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“The Bugaloos”: This 70s-era live-action Beatles-inspired bug rock TV show nearly starred Phil Collins
For two years in the early 70s, from September 12, 1970 until September 2, 1972, there was a live-action Saturday morning TV show that aired on the NBC network called “The Bugaloos,” about a rock band quartet comprised of four half-human/half-insect teenagers who had decided they wanted to live a peaceful, soft rock harmony-filled life in the Tranquility Forest.
The show — which was created out of the wild imaginations of producers Sid and Marty Krofft — featured four British actors in the main cast, who were told the producers wanted to capitalize on the popularity of the Beatles (who had broken up earlier that same year), but they were also told they were auditioning for a British version of “The Monkees,” which was in reality created as an American TV version of the Beatles in the first place.
In fact, one of the actors who very nearly landed the role of “I.Q.,” a guitar-playing grasshopper, was rock drummer and vocalist Phil Collins, who ended up joining the band Genesis that same year after the whole live-action American cartoon didn’t happen for him.
Sid and Marty Krofft — born eight years apart in Montreal, Québec — had started off as puppeteers in Canada; Sid ended up landing a job with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus with his one-man show, “The Unusual Artistry of Sid Krofft,” and while he ended up taking his show to Paris, his brother stayed behind in New York with some of the unused puppets.
By the late fifties they were performing together, and in 1957 they developed an “adult-themed” puppet show called “Les Poupées de Paris” (The Dolls of Paris), which featured topless puppets.
The puppet show, in fact, went on to be one of the main attractions at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, and after its success there, the Krofft brothers took it on tour across the rest of the country, where it was seen by an estimated nine million audience members (not sure if televangelist Bill Graham actually saw the show or not, probably not, but he nevertheless condemned the show and told his flock to keep away from the Kroffts).
The Kroffts ended up landing a regular slot on “The Dean Martin Show” (1964), but they were fired after appearing on only eight episodes because Martin felt the puppets were upstaging him.
In 1965, a Grammy-nominated soundtrack album for RCA Records ended up being released which featured songs by the actual celebrities that the puppets mimicked.
The Kroffts then ended up designing the sets and costumes for the fictitious rock band and full-size Furries known as the Banana Splits, and in 1969 finally got their chance to develop their first children’s TV show, “H.R. Pufnstuf,” which told the tale of a boy who ended up in a fantasyland alternate world. It aired for just one season in the fall of 1970/spring of 1971.
Many thought the show’s sibling creators must have been high on drugs (particularly LSD) when they came up with the concepts for their TV shows, but in 2005, during an interview with USA Today, Marty Krofft said that there was “no acid involved” during the writing and production of this series or anything else they created.
After it ran its course, Sid and Marty Krofft developed a new television show, this time one that would focus on a teen rock ‘n’ roll band who were comprised of four musically-talented half-human/half-bug insectoids.
They were basically hippie-ish peace-niks who just wanted to be left alone and so they decamped for the Tranquility Forest in order to live a peaceful, isolated life where the vibes were positive, man.
Their concept was based on the popularity of both “The Banana Splits Adventure Hour” (an hour-long variety-style show featuring The Banana Splits, a fictional rock band composed of four funny animal characters, which was ending its two year run on NBC in the fall of 1970), and another rock band cartoon in development for CBS at the time, the “Josie & The Pussycats” (based on characters that had appeared in the Archie Comics comic-book series).
The Krofft brothers decided that they wanted their show to be a live-action program, like the Banana Splits band, but also wanted them to have cute-sounding British accents, as they were going to be living in the Tranquility Forest (the last of the British colonies) along with their friend “Sparky the Firefly,” a firefly who hasn’t learned how to fly (played by Billy Barty in costume).
They turned to the show’s music director, Hal Yoergler, who also wrote many of the show’s songs and produced the Bugaloos album, which was released shortly after the show went on the air in late 1970.
They also turned songwriters Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel to create the theme song for the show.
Fox and Gimbel had just completed work on the movie Barbarella a few years before they worked with the Kroffts on “H.R. Pufnstuf) (they would later write songs for the prime-time TV shows “Happy Days” and “Laverne and Shirley,” as well as writing hit songs for artists like Roberta Flack (“Killing Me Softly with His Song”) and Jim Croce (“I Got A Name,” used as the theme song for the TV show “Last American Hero”).
Meanwhile, Sid and Marty Krofft wrote up the scripts for the show, and focused on created the characters who would be in the band together: “I.Q.,” a grasshopper who played guitar; “Joy,” a butterfly who sang and played the tambourine; “Harmony,” a bumblebee who played the keyboard; and “Courage,” a ladybug who played the drums.
They were outfitted like half-human/half-insect, with antennae and wings which allowed them to fly, although the green screen effects would end up making them mostly look like they were simply hovering in mid-air (they were even shown, on occasion, flying through the sky on leaf surfboards, just like all hippie insects do).
Their nemesis — every TV show, live-action or otherwise, needs one — was a weird rock ‘n’ roll witch named “Benita Bizarre,” played by the loud-mouthed comedienne Martha Raye, a horrible and awful singer herself who was jealous of their musical prowess, apparently, and their popularity due to the fact they played melodic soft-rock tunes.
She had two bumbling henchmen who worked for her named “Woofer and Tweeter,” but her main right hand man (so to speak) was a German-speaking flunky named “Funky Rat,” essentially a large Nazi rat.
She armed herself with a powerful ultrasonic weapon called the Stereo Zapper, which would stun her victims long enough that they could be kidnapped and held against their will.
There were other parts on the show for a message-delivering vulture named “Nutty Bird”; a hypnotist and magician named “Magico”; a rock n’ roll deejay named “Peter Platter” (from station KOOK in nearby Rock City) and his assistant “Mike” (an actual microphone that spoke); “Gina Lolawattage,” a firefly who is smitten with “Sparky”; and “The Grapevine,” which was a bunch of talking grapes (just like the Motown song), including “Bluebell Flower,” a giant talking flower.
Sid and Marty Krofft (along with executive producer Si Rose) traveled to England in the spring of 1970 in order to interview hopeful British actors for the show which was to be shot on a soundstage on the Warner Brothers studio lot back in Burbank, California.
Apparently five thousand young hopefuls ended up at the cattle call audition, including musician Phil Collins, who was nineteen at the time of his audition.
Collins had started off as a child actor and had already appeared in stage plays (he was the Artful Dodger in the London stage production of Oliver!) and movies (he was an extra in A Hard Day’s Night and had also appeared in a scene that was cut out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in 1968).
He’d also auditioned for the role of Romeo in the 1968 film Romeo and Juliet, directed by Franco Zeffirelli (can you imagine Collins as “Romeo”?!), before deciding to concentrate on his musical career instead, and by the time he was auditioning to play a grasshopper who played guitar he’d already played on sessions by George Harrison (All Things Must Pass, released in 1970) and recorded a spacey concept album called Ark 2 as a member of the band Flaming Youth (formerly Hickory), which was lauded by NME as “Pop Album of the Month” when it was released in October 1969.
Collins didn’t get the part, unfortunately — and neither did another finalist, Elton John’s future manager, John Reid — because it was awarded to John McIndoe, a musician who worked at Apple Records.
The very next thing Collins did was to join the progressive rock band Genesis.
Actors Wayne Laryea, John Philpott and the lovely Caroline Ellis scored their roles as “Harmony,” “Courage,” and “Joy,” respectively, and they were quickly flown out to Burbank, California, where the first season of the show — seventeen episodes — were taped, after which the entire cast returned to their homes in England and awaited further instructions about a possible movie (there was a deal in place with Columbia Pictures) and a second season of the show, to be taped the following year.
“Senses of our World” from the very first episode of “The Bugaloos”: “Firefly, Light My Fire”
Unfortunately, after the first season of “The Bugaloos” aired, there was a miscommunication between the Kroffts and the actors, and they weren’t able to come back to the States again.
NBC ended up scrapping the second season of the show, but then decided to simply re-air the seventeen episodes for a second time in the fall of 1971. The movie was cancelled too after Columbia Pictures declared bankruptcy.
Amazingly, more than forty years later, the show today still has a huge fanbase and following, and there have been VHS and DVD collections released, fan clubs that have been formed, etc.