On October 3 of this year it was 40 years ago that Underdog debuted on NBC. For those of you who don't know, Underdog was a funny animal parody of Superman and other superheroes. In reality, Underdog was humble, lovable Shoeshine Boy. When trouble called, he would rush to the nearest phone booth and become Underdog. Like Superman, Underdog could fly, possessed incredible strength, and was invulnerable to most weapons. Unlike Superman, Underdog's strength depended on his "super energy vitamin pills," which he stored in a ring on his finger. Also unlike Superman, Underdog was incredibly clumbsy. Underdog almost always talked in rhyme, even though Shoeshine Boy did not.
The closest thing to a romantic interst Underdog had on the show was Sweet Polly Purebred. Like Underdog, she was an anthropomorphic dog. She was a TV reporter for TTV (also the name of the company that produced Underdog). In true Lois Lane tradition, Sweet Polly was always falling into the clutches of villains and required Underdog to rescue her.
And there were plenty of villains for Polly to be rescused from. Underdog's archnemesis, Simon Barsinister, was a mad scientist with a voice like Lionel Barrymore. He developed all sorts of sinister gadgets, from a Vacuum Gun to a camera that can turn people into pictures. Riff Raff was a gangster and an anthropomorphic wolf. Among Riff Raff's schemes was having one of his henchmen impersonate Underdog. Underdog also faced an array of other villains throughout the run of the show, from Overcat (a superhuman cat from another planet) to the Electric Eel (a villain who could generate an ernormous amount of electricity).
Underdog was created by Joe Harris (who also created the Trix Rabbit). The show was produced by Leonardo-TTV, a company founded in 1959 to produce King Leonardo and His Short Subjects, the second cartoon made specifically for television to debut on NBC and the first cartoon to air in colour on NBC. The company went on to produce Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales, a cartoon which sought to educate as well entertain. In the end, however, it was Underdog that had the most success. It ran two years on NBC before moving to CBS, where it ran another two years. Underdog then moved to NBC where it ran another five years. In the end, Underdog spent nine years on the networks. It then went onto a successful syndication run. Currently, episodes are available on both DVD and VHS.
A mark of the cartoon's success was perhaps the Underdog balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. It was a part of the parade for nineteen years. The show also generated an enormous amount of merchandise, from T-shirts to drinking glasses to comic books.
I have fond memories of Underdog. To this day it remains my favourite TV cartoon of all time. It is unfortunate that it isn't seen much on television anymore. At any rate, as long as there is VHS and DVD, I suspect Underdog will be around for a long time.
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