This week, in a very special Batteries Not Included, I want to talk about a very special TV special from the mid 1990s. The—to me yearly required and traditional—Christmas TV special “A Space Ghost Christmas.” The special is something of a rarity, having aired only a few times in the 1990s, and never released in full on home video. Yours truly recorded the special on VHS when it first aired on Cartoon Network in 1994. Come with me as I take us to back that golden time.
The 1990s may not have been golden age of TV, but I will argue that it was the golden age of cable TV. New channels sprouting up like weeds, all needing unique content, all hiring wonderfully creative people to make said content. Cartoon Network found a hit from the most unlikely of concepts. A fifteen minute late night talk show, reprising footage from the Hanna-Barbera 60s sci-fi superhero show “Space Ghost.” This old footage lifted from a series only remembered by Baby Boomers was combined with new animation and live action interviews with popular guests of the day to create “Space Ghost Coast to Coast.”
The series aired every Friday night at 11:00, ganging a wide audience of viewers from kids who weren’t quite sure what was going on but still found it very funny (me) and college students up late looking for bizarre entertainments. The success of “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” was wide and influential. The networks’ late night Adult Swim line of programing was spun off from the show, as was the more kid friendly series “Cartoon Planet” and “The Brak Show” a show with one of Space Ghost’s villains. Transformed in the ‘90s from a force of evil, to a hapless kind of lovable kid. The concept of using old H-B cartoons for comedy was taken again with the series “Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law” & “Sealab 2021.”
In the middle of the first season of “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” came “A Space Ghost Christmas.” An hour long special that was little more than a wraparound show for three episodes of the series. Part of the premise of “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” was that Space Ghost had jailed two his arch enemies and forced them to work on his talk show. Making Zorak, a talking mantis in a snappy vest his bandleader. Plus making Moltar—who I think was made of lava in a special suit? Never really got that cleared up for myself— his director. The show, rather quickly, morphed from an animated talk show, to a showcase for weird humor, TV send ups, and Moltar and Zorak constantly making of the very square Space Ghost.
The second of the three episodes that have the seasonal wraparounds is one of my favorite of the series. “Batmantis” in which Space Ghost interviews the cast of the ‘60s Batman TV series, while Moltar has been kidnapped by a villain known only as “Your Mother.” Zorak becomes Batmantis to help save Moltar, and what follows is one of the most delightfully bizarre and funny 15 minutes to have ever aired on American TV. In the episode, Space Ghost finds that when he shoots a ray from his power bands, a word appears on screen much like the “Pow” and “Bam” effects on the Batman series. Zorak asks Space Ghost to “shoot a proper noun!” and in an action bubble “Kenny Rogers” appears.
The highlight of those wraparounds that make up “A Space Ghost Christmas” are the warped takes on beloved Christmas carols. Zorak convincing Space Ghost that “Deck The Halls” does not have “fa-la-la-la-la” but “gabba gabba hey” instead. “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” is turned into the VERY inclusive “We Wish You a Happy Birthday (And a Nice Halloween)” But the gem of these is when Space Ghost’s most evil villains—the Council of Doom—appear to sing The 12 Days of Christmas. Only getting to day five before Space Ghost cuts them off. The five days being “Leonard Nimoy Sings, Four Quesadillas, Three Reruns of ‘What’s Happening,’ 2 + 8 is 10, and ‘Hi, My name is Brak’.” It’s magical.
Legal issues have kept the entire special from being released in full on home video, and it’s been at least 20 years since it aired on TV. My copy has been archived a few times over the years. Transferring the precious VHS to DVD, then a digital copy for my iPad. It’s not truly Christmas for me until I watch “A Space Ghost Christmas.” It fills me with a warmth from head to toe, and reminds me how lucky my formative years happened during one of the most creatively rich periods for TV in this country. I wish you a happy birthday, and I’ll see you next week.