“The Oddfather”: The MAD TV cartoon parody of “The Godfather” that never aired

By on June 22, 2015

In 1974, some of the creative people (i.e. “the usual gang of idiots”) behind the successful Mad Magazine publication — artists like Don Martin, Mort Drucker, Norman Mingo, Al Jaffee, Dave Berg, and writers like Larry Siegel and others — were given the opportunity to do a network cartoon TV show and set about successfully transferring the magazine’s formula of satical jokes and parodies, including a parody of The Godfather, to the small screen.

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When the sponsors saw what they’d created, however, they threatened to back out if the ABC network went ahead and aired it, and even though there are some who claim to have seen it in small local markets, it never aired nationally and was largely forgotten.

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The show, built around “The Oddfather” segment, was co-directed by Chris Ishii, Jimmy Murakami and Gordon Bellamy. Mark Kausler, a veteran animator, did the “Spy vs. Spy” sequence, told L.A.-based writer Jonathan Crow what happened: “Chris Ishii was not really too interested in directing the “Spy Vs. Spy” sequence. The show was done for very little money. I think they paid twenty dollars a foot for the animation. Chris was very unhappy with the Spy sequence as it turned out. He tried to lay it out like a comic page, which required a vertical set-up to see both Spys operating at cross-purposes to each other. I tried to animate it just as it was laid out, and really couldn’t bring it off. Now, I would just re-do the layouts for motion picture screen proportions (with TV cutoff) and try to clarify the staging. My attitude in those days was, I’m being paid to animate, not to lay-out and direct. The whole special suffered because it’s not easy to imitate Mort Drucker’s or Dave Berg’s style and do it in animation, full OR limited. At least the Spys were fun to draw. I wish I could have made Chris happy, it wasn’t to be.”

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Another animator, Dale Case, told Crow this years earlier: “We blew up the comic panels and used them as layouts to get started. I worked on the Godfather segment and it was really difficult drawing that stuff as we tried to follow the style as close as we could and still make it move. The director Chris Ishii flew out from New York to hand out the picture. I remember going up to his hotel room on Hollywood Blvd. one night and picking up my section. There was a huge stack of x-sheets scattered around and folders everywhere. He gave me a copy of the book and a stack of sheets and said start here and finish here….just follow the book. Not the best hand-out I have every had, but it gave a lot of freedom which is always nice.”

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The main reason that the show never aired was that ABC’s advertisers were auto companies, who were parodied during the show by a Walter Cronkite-ish journalist who nterviews an automotive executive named Edsel Lemon, who talks about the reasons GM and Ford eventually lost out to Toyota and Honda – crappy cars, a lousy safety record, and short-sighted upper management.

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According to Mad writer Dick DeBatolo, once automotive execs saw the show, they threatened to pull their ads:  “Nobody wanted to sponsor a show that made fun of products that were advertised on TV, like car manufacturers.”

The network, however, claimed that the show was shelved because it had too much “adult” humor. We’re lucky that the full episode exists today on Youtube, so we can see for ourselves:

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.