On today’s edition of The Couch, we look back at the forgotten series from the old days of Cartoon Network. A little gem known as Cartoon Planet.
If anyone had told me fifteen years ago that I’d be remembering this show fondly, I’d have told them that they were crazy. The thing is, much like The Banana Splits (which Damon already wrote about in an earlier post), I have a greater appreciation for this show now than I did when it was in production. When Cartoon Planet was on the air, I dismissed the show because it was goofy and ridiculous, but now I enjoy it…because it’s goofy and ridiculous.
Cartoon Planet began as an hour-long block of cartoons hosted by Space Ghost, Zorak, and Brak. They would introduce full cartoons from the Turner Entertainment library, such as old theatrical shorts and Hanna-Barbera cartoons, including the original 1960s Space Ghost episodes. The host segments were often original songs and ad-libbed skits. New material ceased being made in 1997, and most of the songs and skits were re-packaged into 22 half-hour episodes without classic cartoon clips.
There’s no need to go into detail about the cartoons themselves, since they were the same shorts that from the Turner library that were airing on Cartoon Network the other 23 hours of the day. The cartoons weren’t bad, but since there were no original cartoons shorts made for the show, we don’t need to discuss them here. The real attraction was the host segments. Here’s a taste of the intro:
If you’re like me, you were probably wondering “Why Brak and not Moltar?” It’s likely because Andy Merril (the voice of Brak) was one of the show’s producers, so it’s no surprise that he’d want to voice his character from Space Ghost: Coast To Coast on the show. Also, Moltar already had a gig as the original host of CN’s Toonami program block. However, this fact was joked about on an episode of Space Ghost: Coast To Coast; Moltar is flipping through channels in the studio’s control room. He comes across Cartoon Planet and says:
Each episode included segments such as “Brak’s School Daze,” “Zorak’s Horror Scopes,” “Poets’ Corner,” “Brak’s Monday Ratings Report,” “The Top 5 Cartoon Countdown” (discontinued in 1997 after the show’s Saturday-morning slot was shortened to a half-hour), “Vacation Spots Around the Universe” (pieced together from clips of Ultra 7 episodes), “Messages from Outer Space” (also from Ultra 7, featuring the Hot Dog Men), “Mailbag Day”, readings from “The Cartoon Planet Storybook,” messages from Count Floyd (Joe Flaherty’s local public-access television cable TV horror movie host from SCTV; the segments were originally shown on Hanna-Barbera’s The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley), “Learning to Talk Italian,” Nuggets of Joy from Zorak,” “Zorak’s Helpful Hints,” and “Cooking with Brak.”
The show also had short live-action segments featuring producer Andy Merrill wearing an ill-fitting Space Ghost costume doing various things like visiting a petting zoo, getting a haircut (although he kept his mask on), playing tennis, or visiting a gift shop. Intros of the show during the early years featured Merrill in the costume dancing (rather badly) to the mambo-style theme music, or sitting in a chair reading a newspaper, falling asleep to lullaby music.
You know that you’ve got good stuff when more people are tuning in more for the host segments and wraparounds than they are for cartoons that they’re hosting. You can tell that George Lowe, Clay Martin Croker and Andy Merrill were having a good time on the set. I can imagine them cracking each other up in the table reads. It’s nice having a job that you enjoy.
At the time, head writer/producer Pete Smith described Cartoon Planet “as a cross between The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, The Electric Company, and recess at the Richard M. Nixon School for Wayward Boys. …Cartoon Planet skillfully steers clear of any semblance of sophisticated humor. Forced by network muckity-mucks to air his dirty spandex in front of millions of impressionable young minds, Space Ghost dragged a reluctant Zorak and a confused Brak into the treacherous waters of sketch comedy.”
Unfortunately, due to licensing issues involving the clips used on the show, Cartoon Planet has yet get a DVD release.
Incidentally, Cartoon Planet was one of several names that we considered for this very website. We didn’t go with that because Cartoon Network legally owns the name.
In 2012, Cartoon Network attempted to revive Cartoon Planet (originally to commemorate CN’s 29th anniversary and was called “Best of CN”).
However, this new version wasn’t as good as the original. For one thing, George Lowe was semi-retired from voice over work by this time and didn’t participate, leaving Brak and Zorak to host the show by themselves. It was like having a reunion tour with only 3 Beatles; you need all of the parts or it’s a different thing entirely. While it was good to see Brak and Zorak again, I missed Space Ghost. Without the show’s anchor, something was missing.
For another, soon afterwards Cartoon Network said “Screw tradition” and turned the show from a celebration of the network’s past into a dumping ground for the network’s then current shows such as Johnny Test, The Amazing World of Gumball, MAD and worst of all, The Annoying Orange.
I already discussed this boneheaded decision made by CN’s execs in a post from a couple of years earlier titled Cartoon Planet In Crisis, so there’s no need to repeat myself here. This version quietly went away shortly afterward. No one misses it much.
Tragically, Clay Martin Croker (the voice of Zorak) unexpectedly passed away in 2015, so a revival of Cartoon Planet seems unlikely. Even if George Lowe were to come out of retirement to do it, they’d still be a man short. Sure, the producers could conceivably hire someone else to voice Zorak, but that should only happen if said replacement were someone who has a natural rapport with the other cast members and writers.
At least some of the skits and wraparounds are available for viewing on sites like YouTube and Dailymotion. I say we should just watch those and remember what we once had.
Pourin’ one out for Cartoon Planet and for Clay Martin Croker. We miss ya, man!
So let’s end this on a high note. I give you one of the greatest things to come from Cartoon Network. Period. Kick it!