The ’80’s were rife with cartoon spinoffs of adult themed movies like Robocop and Police Academy. This trend started with The Real Ghostbusters. Ghostbusters is a property that is near and dear to many today, though the original movie is nearly 30 years old. Even with two live action movies, handfuls of video games, and a bevy of comic book series, the animated Real Ghostbusters will always be my Ghostbusters.
First off, why are they the Real Ghostbusters? In 1975 there was a live action show called Ghost Busters about two guys and a gorilla (named Tracy). With the success of the 1984 film, Filmation, who still owned the rights to the name, created an animated sequel series to capitalize on the wave. When Columbia Pictures and DiC tried to make a series based on the film, disputes arose leading to the title change.
Serving as a continuation of the movie, Dr. Egon Spengler (Maurice LaMarche), Dr. Ray Stanz (Frank Welker), Dr. Peter Venkman (Lorenzo Music), Winston Zeddemore (spelled Zeddmore in the movie because why not – Arsenio Hall), Janine Melnitz (Laura Summer), and Slimer are all present. Due to legal issues with actor likenesses, the cast had slight appearance differences. Other than differently-colored jumpsuits, the most notable change was Egon’s blonde pompadour. Even with these revisions, the series often referenced the movies while creating it’s own continuity. Gozer is mentioned several times throughout the series, as is Vigo, while Terror Dogs and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man make several appearances.
Despite all these obstacles, the Real Ghostbusters was a smartly written show, for a time. Len Janson and Chuck Menville were hired to adapt the film. From there they hired the then unknown J. Michael Straczynski (JMS because I will not be typing that again). The order changed from a 13 episode season, adding on the standard (for the time) 65 episodes for syndication. Janson and Menville thought the workload was too much, and decided to work only on their scripts. JMS was promoted to story editor in addition to writing his own scripts for the 78 episodes. Another notable writer on the show was Michael Reaves of Batman: TAS and Gargoyles fame. Bonus for all you Listenerds: J. M. DeMatteis penned an episode.
Under JMS’s guidance, Real Ghostbusters was a well constructed show that explored it’s mythology and science intelligently while aligning itself with the movie continuity in a very meta way. “Citizen Ghost” is the best example of this, explaining why the crew had different jumpsuits and how Slimer became the groups sidekick/mascot. As for the different looks, Murray, Aykroyd, and Ramis are actors hired to play the Ghostbusters as seen in “Take Two”, where the crew goes to Hollywood to serve as advisers for a film based on themselves.
The was show a success but made executives nervous as it went against current proven templates. Consultants were brought in to make changes. Janine was given a complete design overhaul from a sassy secretary with short spiky hair to a matronly character with long straight hair. Along with this, the main four were given roles; Egon was the smart one, Peter the comedian, and Winston was the black guy. Seriously, he became the driver. Bill Murray complained that his voice actor sounded like Garfield, who Lorenzo Music also voiced. Music was replaced by Uncle Joey himself, Dave Coulier, while Kath Soucie replaced Summer as Janine. Due to these changes, JMS left the show while Jansen and Menville took over as story editors. When these changes failed to take, JMS was asked back, but was too busy with other projects. He did contribute a few more scripts, including season 5’s “Janine, You’ve Changed”, addressing Janine’s odd character discrepancies.
After voicing Winston for seasons 1, 2, and the 65-episode syndication season, Arsenio Hall left to develop his talk show. For season 3, the title changed to “Slimer! And The Real Ghostbusters” (I’m assuming this marked the change of his name from Slimer to Slimer!). The opening credits were changed (more Slimer!) and the show was expanded to an hour. The new time was occupied by 11 minute shorts about Slimer!, airing in pairs. With this season, the tone changed to be more lighthearted and less frightening. The show was cancelled in ’91, after the 6th and final season finished in ’90. LaMarche (Spengler) and Welker (Stantz) were the only voice actors to remain throughout the show.
If the internet existed while this show was airing, it surely would have exploded as this beloved pop-cultural gem was neutered. That being said, Real Ghostbusters is still a great show that did not talk down to it’s audience, something that can be said about few shows now. Is the 147-episode run still worth watching? Yes, most definitely – especially the first 78 episodes, where we’re treated to stories with time-travel, Cthulhu, Ebenezer Scrooge, and astronauts that oddly resembles the crew of the U.S.S Enterprise.
There was a 40-episode continuation of the show in 1997 called Extreme Ghostbusters. The team disbanded while only Egon, Janine, and Slimer (previously known as Slimer!) stayed. Egon taught at a local college and recruited four students to bust ghosts. In the final two-part episode, Peter, Ray, and Winston reluctantly return.
Like everything else from the time, a huge toy line was created to coincide with with series. Action figures of the crew, the Ecto-1, and firehouse were sold, along with full-size proton packs, P.K.E. meters, and ghost traps. I had them all, and regularly busted ghosts. Thanks to this show, I really had no idea that the film was intended to be a comedy; I thought this was some serious stuff back then.
Did you watch the show growing up? Who is your favorite Ghostbuster? Comment away!
In the words of Ray Parker Jr., “Bustin’ makes me feel good!”