According to this press release, NBC has
purchased the right to rerun the 1962 Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol later this year. Also according to that press release, June Foray is in the voice cast of that holiday special, which is not true. But, assuming the rest of it's
accurate, this is an interesting move. The animated adaptation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol was always, I felt, one of the two most
entertaining cartoon specials ever produced for TV, the other being A Charlie Brown Christmas. The Magoo affair succeeds despite rather
dreadful animation...poor even by the standards of limited television animation. Matter of fact, the special's previous owner was at one point
considering whether it might have more marketability if they went back and, using the exact same audio track, did all new design and animation.
He (the late Henry Saperstein) never did...but when he told me he was contemplating the cost-benefit ratio, I said, "You're not going to touch the
script, voices or songs, I trust" and he said, "Oh, God, no. You couldn't improve on any of that."
He was right. Jim Backus, Jack Cassidy, Paul Frees and the others are terrific, even if none of them was June Foray. And
the score by Jule Styne (whose name is misspelled in that press release) and Bob Merrill is first-rate...one of the few times an animated TV special
has thought to go out and engage top Broadway composers.
Someone at Classic Media (new proprietors of the nearsighted Quincy Magoo) pulled off a deft move in arranging this. The special
has been out on tape and rerun on low-profile cable channels for years, and you wouldn't think it would go back to network. I'm guessing
someone at NBC was a big fan on it as a kid, plus Classic Media was probably willing to give it to them cheap to get Magoo back in the public
eye. Even if they let NBC run it for nothing, it would be a wise deal for them and, of course, for NBC.
I don't think a lot of people realize how prime-time network animated specials have virtually gone the way of the passenger
pigeon. Disney does a few for ABC but they're mostly a matter of that company producing something they can market in many venues, one of which
is ABC prime-time. And there are a few more Peanuts specials in the pipeline, which ABC is doing because they think it's sound marketing
to marry one of their Winnie the Pooh specials with a Charlie Brown show to fill an hour slot. But there are very few specials of
any kind being produced these days for ABC, NBC and CBS, and even fewer of the animated variety.
Few people seem to have noticed this. Every few months, I'm approached by someone who has a property — a comic strip or a
character from some other venue — they hope to adapt for animation. They often speak of the weekly series they see as inevitable and then
toss off, "And we might be willing to warm up by doing four animated specials a year for one of the major networks." I'm not sure the major
networks, collectively, are producing four new animated specials a year of all the available and proven properties put together...and even at the
peak of such production, you had to have a helluva track record to get more than one a year. Managing one for a new character would be an
incredible achievement...though that could change. The few that are airing have done pretty well and if Magoo continues the trend, that
could bode well for more production.
One hopes we'll see Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol via a good, newly color-corrected print and that, assuming it's in an hour slot,
the edits to allow more commercial time will be done more judiciously than has usually been the case. The best Merrill-Styne song (the ballad,
the name of which I do not know) usually hits the floor first, often followed by Magoo's opening "Broadway" song. A friend of mine swears he
once saw it with the one of the three ghosts eliminated, though I find that unlikely.
In any event, I think it's a terrific show. It's also a pretty terrific adaptation of Mr. Dickens' story...in many ways, more
faithful than some of the more serious, live-action attempts.