym stood for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.) That series owed a lot to the success of James Bond (in fact, Bond creator Ian Fleming had a hand in creating the series) and, like Bond, included wild gadgets and bizarre villains.
Crime-fighting teens had been a staple of Saturday morning television since the introduction of the Hanna-Barbera animated series Scooby Doo, Where Are You? in 1969. That series combined crime-fighting with other-worldly mysteries (although the ghosts and monsters were pretty much always exposed as being some disgruntled person wearing a rubber mask or wielding a highly-advanced film projector.) While the kids on Scooby Doo were not a music group or band, per se, music was certainly a part of the show, with the characters being involved in chases (reminiscent of the classic Monkees romps) while a pop song played in the background. The show had many descendants, including Goober and the Ghost Chasers (1973), Speed Buggy (1973), Clue Club (1976) and, to some extent, The Ghost Busters (1975).
Animated shows featuring pop music had also become standard, starting with The Beatles in 1965, although nods must be given to the prime-time animated series The Flintstones (1960) and The Jetsons (1962), both of which incorporated popular music into their shows on occasion, often spotlighting popular acts of the time. And of course, The Monkees had proven that combining pop music with a television series was a very lucrative venture (not to mention that the series had found a secondary life running successfully on Saturday mornings for several years.) Don Kirshner had a hand in creating The Archie Show in 1968, based on the very popular Archies comics, which was the first example of a cartoon band being created with the idea of promoting music. Other cartoon and live-action musical groups which evolved from this era include The Banana Splits (1968), The Cattanooga Cats (1969), The Bugaloos (1970), The Groovie Goolies (1970), Jackson 5ive (1971), The Osmonds (1972), The Flintstones Comedy Hour (1972), The Brady Kids (1972), Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (1972) and Partridge Family 2200 A.D. (1974).
So why not combine crime-fighting and singing? Well, it had been done to some extent already on The Monkees. In several episodes the band was forced to deal with unscrupulous criminals! It was a formula that worked, and sparked such animated programs as Josie and the Pussycats (1970) (which, like The Archies, had a live-action counterpart band), The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan (1972, which Kirshner also had a hand in), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids (1973) and Jabberjaw (1976). It should be noted that comedy was also a big part of all of the aforementioned shows.
Likewise, super hero teens had become popular in the mid-1970's with the introduction of live-action series like Shazam! (based on the classic comic book character Captain Marvel) which premiered in 1974. Its counterpart, Isis, was added in 1975, and while it featured an older woman in the lead role she was aided by teens in her fight for justice. The same year C.A.P.E.R. debuted saw the debut of Electra Woman and Dyna Girl on ABC as part of the Krofft Supershow. In all of these programs there was a distinct differentiation between the characters as their everyday selves and their super hero counterparts, as was traditional with most comic book super heroes. And like the comic books, comedy took a back seat to action and adventure in these programs.
In creating C.A.P.E.R., it was as if someone had said, "Let’s throw together all of these elements!" And so you ended up with a comedy series about a group of crime-fighting teens who are endowed with super powers and who also happen to sing. Oddly enough, instead of placing them in a super-cool underground secret hideout (a la the Bat Cave) working as an autonomous entity with secret identities which must be preserved at all costs, they were plonked down right in the middle of a fairly average, western city police station! As such, the show was wildly fantastic yet rooted very firmly within a realistic environment. But then C.A.P.E.R. delighted in startling contradictions of this sort, as we’ll continue to point out.
Granted, much of the Saturday morning live-action fare from that era was pretty low budget stuff. Only Sid and Marty Krofft really excelled at creating other-worldly environments for their programs (cheap, but other-worldly . . . the rest often looked like they were filmed on a studio back lot or in various Los Angeles locations.) It’s part of the history that gives many 70's live action kids’ shows their unique look and which makes them so lovably kitschy today. C.A.P.E.R. was no exception . . . filmed both in the studio and on location, the settings are, for the most part, fairly low-key (at least compared to the flamboyant style of the Krofft shows!) The C.A.P.E.R. room, located in the back of a police station, appears to be not much more than a disused jail cell doubling as a storage area, with file cabinets lining the wall, a desk in the center of the room and a bench on one wall. The walls are subtly painted with pastel colors in a rainbow-style pattern, which is the first hint that this room is set apart from the rest of the station. Look closely and you'll see that there are oddball touches everywhere, including a stuffed snake on the bench, a larger version of Bugs' golden idol on a file cabinet, and a water cooler which doubles as a fish tank! It’s bizarre little touches like that which made C.A.P.E.R. so unique.
Our first impression of the show was its theme song, which introduced each of the Kids in turn. P.T. is seen riding his bike (which appears to be one of those pedal bikes outfitted with a motor as well) down the steps of a building as he sings, "I’m cool and I’m clever." It is then explained how he can sniff out clues like a bloodhound (as we learn in the show, his nose is named Seymour.) Bugs is then seen running along a roof-level walkway as he sings, "I’m tough and I’m feisty." We then learn that he takes care of trouble ‘cause he’s super strong.' The song goes on to explain that Doomsday’s the one who’s all full of sunshine, and as Doomsday explains in song, "Me and those animals sure get along." In his segment, Doomsday is seen feeding a basset hound, which is about the only real animal to ever appear in the series (and is never seen in the show itself!) We then see Doc climbing out of the back seat of a luxury car carrying a thick book as the song explains how he has both the looks and the brains to catch the crooks. Doc eyes the camera as he walks and shrugs this off with an unassuming, "Aw, come on!"
The Kids are then seen running down some stairs (running up and down stairs was something they did quite frequently in the series!) It’s interesting to note this shot is filmed at an angle, a la Batman. Bugs then runs up some stairs and in the next shot Doc steps up and pulls the antenna out on his C.A.P.E.R. Band radio (high tech stuff for the time!) P.T. steps out from between some bushes and sniffs, presumably for clues, and then Doomsday is seen skateboarding briefly down a sidewalk. As the song switches into a crime show-style instrumental, we see Doc as he enters the library. Bugs is then seen reaching a high rooftop from a ladder on the side of the building and Doomsday buys a snack from a line of vending machines. P.T. enters the police station through the front door and walks through the reception area into the C.A.P.E.R. room. He is joined by Doc who enters from behind a swinging bookcase located in an adjacent storage area. Doomsday comes in through a box set into the back wall, which he drops down into from somewhere above. And Bugs enters last, climbing down from the ceiling on a rope ladder.
The police station is the 927th precinct in a town called Northeast Southweston (presumably located somewhere on the south western side of the United States . . . one fan recalls that the city’s name was too long to fit on the sign, leaving a couple of letters hanging out over the edge.) The two other main characters in the series are Sgt. Vinton, the older police sergeant who acts as the Kids’ commanding officer and mentor, and Kurt Klinsinger, an ambitious yet cowardly news reporter who is constantly hanging around looking for his next big story. (More detailed information on all of the show’s principles can be found in The Characters section of this site.) In the 70's, it was very common for veteran actors to appear on Saturday morning shows along with young stars in an interesting mix of old Hollywood and new which really hasn't been seen since (until Betty White's recent appearance on Saturday Night Live, that is!)
The Kids are actually police interns who have come together to form C.A.P.E.R. (the Civilian Authority for the Protection of Everybody, Regardless) as a means to aid the police with their cases while they are still learning the ropes. Teen Super Star (October 1976) described the premise this way: "This secret organization was started by four high schoolers, during summer vacation! These four heroes are planning to become policemen one day, so they become interns at a police department in a small Western town. But, not wanting to wait until they’re full-fledged cops, they form C.A.P.E.R., ready to help out and solve crimes on their own!" Other articles indicate that it was P.T. who came up with the idea for C.A.P.E.R. and presumably brought the others together to be part of the organization, although this is never explained in the show itself.
While each of the Kids is endowed with their own special ability, enough so to technically put them in the "super hero" category, it would be a bit of a stretch to call this a super hero show, and indeed it is often overlooked completely in reviews of that genre. First, there is no metamorphosis that takes place in which the Kids change from their normal selves into super heroes. Indeed their abilities appear to be ongoing and constant, with the exception of Bugs who must look at his hands to invoke his super strength and speed. Second, their abilities are subtle. They don't have the capability of avoiding danger by deflecting bullets from their chests or soaring through the sky. Likewise they have no special weapons at their disposal. They're flesh and blood, and as such must rely more on their wits and bravery than their powers. And third, their clothing, which is different enough to possibly be considered as uniforms but not so different that they can be called costumes, also remain the same. In fact, one gets the impression they wear these same clothes whether or not they are actually engaged in any crime-fighting at all. While certainly unusual (although amazingly not completely out of touch with the styles of the time!), their outfits seem to be reflections of their personalities: P.T.’s safari-style clothing representing his adventurous nature, Bugs’ oriental-style clothing in reference to his apparent respect for the martial arts and Doc’s leisure suit reflecting his sophisticated and suave demeanor. Doomsday’s black hooded sweatshirt and black pants contradict his sunny disposition, but his style of clothing is very casual, which fits his personality. (It should be noted that all of the Kids, except Doomsday, wore different clothes in the first two episodes filmed. You can now see these original costumes in The Characters section . . . under each character click on the "Clothes" button and you can then click anywhere on the main graphic to bring up the earlier outfits! Also some of the costume designs were based on aspects of the Kids' characters which changed as the show developed, some of which we can now explain on this Early Character Development page!)
As we’ve mentioned before, the show reveled in contradictions, and one perfect example is Doomsday’s dreary name and dark clothing, both of which are completely at odds with his sweet, bright personality. It’s almost as if the creators of the show wanted to turn every cliche and stereotype on its ear. As a result, it’s the good-looking, confident Kid who’s got the brains. And the small, somewhat nerdish Kid with the glasses who's the toughest and strongest. And the youngest of the Kids is their narrator and leader. This made the characters more interesting and kept them from being cookie-cutter copies of every other animated teen crime-fighting show.
They also avoided the cliche of having the group include both boys and girls and stuck with the tried-and-true guy grouping, probably with the pre-teen girl market firmly in mind. But they didn’t leave the pre-teen boys out of the loop completely . . . au contraire! Each episode featured a "girl" who came in seeking the help of the Kids. In this way both demographics were satisfied: the girls had their guys, chock-full of "buddy" camaraderie, and the guys had a different pretty girl to fall for every week! Notable "girls" who turned to C.A.P.E.R. were played by actresses Rita Wilson, Dianne Kay, Marianne Ludwig, Valerie Landsburg, Debra Winger, Carol Ann Williams and Susan Lanier.
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