The item you see below may be one of the greatest collections of anything in all existence. I'm serious.
There are DVD sets, and then there's the Real Ghostbusters set. In the span of one year, this classic 80's show went from being severely neglected to having one of the most enviable releases on the market. If every home video company gave their shows the kind of treatment Real Ghostbusters just got, the world would be a much better place. Osama bin Laden would say, "Wow, my favorite childhood show has been released in full with 13 hours of bonus features, visual commentaries, Steelbook packaging and script PDFs! You know, now that I think about it, the Jews aren't so bad after all. I think I'll return this nuke."
But no. Osama's favorite show was Gummi Bears. Do you know how much blood is on your hands, Disney?
There was another show on the air at the same time Real Ghostbusters ran that simply called itself "Ghostbusters." Only instead of four guys it was two, and instead of Slimer they had a giant gorilla, and they apparently did a lot of grave robbing because their entire hideout was decorated with parts of skeletons. They watched a "Skelevision" in their off-hours and they had a "Skelephone"* that cracked jokes in a nasal voice and recited moral lessons at the end of each episode. There was also a lengthy "suit-up" sequence that appeared every time they took on a new assignment, shaving a good three minutes off the cost for each episode.
*Okay, other information says the telephone's name was actually "Ansa-Bone." Yeah. ¬_¬
Despite Filmation's best efforts, it was plainly obvious to us children who was "Real" and who were the fakers (though when I was VERY small I remember watching a Real Ghostbusters cartoon and wondering where the gorilla was). You might be wondering why they were allowed to use the word "Ghostbusters" -- it's not like Go-Bots could call itself "The Fake Transformers." The origins of the whole incident go back to 1975, when Filmation officially copyrighted the words "Ghost Busters" for a Saturday Morning program of theirs.
Nine years later, the existence of "The Ghost Busters" was discovered midway through production of the Ghostbusters movie, the title of which was thought up independently. Initially Columbia Pictures was unsure it would be able to wrestle rights to the name away from Filmation, and prepared a list of alternate titles (don't ask, this list has never gotten out). But after filming the confrontational climax with Gozer, where hundreds of extras chanted "GHOST-BUSTERS! GHOST-BUSTERS!" over and over, the producers felt the film couldn't be called anything else, and convinced Columbia to spend whatever it took to get that name.
Columbia now holds exclusive rights to all present and future uses of the words Ghost and Busters together in a title, but Filmation got to hold onto the copyright to the title for their old show. Then when Columbia expressed interest in creating a Ghostbusters cartoon, Filmation realized they could take advantage of a loophole by basing a new cartoon on the old series. Thus, two teams of Ghostbusters at once.
Columbia soon discovered they couldn't call their movie-based show "Ghostbusters" because Filmation had the TV rights to the name, and intended to use them. As if it was an act of irritation, they tacked on "THE REAL" to the name, and it cleared. On the very first episode of The Real Ghostbusters, Janine answered the phone with "We're the REAL Ghostbustahs, not those otha guys." The context in-episode was that she was talking about three ghosts that had formed their own sham ghost-busting business, but the producers admitted in the very nice DVD set that they were really firing that line at Filmation.
So what was this other unrelated show, whose innocent existence caused this whole confrontation, really like? The short answer is that it was nothing like either cartoon that came after it, nor did it resemble the movie in any way. It's in a class by itself. A class for special-needs children, actually.
The first thing you'll notice is that, though "The Ghost Busters" was created by an animation company, it's a live-action program. "Why?" you might ask? Because live-action was in at the time; the only new animated kiddie shows the networks were buying were ripoffs of popular cartoons that had been around for years. Does this scenario sound familiar?
Before Venkman or Egon, before Jake or Eddie, the original paranormal exterminators were Larry Storch and Forrest Tucker, or their characters, Spenser and Kong (the guys in the cartoon were supposed to be their sons). Tracy appears in both shows, only this time, he was a man in a cheesy gorilla suit. Yeah, they named the man Kong and the gorilla Tracy, what of it? It's actually supposed to be a pun, as the other man's name is Spenser and Spencer Tracy is an old actor.....get it?
This episode, the pilot episode, opens with an exterior shot of a stormy castle....actually, a very bad matte painting that you can immediately tell is a painting and not a castle. A very fat man and a very small man, both in classic 1920's pressed suits, enter a room with a small black crystal ball on a table. They sit and face each other.
"Ah....the time has come when we shall
contact the spirit of Big Al!"
"Yes! And then Big Al shall help us get....THE THING! HEE HEE HAHAHAHAHA!!"
Canned laughter echoes through the area. Yes, it's one of THOSE shows.
"This magical crystal ball will help us
bring Al back from the great beyond!"
"And THEN we shall have....THE THING!! HEE HEE HAHAHAHAHA!!"
More canned laughter. The camera zooms into the ball and displays the title sequence.
The camera zooms out of another black ball, only this time a bowling ball.
"Boy, Kong, you shoulda seen
me and Tracy at the bowling alley last night!"
"If you bowl as well as you ghost-bust, I'm glad I didn't!" *canned laughter*
"I'll have you know Tracy bowled a PERFECT GAME! 300 pins!"
"Lotsa people have done that."
"With ONE BALL??" *canned laughter* These are the jokes, folks.
Spenser and Tracy drive down the
road to find out about their next assignment. They did this in
every episode; they had to receive orders from the mysterious
"Agent Zero" who hid his taped instructions in common
objects Tracy picked up at the general store.
"He never woulda believed it if we'd told him you bowled a perfect game with a GOLF ball!" *canned laughter* Who's really in that Tracy outfit, Chuck Norris?
They have yet to get the brakes
fixed in their car, so Tracy has to comically throw an anchor out
the side to stop their vehicle. The ape rushes inside, and in
half a second, comes out with today's bugged object -- a fish.
Spenser holds the fish up to his ear.
"This is Zero, Ghost Busters! Your next assignment is to check up on the Fat Man and the Rabbit!"
"The Fat Man and the Rabbit!" repeats Spenser, who's apparently heard of them before. "I wonder what they're up to!"
"Down," says Zero, and more laughter is heard. I don't get it.
"They're getting help from
the ghostly past, to obtain a mysterious article!
"Come on! Let's get back to the office!" says Spenser. He hands Tracy the fish.
"This message will self-destruct in five seconds," the fish says. Tracy stands there counting the seconds down, then the fish explodes in his face. It's not really a funny pratfall if you wait for it.
Spenser, who is evidently hard of hearing, yells "I turn my back for ONE minute, and you eat the fish!"
Back at the office, Kong orders
Spenser to look in their files for more info on Fat Man and
Rabbit. Spenser opens a file cabinet, and pulls out something
wrapped in paper.
"What is that? Info on the Rabbit?"
"No, it's the limburger cheese sandwich I lost last month," Spenser says. The stink is so bad, a picture on the wall gains feelings and falls off its nail to kill itself. (Don't ask me; I'm just writing what I see.)
Kong becomes impatient and pulls
out the correct file himself. "Ah, here's info on the Fat
Man! It says the Fat Man can be found either at the old castle,
"Well, you're not gonna like this....."
It's the graveyard, which is the
other set the show has. I'm told the Ghost Busters' choice of
locales was extremely limited. Either the bad guys were in the
graveyard, the castle, or both.
But Spenser does not like the graveyard, indeed, cowering among the graves and fog machines, pretending to bite his nails. You would think he'd pick a different profession than this. (You'd REALLY think Shaggy would....)
Spenser, Tracy and Kong hide
behind the gravestones as Fat Man and the Rabbit approach. Fat
Man holds the crystal ball in front of him and calls out to Big
"Soon we will have the....THING!! HEE HEE HAHAHAHAHA!!" Rabbit goes again.
"He must be talking about Big Al, the boss of the underworld from forty years ago!" says Kong from behind a bush.
"Come forth, Big Al! Come
forth!" Fat Man barks. Big Al appears Bewitched style,
in the blink of one frame. Kong examines Al from behind the bush
and notices something.
"Now who do I know who's that ugly, and dresses that badly?" says Kong. "Hey!" says Spenser.
Only problem with that zinger is, they're both wearing the same clothes as Big Al. In fact, so is EVERYONE on this show except for Tracy.
"It's great to be back in
action!" says Al. "Now what's the caper you need my
"We're after....THE THING!" Rabbit finally says what that is: "The MALTESE MONKEY!!"
Here I was hoping it was some kind of joke, like "The Thing" would turn out to just be something ordinary they need like a spare tire or an egg beater, but I guess I was expecting too much. They want a monkey statue for some reason. Why do you need the advice of a ghost for that?
"The Maltese Monkey! The treasure of the Maltese government, that has been missing for centuries!" Kong expositions.
Another establishing shot of the
castle painting appears, and Fat Man, Rabbit and Big Al are back
at their table.
"The Maltese Monkey is locked in a vault in the city museum! We must get it before it is returned to its rightful owners!" hisses Rabbit. This finally explains why they need a ghost, as he'll be able to walk through the walls, reach inside the vault and pull the Monkey out. But this also contradicts what Kong just said about the statue being missing for centuries.
Spenser, Tracy and Kong sneak up
to the castle doors. Every line of dialogue confuses me further.
Kong: "We've gotta get in there, and rescue that Monkey!" But it's not IN there, Kong, they just said it was in a museum.
Spenser: "Maybe we should try the zoo?" What kind of a joke is that? He already knows it's a statue.
Kong: "Come on, what are you, men or mice?" This is a response to a cowardly statement, not a misinformed one.
They then look at Tracy, who is suddenly carrying a giant piece of Swiss cheese. Apparently the whole point of this conversation was to get to that sight gag, whether it made sense or not.
Kong: "The door's locked!
Hand me a pick!"
Tracy hands Kong a giant mountain climber's pick.
Kong: "A LOCK PICK, YOU CLOWN!!"
Kong fiddles with the lock pick,
but it doesn't work.
Spenser: "Let me try my idea!" as he holds a dynamite bomb he plucked from out of nowhere.
Tracy: *grunt grunt*
Spenser: "Tracy says to let him try!"
Of course, based on what we know about Tracy from the first ten minutes of this episode alone, his idea is to just bash the doors down, but he has to ham it up first by pulling out a stethoscope and listening for the weaknesses in the wood, then sharpening his nails with a big file.
The Ghost Busters sneak inside the
castle just as Big Al leaves the bad guys' room. It's here that I
realized Kong's line about Spenser and Al looking similar was
actually referencing the fact that they're played by the same
actor. Spenser suddenly hatches a plan: "Hey, if I pose as
Big Al, and replace Fat Man and Rabbit's crystal ball with my
bowling ball, we can get the Maltese Monkey back to its rightful
owners! .....Nah, wait, that'd never work. I'd have to look just
like Big Al."
"GET IN THERE, YOU NUMBSKULL!" the other stooge hisses, and Spenser's forced to put his new plan into action immediately.
"SO! Did you bring the
crystal ball?" queries Fat Man.
"You bet!" Spenser pulls out his bowling ball, but "comically" gets his fingers stuck in the holes. This doesn't look suspicious to the bad guys at all. "Now we can summon the rest of your gang to help us steal the Monkey!" Fat Man barks. "COME FORTH, GHOSTS OF BIG AL'S TWO GUERILLAS, COME FORTH!"
Kong and Tracy jump out from behind the curtains.
"Astounding!" says Rabbit. "When Big Al said he used gorillas, he wasn't kidding!" *even more canned laughter*
Meanwhile, the real Big Al has the real crystal ball, and is watching everything. "I got a new plan! All I gotta do is ditch the guy who looks like me, and con those other two guys inta helping me steal the Maltese Monkey!"
"So, where's the
Monkey?" Spenser asks.
"We already told you, Big Al!" replies Rabbit.
"Darn," Spenser says, "what do I do now?" He could have come up with an excuse like "I just forgot" and they would have told him, but...that's not what he did. He just gives up and walks out of the room.
As Tracy, Spenser and Kong walk
down the castle hallway trying to think of what to do next, Big
Al grabs Spenser away and takes his place.
"Come on, let's get to the museum, youse guys! That's where the Maltese Monkey is, so we's can heist--I mean, protect it!" One thing, the use of "heist" as a verb is gramatically incorrect. Another: if this confirms the Monkey is indeed in a vault at the museum, then it's got plenty of protection and the Ghost Busters don't need to bother with it; they just need to get rid of the bad guys.
Maybe I should quit overthinking a show like this.
"I don't know how you expect
to get the Monkey if it's locked in a vault! Don't go breaking
"Me, break the law? AHAHAHA!! Ah, you's funny!"
Now they're at the museum....there's no one there and they're walking awfully sneaky-like, so presumably they broke into it after-hours and are breaking the law already.
"Spenser" and Tracy walk
into the room where the vault is kept while Kong stands guard
outside the door. The camera stays fixed on Kong because they
didn't have a vault prop. Big Al comes out with the Monkey, and
Kong questions him: "Hey, I said you couldn't break the law!
How did you force open the vault?"
"Ah, don't worry, I didn't! HAHAHA!" He walks off.
Kong asks Tracy how he got the Monkey and Tracy ooks that he walked right through the vault walls.
"How could Spenser walk through a door? Only ghosts can do that! And where'd he walk off to anyway? Now, Big Al could do that, 'cause he's a ghost, and Big Al would have run off like that---hey, wait a minute...."
Back at the castle, Big Al is carrying the Monkey back to Fat Man and Rabbit when the real Spenser jumps out from behind a door and tackles him. The Monkey flies through the air and lands in Rabbit's hands, or rather, they couldn't stage that scene properly so the Monkey just appears in Rabbit's hands through the same Bewitched effect. Maybe it fooled at least one person out there....
But now both Al and Spenser are in
the room with the other guys.
"Very interesting!" says Rabbit. "There are two Big Als!"
As he's pondering this, Kong and Tracy run up from behind and grab the statue.
"THE MONKEY GOT THE MONKEY!!" Rabbit yells, as the fake audience laughs again.
"Tracy, throw it to me!"
"No, to me! I'm Spenser, he's Big Al!" says Big Al--or is it really Spenser?
They keep insisting they're both Spenser. Kong nervously looks between them, unsure which to choose.
Finally Kong shoots the one on the left dead -- wait, wrong scene. Kong actually proves Spenser's true identity by asking who the current President is. The ghost replies "Ulysses S. Grant," and outs himself.
"C'mon, Spenser, let's get out of here!" Kong shouts, and he and Tracy race out of the room with the bad guys in pursuit. What follows is the live-action equivalent of a Scooby Doo hallway-full-of-doors chase sequence, because you knew that bit was coming.
Finally they have Al cornered --
or I think they do, though it looks like they don't and he is
just standing there waiting for his fate.
"Hey! I was gonna make you an offer ya can't refuse!" pleads Big Al.
"Here's an offer YOU can't refuse!" retorts Kong in the wittiest comeback ever, and holds up what this version of Ghost Busters uses to trap ghosts, the patent-pending Ghost Dematerializer. No, they didn't "slime him," he turns a different hue and disappears through 1975's finest analog green-screen effects.
Next are Fat Man and Rabbit, and they're not ghosts, so they have to be dispatched through different methods. That method is....the heroes standing there sideways for five seconds, then a jump cut to the bad guys lying on the floor defeated. I was REALLY confused by this, until Spenser remarked "I told you Tracy was a great bowler!" The intended gag was that Tracy threw his bowling ball at them and knocked them down like pins, but his underarm throw went off-camera and I guess they couldn't execute the pin-falling part very well. By the way, this show only got one season.
Kong and Spenser prepare their report of the incident to Agent Zero, and dictate it to the surprisingly fast typist Tracy. "We completed our mission, returned the Maltese Monkey to its rightful owners, and recovered the crystal ball. Wait a minute...."
Kong examines the ball more
closely. "This isn't the crystal ball, this is your bowling
"Ah!" realizes Spenser. "That explains why my bowling ball shattered so easily when me and Tracy were out last night!"
Tracy shrugs, and the camera fades to black.
Now consider this prospect: Filmation threatened to sue Columbia if they used the title "Ghostbusters" for their animated series. But at that point in time, the Real Ghostbusters series was just an idea and hadn't even reached pre-production yet. Filmation founder Lou Scheimer (who was also the voice of Zero on this show) later admitted it would have been a better strategy to ask for the rights to produce the official Ghostbusters cartoon as part of the settlement, instead of the power to prevent anyone else from having their title. Now imagine Real Ghostbusters with lengthy tedious suit-up sequences, wisecracking skeleton appliances, and no Babylon 5 Guy in charge of the scripts.
There's your scary story!
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