ALF: Amusing, Ludicrous, and Funny

April does begin with April Fool’s Day, so this month we take a look at a few shows I call oddly wonderful. Some of them may be odd, some wonderful and some oddly wonderful. You get to decide. These are shows that were very different but popular hits.

In 1963, My Favorite Martian came to earth to live with a news reporter, Tim O’Hara. In 1978, Mork landed on earth from Ork and lived with Mindy. In 1986, ALF, aka Gordon Shumway, crashed into the Tanners’ garage and moved in with the family. In all three series, the extraterrestrial tries to adapt to earthly ways and causes a lot of complications for the people he lives with.

Photo: slate.com

ALF aired in September of 1986 on NBC. Producer Bernie Brillstein was asked to catch Paul Fusco’s show with his puppet character. Brillstein had managed Jim Henson, so he knew something about this type of comedy. He thought ALF was hilarious and could be the center of a new sitcom. The company was Alien Productions; Fusco became a co-producer and Tom Patchett helped create the series, wrote the scripts, and directed the episodes. ALF produced 99 episodes (in syndication, it was 102 since there were three one-hour episodes during its time on the air).

ALF was one of the first sitcoms to use Dolby surround sound. The show was one of the most expensive sitcoms to produce because of the technical elements surrounding the puppet and the long tapings that developed. To try to help out with the expenses, ALF was licensed for a variety of toys, foods, and other types of merchandise. One fun fact is that every episode was the name of a song. Some of the shows were named, “Hungry Like the Wolf”, “Stayin’ Alive”, and “Gotta Be Me.”

Photo: semestertimes.com

ALF (alien life form) was a sarcastic, sometimes overbearing, character from Melmac. The Tanners take him in to protect him after he crashes into their garage. Willie Tanner (Max Wright) is married to Kate (Anne Schedeen) and they had two children, Lynn (Andrea Elson) and Brian (Benji Gregory). The plan is for ALF to repair his spaceship and then leave. Later ALF learns that his planet was destroyed by nuclear war. Eventually he becomes part of the family as he develops affection for them and vice versa.

Of course, ALF causes no end of trouble for the Tanners. In one episode, Brian is building a model of the solar system as we know it. ALF reveals to him that there are two planets past Pluto which Brian includes and then gets in trouble for.

Photo: noiselesschatter.com

Like Mork, as ALF becomes closer to the family, he is exposed to several of their friends and family. He is friends with Willie’s brother Neal (Jim Bullock), gets to know a psychologist Larry (Bill Daily), has a love-hate relationship with Kate’s mom, Dorothy (Anne Meara), and builds a relationship with a blind woman, Jody (Andrea Covell), who never realizes that ALF is not human.

ALF meant well and often was trying to help someone else when he caused many of his problems.

When Anne Schedeen became pregnant in real life, a baby was written into the show named Eric. ALF temporarily lives in the laundry room but eventually he and Willie convert the attic into a small apartment.

Photo: popdust.com

ALF often talks about eating cats. On Melmac, cats are raised for food. However, he bonds with the Tanners’ cat Lucky and, when Lucky dies, he becomes very sad. He has one heart that is located in his right ear, and he has eight stomachs. ALF claims he came from a large family, his best friend growing up was Malhar Naik, his girlfriend was Rhonda, he attended high school for 122 years, and was captain of his bouillabaisseball team. The sport was played on ice but used fish parts as bats and balls, requiring nose plugs on warm days. Melmac apparently had blue grass, a green sky, and a purple sun.

Photo: metv.com

Despite the funny scripts and fond remembrances viewers had, it was a difficult show to work on. The human actors had trouble playing second fiddle to a puppet, and there were a lot of complications trying to film with ALF. The set was on high tension alert all the time. When the final scene was filmed, Max Wright, who had the hardest time adjusting to working with ALF, walked off the set and left without saying good-bye to anyone. Schedeen said “There was no joy on that set . . . it was a technical nightmare—extremely slow, hot and tedious.” A thirty-minute show could take 20-25 hours to shoot. Schedeen said she was fond of her screen children, but some adults on the show had difficult personalities. Later in life, Wright said he found out the show brought a lot of enjoyment to people and felt better about his time portraying Willie.

One of the issues was that the set was built on a four-foot platform with trap doors all over so ALF could appear anywhere. He was operated from underneath the set and the doors and holes could be treacherous. To avoid wear and tear on the real puppet, a stand-in was used to rehearse named RALF (rehearsal alien life form).

Photo: noiselesschatter.com

Luckily, none of all the problems behind the scenes leaked out to the public. The show was popular in season one. In season two, it reached number five. It continued to hold its own in season three, with tenth place. However, season four saw a sharp decline and the show came in at 39th. In March of 1990, NBC moved the show from Monday to Saturday, but the ratings continued to decline.

The show had one of the most interesting endings in sitcom history. The production team hoped by having a cliffhanger at the end of season four, they could convince the network to bring it back for a fifth season, but it did not work that way. The Tanners take ALF to a field where an aircraft is going to reclaim him. Suddenly he’s circled by a group of military automatons. No one knew if he would be taken to Area 51 or escape. Viewers were left wondering what happened to ALF. NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff later admitted to Fusco they had cancelled the show prematurely.

Photo: horrorgeeklife.com

Six years later, ABC aired a movie, Project: ALF. None of the original cast was in the film. The movie was not well received.

Photo: hobbydb.com

However, the movie was not the end of ALF. The character has had more lives than all the cats he ever ate combined. Marvel Comics developed a series of books in 1987 which ran for four years with 50 issues. An animated cartoon that aired Saturday mornings which was a prequel to the show also ran for a couple of years.

One of the most unexpected outcomes of the show and, in my opinion, one of the funniest, was ALF’s talk show which aired on TV Land. ALF was a talk show host with none other than Ed McMahon as his sidekick. It was on for only seven episodes but featured guests like Drew Carey and Merv Griffin.

Photo: nathanrabin.com

Believe it or not, it didn’t end there. In 1987 while the show was still on the air, ALF appeared on an episode of Matlock. He was in an episode of Blossom when he denies her entrance to heaven in a dream. He was the only extra terrestrial to appear on The Love Boat: The Next Wave. He was a regular on Hollywood Squares. In addition to a bunch of other shows, he appeared on Good Morning America in 2011, on The Simpsons several times, twice on Family Guy, once in Young Sheldon, and a stuffed animal ALF was in a Big Bang Theory show. The guys buy a box at a garage sale after following someone they think could be Adam West. One of the items in the box is the ALF doll.

Photo: bigbangtheorywiki.wikinfofoundry.com

In addition to shows, ALF appeared in a variety of commercials including telephones, Delta Airlines, Super Bowl XLV, and Radio Shack.

If all that is not enough, in August of 2018, Variety reported that there was a possible ALF reboot coming from Warner Brothers. One of the rumored ideas is that ALF would emerge from Area 51 into a world that has drastically changed, somewhat like Austin Powers, I guess.

Photo: noiselesschatter.com

I’m not sure that it would be a good idea to bring ALF back. The original is a classic and extremely funny if you aren’t aware of all the background tension. I think we’ll let the show speak for itself. Here is a typical example of the conversations that Willie and ALF had around the breakfast table.

Willie: You can’t vote, ALF, you’re not a citizen.

ALF: I’ll apply for a green card.

Willie: That’s only if you want a job.

ALF: Pass. (After a pause) I know, I’ll marry Lynn, become a citizen, and then drop her like a hot potato.

Willie: ALF . . .

ALF: Sure, it will be hard on her at first. She’ll cry, drink a little too much, join up with a bongo player named Waquine.

Willie: ALF

ALF: You’d like Waquine, he doesn’t like beets.

Willie: Neither you nor Waquine may marry my daughter and you may not vote.

ALF: Fine, I won’t have a voice in government. Waquine will get deported, and they’ll make him eat beets.

Willie: How many cups of coffee have you had today?

ALF: Forty. Why?

If It’s Friday Night, It’s Time for the Adults to Gather Round and Watch . . . Cartoons?

In September 1960 several iconic shows had their debut including My Three Sons and The Andy Griffith Show. On Friday nights at 8:30 eastern time, a very unusual show also began on ABC that fall:  The Flintstones.  Many viewers don’t realize that The Flintstones began life as a prime-time animated show aimed at adults. Created by Hanna-Barbera (H-B), it continued to run at night until April of 1966, a total of 166 episodes.

H-B went to New York for 8 weeks to pitch the show. After being turned down by every ntework, ABC decided to take a chance on it.  It was the most financially successful animated show for 30 years until The Simpsons was created. Variety described its premier as “a pen and ink disaster,” but the show was nominated for Outstanding Comedy, losing to The Jack Benny Show.

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Set in Bedrock, population 2500, the Flintstones and the Rubbles were neighbors and best friends.  The show’s success had a lot to do with the fact that these Stone Age families participated in the same modern-day activities that families did in the 1960s. They relied on the same technology; it’s just that their technology was powered primarily by animals and rocks.

H-B considered other historical eras for the show.  They researched hillbillies, the Roman Empire, and American Indians before settling on Stone Age characters. The original title was The Flagstones.  It was then changed to The Gladstones, and, finally, The Flintstones. In the first creation, Fred and Wilma had a son — Fred Jr. H-B decided that they wanted both couples to be childless, so Fred Jr. was written out.  A Golden Book which came out in 1960 was released before the show changed its concept, and it features Fred Jr.

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Let’s review the regular characters.

Fred Flintstone works at Slate Rock and Gravel Co. He had a quick temper but was a loving father and husband.  He is tall and broad with black hair. He was on a bowling team and belonged to the Loyal Order of Buffaloes, Lodge No. 26. Alan Reed was the voice of Fred. In one episode, Fred was supposed to yell “Yahoo.” Reed asked if he could say “Yabba Dabba Doo” which he based on a Brylcreem jingle his mother used to say, “A little dab’ll do ya.” That became his catchphrase.  In 1977, when the show was in syndication, Henry Corden took over after Reed passed away. Fred was based on Ralph Kramden. In a 1986 , article Jackie Gleason revealed that his attorney told him he could have easily won a lawsuit and stopped The Flintstones, but he advised against it or Gleason would have been known as the man who destroyed The Flintstones.

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Wilma Flintstone is a practical and level-headed wife. She is a true redhead and loves to shop. She often has to get Fred out of bad situations or is forced to convince him to apologize to Barney or Mr. Slate. Jean Vander Pyl was the voice of Wilma.

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Pebbles Flintstone was born at the end of Season 3.  She wore bones in her hair for bows and was a happy little girl. Vander Pyl also played Pebbles.

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Dino is their purple pet.  He barks and often acts like a dog, but he is officially a prosauropod. The incredible Mel Blanc was the voice of Dino.

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Barney Rubble is Fred’s best friend and next-door neighbor. He and Fred get into spats regularly. Barney is shorter than Fred, easy going, and friendly.  Barney was on Fred’s bowling team and part of the Water Buffaloes. Barney was also voiced by Mel Blanc. After Blanc’s death, several actors played Barney.

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Betty Rubble is Wilma’s best friend.  They often conspire to get their husbands to mend their friendship.  Betty is a brunette. Bea Benaderet was the voice of Betty for seasons 1-4.  After her death, Gerry Johnson took over for seasons 5 and 6.

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Bamm-Bamm is the Rubbles’ adopted son.  He is absurdly strong and says “Bamm-Bamm” a lot. Don Messick was the voice of both Bamm-Bamm and the Rubbles’ pet.

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Hoppy is Rubbles’ pet hopparoo (a cross between a kangaroo and a dinosaur).  He doesn’t appear until Season 5.

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More than 100 “guest” characters appear on the show, but several are better known and appear more often, including:

Mr. Slate owns the company where Fred works.  Sometimes Barney works there as well but it doesn’t seem to be consistent. Mr. Slate fires Fred a lot but always takes him back. John Stephenson voiced Mr. Slate.

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Arnold is the Rubbles’ and Flintstones’ paperboy. Fred doesn’t like him because Arnold can outsmart him. Don Messick played Arnold.

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Joe Rockhead is a friend of Fred and Barney’s. He is mentioned in one show as being the chief of the Bedrock Volunteer Fire Department. Irwin Keyes played Joe.

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Pearl Slaghoople is Wilma’s mother.  She is hard to please and has always disapproved of Fred. Verna Felton and Janet Waldo played Pearl.

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Gazoo is an alien who helps Fred and Barney.  He can only be seen by those two, small children, and pets. Harvey Korman was the voice of Gazoo. He appeared during the final season as a way to boost viewership. The show had begun to try to capture younger viewers during the final two seasons.

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Many famous people also showed up on the show. The 6th episode of the 6th season featured Darrin and Samantha Stephenson from Bewitched. H-B produced the animated opening of Bewitched, so there was a tie-in. Other stars included Stony Curtis (Tony Curtis), Ann Margrock (Ann Margaret), and Cary Granite (Cary Grant) as well as the Green Bay Pachyderms.

One strange thing about the show was that the Flintstones home and furniture placement was not consistent.  You can see changes in almost every episode. Their address also changed. It was given as 345 Cave Stone Rd., 1313 Cobblestone Way, and 222 Rocky Way.

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A theme song, “Rise and Shine” was created for the show and used in seasons 1 and 2. The tune was similar to Bugs Bunny’s theme, and in season 3 it was changed to “Meet the Flintstones.” A 22-piece jazz band and a 5-person singing group, the Skip Jacks, recorded it. When the show went into syndication, “Rise and Shine” was replaced with “Meet the Flintstones” for the first two seasons as well. Hoyt Curtin was in charge of the underscores for seasons 1-5 and Ted Nichols took over for season 6.

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Believe it or not, the first two seasons were sponsored by Winston Cigarettes, and there were ads featuring Fred and Barney smoking. These seasons were aired in black and white. Seasons 3-6 would be in color. In season 3, Welch’s became the sponsor for the last four years. They created jelly jars which could be re-used as drinking glasses. At this point, it was decided that the Flintstones would have a baby. A boy was written into the script. A marketing director suggested they change it to a girl because girl dolls sold better. Based on his recommendation, they created Pebbles. Apparently, he was right because during the first few months, they sold 3 million of them. In season 4, Bamm-Bamm was adopted.

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Some of the clever products included an alarm clock that is a bird, a bird car horn, a dinosaur crane, an octopus dishwasher, a pelican garbage can, a porcupine hairbrush, and a swordfish knife. Several famous brands were seen in the stone age such as Stoneway Pianos and Polarrock cameras.

The show was offered in syndication till 1997. Ted Turner purchased H-B in 1992, and The Flintstones ran on TBS, TNT, and the Cartoon Network. In 2000, Boomerang began airing the show where it continued until 2016. Now it’s only available on Boomerang’s subscription video-on-demand service.

The Flintstones had 12 different television series versions and 13 tv specials produced. In addition, there have been 5 tv movies, 6 educational filmstrips and 2 big-screen films.

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Two theme parks exist: Bedrock City in Custer, SD and Valle, AZ. A stage production took place in Universal Studios in Hollywood from 1994-1997. DC Comics produced a 2016 Flintstones comic book. Flintstones collectibles have been produced for almost 60 years.

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Fifty-eight years after the debut of the show, Bedrock characters are still promoting products.  One-a-Day vitamins features Flintstones Chewables and Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles are made by Post.

 

A typical conversation between Fred and Barney is:

Fred: How can you be so stupid?

Barney: Hey, that’s not very nice. Say you’re sorry.

Fred: I’m sorry you’re stupid.

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For the remainder of January, we will continue to look at prime-time animation series.