New York Daily News
Sunday, August 02, 1998
Space Ghost the Host
By KENNETH M. CHANKO
ith no new episodes of "The Larry Sanders Show," it's up to Space Ghost to pick up the slack on late-night TV.
No, don't laugh. While it might be something of an acquired taste, the Cartoon Network's "Space Ghost Coast to Coast" (TOON, Fri., 11:30 p.m.) is an inspired talk-show parody that gets increasingly off the wall with every new season. While a particularly precocious 7 or 8-year-old might get some of it, its core audience is kids 10 and up. Apparently, the show also has a big college following.
The concept of the half-hour show, which this week kicks off its fifth season, is that the star of an old mid-1960s Hanna-Barbera cartoon "Space Ghost," a black-hooded interplanetary crime-fighter, now has his own late-night talk show. Except that Space Ghost, who has a hilarious Jack Webb-style delivery, doesn't really get the concept and is still preoccupied by his previous existence as a superhero type.
The droll misconnections with the guests are frequently laugh-out-loud funny. Zorak, a green critter with a distinctive laugh (he was Space Ghost's nemesis in several of the original "The Space Ghost and Dino Boy" episodes), is the band leader, and Moltar, another villain who can incinerate his foes, is the director.
Friday's episode, "Terminal," is representative of the show's wry absurdity. It concerns Space Ghost's obsession about his impending death. He has Dr. Drew Pinsky (MTV's "Loveline") come on as a guest, and introduces himself, saying, "Hi! I'm Space Ghost!"
Dr. Pinsky asks, "Are you a phantom or a ghost?" To which Space Ghost responds in the same tone of voice, "I'm Space Ghost!" When Dr. Pinsky pauses to rephrase the question, Space Ghost eagerly asks, "Should I take my clothes off now?"
At another point, Space Ghost begins feeling sorry for himself, musing in a cracked voice that "there are so many things I haven't done yet in my life. I've never ridden on a barge. . . . I've never met Boomer Esiason."
In an episode later this month, Greta Van Susteren of CNN's "Burden of Proof" comes on because Space Ghost is being sued by his old animated child employees, Jan and Jayce.
"I'm stuck in a perpetual prepubescence, and it's all your fault!" screams Jan.
It turns out the lawsuit runs into trouble when Space Ghost notes that both he and Greta work for Ted Turner.
Other guests due this season include Kevin Smith ("Chasing Amy"), Ben Stiller ("There's Something About Mary") and supermodel Tyra Banks.
"Space Ghost Coast to Coast" is funnier and a lot more inventive - and, hey, cooler! - than "South Park."
Original Publication Date: 08/02/1998
Sunday, August 07, 1998
Exploring the subversive charm of Comedy Network's Space Ghost
By Christopher Cornell
If you're a celebrity -- an author, a TV star, a rock star -- and you head to Atlanta to promote whatever it is you're promoting, a bizarre experience may await you. Since 1994, such folks, while visiting Turner Broadcasting's headquarters, have been ushered into a small room with a camera, shown a picture of a cartoon character wearing a black hood and yellow cape, and asked, via a speaker, a series of baffling questions."What are your super powers?" the booming voice often asks. Or "Do you have enough oxygen?" And you'd better have an answer.
After a while, interviewees are let go, dazed and disoriented, knowing that a few months later, or a few years later (or never), footage of them attempting to respond to these questions, or of them just looking hopelessly baffled, will show up on -- of all places -- cable TV's Cartoon Network.
It's all part of the subversive charm of Space Ghost Coast to Coast. The series begins its fifth season of 15-minute episodes tonight at 11:30, and with the departure of HBO's Larry Sanders Show, it's arguably cable TV's hottest talk show. It's unquestionably the weirdest.
And that's the way the mad geniuses at Cartoon Network planned it.
The animated star of the show is Space Ghost, whom baby boomers may remember as the cartoon character introduced in the 1966 Saturday-morning cartoon show Space Ghost and Dino Boy. With "power bands" on his arms to fight bad guys, an "inviso-belt" to hide from them, and the sleek Phantom Cruiser to ride around in, he was the epitome of crime-fighting coolness.
Almost three decades later, executive producers Keith Crofford and Mike Lazzo had the idea that this character might be funny as the host of his own animated talk show. So they selected about 50 cells from the original series, and spliced them together with new TV-talk-show backgrounds to create a visual style that's a cross between a puppet show and a Clutch Cargo cartoon.
Space Ghost himself took on a new characterization, too. Voiced by Atlanta-area announcer George Lowe, the 1990s version of Space Ghost is fussy, self-absorbed, indifferent to his guests, slightly detached from reality -- in short, everything we've come to expect of a big-time talk-show host.
Assisting Space Ghost is an assortment of marginally loyal sidekicks, including the cruel, insectoid bandleader Zorak, and Moltar, the show's impassive and morose director.
The result caught on quickly and soon became a pop-culture phenomenon, one that successfully draws an adult audience to a network whose viewers often can't cross the street by themselves. It later sparked a spin-off series, the more child-oriented Cartoon Planet.
"We're quite proud of the show," says Crofford, who has supervised every one of the show's 50-odd (or is it 50 odd?) episodes, and who in 1995 received a CableAce award for all that effort. But Crofford and the rest of the Space Ghost team are not resting on their space laurels. This year, he says, the team hopes to take the series in new directions.
"We want to take it beyond the talk show, move out of the confines of the set," Crofford explains. "We'll still be using those same 50 poses, but this year we'd like to see Space Ghost exploring other realities."
In the season opener tonight, Space Ghost becomes convinced he's terminally ill and consults the only doctor he can think of, "Dr. Drew" Pinsky, host of the syndicated radio show and MTV series Loveline.
"And when Adam [ Carolla, Pinsky's Loveline cohost ] heard about it, he was pretty peeved," Crofford reveals. "He actually tried to crash the interview. So we invited him to do his own spot, which will be in a show later in the season."
In a later episode, TV lawyer Greta Van Susteren giddily consults with Space Ghost when he's threatened with a lawsuit by the Space Twins, Jan and Jayce, his sidekicks from the 1966 Saturday-morning series.
"She was a great sport," Crofford says of Van Susteren. "We don't usually ask our guests such specific questions, but we had her on the show because the show was going to be about Space Ghost's legal troubles, and she jumped right into the premise."
All that carefree fun up on the screen and the show's oh-so-brief 15-minute length belie the hard work that goes into making Space Ghost Coast to Coast.
"After we decide which interviews to use, it takes a couple of weeks to write a show," Crofford explains. "Then there's two to three weeks of really rather tedious work on an editing machine. Trying to line up the lips with the dialog is harder than you might think."
Meanwhile, the bank of celebrity interviews at Space Ghost headquarters keeps growing. Crofford says there are "at least 30 interviews sitting in the files" with everyone from rockers They Might Be Giants to author Merrill Markoe, Weinerville host Marc Weiner to veteran announcer Gary Owens, the original voice of Space Ghost in the '60s.
And like any other self-respecting talk-show titan, Space Ghost has quickly become the superhero of all media. He already has one CD under his inviso-belt, Space Ghost's Musical Bar-B-Que, which was a big hit on the children's music charts. His second, Space Ghost's Surf and Turf, hits the stores Aug. 18. You can bet Space Ghost will mention it on the show.
After all, says Lazzo, "like most talk shows, Space Ghost Coast to Coast is all about the host and what his guests can do for him."
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