Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Underdog is an American animated television series that debuted October 3, 1964, on the NBC network under the primary sponsorship of General Mills, and continued in syndication until 1973, for a run of 124 episodes.
Underdog, Shoeshine Boy’s heroic alter-ego, appeared whenever love interest Sweet Polly Purebred was being victimized by such villains as Simon Bar Sinister or Riff Raff. Underdog always speaks in rhymes, such as, “There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here!” His voice was supplied by Wally Cox.
In 1959, handling the General Mills account as an account executive with the Dancer Fitzgerald Sample advertising agency in New York, W. Watts Biggers teamed with Chet Stover, Treadwell D. Covington and artist Joe Harris in the creation of television cartoon shows to sell breakfast cereals for General Mills. The shows introduced such characters as King Leonardo, Tennessee Tuxedo and Underdog. Biggers and Stover contributed both scripts and songs to the series. When Underdog became a success, Biggers and his partners left Dancer Fitzgerald Sample to form their own company, Total Television, with animation produced at Gamma Studios in Mexico. At the end of the decade, Total Television folded when General Mills dropped out as the primary sponsor in 1969 (but continued to retain the rights to the series until the mid-'90s).
When he is not Underdog, he is incognito as a shoeshine boy. Like Superman, when trouble calls, he hurriedly dresses in a phone booth (which would inexplicably explode upon his conversion). On occasion, in order to replenish his powers, he would take an "Underdog Super Energy Pill". The "Underdog Super Energy Pill" was first introduced in Episode 10. He keeps one of these pills inside a special ring he wears at all times. (Before taking one, he would often utter the words: "The secret compartment of my ring I fill / With an Underdog super energy pill".) Several episodes show Underdog losing the ring and being powerless, since he must take another pill as his super powers begin to fail ("Without my Super Energy Pill / I grow weaker and weaker and weaker still"). When the series was syndicated in the 1980s and 1990s, the scenes of him taking his energy pill were edited out. In the recent release, "Underdog: The Ultimate Collection", the word "energy" was replaced with "vitamin."
Underdog is shown to have incredible superhuman powers. However, the number and scope of his superpowers are inconsistent from episode to episode, being subject not only to the conventions of superhero comics, but also to the conventions of humorous cartoons. In one episode he easily moved planets, safely butting against them with his rear end. In another episode his super energy pill, diluted billions of times when added to a city's water system, was capable of giving normal humans who drank the water enough strength easily to bend thick steel bars.