If you are under the age of 35, you are probably looking at the title of this week’s column and saying: “The who meets the what?” And if you are over the age of 35, you may recall one-half of this unlikely combination: the Bay City Rollers.
During the mid-1970s, the Bay City Rollers enjoyed a brief but extraordinary slice of popularity with an audience that was once called “teenyboppers” but who are demographically dubbed “tweens” today. This Scottish pop group, consisting of five cute guys who liked to wear tartan, offered bouncy music that caught youth audiences in a frenzy, primarily in the UK and Japan. By 1975, the media were comparing the Bay City Rollers to the Beatles due to the level of mania which they created.
But there was a significant difference between the Beatles and the Bay City Rollers: the Beatles had talent. The Beatles were also able to crack the American audience, while the Bay City Rollers had only one significant hit in America (albeit a great song, “Saturday Night,” which ironically was not popular in the UK).
By 1978, however, the Bay City Rollers were considered has-beens. The rise of punk and new wave music in Britain made the group seem passe and corny, while disco stole their American fan base. Their attempts to offer more mature music did not resonate and record sales plummeted.
As the band was in a tailspin, they received an unexpected offer to star in a Saturday morning TV show produced in America by Sid and Marty Krofft. The Kroffts had hypnotized American kids in the early 1970s with their psychedelic programs including “H.R. Pufnstuf” and “Sigmund and the Sea Monsters,” but by the late 70s their magic was on the wane. An attempt to create a variety show featuring their trademarked characters along with a prefabricated glitter rock group called Kaptain Kool and the Kongs was not successful. The Kroffts grabbed the Bay City Rollers as the stars of their new “Krofft Superstar Hour” and for a brief moment even NBC got hooked on the idea by putting this bunch in primetime.
Which leads us to “The Bay City Rollers Meet the Saturday Superstars.” This one-hour special was presented on Friday, September 8, 1978, as a means to introduce NBC’s Fall 1978 Saturday morning line-up while hyping a few primetime programs on the network. For the latter endeavor, the network trotted out the star of one hit show (Erik Estrada from “ChiPs”) and the stars of two new series (Scott Baio from “Who’s Watching the Kids” and Joe Namath from “Waverly Wonders”).
The resulting serving of “The Bay City Rollers Meet the Saturday Superstars” was a train wreck. The sole redeeming feature was “Horror Hotel,” which was intended as a vehicle to bring some of the “H.R. Pufnstuf” characters into new situations. Chief among the recycled was Witchiepoo, the wacky wiccan who is given the job of running a hotel staffed by weird creatures. She is assisted by Orson the Vulture, Dr. Blinkey the Owl, the Stupid Bat and Hoo Doo the Magician, who is sort of a green version of Bozo the Clown with Charles Nelson Reilly’s voice and mannerisms.
Whoever wrote the “Horror Hotel” skit was not thinking of the kids at home: the script is packed with arcane pop culture references to Jerry Lewis, Charles Bronson, Abe Vigoda, Howard Cosell and “The Gong Show”; Joe Namath gets mistaken for the African-American football legend Rosey Grier! There is also a fair amount of blue material. At one point, Witchiepoo wraps her arms around Joe Namath to announce she wants babies. Namath deadpans that she should adopt. Count Dracula shows up and chases Erik Estrada and Scott Baio. Clearly the Transylvanian vampire engaged in alternative lifestyle choices which Bram Stoker never considered but which NBC explored two decades later on “Will and Grace.”
The Bay City Rollers, for their part, were given relatively little to do. They perform “Saturday Night” and three abbreviated versions of other songs (including a terrible cover of Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Want to Be With You”). They also try (and fail) to tell jokes; a scene where Scott Baio teaches them how to flirt with a third-rate Cher imitator is particularly painful. Distractions prevail when Witchiepoo tries to rope them in with bad humor (she calls them “Scottish screwballs”) and even the doomed Kaptain Kool and the Kongs show up to steal the camera for their own brand of miserable music. This all ends in a ripoff of Sha Na Na’s act with the Bay City Rollers, Erik Estrada, Scott Baio and two dwarfs (don’t ask) doing a tribute to 1950s rock.
So who are the “Saturday Superstars” promised in the title? They’re basically a bunch of reruns and retreads designed to pad kiddie TV: Hanna-Barbera resurrected Yogi Bear and its character line-up for a remake of the “Wacky Racers” and “The Godzilla Power Hour” offered new adventures of the Japanese monster. There is also Jana, a blonde chick who rules the African jungles (imagine Jayne Mansfield as Tarzan and you have Jana), an animated spin on “The Fantastic Four” (with the Human Torch replaced by Herbie the Robot!) and a Krofft offering called “Lost Island” in which H.R. Pufnstuf, Sigmund the Sea Monster and other Krofft characters are chased by the Sleestaks and the stop-action dinosaurs from “Land of the Lost.”
The rickety insanity of this production was a harbinger of the NBC season. Scott Baio and Joe Namath had their shows cancelled almost immediately, Kaptain Kool and the Kongs vanished forever, and the “Kroft Superstar Hour” was cut back after eight weeks into a half-hour program retitled “The Bay City Rollers Show.” That limped along until it got the premature axe – the last five episodes were never broadcast. The Kroffts left kiddie TV until 1984 with Richard Pryor’s ill-advised “Pryor’s Place.”
The Bay City Rollers were pretty much finished with the failure of their show. Lead singer Leslie McKeown left the group, and personnel changes continued for a few years until the Bay City Rollers finally broke up. Since the 1980s, the performers were in a never-ending feud with their management regarding royalties and, to date, there has been no satisfactory conclusion of that struggle.
“The Bay City Rollers Meet the Saturday Superstars” was never broadcast again after its only airing. It was never released on home video and it survives today in some not-so-great bootlegs based on Betamax tapings of the 1978 airing. The copy I recently obtained was clearly taken from two different sources: the first half is blurry and missing commercials while the second half is clearer and has its commercials intact. Several private collectors with a passion for 70s kitsch sell copies online.
“The Bay City Rollers Meet the Saturday Superstars” may bring some tinges of nostalgia for those old enough to remember that distant era. For those who were born afterwards – well, consider yourself very, very, very lucky!
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material is not widely appreciated by the entertainment industry, and on occasion law enforcement personnel help boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and sell bootleg videos, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. The purchase and ownership of bootleg videos, however, is perfectly legal and we think that’s just peachy! This column was brought to you by Phil Hall, a contributing editor at Film Threat and the man who knows where to get the good stuff…on video, that is.
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Posted on August 12, 2005 in Features by Phil Hall
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- GRINDHOUSE FESTIVAL AT THE EGYPTIAN
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