Imagine you are a kid, at home, after a long day of school in 1986. You are sitting mindlessly watching the TV enjoying your favorite cartoons when the announcer says to stay tuned for the Ghostbusters. What? Hellz Yeah, Ghostbusters cartoons? Bring It! You are sitting there with your pouch of Capri-Sun ready to watch Slimer and the Ghostbusters kick some spectral butt. The show comes on and something looks off……..I didn’t realize the Ghostbusters hung out with …….is that a……..gorilla?! WTF?! This is what happened to me when I was about 12 years old. I was greeted with a Ghostbusters cartoon that was foreign to me. Was this just simple greed by a company looking to ride the wave of ghostbustin’ popularity, or was there more to it? This cartoon even used the actual name GhostBusters. What was this cartoon’s story? Well, after much research, I finally found out.
The Ghostbusters are pop culture icons. Ray, Peter, Egon and Winston. The phenomenally successful movie that spawned this group has entertained people of all ages. However, surprisingly enough, Columbia did not have the rights to the name “ghostbusters” before or during the filming of their titular 1984 blockbuster. Who owned the rights to the name, Ghostbusters? It was a production company called Filmation. After Ghostbusters hit it big in 1984, imitators began coming out of the woodwork. Companies were trying to ride the coattails of the hit movie with toys, games and cartoons with a similar theme. As stated earlier, if turned on your tv in 1986 you may have caught a show involving two friends and their gorilla using crazy equipment to capture ghosts. This cartoon was called Filmation’s GhostBusters. This series was created by Filmation, the aforementioned rights holders to the name Ghostbusters. Why did they have the rights and how did this cartoon come about? It all starts in 1975.
In 1975 and 1976, Filmation filmed a live action tv series called The Ghost Busters. It starred Forrest Tucker as Jake Kong, Larry Storch as Eddie Spencer and Bob Burns as Tracey the Gorilla (For the younger crowd, in the wacky ’70s-’80s a gorilla or monkey was a viable co-star, see BJ & The Bear or Any Which Way But Loose). The three were bumbling detectives that would stumble their way through cases to ultimately defeat various scary monsters (vampires, werewolves, witches and, of course, ghosts). They used a motley collection of electrical equipment to defeat the monsters including a light emitting camera-like device to send them back to the underworld. It was a moderate success but faded quickly as it ran for only one year.
Fast forward to 1984. Columbia has finished filming their Ghostbusters movie. They realize that they will have to call it Ghostbusters as the term is used throughout the script and the final showdown scene in New York has a large crowd of people chanting the name. They have to bite the bullet and pay Filmation royalty rights to use the name. It’s a bitter pill, but Columbia swallows it. The movie becomes a huge hit and the studio wants to follow up on the film’s success with a cartoon show.
During the ’80s and ’90s, the Filmation studio was an immensely popular Saturday morning cartoon producer. They created the cartoons He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Fat Albert, She-Ra, Star Trek The Animated Series, The Batman/Superman Hour and many, many more. With this pedigree, and the fact that they owned the name Ghost Busters, they naturally thought that they would get first crack at producing the animated Ghostbusters show. After much negotiation, Columbia backed down and said that they were going to focus on a live action Ghostbusters sequel and not do a cartoon series. Rebuffed, Filmation decided to capitalize on the Ghostbuster name by creating their own cartoon but based it on their original tv series. The cartoon’s premise had the sons of the original tv characters inheriting the business and continuing the fight against supernatural evil. For the first five episodes (technically a mini-movie), Larry Storch and Forrest Tucker reprised their roles and voiced their characters for the first time in 10 years in order to pass the torch to their sons. Bob Burns, the actor behind Tracey the Gorilla, would continue to voice Tracey in the new cartoon. The concept was set and the show debuted in February 1986.
Columbia, having gone through some changes in management since the negotiations with Filmation, were a little perturbed that another studio would get a cartoon bearing the name of their cash-cow movie franchise on the air before them. Especially the studio that owned the name Ghost Busters. This lead to Columbia partnering with cut-rate studio DIC Animation to get their Real Ghostbusters cartoon on the air. Filmation had to add “The Original” to their cartoon to make it stand out from Columbia’s cartoon. Needless to say, this still causes confusion amongst Ghostbusters fans who have no idea about the 1975 tv show.
The Filmation cartoon and live-action Ghost Busters shows were just released on DVD and can be found on Amazon.
Ghostbuster Video Links:
1. Check out the intro to the Original Ghostbusters cartoon (and its kick ass theme song) here.
2. You can see the intro to the 1975 The Ghost Busters live-action show here.
3. Intro to the Real Ghostbusters cartoon can be seen here.
I personally really enjoyed the show. It was clever and funny and the characters were awesome. The theme song was really cool too. When the GhostBusters would get a call on the Skele-phone they would scream, “Go-Go-GhostBusters!” and slap high fives. Lots of fun. I got the DVDs off Blockbuster Online and I’m still enjoying watching them. Check it out if you get the chance.