On September 14, 1968, The Archie Show made its Saturday-morning debut on CBS-TV—and life as we know it instantly changed for the better.
This may sound like an exaggeration, but look at the facts: Without The Archie Show, there would be no Archies musical group. And without The Archies, there would be no “Sugar, Sugar.” Not to even mention the other ten singles recorded by the “fictional” group, several of which made the charts in the United States and other countries; and the six albums (five studio, one greatest-hits compilation) released during the same time period. From 1968 through 1971, when the group disbanded, The Archies enjoyed moderate-to-spectacular success on the music charts, with “Sugar, Sugar” going all the way to #1 in the US, the UK, and Canada and the followup single, “Jingle Jangle,” not only reaching the Top Ten in the States but earning the group their second #1 designation in Canada (Montreal native Andy Kim co-wrote both songs) as well as their second gold record. Not bad for a group that neither granted interviews nor made personal appearances.
But all of this was still in the future when The Archie Show had its premiere that Saturday morning fifty years ago, and the principals involved—music supervisor Don Kirshner, producer Jeff Barry, and lead singer Ron Dante on the music side, and Filmation producers Norm Prescott and Lou Scheimer and director Hal Sutherland on the animation side—probably had no way of knowing what lay ahead for either the show or the group. In fact, by the time “Sugar, Sugar” began ascending the charts, The Archie Show had changed formats and become the Archie Comedy Hour. But the original Archie Show was half this length, thirty minutes consisting of two separate storylines with a new dance and song of the week sandwiched in between. It was also the first Saturday-morning cartoon to utilize a laugh track. Voice actors for the series included Dallas McKennon, Jane Webb, John Erwin, and Howard Morris. Toni Wine provided the female vocals for The Archies (most notably on “Sugar, Sugar”) until moving on to other projects in 1970; Donna Marie subsequently got the gig and features prominently on The Archies’ fifth single, “Who’s Your Baby.”
What began as The Archie Show was on the air (in multiple formats and with several different titles) until 1978. Yet the popular animated series now celebrating its golden anniversary was actually not the first medium outside of the comics to present the Archie gang. The radio program Archie Andrews, with Bob Hastings portraying the titular redhead for most of its run, could be heard on the airwaves from 1943 to 1953. In 1964, a pilot for an eponymous live-action television show was filmed but never ordered to series. It was the advent of the animated cartoon and the music group 50 years ago that, directly or indirectly, led to an evolution that would ultimately result in one of the most popular television shows on the air today—the critically acclaimed Riverdale, starring KJ Apa as Archie, Lili Reinhart as Betty Cooper, Camila Mendes as Veronica Lodge, and Cole Sprouse as Jughead Jones/series narrator. Although there is no “Archies” group per se, there have been several musical performances by the characters including a cheerleading scene which pays homage to the hit that started it all, “Sugar, Sugar.”
It is certainly commendable that the characters first created in 1941 by John L. Goldwater and Bob Montana have not only endured for so many years but have managed to remain relevant in an era of computers, the Internet, cable television, DVR’s, digital music, and smartphones. Yet let us not forget that, to a large extent, the catalyst was a half-hour animated children’s program that debuted in an era of transistor radios, vinyl records, rotary phones, and TV by appointment. The 50th anniversary of the premiere of The Archie Show is definitely a milestone worth celebrating.