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Pilot Error: A Tale of Two Ghostbusters

More test pilots and this time they are oddly linked.

Remember that test pilots are never meant to be seen by the public at large and are usually proof of concept for the networks or direct sales tools like the entries Defenders of the Earth test pilot.

The Ghost Busters is not the animated version of the 1984 hit movie but is in fact a 1975 live action kids series from Filmation.

Starring Forrest Tucker, Larry Storch, and Bob Burns (as Tracy the Gorilla) the show followed The Ghost Busters (note the space between the words) as they had their adventures attempting to bust ghosts (duh).

Lasting 15 half hour episodes the show was a modest hit on Saturday mornings for 70’s kids but eventually just faded into the ether of time with only a small VHS release of a few episodes in the mid 80’s and occasional reruns now and then.

In 1984 Columbia Pictures was producing this relatively large budget film called Ghostbusters and it seems that someone in legal never bothered to check if there was already a Ghost Busters property (for legal purposes that space in the title was of little consequence). How did they overlook such a vital issue? When the script was written in 1983 it was titled GhostSMASHERS… so there was no conflict until that was deemed… frankly… a dumb title.

Filmation still had the legal use of that title which put Columbia in a bind. They were already too far into production to alter the title as it was said many times in the film so negotiations with Filmation commenced. For a measly $500,000 and %1 of all profits (with Hollywood accounting that is $0) Columbia got the name.

After the film was a monstrous success Columbia wanted to move into the realm of animation to continue this new franchise. At first they negotiated again with Filmation and Filmation even made up preliminary ideas for the cartoon but eventually Columbia backstabbed them and went with cheap animation company DiC (known in the industry as “Do It Cheaper” for their low quality animation). Filmation head Lou Scheimer regretted not thinking far enough ahead and in the 1993 book Animation by Filmation said “We should have asked for the animation rights for their (Columbia’s) Ghostbusters as part of the settlement.”

Not content to just sit back and get screwed, Scheimer (ever the shrewd business man) figured that since he still owned the Ghost Busters (space in the title) he could capitalize on not just the newfound popularity of the Ghostbusters “brand” but also compete directly against Columbia.

Filmation’s Ghostbusters (now one word) was created in 1986. This was not a simple cash in though… this was an actual continuation of the 1975 series with the now adult children of the original Ghost Busters (alongside Tracy) facing a new set of threats. In fact Larry Storch and Forrest Tucker even returned as their original characters in this series.

The show lasted 65 episodes in first run syndication and in many markets was (ironically to both parties I am sure) paired right beside the Columbia series The Real Ghostbusters.

Since this was first run syndication the show was sold direct to the TV stations rather than a network (a trade the Scheimer picked up while selling Masters of the Universe a few years prior). What we have here is a quick 8 minute “test reel” (more or less an industry only trailer). As with Defenders of the Earth this spoke directly to the programming heads of TV stations. Being an early version you can already see that some of the character models are a little off from the final version and even plot details about the characters are altered. A nice rare glimpse into something very people had seen before the internet age. Also yes that is Alan Oppenheimer narrating this “test pilot”. Oppenheimer is best known as the voices of Skeletor and villain Prime Evil in this very series.

Lets go, LETS GO Ghostbusters!

Well Columbia had their own Ghostbusters cartoon obviously which they titled The Real Ghostbusters as a way to simply be dicks to Filmation for having the audacity fight them in this areana.

They also had to test it out just like Filmation did although this is more of a proof of concept test than a selling test. The first season ran on Saturday mornings on ABC with season 2 running in first run syndication (this is where it bumped directly into the Filmation Ghostbusters) and finally landing back on ABC for its final season.

You might notice a few things right off the bat here. No dialog as the voices had not been cast yet but that the Ghostbusters theme used here is not the Ray Parker Jr. version… well not the mix from the movie anyway (bet he still has to pay Huey Lewis though). Also note that the character models are a little off with the exception of Peter… he looks very different from the final version that would air. This was due to likeness rights. None of the actors wanted to license their images to the cartoon… or they wanted way too much money depending on who you ask. That is why the cartoon version only superficially resemble the actors from the movie yet this test pilot version Venkman does look a little closer to Bill Murray so I wager that is why he was changed so drastically.

Nice to see how this evolved into the show that everyone loved. Personally I was also a Filmation Ghostbusters man myself.



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