Back in the ’80s, Saturday Morning Cartoons featured several time-tested animated shows like Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes gang, Scooby Doo and the other Hanna-Barbera greats and The Smurfs not to mention all of the other favorites that mostly aired after school during the week in syndication. As networks tried to develop additional animated programming for Saturday mornings, many attempted to create cartoon versions of live-action television series and/or characters. Some included the original actors’ voices and some did not. Some followed a similar storyline to the live-action show and some went a different direction. Some were more successful than others and some are remembered more than others. None seemed to have lasted more than a couple seasons, but each still hold a place a in pop culture history.
This idea was certainly not new or unique to the ’80s. In the ’70s networks gave us The Brady Kids, Star Trek: The Animated Series, Jeannie, The Addams Family, Lassie’s Rescue Rangers, Emergency +4, Partridge Family 2200 A.D. and The New Adventures of Gilligan as Saturday Morning Cartoons. We might have still watched these as re-runs or in syndication in later decades.
Here we will recollect some of the Saturday Morning Cartoons in the ’80s that were based on live-action television series and/or characters along with some quick details about each animated effort…
The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang
Spin-off or based on: Happy Days
Aired: 2 seasons & 24 episodes from 1980-1981
Concept: The series focuses on Fonzie joined by a dog named Mr. Cool and his friends. They are visited by Cupcake, a girl from the future who pilots a malfunctioning time machine. After Fonzie repairs the machine, they land in various periods in time, attempting to return to their own.
Voices: Henry Winkler as “The Fonz”, Ron Howard as “Richie Cunningham”, Donny Most as “Ralph Malph” plus Frank Welker as “Mr. Cool” and Didi Conn (“Frenchy” in Grease) as “Cupcake”
Laverne & Shirley in the Army (Season 1) & Laverne & Shirley with the Fonz (Season 2)
Spin-off or based on: Laverne & Shirley
Aired: 2 seasons & 21 episodes from 1981-1982
Concept: Season 1 focuses on Laverne and Shirley as Privates in the U.S. Army and adventures with with their immediate superior, a pig named Sgt. Squealy. In Season 2 they are joined by The Fonz and his dog Mr. Cool (from the series The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang) working as mechanics in the army camp’s motor pool.
Voices: Penny Marshall as “Laverne”, Cindy Williams as “Shirley” in Season 1, but replaced by Lynne Marie Stewart (Miss Yvonne on Pee-wee’s Playhouse) in Season 2 plus Ron Pallilo (“Horshack” in Welcome Back, Kotter) as Sgt. Squealy
Mork & Mindy
Spin-off or based on: Mork & Mindy
Aired: 1 season & 27 episodes from 1982-1983
Concept: A teenaged Mork is sent to Earth from planet Ork to observe the lives of human teenagers and enroll in a local school. Similar to the original show, Mindy McConnell and her father Fred are the only Earthlings who know that he is an alien and he sends telepathic reports of his experiences to Orkan ruler Orson. Unlike the original show, Mork is accompanied by his Orkan pet, a pink, six-legged dog-like creature named Doing
Voices: Robin Williams as “Mork”, Pam Dawber as “Mindy”, Conrad Janis as “Fred” plus Frank Welker as “Doing”
Spin-off or based on: Gilligan’s Island and the previous animated series calledThe New Adventures of Gilligan which aired from 1974-1975
Aired: 1 season & 13 episodes in 1982
Concept: The Professor had managed to build an operational spaceship to get the castaways of the original cartoon series off the island. Continuing the castaways’ perpetual bad luck, they rocketed off into space and crash-landed on an unknown planet that was like the island in many ways. The rocket was severely damaged in the crash which left the castaways stranded as the Professor resumed his attempts to repair their only way home.
Voices: The only original castaway to not provide their voice was Tina Louise for “Ginger”; Dawn Wells provided both “Mary Ann” and “Ginger”, Bob Denver as “Gilligan”, Alan Hale as “The Skipper”, Jim Backus as “Thurston Howell”, Natalie Schafer as “Lovey Howell” and Russell Johnson as “The Professor”
Spin-off or based on: The Dukes of Hazzard
Aired: 2 seasons & 20 episodes in 1983
Concept: Follows the Duke boys and their cousin Daisy in an automobile race around the world against Boss Hogg, Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane and Rosco’s dog Flash. The Dukes need the money to prevent foreclosure on the family farm while Boss Hogg and Rosco attempt various schemes to keep the Dukes from winning. Most of the adventures are read from a post card by Uncle Jesse to his pet raccoon Smokey. (The first season took place while Tom Wopat and John Schneider left the live-action series in a dispute and were replaced by Coy and Vance Duke. So, the first season of this animated series featured Coy and Vance as well, but Bo and Luke eventually replaced Coy and Vance in Season 2.)
Voices: Catherine Bach as “Daisy Duke”, John Schneider as “Bo Duke”, Tom Wopat as “Luke Duke”, James Best as “Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane”, Sorrell Booke as “Boss Hogg” and Denver Pyle as “Uncle Jesse” plus Frank Welker as “Flash”
ALF: The Animated Series
Spin-off or based on: ALF
Aired: 2 seasons & 26 episodes from 1987-1989
Concept: A prequel to the live action sitcom, it follows ALF’s life back on his home planet of Melmac before it exploded. But since the original character’s name of “ALF” was an acronym for “Alien Life Form”, it is never used in the animated series except for its title with him using his real name of Gordon Shumway
Voices: Paul Fusco as “Gordon Shumway”; No other actors from the live-action series were featured
Spin-off or based on: ALF and the previous ALF: The Animated Series
Aired: 2 seasons & 21 episodes from 1988-1989. The two ALF animated series ran concurrently during the 1988–89 season as the ALF & ALF Tales Hour
Concept: Featured characters from ALF: The Animated Series creating fairy tale parodies in the style of a theater company
Voices: Paul Fusco as “Gordon Shumway”
Dennis the Menace
Spin-off or based on: Dennis the Menace
Aired: 2 seasons & 78 episodes from 1986-1988
Concept: Based on the 1959 live-action show which was based on the comic strip (which debuted in 1951), it follows young Dennis Mitchell, a trouble-prone but well-meaning boy, and his family along with their neighbor Mr. Wilson. Even when Dennis is trying to be good or help people, he always seems to make the situation worse.
Voices: Brennan Thicke (son of Alan Thicke & Gloria Loring) as “Dennis”, Phil Hartman as “Mr. Wilson” and “Dennis’ Dad” for Season 1 only
Fraggle Rock: The Animated Series
Spin-off or based on: Fraggle Rock
Aired: 1 season & 13 episodes in 1987
Concept: Followed the same formula as the live-action show with Red, Wembley, Gobo, Mokey and Boober including at least one original song per episode.
Voices: None of the same voice actors from the live-action HBO show performed on the animated series
The Little Rascals
Spin-off or based on: Our Gang (The Little Rascals)
Aired: 2 seasons & 22 episodes from 1982-1983
Concept: Similar characters to the black and white Our Gang shorts that were created from 1922-1944, but now going on adventures in the ’80s. Alfalfa, Spanky and Darla had very similar characters, but Buckwheat was now a clever inventor always creating new devices for the gang.
Voices: Shavar Ross (“Dudley” on Diff’rent Strokes) as “Buckwheat plus Peter Cullen as “Pete the Pup”
It’s Punky Brewster
Spin-off or based on: Punky Brewster
Aired: 2 seasons & 26 episodes from 1985-1986
Concept: Uses the same premise and main cast as the live-action series, but also includes a magical sprite named Glomer who can transport Punky and her friends anywhere in the world.
Voices: Soleil Moon Frye as “Punky”, George Gaynes as “Henry” plus Frank Welker as “Glomer” and “Brandon the Dog”
The New Adventures of the Lone Ranger
Spin-off or based on: The Lone Ranger
Aired: 2 seasons & 28 episodes from 1980-1982
Concept: Western themed adventures featuring real figures from American history. For this series, Tonto spoke in whole sentences instead of his more-limited vocabulary from the live-action show.
Voices: No original voices, but William Conrad (narrator on Rocky and Bullwinkle and many other shows & “Frank Cannon” on Cannon, “Fatman” on Jake and the Fatman among other roles) as “The Lone Ranger”
Spin-off or based on: popularity of Mr. T as starring in live-action The A-Team and in the film Rocky III
Aired: 3 seasons & 30 episodes from 1983-1985
Concept: Mr. T as a gymnastics coach who travels the world with his team while solving various mysteries (very similar to the Scooby-Doo franchise). At the beginning and end of each episode, a live-action Mr. T himself would provide an introduction and then a moral lesson for the audience.
Voices: Mr. T as himself
Hulk Hogan’s Rock n Wrestling
Spin-off or based on: popularity of Hulk Hogan and live-action WWF Wrestling
Aired: 2 seasons & 26 episodes from 1985-1986
Concept: Rarely even involving wrestling at all, the characters are divided into the good guys against the bad guys in wacky adventures. It features Hulk Hogan, Junkyard Dog, Andre the Giant, Wendi Richter, Jimmy Snuka, Hillbilly Jim, Captain Lou Albano, Mean Gene Okerlund, Rowdy Roddy Piper, The Iron Sheik, Nikolai Volkoff, Fabulous Moolah, Mr. Fuji and others.
Voices: None of the wrestlers provided the voices for the animated parts, but did include Brad Garrett (“Robert” on Everybody Loves Raymond) as “Hulk Hogan” and James Avery (“Uncle Phil” on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air) as “Junkyard Dog”
The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley
Spin-off or based on: the SCTV and Saturday Night Live character Ed Grimley
Aired: 1 season & 13 episodes in 1988
Concept: Follows silly adventures of Ed Grimley interspersed with segments from The Amazing Gustav Brothers, Roger and Emil and The Count Floyd Show. At the end of each episode, Ed would write in his diary about what happened in his day.
Voices: Martin Short as “Ed Grimley” plus Frank Welker as “his pet rat Sheldon” and additional voices provided by Catherine O’Hara, Jonathan Winters, Joe Flaherty, Andrea Martin and others
*BONUS* This concept was not just limited to TV shows and characters. As a bonus, here are some Cartoons from the ’80s based on live-action Movies as well…
The Gary Coleman Show
Spin-off or based on: The Kid with the Broken Halo (1982)
Aired: 1 season & 13 episodes in 1982
Concept: Andy LeBeau is an angel apprentice who was dispatched back to Earth to earn his wings by helping others.
Voices: Gary Coleman (“Arnold” on Diff’rent Strokes & “Andy LeBeau” in the television film) as “Andy LeBeau”
Star Wars: Droids & Star Wars: Ewoks
Spin-off or based on: Star Wars and for Ewoks specifically Return of the Jedi
Aired:1 season & 13 episodes and 2 seasons & 26 episodes respectively from 1985-1986
Concept: The Droids series follows the adventures of C-3PO and R2-D2 prior to the original Star Wars (A New Hope). The Ewoks series follows Wicket and his friends on the forest moon of Endor, again prior to the original Star Wars, but they speak English instead of the Ewok language from Return of the Jedi.
Voices: Anthony Daniels as “C-3PO” in Droids
The Karate Kid
Spin-off or based on: The Karate Kid
Aired: 1 seasons & 13 episodes in 1989
Concept: Follows Daniel and Mr. Miyagi as they go on quests to recover a magical miniature shrine which had been taken from Okinawa.
Voices: No original voices for the characters, but Pat Morita (Mr. Miyagi) does narration at the beginning of each episode
Spin-off or based on: Teen Wolf
Aired: 2 seasons & 21 episodes from 1986-1987
Concept: Follows teenager Scott Howard and his family who can transform into werewolves. Unlike the movie, Scott doesn’t just live alone with his Dad, but now also has a little sister and grandparents and they all live in Wolverton instead of Beacontown.
Voices: The only original voice is James Hampton as “Harold Howard, Scott’s Dad”, but does include Donny Most (“Ralph” on Happy Days) as “Stiles” and Craig Sheffer (“Hardy Jenns” in Some Kind of Wonderful) as “Mick the Bully” as well as Townsend Coleman (“Michelangelo” on TMNT) as “Scott Howard”
The Real Ghostbusters
Spin-off or based on: Ghostbusters
Aired: 7 seasons & 140 episodes from 1986-1991
Concept: Continues the adventures of paranormal investigators Dr. Peter Venkman, Dr. Egon Spengler, Dr. Ray Stantz, Winston Zeddemore, their secretary Janine Melnitz and their mascot ghost Slimer.
Voices: No original voices for the characters, but does feature Lorenzo Music (“Garfield”) as “Venkman” in season 1-2, Dave Coulier (“Joey” on Full House) as “Venkman” season 3-7, Arsenio Hall as “Winston” in season 1-3 plus Frank Welker as “Ray” & “Slimer”
Police Academy: The Animated Series
Spin-off or based on: the Police Academy franchise
Aired: 2 seasons & 65 episodes from 1988-1989 (not on Saturday mornings)
Concept: It takes place chronologically between the fourth and fifth films recreating 13 of the characters including Mahoney, Hightower, Jones, Tackleberry, Hooks, Callahan, House, Zed, Sweetchuck, Captain Harris, Captain Mauser, Proctor and Commandant Lassard among others.
Voices: Surprisingly, no original voices are used for any characters
Rambo: The Force of Freedom
Spin-off or based on: First Blood and the Rambo franchise
Aired: 1 season & 65 episodes in 1986 (not on Saturday mornings)
Concept: John Rambo leads a special unit called The Force of Freedom all over the world to battle against the terrorist organization called S.A.V.A.G.E.
Voices: No original voices are used for any characters, but does feature the voice talents of Alan Oppenheimer, Frank Welker, Peter Cullen James Avery and Neil Ross among others.
Spin-off or based on: Beetlejuice
Aired: 4 seasons & 94 episodes from 1989-1991
Concept: Developed by Tim Burton, follows Lydia Deetz and her undead friend Beetlejuice as they explore The Neitherworld.
Voices: No original voices are used for any characters
Spin-off or based on: RoboCop
Aired: 1 seasons & 12 episodes in 1988
Concept: Cyborg cop Alex Murphy fights to save the city of Old Detroit from assorted evil.
Voices: No original voices are used for any characters
With most television programming available on demand now, kids will never truly appreciate how special it was to have Saturday Morning Cartoons back in the day. In the never-ending effort to captivate and capture an audience, networks threw lots of cartoon concepts out there. Though probably with higher licensing fees connected, I am sure networks saw an easy option of taking something that was already in existence and simply animating it rather than creating something new. At least for me personally, most of these rarely ever captured the magic of their live-action inspirations, but that didn’t stop me from watching. We would also see this work the other way as live-action movies and shows would be created based off of cartoons, but that is a topic for a different feature.