By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
By Glenn BurnSilver
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Two of the serials within the Krofft Supershows -- Electra Woman and Dyna Girl and Bigfoot and Wildboy -- still garner serious hoots because they're among the campiest fare ever, and unlike the other Supershows, they're not cursed with annoying laugh tracks. Days of Our Lives actress Deidre Hall often tries to skirt over her role as a Krofft superheroine, as if starring in a soap opera is somehow more respectable than playing the lead role in Electra Woman and Dyna Girl. Hah! She and co-star Judy Strangis mug more than the Little Rascals and drive around in a car that looks like a Lady Remington shaver. Arguably the laziest superheroes of all time, the duo hardly make a move without consulting "Frank at the Crime Lab," and do so on carpal-tunnel-inducing wrist radios the size of telephone receivers.
It's not hard to imagine Frank a misogynist who just sends them out on assignments ill-equipped just to watch them squirm. "We need more power, Frank," is an often-repeated cry. Sisters aren't doing it for themselves, not in Krofftland, anyway.
Even funnier is Bigfoot and Wildboy. Wildboy was raised in the Great North wilderness and speaks perfect English even though his tutor, Bigfoot, seems incapable of putting two syllables together except for "wild" and "boy." In Episode 17, "Return of the Vampire," the duo face a beautiful female vampire who frequently turns into a furry bat held up by very visible strings. She even lifts her cape over her mouth so that she can insert her phony plastic fangs. Ed Wood be praised!
After the Supershow came another series, The Krofft Superstar Variety Hour, this time hosted by a real-life rock band, the Bay City Rollers. Unlike Kaptain Kool and the Kongs -- who didn't sell records -- the Rollers could make superstar demands like wanting a bigger dressing room than Witchiepoo. "That was the only show I had canceled," laments Krofft. "That was the most troublesome show I ever did working with those guys. Some of them were cooperative, but the lead singer was a pain in the ass." Canceled after only two months, the tartan terrors never did much for S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y morn.
The Kroffts' variety show concepts made the big leap into prime time with the highly successful Donny & Marie Show, which spun off the considerably less successful Brady Bunch Variety Hour. "That was a tough show to do," says Krofft. "Well, I actually gave up Donny & Marie to do that show at the behest of Michael Eisner. At the time he was at ABC. That was the last thing he bought at ABC."
Undaunted, the Kroffts were approached by Fred Silverman at NBC to do another variety show, Pink Lady and Jeff. Krofft ruefully admits America wasn't ready for two Japanese girls and Jeff Altman. "Once they started singing, they sold all these records," remembers Krofft. "But once you start translating all the Japanese to English, it drains the blood out of it, and talking with the big, thick Japanese accents. They were cute, but we were opposite The Dukes of Hazzard. We didn't have a prayer."
Pink Lady and Jeff is frequently cited as one of the worst shows of all time, but Krofft can still muster some pride in the ill-fated program's longevity as a punch line. "That show's in a time capsule. Recently they were doing Pink Lady and Jeff jokes on Saturday Night Live. You couldn't kill that with a baseball bat."
If The Donny & Marie Show proved the variety format's last gasp, the double whammy of the Bradys and Pink Lady sealed the coffin shut. "The only thing that stays alive on television is half-hour comedies," concedes Krofft. "You can do 7,000 bad pilots and they'll still stay alive. But you do two bad variety pilots and you don't see variety for 10 years."
The Kroffts laid low on the children's television front for several years. The '80s saw one show, Pryor's Place(starring comedian Richard Pryor in a strange turn), and the '90s offered a new version of Land of the Lost. Was children's TV trying to get away from fantasy? "They wanted to get away from paying money, first of all," he notes. "They pay nothing now and they want to own it all. So it ain't a great business today. And I love kids shows."
In recent years, Krofft's main goal has been working to bring the old shows to the big screen. There was a full-length feature Pufnstuf film in 1970 with Mama Cass playing Witchiepoo's obese sister (Fattypoo?). Plans for a new Pufnstuf film include casting big-name stars in the villain roles of Mr. Mushroom and Hippie Tree, and gearing the humor to adults rather than preschoolers. "The guys working on the Pufnstuf movie with me wrote the Larry Flynt movie, and they just wrote the Andy Kaufman picture," says Krofft, referring to the white-hot screenwriting team of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. "We're in preproduction. I've got good people, and we're going to do it for the year 2000."
In the meantime, fans and curious nostalgists can check out The World of Sid and Marty Krofft video set. Although getting through many of the shows can be tough sledding, there's something endearing about intensely painful programs like Magic Mongo -- a show that seeks to cross Three's Company and I Dream of Jeannie and do it on the cheap. Nowadays, kids have video games with far more sophistication than even the best special effects in Far-Out Space Nuts. But the children these shows were made for were allowed to be young for a far longer period of time. Which probably serves to explain why shows like Lidsville don't get made anymore. Today, 10-year-olds watch Melrose Place and Buffy the Vampire Slayer without batting an eyelash at the sex, violence and postmodernist irony. But Krofft encourages his '70s audience -- today's parents -- to sit down with their kids and watch the shows. They may chuckle or even cringe at the crude props, premises and effects, but more likely they'll watch and smile. And maybe you'll have extended their childhood by an hour and a half.