The streaming video space is generally seen as the province of young creators — or at least those below retirement age. But it has helped facilitate a late life career revival for one set of seniors, Sid & Marty Krofft, the sibling production team that ruled Saturday mornings in the 1970s with live-action shows such as “H.R. Pufnstuf,” “Lidsville” and “The Bugaloos,” featuring colorful fantasy world settings, insanely-catchy theme songs and gaggles wacky costumed characters.
The Kroffts have completed production on a reboot of their superhero show “Electra Woman and Dyna Girl” (1976), starring YouTubers Grace Helbig and Hannah Hart,” premiering soon on Fullscreen’s upcoming OTT platform, and an Amazon revival of their series “Sigmund and the Sea Monsters” (1973–74) is set to go before the cameras in April. They also produce the Nick Jr show “Mutt & Stuff,” which was just renewed for a second season.
“We have probably 30 million dedicated fans [and] most can still sing the theme songs,” said Marty Krofft (pictured, left), 78, who runs the business end of the production company and helps oversee creative with his older brother Sid, 86. “The head of Amazon Studios, Roy Price, and [its] head of kids programming, Tara Sorensen, grew up with Krofft shows, so it was easy to license ‘Sigmund and the Sea Monsters’ to Amazon Studios.”
Making the deal is one thing. Getting the look and tone right is another matter entirely.
“With these reboots, you have to be real careful if you don’t want to lose the audience that you had [for the original show],” Krofft said. “Especially with a lovable character like Sigmund. If you take it to the studio and all of a sudden they think it should look like Frankenstein, then I’m in trouble with that brand.”
Although their ’70s productions are beloved today due in part to their kitschy low-budget campiness, the Kroffts had a habit of overspending on their shows. For instance, NBC paid them a $54,000 license fee for each half hour installment of “H.R. Pufnstuf,” which generally cost the Kroffts $100,000 to produce.
“We put more up on the screen than they paid for,” Krofft said. “I always said if we sold one more show, we’d be bankrupt.”
But while the deficit financing put a financial stress on the Kroffts at the time, there was a long-term upside. The license fee entitled the networks to six runs of the episodes over two years, and the Kroffts retained ownership of the series, along with the merchandising and syndication rights.
But in the ’90s when the government phased out fin-syn regulations — which forbid networks from owning shows they aired apart from news programming — and many independent producers were forced out of business.
“We’re probably the only independent left from the ’70s and mid ‘80s,” said Krofft. “Hanna-Barbera, Filmmation and all those companies either went bankrupt, they sold out or they died. There are basically only two companies with libraries that are left that have never ever sold. The elephant is Disney and the flea is Krofft.”
While the Kroffts haven’t exactly sold out with “Electra Woman and Dyna Girl,” it does mark the first time the they’ve licensed one of their titles to be produced by an outside entity, Legendary Digital Entertainment.
“We were very hands-on,” said Krofft, who produced the show alongside Chris Foss and Tim Carter. “But once you start shooting and you’ve picked all your people, you’ve got to let them do what they do.”
Not all of the Kroffts’ collaborations have gone as smoothly. In 2011, DreamWorks Animation announced that it would bring the their trippy 1971 Saturday morning series “Lidsville” to the big screen as 3D animated feature, but the project got stuck in development hell.
“It was over there for two years, they spent a lot of money — probably a million dollars — and that was the time that they were changing over to TV and they made a deal with Netflix,” Krofft recalled. “So, after two years, [DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey] Katzenberg came to me and said, ‘You want to do this as a half-hour?’ And at that moment, I said, ‘no.’ We’re definitely working on ‘Lidsville’ [now], but I can only talk about things that are happening for sure.”
The aborted “Lidsville” project came on the heels of Universal’s 2009 poorly-received feature adaptation of “Land of the Lost” (1974–76), which turned their innocent family adventure series into a wacky comedy packed with scatological, sexual and drug humor.
“You can’t do a show that was loved for families and then make it PG-13, close to R and eliminate your audience,” Krofft said. “Look, it was my idea to get Will Ferrell [as the star], but I didn’t know it was going to come out like a ‘Saturday Night Live’ sketch. There was a ton of money put into that movie, a couple hundred million. and it was more than disappointing.” But, he allowed, “[it] was a home run on HBO, because all the teenagers and the college kids watching it never saw the series, so they loved all that [humor].”
While their Saturday morning series are making a comeback, it’s unlikely we’ll see a return of variety shows like the ones they produced in the ’70s and ’80s, which included “The Brady Bunch Variety Hour” (1976–1977) and “The Bay City Rollers Show” (1978).
It’s not just that audience taste has changed.
“It’s a different ballgame today,” Krofft said. “Then, I could talk to [network execs] Fred Silverman and Michael Eisner and know where I stood immediately. Now, there’s team effort, it’s more corporate and they’re more involved with what you’re doing. But, if you’re going to stay around, you have to accept it, as painful as it can be sometimes. Whether it’s [Nick Jr parent] Viacom or whoever, they want to grab all the rights. The negotiations last forever. In most cases, we try to retain the touring rights and the film rights, and we also have a [financial] participation in everything.”
Krofft says that, in spite of all the changes, at the end of the day, the rules of the game are basically the same as they were back in their ’70s heyday.
“If it’s 1979 or 2016, you’ve got to know who you’re doing it for and you can’t make any excuses,” he said. “If you do digital and you have half the money, it doesn’t matter to the audience. When they’re watching it, they’re expecting to see a great show.”
Fun Facts About Sid & Marty Krofft
- For many years, bios of Sid & Marty Krofft described them as fifth generation puppeteers, born in Greece, but they are really sons of a clock salesman, born in Montreal, Canada.
- Older brother Sid toured as a puppeteer with Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus and such acts as Judy Garland, Liberace, Cyd Charisse and Tony Martin in the ’40s and ’50s, eventually inviting Marty to join the act.
- In 1961, Sid & Marty Krofft created the adult puppet show “Les Poupées de Paris.”
- The 5,000 British hopefuls auditioning to be one of the winged band members in 1970’s “The Bugaloos” included future Elton John manager John Reid and former child actor Phil Collins, who joined Genesis as its drummer later that year.
- In 1976, the world’s first indoor amusement park, The World of Sid & Marty Krofft, opened in Atlanta in the building that now houses the CNN Center. It closed after six months.