As I may have mentioned in one of my earlier posts, I wrote a book about the history of scripted TV shows in the US. It should be published this year in France. What I learned during the research part of the process is how many shows were created by TV execs who had an idea of what they wanted and asked producers to give them exactly that.
Nowadays, the writers get all the credits, but even a show like Lost wasn’t the genius creation of its credited showrunner. I find those stories quite interesting, especially as they show how the creative process really works in what is basically an industrial enterprise. So, I’ll use my work who’s sleeping on a shelf for years now (publishing a book is not a fast process), and explore a bit more about that, starting with the most famous dog detective in the world!
Who Created Scooby-Doo?
The story begins in 1968 when Fred Silverman, then executive in charge of children’s programming for the CBS network, was on the lookout for a new slate of shows that would breathe new life into their Saturday morning lineup while also satisfying the concerns of watchdog groups regarding violence in cartoons. In fact, because of the complaints, Silverman had scraped all of the previous shows from the programming bloc and started anew.
He began with “The Archie Show,” a show based on the Archie comic books, which inspired him to seek out producers William Hanna and Joseph Barbera to develop another show centered around a teenage rock group. Silverman’s idea was to add a twist: the teens would solve mysteries in addition to their musical performances.
The idea behind Silverman’s program was to merge the detective part from the 1940s’ well-liked “I Love a Mystery” radio serials with the teen drama from series like “The Archie Show” and “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.” His original idea was to create a television program titled “Mysteries Five,” in which a group of five teenagers and their bongo-playing dog, Too Much, would solve spooky mysteries involving ghosts and otherworldly beings.
To do that, Joe Ruby and Ken Spears were recruited to develop the project, along with character designer Iwao Takamoto. The original concept featured five teens: Geoff, Mike, Kelly, Linda, and Linda’s brother W.W., all part of a band called “The Mysteries Five.” However, the show’s premise evolved over time. Mike and Geoff were merged into one character named “Ronnie,” later renamed “Fred” at Silverman’s suggestion (who really just wanted the characters to be copies of the ones from Dobie Gillis). Similarly, Kelly became “Daphne,” Linda became “Velma,” and W.W. was renamed “Shaggy.”
The initial presentation was named “Who’s S-S-Scared?” and showcased the concept of the teens solving mysteries with a spooky twist. However, CBS executives found the artwork too frightening for young viewers and passed on the idea. This setback led to a reimagining of the show’s tone. Ruby and Spears, with new inputs from Silverman, shifted the focus to comedy. In fact, they started by eliminating the rock band element and they put more weight on characters like Shaggy and Too Much.
During this process, Silverman heard Frank Sinatra’s scat singing in the song “Strangers in the Night” and was inspired to rename the dog “Scooby-Doo.” With this new direction, the show was finally approved for production and became “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?” The show made its debut on September 13, 1969, on CBS.
Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? Everywhere!
The core premise of each episode remained consistent throughout the series: the gang encounters a supposedly supernatural monster, investigates, uncovers clues, and eventually reveals the creature to be a disguised villain, capturing them and exposing their scheme. The famous catchphrase “I would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for you meddling kids!” became synonymous with the show.
“Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?” became a major ratings success, capturing a large portion of the Saturday-morning audience. The show’s popularity led to subsequent iterations, including “The New Scooby-Doo Movies,” which featured guest stars from other shows and media (from Batman to Don Knotts and even The Addams Family), adding a new layer of excitement to the mysteries, but also birthed a slew of forgettable (and forgotten) copycat show.
Once Silverman left CBS for ABC, he signed a deal with Hanna-Barbera, and new mysteries were produced on this network for almost two decades. After that? Scooby-Doo and his friends never lost their popularity, conquering new generations of viewers and new types of media and formulas. Scooby-Doo is now a huge franchise, but it was just a derivative show at the beginning.
If you are interested in the history of animated characters, I also wrote about the creation of Mickey Mouse.