Scooby-Doo Still Going Strong on DVD20 Oct, 2007 By: John Latchem
Scooby-Doo has been an icon of animation for nearly 40 years. Such massive success couldn't have been more pleasing, or more surprising, to Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, who created the series in 1969.
The latest direct-to-video movie, Chill Out, Scooby-Doo!, hit shelves in September from Warner Home Video, which also is preparing new DVDs of the most recent “Scooby-Doo” series. Shaggy and Scooby-Doo Get a Clue! Vol. 1 streets Oct. 30 at $14.97, while the two-disc What's New Scooby-Doo? — The Complete Third Season is due Jan. 8, 2008 (prebook Dec. 4) at $19.98.
“We were surprised it lasted its first year,” Spears said.
Ruby and Spears were working for Hanna-Barbera in the 1960s when they were approached to help develop a new mystery series for Fred Silverman, the programming director at CBS.
Their first concept was based on the successful “Archie Show” cartoon and involved a group of high-school friends who played in a band and solved mysteries in their spare time. Ruby and Spears added a drum-playing dog into the mix.
“We knew Fred liked dogs, so we wanted to put a dog in it,” Spears said.
When they couldn't make the concept work, they ditched the idea of the band and modeled most of the characters after the cast of the 1959-63 sitcom “The Many Lives of Dobie Gillis,” while retaining a canine companion.
“The question was whether to make Scooby a little, feisty dog or a big, lovable dog,” Ruby said. “We thought a big, goofy, lovable dog was the way to go because kids could relate to him better.”
With notes from CBS programming executive Fred Silverman, Ruby and Spears wrote Scooby as a cowardly Great Dane. Silverman also suggested Scooby should be the star of the show, Ruby and Spears recalled, and the concept was turned over to the art department, which included famed animator Iwao Takamoto.
The show at the time was tentatively named “Mysteries Five,” later changed to “Whooo's Scaarrred?”
“And after seeing a short animated sequence based on the concept, Fred decided to call the show ‘Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?’ Spears said.
Hanna-Barbera produced 25 episodes from 1969 to 1971.
“'The Hardy Boys' [animated series] was going to be right up against it,” Spears said. “It turned out ‘Scooby' just clobbered them.”
The creative team said one reason for their early success was a consistent and easy formula.
“They're on the road,” Ruby said. “They fall into a mystery and they pull the mask off at the end. We had to hold to that format. We came up with the idea of making the suspect seem like a victim. He told the story of what happened, and in his story we'd see a monster, and so we could trick the audience into expecting a monster. But it was just someone lying to the gang.”
Also contributing to the show's early popularity was a strong voice cast, which included Casey Kasem as Shaggy, Frank Welker as Freddie, and Don Messick, who voiced Astro on “The Jetsons,” as Scooby.
“Scooby's dialogue was first written in doggie talk, and we translated it to English,” Ruby said. “And Don came up with the idea of just having Scooby talking in his doggie voice. And it worked out great.”
Writers later would expand the cast to include more dogs, including the infamous Scrappy-Doo, who bore a resemblance to Spears' and Ruby's initial idea for a feisty little dog.
“Scrappy was added later, much to everyone's displeasure,” Spears said. “I personally didn't feel Scooby-Dum and Scooby-Dee distracted from the show. After X amount of years, you have to look for new avenues.”
Ruby and Spears where not involved in the 1972-73 follow-up series “The New Scooby-Doo Movies,” which featured such guest stars as the Harlem Globetrotters, Sonny and Cher, and Batman and Robin. But they did help ABC develop a new “Scooby-Doo” show in 1976.
The pair have since moved on to form Ruby-Spears Productions (rubyspears.com), where they have been responsible for such shows as “Alvin & The Chipmunks” and “Space Ace.”
The various “Scooby” shows over the years have been hit-and-miss, they said, but they enjoyed seeing their creations on the big screen in the 2002 live-action film and its 2004 sequel.
“Those movies were loaded,” Ruby said. “At first I was thinking the dog didn't look like Scooby, but I thought they did a fairly good job.”
Ruby and Spears said computer animation has given newer incarnations of the show a wider range of action they couldn't depict on the older episodes.
“We used to have to put the characters behind a ledge or a wall so we didn't have to animate them walking,” Ruby said. “Cost was always a factor.”
The newest series, “Shaggy and Scooby-Doo Get a Clue,” stretches the formula a bit by giving Scooby superpowers and limiting Freddie, Daphne and Velma to occasional guest appearances.
But Spears and Ruby agreed that “Scooby-Doo” will continue to resonate with audiences as long as the characters remain familiar.
“The relationship between Shaggy and Scooby was key,” Spears said. “But especially Scooby. He's just a unique, lovable character. Kids just love him. It's amazing.”