Don’t ever let them tell you that your personal challenges will keep you from reaching your dreams. We of Generation TV know better, because we’ve watched a dog with a truly brutal speech impediment become the longest-running cartoon star in network TV history. If Scooby-Doo can do it, then by golly so can you.
The origins of TV’s original clue-sniffing, scaredy-pants, mystery-solving dog are as much legend as history, but here’s how the story goes: somewhere in the late 60s, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera pitch a show about teenagers who drive around in a van and solve mysteries. The executive says, “Great, but where’s the dog?” So, needing to add a dog to their mystery show, Hanna and Barbera decide to play an in-joke on a company employee, a lady fond of gushing about how wonderful and brave her pet Great Dane is. Hanna and Barbera add the Great Dane, but make him the least wonderful and brave character on the show. Somewhere along the line, somebody morphs a line from Frank Sinatra’s version of “Strangers in the Night” (“dooby dooby doo”) into a name, and Scooby-Doo is born.
Debuting in 1969 as Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, the show found its formula right away: Scooby, perpetually hungry (and equally cowardly) best friend Shaggy, blonde dreamboat Freddy, miniskirted hottie Daphne and brainy brunette Velma arrived at some backwater locale in their custom psychedelic van, the Mystery Machine. Trouble struck – usually involving supposed swamp creatures, ghosts, robots, or other scary beasts – and the gang was called in to crack the case. The gang split up (Fred with the girls, Shaggy with Scoob), Scoob and Shag jonsed for delicious “Scooby snacks,” Velma analyzed clues, there was a chase scene set to groovy music, and the “monster” was caught and unmasked as a disgruntled human being, who “would’ve gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for you meddling kids,” as the saying goes.
That was about all there was to a typical Scooby-Doo episode, but for some reason, it worked. And it’s worked ever since, for more than three decades in over a dozen different versions.
Two original seasons of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? (plus one more of reruns) gave way to The New Scooby-Doo Comedy Movies in 1972. The mystery-solving format remained the same, but each episode featured an animated version of a celebrity guest star – from the Harlem Globetrotters to Don Knotts to Sonny & Cher – all voiced by the celebrities themselves.
1976 found Scoob and the gang, along with Scooby’s idiot cousin Scooby-Dum, sharing half of an hour-long block with “robonic” pooch Dynomutt and his human partner, The Blue Falcon. Together, the two shows made up the unimaginatively titled The Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Show.
Of course, 1976 was also an Olympic year, and Hanna-Barbera capitalized on current events with Scooby’s All-Star Laff-a-Lympics (later just Scooby’s All-Stars). At a whopping 90 minutes (Scoob, how far you’ve come…), the show pitted three teams of veteran Hanna-Barbera characters against each other in zany athletic competitions.
For many Scooby fans, 1978 was the year of the Apocalypse, as Scooby ditched most of the old gang (Shaggy stuck around) for his nephew Scrappy-Doo (in fairness, many kids thought Scrappy was great – though many of these later grew up to be prison inmates and experimental drug testers). Mini-sized but always ready for a rumble, Scrappy idolized his uncle, thinking Scooby was the bravest dog in the world. He also spoke impeccable English and even had his own catchphrase: “Puppy Power!” Presumably, this was more kid-friendly than Scooby-Doo’s catchphrase: “Hrrruh?”
Scrappy hung around through most of the 80s, as Scooby burned through show titles and lineup partners: The Richie Rich/Scooby-Doo Show; The Scooby and Scrappy-Doo/Puppy’s New Adventures Hour; rerun packages like The Best of Scooby-Doo, Scary Scooby Funnies and Scooby’s Mystery FunHouse; and 1984′s The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries, which had both Scrappy and the Mystery Machine gang.
Scooby, Shaggy, Scrappy, and a revamped Daphne got a new partner in nine-year-old Flim Flam in The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, which also featured horror movie legend Vincent Price as a helpful warlock named Vincent Van Ghoul.
In 1988, Scooby and the gang had their most extensive makeover to date. A Pup Named Scooby-Doo built on the “back when they were kids…” idea that was all the rage in the mid-to-late-80s (Muppet Babies, The Flintstone Kids, even a junior Roseanne Barr in Little Rosie). Junior versions of Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby (no more Scrappy) solved preteen crimes, although not before falsely accusing a recurring character named Red Herring.
A Pup Named Scooby-Doo ran five seasons on network TV (though reruns dominated the later years), extending Scooby’s reign as King of the Saturday Morning Airwaves. By 1993, however, the Great Dane looked like he was ready for retirement. Scooby reruns still popped up all over cable, and the characters themselves were enshrined in the pop culture firmament – it helped that they never seemed to change their look with the times, preferring their shagadelic ascots, knee-highs and/or bellbottoms to anything that later styles had to offer – but the only fresh Doo fix came in the occasional direct-to-video feature.
The start of a new millennium brought new Doo back to the masses. A live-action/CGI Scooby-Doo movie was a surprise hit in 2002 (a sequel arrived in 2004), and a brand-new Saturday morning series followed. What’s New Scooby-Doo?, despite the title, was a throwback to the van-travelin’, mystery-solvin’, phony-spook-foilin’ good times of the original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, although with a few new outfits and cyber-era touches.
Now in his fifth decade on network television, Scooby-Doo is a cartoon institution, having logged more time on Saturday morning than any other character. And still, wherever there’s a haunted amusement park, an ocean liner menaced by a rubber sea serpent, or a mummy that just won’t stay in its sarcophagus, he’ll be there. And then he’ll have himself a Scooby Snack (that’s a fact).
If you grew up watching Scooby Doo and have a few memories you’d like to share, we look forward to reading them in our comments section.