To know the history of Battle
of the Planets, we first have to look at the roots of veteran
television executive, Sandy Frank. Frank had been in the business
of television program production and sales for about twenty years, and had run his own company for about thirteen years by the time he discovered Gatchaman in 1977.
Frank was born in Mt. Kisco, New
York where he spent much of his late childhood dreaming of a job
in television broadcasting. That may seem like an odd thing for
an adolescent to be interested in, especially in those days of
television's infancy. But the reason was simple; Sandy's older
brother Ben had kindled his interest in the subject with stories
of his adventures in college radio and television. When Sandy was
ready for college, he left Mt. Kisco for NYU where he took every
conceivable course they offered that was related to professional
The wide range of courses gave him a taste of the career paths that were available, and he soon determined his talents and interest were well suited to a behind-the-scenes capacity. Which is what he pursued once he graduated. Frank initially held a couple entry-level jobs in the television industry before finally being hired as a program sales executive at NBC's head office.
While at NBC he learned the ins
and outs of selling programs to advertisers and television stations
across the country. He got to be quite good at it and decided
to start his own independent company using the knowledge he had
gained. In 1964, the Sandy Frank Organization was founded and
he continued to sell programs as he had done at NBC, but with
one major twist. He was now repackaging older, existing series
and selling them in a process called syndication to television
stations across the country.
He continued this practice with
a wide variety of programming for nearly a decade. Older half-hour
dramas like Lassie and The Lone Ranger were early
hits, but he soon branched out into what would become an early major
element of his company's output - game shows. In the early 1970s,
after many years of selling repackaged versions of shows such
as Name That Tune, their appeal began to decrease to buyers.
It was around this time that Sandy Frank had another idea occur; why not produce
completely new versions of these shows to sell into syndication?
Although the prospect would be
expensive and risky, Frank moved ahead with his first original
program, The New Name That Tune. It proved a major success
across the nation and opened up a whole new arena for him. Not
only was it a success for Frank, but the regular creation of first-run
programs for syndication quickly became its own major industry.
Always one to look for the next
angle, Sandy Frank regularly attended TV industry trade shows
around the world. One of the most influential of these was the
MIP-TV (Marché International des Programmes de Télévision) which took place
around the first quarter of every year in Cannes, France. Scores of international
television production companies would attend this conference with
the hopes of selling their programs to buyers around the globe.
It was during the April 22nd - 27th,1977 MIP-TV gathering
that Sandy Frank saw Tatsunoko Productions and its animated adventure,
Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. Although he didn't purchase
the program at this point, it impressed him enough to arrange
for prints to be delivered to his New York offices in early May. Upon viewing the prints, Frank
was further intrigued by the series and thought it was terrific.
But he still didn't move at this point to pick it up. It
took another groundbreaking pop-culture event to finally spur
him on to acquire Gatchaman.
A little over a month later on
May 25, 1977 Star Wars opened in theaters nationwide. The
almost immediate mania that arose from the film took everyone by surprise
and started a renewed interest in the science fiction genre. In the middle of the national
frenzy over Star Wars, Sandy Frank considered his recent
viewings of the Gatchaman films and concluded that they
could be a perfect TV counterpart for Star Wars. One with
the distinct possibility of grabbing the attention of the same
fans at home as Star Wars had in theaters.
Frank put plans in motion to buy the rights for Gatchaman. As deals to get Japanese animated programs on US TV were not standard in those days, Sandy Frank was able to negotiate a far-reaching contract that never have been possible in later years. His eventual deal included all rights for the worldwide use of Gatchaman (except for certain Asian territories and Italy), including the series itself, merchandising, publishing, music and music publishing, new productions and more. Most Asian territories were retained by Tatsunoko
due to earlier deals and they had also completed earlier for Italy. However, a special exception was made between the studios so Tatsunoko and Sandy Frank would share that country's eventual Battle of the Planets sale and all future sales during their contract term fifty-fifty.
Lest it sound one-sided, Tatsunoko also received great benefit from their agreement with Sandy Frank. They would take in a healthy share of any profits from Sandy Frank's exploitation of the property. As a small studio, Tatsunoko didn't have the ability to focus on sales nor did they have the network of connections Sandy Frank did. The deal ensured their property would see far more international exposure than Tatsunoko could possibly generate themselves - for not much effort on their part. So the deal, while seeming one-sided at first look, was very fair for both companies.
Tatsunoko's founder and President, Tatsuo Yoshida, was actively involved in the negotiations and there were many long, late-night phone calls between him and Sandy Frank (and their respective translators) to settle the details for the sale. Although he was able to see the deal finalized, unfortunately Yoshida did not live to see the ultimate acceptance and influence Gatchaman would have upon the world. He passed away on September 5, 1977 after a battle with liver cancer. One would hope he would have been thrilled to see his showcase production spread to such a huge, varied worldwide audience.
Once negotiations were complete, Sandy Frank began receiving various Gatchaman production materials from Tatsunoko. 16mm film prints arrived for the full run of the series, in addition to separate audio elements on quarter inch audio tape. The films included monaural optical soundtracks in Japanese. The separate audio tapes had music and effects tracks only, which were necessary for dialogue dubbing. At least one additional audio reel was included with a small number of Gatchaman background music score pieces.
Before the materials began to arrive, Sandy Frank had put feelers out for staff that could handle the translation and production of the pilot. One of the people he contacted was his friend Irvin Kershner (who would later go on to direct the first Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back in 1979-80). Kershner's immediate suggestion was a Hanna-Barbera employee named Alex Lovy, whom he felt could handle the production for Frank's project.
Lovy was probably a solid choice as overall producer for the project as he was well-versed in animation techniques from his years in theatrical animation for Walter Lantz Studio and television projects for Hanna-Barbera. As Lovy was being considered, Frank also found someone who would have been perfect for the role of translation and scripting of the pilot - Fred Ladd. Ladd had been almost solely
responsible for the initial wave of Japanese animation brought
into the US in the mid-60s. He was the key individual to getting
Japanese children's programs like Astro Boy, Kimba, The White
Lion and Gigantor introduced to American airwaves.
Now this pioneer had been contacted about bringing a new era of Japanese animation to America. Ladd was very interested when
he heard about the premise for Gatchaman, but he was worried
about one main aspect of the show, "Now what about the scripts?"
he recalls asking of Sandy Frank. When Frank informed him
Alex Lovy was going to do the writing, Ladd was concerned since
he didn't know Lovy was a lip sync writer. When Frank said he
didn't think Lovy had written for lip sync before, it raised flags
with Ladd. He explains, "I'd had experience with writers
who thought they could write lip-sync and couldn't. If you don't
do your homework before you go in the studio, you get in there
and it doesn't work."
With a project of this size, Ladd knew moving ahead with an untrained writer could be problematic. When it came time to record the scripts, he knew the dialogue
wouldn't match the mouth movements and it would take a lot of
valuable studio time in order to correct and properly time the
wording to fit. Additionally, Fred Ladd was based in New York
City while Lovy was in Los Angeles. Making quick changes would
have been nearly impossible and it would have held up the production
even longer. So, wary of working with an untrained
sync writer, unable to take time to guide Lovy in the process
and not wanting to deal with the problems of the distances involved,
Fred Ladd passed on Battle of the Planets. Ladd detailed,
"I've never passed on a project, certainly nothing of this
scope before - and haven't subsequently, by the way - but I passed
on that one 'cause the script was going to be coming from L.A."
But Ladd left Sandy Frank with a
suggestion that regardless of who did it, or where, the show was eventually
produced, that he should do everything in one area, "Have
the whole thing done in California," he told Frank, who took
that advice to heart. Sometime in the following month, Sandy Frank
decided to look to someone other than Lovy to work on his show.
The reasons are unknown, but they very well could have stemmed
from Fred Ladd's hesitance.
Months passed and eventually,
Frank was given the name of another veteran in the field of theatrical
and television animation, Jameson Brewer. Born in 1916, Jameson
Brewer was from the tiny town of Sentinel Butte, North Dakota.
He went to Hollywood early in his life with dreams of becoming
an animator. But after first securing an unpaid internship at
Universal Studios and slowly working his way up to become an animator, he discovered what he really enjoyed was writing
the stories. So he changed direction to become a story man for Universal before eventually
moving on to Walt Disney Studios. After several years at Disney, Brewer
left to write various live-action television productions
and feature films. His best known works were The Addams Family
series and his feature film The Incredible Mr. Limpet, both in
1964, plus the television series Branded, where he acted
as head writer in 1965.
Following this, he joined his
good friend Alan Dinehart in the ranks of Hanna-Barbera animation studios.
He worked at several positions while there, as did most of the
studio's production staff. Brewer finally branched off again around
1972 when he began doing independent productions and more feature
film work including Terror in the Wax Museum in 1973. But
1977 brought Sandy Frank and Battle of the Planets into the now 61 year old Brewer's life and he was quick to take on the project.
The pilot had to be cut together
very quickly as it was now November, 1977 and Frank was due to
present it at the following year's MIP conference. With Brewer's
time and experience throughout his career in animation, he probably
felt like the translation of the program was going to be a straightforward
task. Frank told him the basic idea of the show and delivered
a few films for Brewer to look at. Unfortunately when he did,
he recognized Gatchaman was not the outer space adventure
Sandy Frank was pitching. Not only that, but the amount and
level of violence in the films was more than would ever be allowed
to appear on American television.
Brewer informed Frank of his concerns,
but Frank was convinced it could be done, so they plowed ahead. After viewing
all the films, Brewer decided on using the very
first episode of Gatchaman, called "Gatchaman Vs. Turtle King" as
his pilot. Brewer began his script, keeping in mind sections he
may have to cut out later. It was now at the end of 1977 and the
next year would the see hardest work done in the least amount
The new year started with the
first order of business - figuring out what would be done with
the episodes once they were edited. With a lot of the more action-oriented
content removed, the episodes were likely to run short of normal
running times. This wasn't so much of a problem for the pilot
but if the program got sold to series production they had to
have a solution in place.
This solution as it turned out
was fairly easy and very quickly decided upon. It and played
right into the type of program Sandy Frank wanted to
attract young Star Wars fans. A brand-new robot character
would be added. He would not only add another futuristic element,
but his look would be evocative of Star Wars, he would
be able to add to the running time, he would appeal to the younger
viewers and finally he'd help to smooth out rough edges left by
the editing. The addition of this character was a sort of catchall
solution that would serve to actually help get the series done. Commenting on the time Battle of the Planets had entered series production, Jameson Brewer explains another important reason for the introduction of 7-Zark-7, "One, I needed to fill up a lot of holes I was causing in these shows and two, I thought they needed a home base. They didn't have any home base in the Japanese series. They were just five kids that were coming from I-don't-know-where. They need a home base to be operating out of, and somebody that's in charge of that home base. Which was Zark, he became the guy down there in their underwater base."
The new character was roughly designed up by Brewer and given to his colleague Alan Dinehart, who was newly added to the pilot's production personnel. Dinehart then took the image and description to his friend and character designer Alex Toth. A very quick, one-off model sheet drawing was done by Toth on January 23, 1978 based off of Brewer's rough. At that point, he was named "Zark V" but that was quickly changed to 7-Zark-7.
Bringing together his friends
from Hanna-Barbera including Alan Dinehart, Hoyt Curtin, Janet
Waldo and Casey Kasem, with the additions of Alan Young and Ronnie
Schell, the pilot was ready to move ahead.
Composer Hoyt Curtin (The Flintstones,
Jonny Quest, Top Cat) agreed to create the theme
for Dinehart and Brewer's new program as a one-time project. Unfortunately
none of the recording dates and times for the theme song recording
session(s) are known. But it was likely composed and recorded
sometime between late November, 1977 through late January/very
early February, 1978. For more on the music history Battle
of the Planets, please look here.
The small amount of new animation was completed by Gallerie International Productions, a company
run by a friend of Brewer's named David Hanson. It was completed
to Brewer's script very quickly, within the space of three weeks'
time. This process began in late January, 1978. For much more
on the animation history of Battle of the Planets, please
The voice actors, who were comprised of more Hanna-Barbera colleagues, including Janet Waldo, Casey Kasem, Alan Young and Ronnie Schell, were recorded around mid-January. For the pilot it is fun to note that Ronnie Schell
performed Tiny, instead of his normal series roll of Jason. Jason's
actor for the pilot is unknown. For much more on the recording
history of Battle of the Planets, please look here.
The newly animated sequences of 7-Zark-7 had been rolling in and by the time the voice actors were recorded, everything was ready for editing. The staff had approximately three weeks in order to cut everything together for Sandy Frank's approval. Miraculously, the pilot was completed in time for the 1978 MIP where it was shown to great interest. However, no domestic or international outlets made an immediate commitment to buy the series. Frank returned to the U.S. in late March with his initial plan still in play; travel the country, drop in on program buyers with pilot in hand and pitch, pitch, pitch.