Viewers troubled by ghosts on their television screens have a choice of whom to call this season: There are two animated children's programs about ghostbusters.
"The Real Ghostbusters," from DIC/Columbia, premiered on ABC Saturday at 9 a.m., while the syndicated "Ghostbusters," from Filmation/Group W, checks in Sept. 27 on KTLA Channel 5, airing Saturdays and Sundays from 7-8 a.m.
Why are two programs with similar titles and premises appearing simultaneously?
The genesis of the current rivalry predates Ivan Reitman's hit 1984 film by almost a decade.
In 1975, the Filmation studio produced a live-action Saturday morning show for CBS called "The Ghost Busters." Forrest Tucker, Larry Storch and an actor in a gorilla suit (Bob Burns) appeared as Spencer, Tracy and Kong, a team of ghost exterminators. The comedy series ran for two seasons.
"One day, several years later, I picked up Variety and discovered that Columbia was doing a film called 'Ghostbusters,' " recalls Lou Scheimer, the president of Filmation. His company still owned the title.
"I called our attorney," he continues, "and we reached an accommodation with Columbia that allowed them to use the title and the concept in their motion picture. Basically, it was a group of guys out busting ghosts--which is what we had done previously."
The settlement stipulated that Filmation retained the right to make an animated "Ghostbusters" program. When the film proved successful, Scheimer proposed a series based on it to Columbia, but the studios failed to come to terms.
Scheimer decided to proceed anyway. He had the title but not the movie, so he chose to do an animated version of Filmation's earlier sitcom.
That's when Columbia and Ivan Reitman, the film's director, struck back, deciding to do their own animated series.
" 'Ghostbusters' was obviously a very successful picture, one we thought was very translatable into animation," says Rick Rosen, Columbia vice president of first-run syndication and cable. "We felt that live action was best suited to a movie, and had been captured perfectly in the feature. We met with almost every animation company in the business and chose DIC. Both decisions were made in conjunction with Ivan Reitman; we wanted his support, to ensure that the program would be true to the concept of what everyone really believes to be 'Ghostbusters.' "
"When Filmation announced they were going ahead with their series, Ivan Reitman decided to come out with one of his own, lest his franchise be damaged," explains Andy Heyward, president of the DIC animation studio.
They had the movie but not the title, so they chose to call their series "The Real Ghostbusters."
Reitman is co-producing the DIC/Columbia series, which features the familiar logo and original songs by some of the artists from the film's soundtrack. Although the main characters are based on the movie's Venkman, Stantz, Spengler and Zeddemore, they aren't caricatures of Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson, and different actors provide the voices.
Some of the supernatural creatures from the film, including the Slimer and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, also appear in the TV version.
Under a unique arrangement, ABC will broadcast 13 episodes of "The Real Ghostbusters" this season, and an additional 65 half-hours will appear in first-run syndication next fall.
In the five-part opening adventure of Filmation's "Ghostbusters," Spencer and Kong turn the business over to their sons, who continue to fight ghosts. Tracy, the gorilla, decides to stay with the firm. The 65 half-hour episodes will be seen on 85 stations.
The "Ghostbusters" rivalry may sound like the choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee that much of children's television offers, but the stakes are high. Tens of millions of dollars in license products are riding on the success of these shows.
Kenner and Hasbro/Bradley plan to market toys and games tied to DIC's "Real Ghostbusters" series, and Ralston Purina will tie in with the show to advertise its "Ghostbusters" cereal (fruit-flavored international "no" signs and marshmallow ghosts).
Shopper's line of toys based on the Filmation series has already begun to turn up in toy stores.