The strange story of M-U-S-H, the M*A*S*H cartoon spoof that nearly ruined its studio

Filmation never made a show for ABC again.

Images: Filmation

Animation studios never had to look far for ideas. Many of the beloved cartoons from your youth were thinly veiled remakes of classic sitcoms. Just look at Hanna-Barbera. The production house modeled The Flintstones on The Honeymooners, Top Cat on The Phil Silvers Show, and the Scooby-Doo gang on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Jabberjaw jabbered like Curly from The Three Stooges. The North Carolina twang of Huckleberry Hound reminded many folks of Andy Griffith's folksy manner.

Hanna-Barbera was not alone in recycling flesh-and-blood primetime characters into Saturday morning toons. The studio's primary competition was Filmation, the company behind The Archie Show and The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure. Filmation crafted many direct spin-offs of hit shows, from Star Trek: The Animated Series to Gilligan's Planet.

But in 1975, Filmation attempted something a little riskier and more sophisticated, an outright spoof of TV giants that perhaps went over the heads of kids. A bitter edge ran through Uncle Croc's Block, which cast Charles Nelson Reilly as the crocodile host. Uncle Croc loathed his job, like an actor believing he deserved better, as he presented parodies of Sherlock Holmes ("Sherlock Domes"), The Six Million Dollar Man ("Steve Exhaustion, The $6.95 Man") and I Dream of Jeannie ("Junie the Genie").

And then there was M-U-S-H, another of the six-and-a-half-minute shorts bundled in Uncle Croc's Block.

An acronym for "Mangy Unwanted Shabby Heroes," M-U-S-H satirized M*A*S*H, turning the Korean War dramedy into a cast of canines in some frozen Arctic outpost. The character names were on-the-nose.

Bullseye, Cold Lips, Col. Flake and Sonar were obvious parallels. Far stranger was "Trooper Yoe," the "Trapper" of the bunch who looked like Hoss Cartwright and talked like John Wayne. And then there was Major Hank Sideburns, who morphed the despised "Frank Burns" into a dastardly Mountie with a twirly mustache.

There was real comedic talent behind the voices. Robert Ridgely (Bullseye, Trooper, Sonar, etc.) and Kenneth Mars (Sideburns, Cold Lips, Burns, etc.) did all the work. Mars is best known for his work with Mel Brooks, notably Franz Liebkind in The Producers and as Inspector Kemp in Young Frankenstein. Ridgely, on the other hand, might be most familiar for his final screen appearance, as a porn producer in Boogie Nights.

New Line Cinema / 20th Century Fox'M-U-S-H' voice actors Robert Ridgely and Kenneth Mars

Filmation Studios co-founder Lou Scheimer enjoyed the results more than viewers. In his 2012 autobiography Lou Scheimer: Creating The Filmation Generation, written with Andy Mangels, Scheimer defended, "M-U-S-H was a good idea for a show because you were supposed to laugh at it, not with it."

ABC did not share his opinion.

"Uncle Croc's Block was in trouble right out of the gate," Scheimer recalled. "The network already hated it, and, when it got some negative reviews and the ratings weren't great, things got ugly." 

The network cut the short the hourlong program in half, jettisoning the wrap-around live-action segments. Of the 30 M-U-S-H episodes written, only 23 were finished, some of which were salvaged and bundled with The Groovie Goolies and Friends

In February of 1976, ABC canceled Uncle Croc's Block. It was the first time in the company's history that Filmation had one of its series axed. "It was also the last time that ABC bought anything from us," Scheimer added.

Oddly, on the financial sheets, the news was better. ABC had paid for the entire season, but only a portion of them was completed. "So, we ended up making more money on not doing the rest of the show than would have ever made on doing the whole show!" Scheimerly said. "Uncle Croc's Block has never been shown in its entirety and probably never will be."

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JoeSHill 8 days ago
ABC was foolish in closing its ties with Filmation Associates because "UNCLE CROC'S BLOCK" was essentially an intelligent spoof of Primetime shows- and, in fact, they even spoofed Hanna-Barbera's "YOGI BEAR", so whatever ABC was thinking here, it wasn't very smart! shortly after canceling "UNCLE CROC'S BLOCK", ABC actually aired reruns of another Filmation series, "THE GROOVY GOOLIES". but two of the co-stars of that short-lived Filmation series later became icons-Robert Ridgley, who originally played "The $6.95 Man" was actually a co-star of "THE GALLANT MEN", a Warner Bros produced TV series from ABC's Fall 1962 lineup-he later became the voice of "TARZAN: LORD OF THE JUNGLE" that Filmation produced for CBS in 1976, and later as "FLASH GORDON", another impressive Filmation milestone- and also as the voice of "THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN" for Ruby-Spears in Fall 1980. Jonathan Harris, as everyone remembers, was "Dr. Smith" on CBS's "LOST IN SPACE" (1965-68), and two years after "UNCLE CROC'S BLOCK", he was the lead on "SPACE ACADEMY" in Fall 1977 for CBS. and, for the record, the very last Filmation material that ABC aired, was "JOURNEY BACK TO OZ" in 1976, the studio's first full-length animated feature. the ABC special was hosted by Bill Cosby as "The Wizard".
F5Twitster 9 days ago
Filmation just might’ve gone on making series for ABC had it occurred to Scheimer to offer to return to the network the overage for the unmade episodes.
LucyImHome1951 10 days ago
Sometimes weird shows like that. In 1975 DePatie–Freleng Productions made a show called The Oddball Couple. It was an adaptation of the TV series The Odd Couple, which had ended its run that year, after five seasons on ABC (but this shows aired on CBS.) It was a dog and a cat, the dog was Oscar (on the show called Fleabag) and the cat was Felix ( on the show named Spiffy because Felix the cat was already taken). One thing was switched though, Spiffy the neatnik is a writer and Fleabag the slob is a photographer. It only lasted 16 episodes.
madmark1 LucyImHome1951 10 days ago
I used to love the oddball couple I kind of wish they would’ve kept that cartoon going it was pretty good I enjoyed that and Hong Kong phooey.
Hogansucks1 madmark1 10 days ago
Yes,yes- Hong Kong Phooey, Thank-You for the reminder! 😊
UTZAAKE LucyImHome1951 9 days ago
Frank Nelson and Paul Winchell voiced Spiffy and Fleabag respectively.
ChristopherSmigliano 11 days ago
I think "Trooper Yoe" was actually named "Tricky John" in the series from the episodes I saw on Youtube. There where also no counterparts to Father Mulcahty and Klinger (This series was made around MASH's earliest seasons) The other cartoon component in CROC (other than Wacky and Packy) was FRAIDY CAT, an unlucky alley cat literally down to his last life, and whenever he said a number from one to eight, a ghost from one of his former eight lives would appear and make things worse for him. (saying NINE brought up a nine-shaped storm cloud that would chase after him and try to blast him with lighting bolts) Filmation actually tried for some dark humor on this series, and it's a concept that deserved better that its budget allowed.
I think the reason why they left out a doppelganger of Klinger is because the character's a cross dresser. That type of character was best left for prime time viewing and people older than the cartoons target audience. Also it was on Saturday Mornings, and even though, as the years went by, cartoons contained more violence, characters like Klinger, {if memory serves,} were not a part of the Saturday morning line up.
Of course I could be wrong and probably are!
Klinger could also have been omitted because he wasn't yet a principal character, at least when Uncle Croc was produced. Klinger wasn't added to the opening credits until 4th season, when Potter and BJ replaced Henry and Trapper.
I always thought the 1950’s Tex Avery cartoons were the most violent and borderline racist, along with the pre- 1980’s Looney tunes. One of the funniest cartoons I’ve ever seen is Tex Avery’s (Rocka-bye-Bear) ! Holy smokes, it’s a wonder why these 3 past generations grew up TOUGH!! 😊
...and probably "am."
Hogansucks1 11 days ago
“Jocularity” ! Jocularity!!”😇 (Father Francis John Mulcahy).—- NOT “Mulcah hy” (Winchester). 😂
UTZAAKE 11 days ago
Watched all episodes when it originally aired. Show was hilarious. Even my oldest brother watched and he was a college sophomore at the time who mostly avoided Saturday morning programming as if it was bubonic plague. Another cartoon featured in the series was Wacky and Packy about a caveman and his pet woolly mammoth ("Packy" is short for "pachyderm"). Wacky's favorite catchphrase was "One of these days...POW!...right in the kisser." https://www.gettyimages.com/photos/uncle-crocs-block?family=editorial&phrase=uncle%20croc%27s%20block&sort=best#license
Wacky and Packy's voices were both provided by Allan Melvin. And of Course, Wacky's "One of these days" saying is a liftoff from Ralph Kramden yelling at Alice in "The Honeymooners" Gee..A caveman that sounds like Jackie Gleason- isn't THAT original? (Though Wacky looked like a cross between Moon Mullins and Alley Oop)
Kiyone57 UTZAAKE 10 days ago
I loved Uncle Croc, and I was a university freshman! It was many years later when I found out why it suddenly disappeared.
Your description of Wacky is so apt. Packy also had a catchphrase which was "What I do? What I do?" As for M*U*S*H, Bullseye and Trooper Yoe look more like the canine Terence Hill and Bud Spencer.
UTZAAKE Kiyone57 9 days ago
Fred Silverman's scheduling of Uncle Croc's Block on Saturday mornings foretold of his programming ineptitude at NBC. Like MST3K, the show was an absolute spoof which could've been a success had it been geared towards viewers 14 and over instead of younger even though I understood the humor as a nine-year-old. Silverman also should've known about those loopy Filmation knuckleheads Lou Scheimer, Norm Prescott and Carroll...er...Dick Rosenbloom.
MrsPhilHarris 11 days ago
I would like to see that show. It sounds amusing.
stephaniestavropoulos 12 days ago
Clips from UCB can be found on You Tube. Once again, Charles Nelson Reilly has a rabbit sidekick like he had on Lidsville with Raunchy {to be clear, Raunchy was on Lidsville.}. One of clips is with Phyllis Diller as a witch. Jonathan Harris guest starred as the director/producer, something like that. The episodes come complete with laugh track. To quote a line from I think "Monkees Marooned." {I have no idea where the Monkees writers "stole" it from.} "Who writes this stuff?!?!"
While viewing another clip, it dawned on me: I think Fimation was trying to do their '70's version of The Banana Splits. It failed...miserably. BS was better. The fonts on the sign and the coloring on the desk that says the name of the show, reminds of the the type used on the Bic Banana commercials. I wonder if they chose those, because CNR did the BB commercials.
Speaking of the Banana Splits, anyone interested in behind-the-scenes stories? Check out a book from Bear Manor Media Publications that just came out called: "From the Inside: My Life As Bingo Of the Banana Splits," By Terrance Winklessom. The author was the man who brought Bingo The Beagle to life. His two brothers were responsible for bringing Fleegle and Drooper to life.
Loved the Banana Splits.
Smedley the cartoon dog’s LAUGH was the greatest- I think it was. 🤣
The sidekick was named Mr. Rabbit Ears. He had a TV screen built in his stomach and his suit buttons where the channel dials, Of course TV antenna stuck out of his ears. When it was time for one of the cartoons, he'd tune them in on himself.
Thanks for mentioning the info. about Rabbit Ears, I meant to do so, but forgot. I was so focused on how I wanted to phrase what I ended up saying, that I forgot about RE.
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