Newspapers in 1982 were giving feature space to Hanna-Barbera for its huge success on Saturday mornings with ‘The Smurfs,’ which garnered an astounding 44 percent of the U.S. television audience in its timeslot. The studio capitalised on that with some prime-time Smurf specials. But buried in the Friday night line-up, seemingly without any advance notice or Joe Barbera’s normal ebullient hype, was something called ‘Jokebook.’ TV Guide listings of April 23, 1982 described it thus:
Hanna-Barbera’s Jokebook, a seven-part series featuring animated humor, begins tonight at 8 PM [Eastern/Pacific] on NBC. Culled from classic cartoons as well as from foreign and student films, the comedy is strung together by such characters as The Nerd, Treeman, and Eve and Adam — and by Presidential drolleries from the witty residents of Mount Rushmore.
The characters were in bridges produced by Harry Love and supervised by Marty Murphy, who had worked on H-B’s ‘Wait Till Your Father Gets Home.’ I don’t know who animated the cartoons, but writer Hal Erickson’s book Television Cartoon Shows lists familiar voice talent: Don Messick, Hal Smith, John Stephenson, Lennie Weinrib, Janet Waldo, Frank Welker, Bob Ogle, Joan Gerber, Ronnie Schell, Marilyn Schreffler and Henry Corden, as well as Joyce Jameson and Sidney Miller.
The show may have had a preview; I found it listed for an Iowa TV station on December 19, 1981. Regardless, “seven-part” turned out to be optimistic. Here are newspaper summaries for each of the shows that aired.
April 23, 1982
Jokebook: A colorful showcase of 19 fast-paced animated vignettes sparked by humor for all ages, an assortment of strange but lovable characters and an Academy Award-winning film titled, “Crunch Bird” are all part of the premiere of this series produced by William Hanna and Joe Barbera.
April 30, 1982
JOKEBOOK – Included: a Mount Rushmore barbershop quartet harmonizes; dissatisfied passengers on the Ark besiege Noah with their complaints; a hung-over damsel in distress gives her dragon slayer an ungrateful heave-ho.
May 7, 1982
JOKEBOOK – Scheduled: An old woman’s electric lawn mower runs amok after two Boy Scouts repair it; a scientist turns his nagging wife into a shrinking violet.
And that was it. Next week, NBC aired “New York, New York” with Liza Minnelli (who has been accused by some of being somewhat cartoonish) and began filling the time slot with movies. It’s not hard to see why. The April 30th “Jokebook” placed dead last in the ratings that week. Not that it had a prayer to begin with. The show aired opposite “The Dukes of Hazzard” on CBS and “Benson” on ABC. Evidently Hanna-Barbera decided if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. A year later, it was producing a “Dukes” cartoon. The less said about it, the better.
It’s a shame “Jokebook” didn’t succeed. Maybe it needed some kind of animated or puppet host to pull the elements together. Maybe it needed a different time slot. Or maybe the concept was just a little ahead of its time. Showcasing student, independent and foreign animated films is something not unheard of today, just not on network television. For that reason, the show deserves to be remembered today.
Late note: Tom Ruegger, who was writing at H-B at the time, explains in the comment section why the show was doomed.
A Yowp thank-you to Barry I. Grauman for inspiring this post.