10 Saturday Morning Live-Action Kids’ Shows I Loved
When I was a kid, I looked forward to Saturday morning cartoons, but there were some live-action kids’ shows I made sure I never missed.
In the 1970s, something curious seemed to happen to Saturday morning television: Live-action kids shows were, for a while, more of a rage than cartoons.
My all-time favorite Saturday morning show was the animated Bugs Bunny-Road Runner Show. That show consisted of classic Warner Brothers cartoons from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s repacked into a 90-minute (and later a 60-minute) format.
But live-action shows were being cranked out nearly more often than cartoon shows were. Here are a few I remember fondly.
1. ‘Space Academy’
This was my favorite of the live-action shows. Jonathan Harris — Lost in Space’s Dr. Zachary Smith — appeared as Commander Gampu, the 300+-year-old leader of a the Space Academy. It was set on an asteroid in the “star year 3722.”
The academy featured a team of young people whose unique gifts protected the universe. Created in 1977, it was an obvious response to the success of Star Wars.
2. ‘Land of the Lost’
Marshall, Will and Holly were on a routine expedition, as the opening song went, when a giant earthquake opened a hole and transported their raft into a prehistoric land filled with dinosaurs and reptilian humanoids called “Sleestack.”
By today’s standards, the special effects were about as cheesy as it gets, but back in 1975 for a young audience, it was perfectly convincing.
3. ‘The Monster Squad’
This was one of those shows we all remember from our childhood, but for the longest time before the internet came along, we might have wondered if we were the only one who remembered them. In this case, Fred Grandy, who you’d later love as Gopher in Love Boat, starred as a college student who worked in a wax museum. His creation, a “crime computer,” somehow reanimated classic horror villains Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolfman.
Together, they worked to solve crimes while keeping their unusual partnership a secret.
4. ‘Sigmund and the Sea Monster’
Sigmund is the laughingstock of his family because he’s not the scary sea monster type. Rejected by his family, he sets out to Dead Man’s Point and runs into two kids and immediately befriends them. The story is captured perfectly in this catchy tune:
You may recognize human star Johnny Whitaker from his role of Jody in Family Affair.
5. ‘The Ghost Busters’
When you hear that title today, you immediately think of the 1984 film with Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Sigourney Weaver. But for this live-action Saturday morning show, you have to think all the way back to 1975.
The show was about three ghost busters — two men and a giant ape — who fought off evil spirits. Larry Storch played Spencer, the ape was named Tracy — get it? “Spencer Tracy” — and Forrest Tucker played “Kong,” the name you’d assume would go to the ape.
The humor was campy and the special effects were cheesy as could be. But for a 5-year-old, that didn’t matter too much.
This show told the story of an otherwise normal school teacher who could transform herself into superhero Isis, an Egyptian goddess.
What most people probably wouldn’t realize about this show was that it was the first American live-action program that depicted a female superhero. The two that would more often come to mind, Wonder Woman and The Bionic Woman, made their individual debuts after Isis hit the small screen.
The program was called The Secrets of Isis when it ran in syndication:
7. ‘Big John, Little John’
This one was fairly obscure, but as you can tell from the opening titles, it told the story of a school teacher who somehow found the coveted fountain of youth. The problem was that after taking a drink, he would transform into a 10-year-old version of himself at the worst possible times.
This show focused on a teenager who traveled with a grandfatherly-like “Mentor” and who had the ability to transform himself into Captain Marvel by shouting the word “Shazam!”
Funny, that never worked for Gomer Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show.
I definitely remember Isis better than I recall Shazam, but I did watch both.
Unlike Isis, in which the lead actress played both the human and the superhero she transformed into, on Shazam, one actor, William Gray, portrayed the teenager and a different actor — Jackson Bostwick and later John Davey — portrayed Captain Marvel.
9. ‘Run Joe Run’
If you crossed The Fugitive with Lassie, then transformed the Rough Collie into a German Shepherd, you’d have this show.
The animal lover in me always pulled for Joe, the wrongly-accused dog who had to hide to avoid being euthanized, although they didn’t go into a great deal of detail for the sake of the kid audience about what euthanasia actually meant.
I ran across a website not long ago that stated Joe was played by the producer’s family dog, Heinrich, who was described as a “gentle giant.”
10. ‘The Cliffwood Avenue Kids’
This one, by far, is the most obscure on the list. This series featured a group of kids who helped solve crimes. But apparently there are no episodes of the series that have been found since their airings in the mid-70s because YouTube doesn’t even have the opening titles available! You have to admit: that’s obscure!
That’s my list. How many of those do you remember?