Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The 1984 Ideal Toy Fair catalog starring Robo Force PART 4: MAXX'S PAD

One crazy trope of old eighties robot cartoons was that the places these mechanical beings lived in were fit less for robos and more suited to hobos. The combination sequence of Mighty Orbots illustrates this perfectly with only Bort in his airplane hangar starting out in a place remotely appropriate for a robot. The other Orbots are living like homeless vagrants, wandering the Arizona desert, embedded in mountains, buried under ice canyons and Crunch even lives in a junkyard. The Voltron lions were like this too, with red lion being kept in the most uncomfortable place on earth-an active volcano! Heck, the Autobots loved volcanoes so much that they didn't even bother moving out of the one their ship crashed into. It's like space robots are the intergalactic equivalent of cucarachas. I can totally sympathize with Leader-1 who decided, hey screw this-we're living in a flying ATAT and it's gonna have a cafeteria.



Portable Robot Action Stronghold
Solitary, brooding and unapproachable, the Fortress of Steele master environment playset is the home battle fortress of the Robo Force. Designed with three different levels of robotic action and adventure, it features a giant citadel dome that flips over to reveal the master laser siege cannon. A working robot crane and hoist lifts Robo Force Action Robot Figures. Other features include a revolving secret passage console, hidden arsenal compartment, "Jaws of Steele" sliding bulkhead door, working jawbridge escape, flip-over stockade cell, throne chamber, laser swivel guns, robot shuttle sled, weapon rack and more. For ages 4 years and up.

Pack: 4 pcs. Wgt: 14 lbs. Cube: 5

The Fortress of Steele shown in the Toy Fair catalog was a prototype with a few color and mold differences compared to the final production version. The blue shuttle sled pictured eventually became orange, the orange weapons rack eventually became blue and the citadel dome which was blue in the catalog was black on the production version. The lowest level of the fortress in the catalog also lacks the molded details of the final version and the stickers shown are completely different from what ended up being used. But those are all rather minor and for the most part this design pretty much made it all the way to production. At first the inclusion of a crane atop a battle fortress may seem odd but given that every other Robo Force figure and vehicle had some sort of grabbing action it's not entirely out of place. In fact the crane is about the only thing that the fortress has in common with the rest of the line and that's part of the reason I feel the Fortress of Steele was the biggest disappointment of Robo Force.


Ideal missed out on a huge opportunity to give the Robo Force an awesome place to live when they came up with the Fortress of Steele. While it was great to see these nearly six inch tall robots get a playset, this was no Castle Greyskull. There wasn't anything explicitly robotty about the Fortress of Steele aside from the computer-themed decals on the walls. It was so generic looking it could have been the long lost Kenner Hoth rebel cafeteria playset. It just didn't scream ROBOTS LIVE HERE in the same way that the GoBot Command Center did. I think every doll house should be the ultimate expression of the character of the dolls living inside it whether they are Barbies or as in the case of Robo Force-sentient vacuum cleaners. The gold standard is what Mattel did with Castle Greyskull and Snake Mountain. Those couldn't fit in any other toyline because they were so specifically products of the universe of the Masters of the Universe. They weren't just houses but something much more-they were the physical incarnations of their occupants' heroic or evil natures (and also their philosophies of home decor). The Fortress of Steele instead looks like some gigantic arctic cockroach volcano. But if not this, then what would the ideal domicile of gas pump shaped warrior robots be? As it turns out Ideal already knew!


In the climax of the Robo Force cartoon the good guy robots attack Nazgar's fortress, which was a huge building in the approximate shape of a Robo Force robot! This was the design I wanted to see in a Robo Force castle, this was the direction they should have gone. I don't even care if they came up with something vaguely resembling their exalted and overhyped hero Maxx Steele, just as long as it looked like a robot it would have been appropriately awesome. I wouldn't be at all surprised if at some point they planned a Nazgar's Fortress playset that looked like this. The GoBots' Thruster who functioned as the evil Renegade Headquarters was the best example of what Robo Force should've had. Unfortunately Thruster looked a little dorky as a vaguely humanoid robotic dollhouse but that's partially due to the compromises in his design that had to be made so he could transform. In Robo Force there was no expectation of transformation, so an all out robot shaped multi-level robothouse could have been done to awesome effect. Oh what I would give to go back in time with all my brilliant ideas that would have saved the Robo Force franchise. Or seeing how silly the whole line was compared to the Transformers and GoBots it would probably have failed anyways, but at least time traveling me would have given the Robo Forcers an awesome cafeteria.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

25 years ago in TV ratings PART 4: February 1986 Nielsens for animated shows in the weekday early fringe time period reported by independent stations

Although the Nielsen ratings for February of 1986 don't technically qualify as "25 years ago" the numbers are still important analytical tools for roboplastic archaeologists looking to study the popularity of cartoon robot Volkswagens and their transforming Tyrannosaurus cohorts. I'm taking a look this time at the February '86 ratings for shows in the 'Early Fringe' time period (Monday through Friday from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.) as reported by independent stations. Independent UHF stations of the 80s were traditionally the realm of the half hour toy commercial and they were where I did most of my afterschool cartoon watching. Since the independents had a much wider variety of animation in their lineups than the networks, the numbers for the independents give a more complete comparison of the relative popularity of the most cartoons. But first here's the entire top ten based on Kids' share and rank for the early fringe as reported by independent stations in February '86:

Kids' Rank/ShareHousehold Rank/ShareProgram# of StationsFeb '85 ShrMay '85 ShrNov '85 Shr
01/3903/12Diff'rent Strokes34121111
02/3217/10Scooby Doo22101010
06/3002/13Three's Company9151313
06/3004/12Too Close for Comfort20131213
06/3015/10G.I. Joe73111011
09/2913/10Little House on the Prairie1110910
09/2916/10He-Man & the MotU

February '86 was the first sweeps period after the legendary November '85 sweeps when Thundercats, Transformers, She-Ra, G.I. Joe and He-Man fought it out in a very toy cartoon heavy Kids' top ten. In November the only non-toy cartoons in the top 10 were Scooby Doo, Tom and Jerry and perennial ratings champion Woody Woodpecker. For whatever reason Woody Woodpecker disappeared completely from the ratings in February '86, leaving the non-animated Diff'rent Strokes in the number 1 kids' spot. Tom & Jerry also dropped out of the top ten and the two vacancies left by them and Woody were filled by the live action shows Little House on the Prairie and Too Close for Comfort. One of the criticisms leveled against the ratings system was that the kids numbers were largely inaccurate because children didn't take their reporting responsibilities seriously. I tend to agree that something fishy is going on here because Little House and TCfC were mind numbingly boring to me when I was 11 back in '85. I can't imagine them being more popular than He-Man. Then again, maybe I'm discounting the most powerful demographic of all: pre-teen girls!

Feb '86 was also the second consecutive report to use Kids' rank and share, allowing for a little bit of kid-centric ratings continuity to be established. Transformers and Thundercats continued to be the top toy based shows in February 86, both tying for third with a 31 share. In November '85 they were in fourth and fifth place with Transformers taking a 34 share on the kids chart, slightly edging out Thundercats which had a 33. Although they both improved in rank, the slight erosion in overall share indicated that the popularity of toy based cartoons was beginning to decline.

Other animated shows outside the kids' top ten:

Kids' Rank/ShareHousehold Rank/ShareProgram# of StationsFeb '85 ShrMay '85 ShrNov '85 Shr
22/2232/07Tom & Jerry5766
27/2130/07Challenge of the GoBots24988
37/1440/05Bugs Bunny7564
39/1241/04Inspector Gadget13554
42/1147/03Jayce & the Wheeled Warriors22544
45/1048/03Super Friends7664

After debuting on the November '85 ratings in 17th place with a 27 share, M.A.S.K. loses a few points and drops to 19th, which is still not too bad. GoBots falls five places to 27th and Voltron actually climbs up the chart, going from 37th in November to 29th in February. Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors in 42nd place only falls one spot compared to November and Tranzor-Z rockets to 39th from 46th. Robotech at 46th remains the least popular cartoon in the kids' top 50. I am still amazed how Tranzor-Z remains so obscure in pop culture history and Robotech so lauded when the actual ratings of the day reveal Robotech's popularity to be well below that of most every other cartoon. It's possible the absence of Tranzor-Z merchandise in North America contributed to this while the less popular Robotech was afforded a toyline. Or maybe a cartoon about a robot that was just a robot didn't make as much of an impression as one about transforming robot fighter planes. Maybe the key to pop culture immortality in 1985 was not ratings popularity but whether or not a cartoon had Shoji Kawamori jet robots you could buy at K-Mart.

NEXT TIME ON RATINGSTASTIC ROBOTCARTOONALYPSE: The February '86 Early Fringe network ratings-featuring possibly the most robotastic top ten ever!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Duck Downers and the $24 1/2 Sentinel

Last week was full of anticipation and excitement as I was expecting to solve yet another great mystery of Roboplasticology but then I found a dead baby duck in my backyard. (He looked more like a teenager duck actually.) Now as a veteran of many great imaginary toy robots battles I am no stranger to death and destruction. I've seen whole planets devoured by Orson Welles and I've seen the very fabric of reality almost destroyed by Simon Furman's writing and I've even seen San Francisco get exploded so many times it may as well be the North American Tokyo. And yet I don't recall ever being as disturbed as I was when I found myself in the presence of inanimate poultry. So it's been a rough couple of days as I've been thinking a lot about my mortality and realizing the only things certain in Florida are ducks and taxes.


Death couldn't have visited at a worse time because later on that morning a wonderful and fantastic thing happened-I got a new (26 year old) toy robot in the mail. I recently eBayed myself an unopened Sentinel from Robo Force as part of my ongoing research to uncover the true number of Robo Force mini comics released in 1985. Sentinel was the ideal robo forcer to find unopened because I theorized that since he didn't appear in any of the three Robo Force comics I found so far he may have had a unique comic featuring himself. He was also ideal because the Buy It Now was only 20 bucks plus like $4.50 shipping. Even GoBots don't go that cheap still in the box. It should have been a wonderful happy time but it was tainted because now forever etched in my mind alongside the day I got a Sentinel will be the memories of having to dispose of a dead teenage duck. I guess I'm bummed out by anything other than old toy robots coming to my house to die.


Sentinel the Protector is figure #4127 from assortment 48075, a good guy Robo Forcer whose bio makes him out to be some sort of Takumi Fujiwara of toy robots driving. But in the only story where he's driving the Command Patroller (Robo Force and the Mountain of Burning Ice) he ends up crashing it into a wall. Maybe Robo Force shouldn't have given the keys to the guy with his eyes on the sides of his head (which incidentally along with his white and yellow color scheme also makes him look like a duck). I guess if you're drifting then a head like that really keeps you on top of that all-important peripheral vision. But it's no wonder Sentinel crashed the Command Patroller totally to hell when his blind spot was pretty much the entire front of his face. The first sign that letting your robot drive was a bad idea is when he keeps going sideways all the time.


The big disappointment was that Sentinel didn't have a comic book different from any I already had. While it was cool to have a brand new (26 year old) Robo Forcer I don't think it was really $24.50 cool. Also disappointing was that my wife would not let me give that dead duck a proper Viking funeral. I wanted to set him afloat on a flaming box of Frosted Flakes in the river behind my house. But oh well maybe we all still got something out of these experiences even if they didn't end as exciting as I hoped. With this post the Robo Forcedom got a couple pictures of Sentinel that compliment nicely Shawn Robare's recent review of Vulgar and I got an appreciation for life and death that will add new dimensions to my enjoyment of future sci-fi stories about the destruction of San Francisco. It is somewhat comforting to know that 36 years of watching 10 billion movies with people killing or getting killed by exploding aliens, exploding dinosaurs, exploding robots and exploding alien robot dinosaurs still hasn't turned me into a totally numb heartless sociopath with absolutely no empathy for living beings like people, bothans and toy robots from outer space. Movies have instead turned me into a totally numb heartless sociopath with absolutely no empathy for people and toy robots from outer space, but who still has a soft spot for ducks.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

I know where the Wain grows

No this is not my entry into some upcoming showcase of art by psychotic people, this is my first try at doing a portrait of Shockwave in that ever so elegant and sophisticated of artistic mediums-the Lite Brite. The fascinating thing about Lite Brite is anything you attempt to draw with it will look sort of pretty, no matter how much of a horrible distortion of reality your picture actually is. I learned this after talking much crap about Hasbro's Transformer Lite Brite patterns and deciding to make better ones. I tried developing a process that would allow me to completely render existing images into Lite Brite format in a way that doesn't require additional white line drawing to complete the picture like Hasbro's refill patterns do. In the process I learned Lite Brite is a tough medium to master and working within the limitations of its canvas resolution and available color palette is a pain in the butt. I also learned what toy robots must look like to someone on acid.


I figured it would be easy enough to make the pattern. All I had to do was take an existing picture of a robot and then overlay a dotty grid on it of the same resolution as my Lite Brite. Then I'd recolor all the dots in based on what Lite Brite pegs I had and use the finished grid as my map. But since my grid wasn't the exact same dimensions with the exact same space between pegs as the actual Lite Brite, my final product ended up looking really bizarre. There are other factors and considerations that also make the end result very different looking from any mapped out plan. The biggest is that Lite Brite is a three dimensional medium. The viewer's perspective shifts ever so slightly from the top to the middle to the bottom and it affects how the shape of the pegs is perceived and the negative space between them. My peg map assumed a direct head-on view of only the peg tops and close up this isn't at all what you see. From far away like across the room it looks a lot better. Another big limitation is the color palette. I only had eight colors to work with from the modern refill packs plus some dark purple pegs I had from older sets. There's not a lot of shading or light effects that can be accomplished unless you paint the pegs like the guy who made a Lite Brite picture of his naked mom and dad. I'm not that dedicated, though. I only want to do pictures of naked toy robots and thankfully they lack the subtleties of tonal shading that Lite Brited human genitalia require.

Step 1

Step 2
Step 3
Step 4


I realize I made a lot of mistakes in the process but I think I know how to correct them. Subject matter and framing also play a big part in the ultimate success of the renderings. Considering the colors available (red, yellow, orange, pink, blue, purple, green and clear) there are a number of characters like Bumblebee and Optimus Prime that I think I can make recognizable renderings of. And I'll need them to be as recognizable as possible because at this stage my final pictures look less like illuminated paintings and more like those crazy stereoscopic eye puzzles you have to stare at all cross eyed for twenty minutes in order for your brain to malfunction enough that you can see a picture. So I'm thinking of doing Bumblebee next. However if any mental health professionals out there would be willing to pay me I am open to doing GoBots on commission.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

25 years ago in TV ratings PART 3: November 1985 Nielsens for animated shows in the weekday early fringe time period reported by network affiliates

Syndicated cartoons were not exclusively aired on independent stations in the eighties. While many of these half-hour toy commercials may not have qualified for airing on Saturday mornings due to big 3 networks standards, the local network affiliates had no problem carrying them on their Monday-Friday afternoon schedules. This was a sweet irony for many of these shows. In 1984 Tonka's marketing director Ray McDonald stated they initially wanted Challenge of the GoBots to be a network series1. The networks rejected GoBots as a Saturday morning show2 but like many of these toy cartoons it did ultimately find its way onto the network affiliates once it hit syndication.

The Nielsens differentiated between network and independent airings for shows in every time period including early fringe. This makes evaluating a clear 'winner' more complicated considering that the same show could rank in two totally different places between the two charts. Here then are the top ten kid rated shows aired during early fringe (4:30-7:30 p.m. Monday-Friday) for network affiliates as reported for the November 1985 ratings period, plus a few animated shows that fell outside the top 10.

Kids' Rank/ShareHousehold Rank/ShareProgram# of StationsNov '84 ShrFeb '85 ShrMay '85 Shr
01/3640/17He-Man & MotU15202018
02/3541/17Scooby Doo13211918
03/3433/18Tom & Jerry4211620
07/2754/13G.I. Joe3191919
08/2408/23Gimme A Break12212220
08/2413/21Diff'rent Strokes32222222
08/2416/21Laverne & Shirley3202223

Other animated shows outside the kids' top 10
13/2062/07Challenge of the GoBots6121311

Many of the same animated shows dominate much like they do on the independent stations' top ten for the same period. The Transformers, Thundercats, G.I. Joe, He-Man and She-Ra show up here just like on the independents list but what is different are their ranks. Most notably He-Man goes from 10th among kids on independent stations to first on the networks. Transformers and Thundercats stay about the same at the middle of the list. Big shout out to GoBots for cracking the top 20 on both charts. The come from nowhere surprise is Voltron, who on the independent stations was ranked 37th but on the networks ties for 8th place! Such grand variances in network/independent ranking as illustrated by He-Man and Voltron almost make me wish there was one consolidated early fringe list with the network and independent shares combined. I imagine it could be done if the ratings points for each show were combined between the two, assuming a single ratings point accounts for the same number of households on each list. But since the independents had a much larger proportion of animated shows than the network affiliates did, many cartoons that ranked outside of the network top 50 but made it on the independent list would get left out. Shows like Robotech, M.A.SK. and Tranzor-Z are notably absent from the network list, not to mention Woody Woodpecker who dominated the independent list for multiple ratings periods in a row but doesn't crack the network top 50. I guess if all I'm interested in was the top ten it might work.

NEXT TIME ON RATINGSTASTIC CARTOONOCALYPSE: The February 1986 independent sweeps!

1Philip H. Dougherty (1984, January 25). GOBOTS SET U.S. INVASION. The New York Times.
2Robin L. Palley (1984, July 25). LOOK OUT, CABBAGE KID. Philadelphia Daily News.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The 1985 Hasbro Toy Catalog part 2, featuring assortments 5705 (the Autobot Mini-Vehicles) and 5715(the Constructicons) in: GARGLE BOAT vs. DUMP TRUCK

Coming up with a unique way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Transformers from 1985 is not as easy as it seems. Thanks to the resurgence in popularity the brand enjoys it's like every day is an explosion filled celebration of the 25 year old robots toyline from Hasbro that I wished would last forever when I was a kid. Except this was not the future I thought it would be where Bob Budiansky became the next Stan Lee and Flint Dille the next Spielberg and they'd unite to bring about a golden age of toy robot based Oscar winning entertainments. Instead I feel like I'm stuck in some crazy alternate bizzaro universe where the men who brought about Transformageddon were Pat Lee and Michael Bay. And so as I live out my mid-life crisis in this post-roboplastic apocalypse I am left wondering how to pay proper tribute to the greatest of toy robot Volkswagens and their associated transforming Tyrannosaurus cohorts in a way that does not involve Hot Topic t-shirts or Shia LeBouf calendars. The Transfornerddom is a vast and frightening and sometimes it feels like everything that can be written about this stuff already has. What can be said about these toy robot grasshoppers from Hasbro that has not already been echoed in a thousand wikipedias? So I celebrate the only way I know how-by looking at old newspaper ads and wishing it was 1985 really hard in the hopes that I will teleport back in time far enough to get a marketing job at Tonka so I can save the GoBots and doom all other toy robots to obscurity, preventing future catastrophes like the Transformer comics from Dreamwave and Megan Fox's career.


After kicking off the Transformers section of their 1985 toy catalog with a nice big two page spread introducing the line, Hasbro got straight to business with the next two pages featuring assortments 5705 and 5715-the Autobot Mini-Vehicles and Constructicons. The catalog is arranged roughly in ascending order from lowest price point to the highest, just like what was done with the 1984 book. I use "roughly" because there are instances where some assortments with a unified theme are grouped together despite being in different size and price classes like the Insecticons sharing a spread with the Deluxe Insecticons or Soundwave grouped with the Decepticon mini cassettes. Along with the Decepticon cassettes that appear later in the catalog, 5705 and 5715 made up the entirety of carded figures in the 1985 Transformer lineup and they represented the entry level price point for their respective Autobot and Decepticon factions.

The Transformers
Autobot Mini-Vehicle Assortment

These mini-vehicles are small but swift Autobots who act as messengers and spies. Five new mini-vehicles join the Autobot cause, ready to battle the Decepticons. Push in the sides, swing in the arms, fold in the legs...they transform from robots to mini-cars, trucks, and aircraft!

Each Autobot Mini-Vehicle is packaged as a robot on a blister card. All include bio, Tech Specs chart and special liquid crystal Transformer logo as proof of authenticity. Assortment includes four each of hovercraft, plane and tank, three each of dune buggy and space ship and one each of continuing styles.

5 5/8x7/8x7 3/4" CU:.7 WT.:6.5lbs. PK:24

For 1985 the minis of assortment 5705 got their own full page unlike in 1984 when the Autobot Minicars had to share a small sidebar with the rest of the Autobots. The same six minis from the 1984 catalog make a return appearance here but this time they aren't simply Japanese MicroChange figures with Transformer stickers slapped on them like last time. The red Bumblebee and yellow Cliffjumper are not shown although those two continued to be released in 1985. Of course the big new change is that the assortment is no longer referred to as 'Minicars' but 'Mini Vehicles' because of the five new additions to the size class with non-street automobile alternate modes. Several Wikipedias speculate that the new figures-Beachcomber, Cosmos, Powerglide, Seaspray and Warpath-were the very first toys designed exclusively for the Transformers line and were not just recolored versions of robots that were originally released previously in Japan. The new guys dominated the 24 pack with each of them showing up 3 to 4 times while the returning '84 guys only showed up at one to a case. Notably absent from the product description is mention of the Mini Spies promotion where for a while the mini vehicles were packaged with little motorized bonus robots.

Playworld 10/31/85
Osco 12/11/85

1985 saw a shift in how stores would advertise action figures with less use of line art and more actual photography. Hasbro would continue to produce line art throughout the span of Generation One but beginning in '85 retailers would use it less and less. Since '85 was the biggest year for Transformers in newspaper advertising a lot of line art was used but finding ads with a specific individual robot got tougher as the assortments got larger. So while I've found ads with line art for every one of the '84 minicars, art of the new mini vehicles doesn't pop up as often and I've still never found an ad with Powerglide or Warpath line art. What is interesting is that unlike the 1984 catalog I have, this 1985 catalog is not the source from which all the line art for the newspaper ads was made. One store called Diamonds (a Dillard's outlet of sorts) did run an ad on December 3, 1985 with a Seaspray graphic based on his pose in this catalog, but that is the sole exception. All other line art I have found does not match up with the poses in this book. Check out Beachcomber's pose in this November 28th 1985 Karl's ad or this alternate Seaspray from a December 19th 1985 Labelle's ad. I think this is because there was another Hasbro Toy book from 1985 that I do not have and have never seen. I suspect a Hasbro 1985 pre-Toy Fair catalog exists with many Transformer prototypes and product descriptions that weren't shown in this book based on what I've found in 1985 newspaper ad line art. Playworld's use of the word 'drone' to describe the minis in their October 1985 ad above is another indication that the retailers had an alternate source of ad copy not taken directly from this book.


The Transformers
Constructicon Assortment

The Constructicons create the Decepticon fortresses, energy plants and massive energy-recovery installations. Swing down the cab, pull out the arms and lift up the head...each transforms from a construction vehicle to robot and back. And for special assignments, all six Constructicons join together to form the mighty Devastator!

Each Constructicon is packaged individually on a blister card containing attachable weapons and accessories, character bio, and Tech Specs chart. Each one includes the special liquid crystal logo and is sold individually to encourage collectibility. Assortment includes four of each Constructicon.

6 1/2x2x9" CU.:.9 WT.:4.7lbs. PK.:24

Hasbro did another great job of providing a product description full of elaborate fantasy for the Constructicons. Unfortunately much of it would go unused in newspaper ads because another trend in 1985 was a reduction in the amount of words they used. I've never seen an ad that makes mention of their role as Decepticon engineers but stores did often promote their combination abilities. For some reason a lot of retailers just could not get the word 'Constructicon' written correctly in their ads. I think it's funny how these ad copy writers would often copy word for word the description Hasbro provided but they'd take it upon themselves to change the spelling of the group name to 'Construction'.

Once again line art in ads based on the photographs from this book is the exception. There was a Diamonds ad with Hook from December 13th, 1985 and a June 23, 1985 Toys R Us Bonecrusher ad that were based on photographs here but all the other Constructicon ads I've seen differ significantly. Even grocery stores like Furr's had Constructicon art that was totally different from what was shown in this 1985 Hasbro catalog. More examples of Constructicon line art can be found at the Transformers 1985 section of the Vintage Space Toaster Palace. There must be a catalog that serves as the source for this line art.

Target 12/22/85
Toys Plus 12/19/85
The Devastator giftset is not explicitly mentioned in the catalog description of the Constructicons and although I've run across a few Devastator giftset ads none of them are very descriptive. In fact I've never seen a Hasbro toy catalog from any year that lists the combiner giftsets as separate assortments with individual writeups and casepack ratios. Combiners get shafted in the ad text department but even if Hasbro had come up with something it may not have gotten used anyways considering the shorter format ads were transitioning to. The procedure for ordering giftsets is a bit of a mystery to me, too. I don't know how retailers ordered the giftsets because I've never seen a Hasbro price list from any year except 1988 and even then that one did not include a separate solicitation for the giftsets of that year.

The Devastator line art used in some ads (like the above Toys Plus ad from December 19, 1985) is also a bit of a mystery because it looks nothing at all like typical Transformer line art. It's a head on view of the toy at eye level instead of the usual 3/4 angle looking down at the toy. I think I've seen it somewhere before but it's not an exact match with the line drawings from the Devastator instruction booklet so I can't remember where it's from. If there is indeed a phantom 1985 pre-toyfair catalog I haven't seen yet I seriously doubt it would have such a simplistic rendering of Devastator. If I were to guess I'd say the pre-Toy Fair catalog I suspect exists probably has a Devastator with black forearms like the one in the 1985 Devastator giftset commercial. Line art from this theoretical catalog would then have black forearms which would be evident even in black and white, but I've never seen line art like that. Chances are the outline based art in the ads comes from materials sent to retailers that ordered the giftset, which would be rarer than a catalog. I'd love to see more of these promotional line art materials and catalogs unearthed one day but they're proving tough to find. But you never know.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Eternal Starscream of the Spotless Pantalones

When I was a kid living in El Paso my grandma would go to Juarez a lot and sometimes she'd come back with Marvel comics in Spanish. She never brought back Transformers issues but I still have an old copy of El Asombroso Hombre Araña she got me once. Based on my grandma's comic runs and my own experience I don't think the Marvel Transformers were ever released in comic form in Mexico. I was tangentially aware thanks to Transformers MegaWeb that Spanish versions did come out in Spain. The company that published the Marvel books over there was called Forum. Years ago I'd downloaded some of those old comics but aside from that I never really paid attention them because they were pretty much direct translations of the US books with no alterations aside from the language they were in. Well about two months ago something happened that made me wish I would have paid a lot more attention. If I'd have known life was going to actually test me on my time goofing off downloading Spanish robot comic books I would have estudiado'ed harder.


Back in March I was in Miami visiting a comic store I only rarely go to because it's really far, far away (not unlike Tatooine). Coincidentally, the place is kind of a dump and navigating through the mess is only slightly less chaotic than being devoured by a Sarlaac. But they've always got some crazy awesome stuff for people willing to blow some time and possibly risk a limb or two. (As one reviewer wrote-just make sure you're up to date on your shots.) So I was looking through all their stuff when I came across two gigantic piles of comics from Spain and Finland and wouldn't you know it, they had a nearly complete run of Forum's Transformers. It was interesting to hold these in my hands but I didn't really care much because like I said, for the most part they're direct translations of the US material. And then it happened-I came across an issue unlike all the others. It was Forum's issue #46. For their version of US issue #50 they cut that book in half and printed it over two issues. This resulted in original cover art for their issue #46 which contained the first half of US 50. It's actually a panel from inside issue 50 just blown up and embellished a bit to make a cover out of it. It's quite possibly the only 'original' cover art in the entire Spanish run. I didn't know anything else about it but I thought it was awesome. If I had found out about it sooner I would have been better prepared. Sometimes I run across stuff that's new to me and I get all excited and blow more money than I should, then I go home to Google it and find it's not all that special. I was in a scenario worse than what Boba Fett found himself in during the opening of Return of the Jedi with a billion questions about this comic and no access to Wikipedia! Was this comic worth a tryptzillion dollars or could it be had on eBay for dirt cheap? What should I offer this guy for it and was that a Sarlaac tentacle that just touched my foot?


I held it in my hand and savored the moment. I knew it wouldn't last because the owner left for lunch and getting a price out of the other guy left to man the store would be impossible without the owner's approval. So I waited and waited but after an hour the owner still wasn't back. I knew exactly what would happen. I couldn't stay there forever so I went home and when I called back later someone had already bought all of the Spanish Transformer books. Then I searched online and found no record of it on the Wikipedias. I was sure nobody in the Transformernerdverse would ever believe (or care) much about my story about an alternate cover that only appeared in the Spanish version of issue 50 which was actually numbered 46. Luckily I can't imagine how it would ever pop up in conversation anyways. So yeah it sucked but I found the scans I downloaded on my hard drive and sure enough there was issue 46. I'll probably never see that book again in my life but at least I have some proof it exists. Also on the plus side, I made it out of the Sarlaac pit of comic book stores alive and I didn't blow any money on an impulse buy. As El Asombroso Hombre Araña would say, "Con un gran comic book de Roboplasticons viene un gran waste of money in mis pantalones."

Monday, May 10, 2010

25 years ago in TV ratings PART 2: November 1985 Nielsens for animated shows in the weekday early fringe time period reported by independent stations

As I uncover more and more television ratings reports in old issues of Variety magazine a couple of things become clear to me. First, ratings were reported in a number of ways at a number of times. There were three main reporting periods-February, May and November. However, judging from ads placed in broadcast industry publications like Variety and Broadcasting, networks also had access to weekly and monthly reports not widely reported anywhere. The reports also divided up information based on time period and channel affiliation, so whether a show aired on an independent or network station affected its ratings just as much as what time of day it aired. The second big realization I had was that ratings like most statistics can be interpreted a number of ways. Since the data reported comes from these brief windows in time and is parsed in a number of ways, Nielsens can make the same show seem either relatively popular or a ratings loser. Ratings analysis depends then on how you look at the numbers, so a broad, overarching measure of the popularity of a show like The Transformers is tough to ascertain when the data comes in one drip at a time. With the reporting periods 3-5 months apart, a show may have been consistently good or bad in the interim and it would go unnoticed on the all important Feb/May/Nov sweeps reports. Despite these limitations some very important conclusions can be drawn, not the least of which being that a lot more people were watching Challenge of the GoBots 25 years ago than they'll admit to today.

The last time I blogged about ratings numbers I took a look at the May 1985 reporting period. That was a tough one to start with because all I had to go on to determine show popularity was the overall household rank based on share. But starting with the November 1985 reports two new columns were added-Kids' Share and Kids' Rank. This changed everything and made my analysis much easier. Now I was able to rank cartoons based on their kid popularity, which is really all that matters for the kind of analysis I'm trying to do. Here then are the top ten shows based on Kid Rank from the November '85 Nielsens during the early fringe (Monday through Friday from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.) time period:

Kids' Rank/ShareHousehold Rank/ShareProgram# of StationsNov '84 ShrFeb '85 ShrMay '85 Shr
01/3916/10Woody Woodpecker & Friends3778
02/3505/11Diff'rent Strokes30111210
02/3523/09Tom & Jerry31086
06/3202/14Three's Company10141513
08/3108/11G.I. Joe7310119
08/3122/09Scooby Doo25111110
10/3014/10He-Man & the MotU50111010

Some of the shows tied for rank based on their share of the kid market, as was the case with 2nd, 6th and 8th place. For purposes of my chart I used the overall Household Rank as the tiebreaker. I also included Household Share because that's the number the previous rating period columns (the last three on the far right side) use so it's easier to see overall trends. The trends are suspect to me, though because again Nielsen has prior historical ratings numbers for shows that hadn't aired yet. For example, She-Ra shouldn't have November '84 ratings because it hadn't aired yet. Likewise, Thundercats shouldn't have anything from before January of '85. I still don't know where they got those ratings that shouldn't exist.

Without the Kids' Rank it was hard to track the popularity of these shows with their target audience. In the May numbers (which only used overall Household Share) animated shows barely cracked the top ten. But when rearranged this way it becomes very obvious that children loved watching cartoons and animation dominates this top ten instead of being the exception. One thing that remained constant from May to November was that Woody Woodpecker was still the highest ranked animated show. I do remember watching a lot of Woody Woodpecker but I never realized he was more popular than any toy based cartoons in the ratings for a little while. Most of the toy cartoons here in the top ten (with the exception of He-Man) were making their Monday-Friday run debuts in fall '85 so this is truly the beginning of the battle of the toy shows. Transformers does exceptionally well here, ranking fourth not just in Kids but also in overall Household Rank. The magic doesn't extend to all robot shows, though, and the next highest is Challenge of the GoBots which comes in at #22 as we see in the next chart...

Other Animated Shows Outside the Kids' Top 10

Kids' Rank/ShareHousehold Rank/ShareProgram# of StationsNov '84 ShrFeb '85 ShrMay '85 Shr
15/2838/07Bugs Bunny4455
22/2433/08Challenge of the GoBots34999
31/2041/06Super Friends5111010
40/1549/04Inspector Gadget12766
41/1450/04Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors30554

I didn't feel like typing the entire list out to 54 places like I did last time so I included only animated shows outside of the top ten. Robot shows didn't do relatively well overall compared to other cartoons, with classics like Voltron, Robotech and Tranzor-Z near the bottom of the list. The GoBots at #22 is actually very respectable. Voltron on the other hand was on the downslide as it fell to 37th place here and didn't deliver the same ratings World Events Productions was able to promote back in the same ratings period a year earlier. Robotech doing so relatively poor is interesting because this show is consistently mentioned by Japanese animation fans as being the show that got them into anime. (Yet Tranzor-Z beats it in the ratings and I've never heard anyone say nowadays that Tranzor-Z was their gateway anime show.) Robotech is another show for which there are ratings from months that it hadn't aired yet. Even worse, the 6 share reported here for May of '85 contradicts the actual May '85 report which said it had an 8. I've found it wasn't uncommon for a show to have a certain share rating and then see that number change as reported in the next report's prior history columns. But at this point I'm willing to just overlook those inconsistencies and write it off as me not being knowledgeable enough about the ratings process to interpret it all properly.

Next time I'll continue with November 1985's numbers from network affiliates. For some reason the network top ten kids' shows had pretty much the same cartoons but in an entirely different order and with different share numbers. Since the networks had other more popular programming not all of the shows that made the independent list were on the network top 50. So it should be fun to see how what was popular on independent stations may not have done as well on the networks and vice versa.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Your new robot forum avatar

From the back of the 1985 Transformers Lite Brite refill pack.

Friday, May 07, 2010

New robot stuff for people who like old robot stuff: That Transformers Lite Brite set that came out a couple years ago

Back in the 80s the American companies who were selling toy robots had other toys that were also quite famous. Companies like Ideal and Tonka pioneered some of the greatest boys' playthings ever like the Erector Set and those steel toy construction trucks way before they got involved with robots. Then once robot mania hit, these toymakers combined their robots characters with their other toys and we got some of the coolest robot crossover merchandising ever like the Maxx Steele Erector set and that Tonka Long Haul Rig with the GoBots graphic on the trailer. And then there was Hasbro. When I was a kid in the time before Transformers, Hasbro were the guys who were known for Weeble Wobbles, Glo Worms and Mister Potato Heads. Those weren't exactly the awesome action packed crossover material any kid my age would want or care about. These were the kinds of things I as a 10 year old would refer to as "baby toys". And baby toys just don't fit within the context of a galactic civil war waged by mighty space alien robot Volkswagens, or at least they didn't used to. It was only very recently that Hasbro realized warring space alien Volkswagens appealed to dumb babies just as much as the next guy!


Luckily Hasbro wasn't just worms, weebles and potatoes in the 80s. One toy they had lent itself readily to crossover marketing-the Lite Brite. There were Lite Brite picture packs for every licensed property from Strawberry Shortcake, Smurfs and Snoopy to Mickey Mouse, Muppets and Mister T. When Hasbro came up with their own toy properties like GI Joe, My Little Pony and Transformers it was inevitable that a Lite Brite refill would come out for those, too. I remember as a kid I was excited about the possibility of the Transformers getting a Lite Brite set because the G.I Joe one was totally awesome. Unfortunately the Transformers Lite Brite refill pack that came out in 1985 didn't meet my expectations. The choice of characters was extremely disappointing. The 12 pictures were mostly of b-list Transformers. It was great if you liked Dinobots that were not Grimlock or if you really really wanted two different sheets of Bombshell the Insecticon in robot mode but otherwise it was underwhelming. Megatron and Skyfire were about the only major Transformer celebrities-can you believe they left out Optimus Prime? The graphics weren't that great, either. The robots only vaguely resembled their toy or cartoon likenesses, which was a let down after the G.I. Joe set that captured the essences of those characters even with the limited resolution of the Lite Brite screen. The patterns also relied on using so many different colors that the robots didn't resemble their actual color schemes at all. It was a wasted opportunity, especially for a franchise with so much iconic character imagery that could have been brought to lite!


Well about two years ago I found out Hasbro gave the combination of Transformers and Lite Brite another shot and I was very excited. Then I was very annoyed when I found out how tough it was to track down the set of Transformers refills and a Lite Brite. They're not as easy to find as they were in '85 but I did eventually get the new patterns and a Lite Brite cube after a bit of searching. Lite Brites have come a long way since I was a kid so it was nice to have this new cube setup where four pictures could be set up at one time. What wasn't nice was that even after buying a new cube and the refills I still didn't have enough pegs to complete the pictures. So I went to eBay and bought some more pegs in bulk. I was ready to go but it took me two years to get around to actually putting it all together because Lite Brite is less of a toy and more like interactive performance art. It took so much time to do just one picture that I sometimes wondered if I was playing with a Hasbro toy or if I was the toy and Hasbro was playing with me. Was this really for kids or aspiring existentialists? My satisfaction with the final product was at times grossly disproportionate to the amount of effort it took to create it-some of the best pictures had the fewest pegs and vice versa, and they all took a long time to make. But the more I got into it the more I realized Lite Brite isn't about art or "lite" or "fun", it's actually a philosophical journey in which one ponders the nature of expectation and the value of one's Friday night while plugging three-dimensional shafts of multicolored light into two-dimensional robot drawings by Pat Lee.


What you get with this new set is eight patterns including two faction symbols, four Autobot robot graphics and two Decepticon robot graphics. Everything is Generation One based and I don't think Hasbro's ever made Lite Brite refills from any newer series. Unfortunately the new cube is smaller than the old screen so I couldn't put my original G1 patterns on it but the new patterns are pretty cool. They cheat a little bit by incorporating line drawings so the final image is a combination of glowing pegs and white lines. I felt this defeats the purpose of "drawing" with a Lite Brite but I can also see how impatient people may appreciate how much time and pegs it saves when the image is already partially rendered. I don't know. I feel like it makes the pictures look half finished.

I recognize a few of the drawings as taken from Dreamwave era comics illustrations with one glorious exception being they included the 1984 Optimus Prime box art. Finally we get a Lite Brite Prime, except because it's drawn using more white lines than lite pegs kind of looks like he's wearing a fuzzy glowing sweater. Sideswipe and Bumblebee also make the cut but again, if you only have pegs from the refill you won't have enough to complete these guys. There's not enough red to even come close to finishing Optimus or Sideswipe. There's one other robot that I think is Optimus but I don't recognize which Pat Lee comic book the art is from. It's terribly unfair to give the Autobots five sheets (two of which are Optimus) when the Decepticons only get three sheets total. I'm sure there are plenty of Decepticons that deserved to look just as ridiculous in their fuzzy glowing sweaters.

Speaking of the Decepticons, they're represented by Soundwave and one cassette guy. Since it's a picture of Rumble (or Frenzy) I took the opportunity to change out the pegs and make it into Frenzy (or Rumble). Soundwave actually looks pretty cool and I'd rank him as my favorite of the entire set. The lites and the lines don't conflict with Soundwave as much as they do in the other sheets, most notably in Bumblebee's case. Given the eight color choices available in the Lite Brite pegs I would have swapped out one of the Optimuses for a Shockwave. Purple Lite Brite pegs are real pretty plus he's got that whole laser beam thing going on with his hand which would have translated nicely into light pegs.


There are so many other light themed Transformers characters and concepts that would go great on a Lite Brite. There's the Matrix of Leadership, the Fallen and Kremzeek (not to mention glowy Dinobot swords). I feel like Hasbro still hasn't created the definitive Transformers / Lite Brite crossover and it's a shame because people like me (and perhaps some dumb babies) are waiting. In the meantime there are online tutorials showing how to create custom Lite Brite patterns from existing art and sites like the Virtual Lite Brite that can help me realize my ultimate rendition of Shockwave in glowing purple pegs. It might be worth doing for the Botcon art contest just to show the Hasbro people doing the judging that the definitive Lite Brite version of everybody's favorite space alien Volkswagen has yet to be created. I don't know why Hasbro can't get this right when they've done such a bang up job with Transformer Potato Heads and Weebles. You'd think incompatible and peculiar crossover toys would be their specialty by now. Somewhere off in the night echoes the nervous laughter of mister Glo Worm.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Ten things Obi-Wan never told you about your Robo Force (but don't feel bad-he never told me, either)

Becoming a fan of any old dead toy robots line nowadays is nowhere near as easy as jumping on the Transformers bandwagon. They aren't exactly pumping out the Robo Force t-shirts at Hot Topic if you know what I mean. I'll bet there's a couple obscure robots fans out there who would kill to be disgruntled about a movie where Megan Fox gets leg-humped by their favorite Zybot. Alas, there are no Michael Bay movies keeping the GoBots alive and hated. There are no toy companies pumping out countless rehashings of the same five color schemes in an endless merry go round of recycled roboplastic redundancy as Hasbro so lovingly does for Transformers. We can only wait in joyful hope for the day some teenage girl writes slashfics with Maxx Steele sexing Hun-Dred. Alas, such perks of popularity are afforded only to Optimus Prime and his associated transforming Volkswagen cohorts. Mostly I lament the severe lack of Wikipedias dedicated to toy robots not co-starring in movies with Shia LeBouf. This is because now that I've jumped on the Robo Force bandwagon 26 years too late there's no place I can go to find out some things I want to know, but I guess on the plus side there is no place I can go to find out some things I never wanted to know.


And so questions gnaw at my soul about historically significant unsolved Robo Force mysteries like how many different colors of plastic did the bad guy robot's guns come in. They must go unanswered. There will never be an archeological expedition to excavate lost playgrounds of 1985 in the hopes of finding previously unknown Robo Force plastic color variations. Apparently professional archaeologists have better things to do and to make matters worse, I'm not having any luck with my eBay keyword searches either. I have come to accept that there are just some things in life about Robo Force that we are not meant to understand-answers to mysteries buried so deeply in the past (or in somebody's garage) that the truth will never be known. And I don't mean dumb stuff like can you use a Robo Force robot to unclog your toilet. I mean substantial mysteries for which I am certain there will never be answers because I waited two and a half decades before I figured out the questions. Here then in no particular order are the top ten conundrums of the Robo Force fan, the ten unknowable things perplexing Robo Force-ologists today, the Hun-Dred questions for which there are no answers...


If the crusher arm is the swivel arm battle grip of Robo Force then the gripper base is the O-ring. Just like GI Joes that shared the same structural innards, Robo Force robots had identically molded lower bodies with the only difference being that the color of the base changed from robot to robot. So from the waist down all Robo Force robots were essentially the same-all of them that is, except for Maxx Steele. Maxx's gripper base isn't the same design as any of the other robots. Maxx just has a simple suction cup tacked on to his bottom. If you were to remove the gripper base from any other Robo Force 'bot you'd be taking away a full third of the figure's height. Yet Maxx without his suction cup would still look like a complete robot. Why was Maxx so radically different downstairs from the rest of the bunch?


The Revenge of Nazgar was Robo Force's one shot at animated immortality so why didn't it have a proper opening? Instead of a uniquely animated intro it got a bunch of cobbled together scenes from within the show set to an orchestral accompaniment. It's strange because the show is otherwise fantastically animated throughout. How was it that Ruby Spears produced a cartoon with so much attention to detail and craftsmanship but then totally overlooked creating an original introduction segment? Where was the rockin' anthem set to a memorable montage of robot mayhem? Where were the inspiring hair metal lyrics about Maxx Steele having the heart and the motion to dare to be right in the eye of the storm? Why'd all Robo Force get was 30 seconds of instrumental followed by a chipmunk sounding chorus singing "Robo Force"? Sheesh even GoBots did better than that!


Every toyline from Star Wars to Transformers to GoBots had mailaway offers. Robo Force would not be left out! If you bought three figures and sent in the proofs of purchase before March 15, 1985 you'd get a Robot Shuttle Sled for your Robo Force-ians to ride around in. You can see a scan of the bottom flap from Robo Force boxes containing the offer over at Branded in the 80s. I asked Roger (webmaster of the OFFICIAL Robo Force Page) what exactly the sled was and he explained it was the same one that came with the Fortress of Steele. I was a little sad. As a kid I only read the front of the boxes, never inspecting the box flaps to see what the sled looked like so I grew up all these years thinking it was some awesome one robot vehicle like the Robocruiser until Roger clued me in. Plus I don't remember a single instance during my time on eBay of ever seeing an an auction for this particular mailaway, unlike mailaways from other 80s toylines that can be found somewhat frequently. So it was only until very recently that I figured out what the thing was since I'd neither seen nor bid on one still in the mailer package. Unfortunately the whole line died around the same time as the mailaway deadline, consequently I don't know if anyone ever sent in their three proofs of purchase in time and got one in the mail. Honestly I don't know of anyone who got more than three Robo Force figures in the first place.


In an era where robot cartoons and other associated media were essentially toy commercials, why did the crusher arms and gripper bases of the toys get totally overlooked in the show and comics? Those were the strongest selling points the robots had! Yet there wasn't one scene, one panel or one picture in any story showing off the features that made Robo Force robots different from other toys in the first place. They never came across an empty aluminum can that could really use some crushing or a floor needing vacuuming or any other situation where the characters could mimic what the toys were designed to do. If I wrote the show it would be about one robot's journey to win the Robo Force arm wrestling championship where robots combat arm wrestle while suspended from the ceiling while lasering each other to death. But we never saw any of that! It's like the Transformers never transforming or Prince Adam never turning into He-Man or nobody ever getting shot in G.I. Joe! Or at least nobody ever getting aimed at in G.I. Joe. Now that I think about it, those floors on Zeton were pretty spotless. UPDATE-MYSTERY SOLVED! In the pack-in comic "The Adamantium Heist" we do get to see the only use of crusher arm action in the Robo Force mythology.


Easily the greatest Robo Force mystery of all concerns the status of the '85 line. In 1985 Ideal debuted what was to be the second year of Robo Force toys at Toy Fair in February. The unveiling of the additional robots was even reported in newspapers covering the show. The new robots would have been named Arsenal The Devastator, Fangar The Conspirator, Plundor The Pulverizer, Tiltor The Changer, Ripper The Anti-Robot, and Opticon The Interceptor. Some of these figures even made it into the '84 cartoon. The Zetonians and Nazgar also had figures lined up. But then the line was canceled. Or was it? I found an ad in the May 19, 1985 issue of a Washington paper called the Tri-City Herald which may be proof that the '85 Robo Force line wasn't as unreleased as I thought it was. It's from a store called Pay 'n Save and it contains line art of two previously thought unreleased Robo Force toys-Fangar and Arsenal. How did the store get this line art and was it indicative of actual product available? Did the 1985 Robo Force line see a very limited release before it was canceled? Do newspaper ads exist with actual pictures or product assortment numbers of these unreleased figures? Why haven't I come across more ads with these figures from later on in '85? This is yet another example of a truth that will be nigh impossible to uncover, a roboplastilogical mystery that may never be solved, a lost ark that will go unraided. I may not have to journey to the Canyon of the Crescent Moon and fight snakes and Nazis to solve the fate of the unreleased robots, but it may as well be impossible. On the other hand I guess one advantage I have over Indiana Jones is that if I ever do come across my Robo Force holy grails I can probably pick them up for under five bucks at a garage sale. UPDATE-MYSTERY DEEPENS! Since I wrote this I have found another instance of an unreleased '85 Robo Forcer making it into an ad-and this time there's a pic of the actual toy!


Finding out how well Transformers or GoBots did during 1984 is pretty easy because Hasbro and Tonka were very willing to share the specifics of their successes that year. It's not the same with Robo Force. I've been unable to come up with hard numbers on how poorly the line sold. There is an article from the April 21, 1985 edition of the Dallas Morning News where it's stated that Robo Force ended up third behind Transformers and Go Bots. Knowing what I know about GoBots all I can guess out about Robo Force was that it must have made less than 50 million in wholesale orders. Maybe way less. It's hard to tell because all indications were that at the beginning of the year Ideal was impressing all sorts of people with the line at Toy Fair. In one Wall Street Journal article from February 17, 1984 one buyer named Thomas Castle who worked for Broadway Department Stores of Los Angeles was reported as having "decided to put $400,000 -- nearly 10% of his entire 1984 toy budget -- on one line: Maxx Steele and the Roboforce." The article goes on to state that Ideal planned to spend $8.4 million in advertising on the line. It does not go on to state whether or not Mr. Castle still had his job in 1985.

BJs 12 December 1985


Sometimes toylines like He-Man and GoBots featured a number of regular figures packaged together in special sets, usually these were store exclusives. I once found an ad in an Anchorage, Alaska paper that led me to believe this may have also been the case with Robo Force. Stores in Alaska usually charged a couple dollars more per figure compared to the prices in the continental US but the price in this ad for "Robo Force Action Robots" was a whopping $14.88, on sale from $19.99! That's more than twice what Robo Force figures went for at other stores in Anchorage like Carrs who ran this December 22, 1984 ad selling them for $5.99/reg $7.99. I think maybe this ad isn't for a single figure but some sort of special grouped together gift set which would explain the price. In late 1985 at a time when most other retail stores were clearancing out their stock of Robo Force it just makes no sense that one store would charge more than twice what the retail was for one figure.


Perhaps the most frustrating unsolved mystery of Robo Force is confirming how many pack-in comics there were. I get the idea from reading ToyFare's interview with Robo Force comic artist Paul Kirchner that there has to be more than what I've found. He said in the interview that there were "ten characters, and they each needed a comic book to put in with the toys" but I have only ever found three comics. Each book has from 2 to 3 robots featured it but there still remain some robots that didn't make appearances in the comics I have. I call it the most frustrating mystery because it's theoretically the easiest, most definitively answerable of all mysteries to solve, yet the final number eludes me still. I have written before about mysterious numberings on the back of the books that lead me to believe there must be at least two more out there. Unfortunately my extensive research (which consists of bribing people, checking eBay and Googling a lot) has unearthed no more of these lost dead sea scrolls of Robo Force-ology. UPDATE-MYSTERY SOLVED! Thanks to my fellow Macrocranian known only as Necronomitron I did finally track down the last two Robo Force comics-"The Adamantium Heist" and "Ambush in Celestia!".


Back in 2008 I came across a Robo Force toy in the dollar bin of an old antique store in Rapid City, South Dakota that really put the "red" in Hun-Dred. What tripped me out about it was that his head lasers weren't grey like I remembered, but red instead! It turns out there's all sorts of crazy color variations in the Robo Force line but I haven't found anywhere on the internet cataloging them all. I did find one message board conversation about Robo Force variations so I know there are people out there with the resources and knowledge to pull it off, but again, there's not much interest so I doubt anyone will ever make a definitive listing.


If this were any other obscure and forgotten old toyline I wouldn't for a second entertain thoughts of a relaunch over 26 years later. Incredibly enough, stranger things are happening. A company called Moonstone Books is actually resurrecting the other of Ideal's ancient toy robot properties, the Zeroids. They're getting a comic this August and a possible toyline from Captain Action Enterprises. Most incredibly of all, Zeroids is on Facebook. Zeroids predated Robo Force by almost two decades so to see those come back with a comic pretty much means anything is possible. The question ultimately is who owns the rights to Robo Force today? Although it was an Ideal toyline, I know Ideal was bought by CBS Toys two years before Robo Force debuted. That's why both company logos are on the toys and packaging. But what happened to CBS and who owns Robo Force now? In an effort to answer this question I tried following the trail of Ideal's ownership using this timeline of toy companies. It ends up going something like this-in 1982 Ideal is bought by CBS, then in 1985 CBS sells Ideal to Viewmaster International. Viewmaster is then acquired by Tyco in 1989, who is in turn bought by Mattel in 1997. (Mattel interestingly enough launches a toyline called Max Steel in 1999 wherein the hero fights the evil DREAD Organization.) The timeline then goes on to state that in 2003 "Poof Products, Inc. acquired substantially all of the assets of Ideal Toy" which may or may not mean they're the ones that own Maxx Steele and the Robo Force, unless Mattel still has a stake in it. So Robo Force lies with either Mattel or Poof but I doubt either would care to do anything with the property in the next few years. Who knows? Captain Action Enterprises being able to reboot the Zeroids means anything's possible. Well, except for that Maxx Steele/Hun-Dred slashfic. That's never gonna happen. (I hope.)

Monday, May 03, 2010

25 years ago in TV ratings PART 1: May 1985 Nielsens for animated shows in the weekday early fringe time period as reported by independent stations

I was looking through the June 26, 1985 issue of Variety Magazine when I came across some television ratings numbers. They were for the reporting period covering May of 1985 and they showed ratings for television shows in the top 100 markets in the US. This was awesome because fellow roboplastic historian (and perennial favorite among the collector community) Hooper X and I had been wondering about how good or bad the Transformers fared in terms of ratings during the the show's early seasons. I never expected to find more than ratings for the top ten shows in prime time listed in Variety (if I was lucky), so imagine my surprise when I found this report covered not just prime time but many other time slots as well. Obviously the most important slot to me was the late afternoon period when the cartoons aired and luckily that list had not just the top ten but extended out to the top 54. It was more than long enough to include ratings data on some of my favorites like Voltron, Tranzor-Z, Robotech, Transformers, G.I. Joe and He-Man. This ratings report was exactly what I was always looking for! Or was it? After doing some analysis of the numbers I realized there were some problems here. Problems like ratings existing for shows before they ever aired! But I'll get to that later. First I have to try to explain some of the terminology used on the chart, which is intimidating because I find the lexicon of television ratings scary and confusing. So in other words I hope with this post I will begin the most informative and in-depth television ratings breakdown for afternoon cartoons from 1985 (that makes absolutely no sense to me).

Early Fringe-It turns out the time I was most interested in was defined as "Early Fringe". This is the period Monday through Friday from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., which started about an hour after I got home from elementary school. It's when I remember doing the majority of my childhood cartoon watching.

Households Share/Rank-This is the number that matters the most as it determines where the show stands in relation to all the other shows in the same time period. I interpret it as the percentage of all households everywhere watching a given show and ranked accordingly. Rank is not necessarily proportional to the number of stations carrying a show because some stations may reach larger audiences than others, so a lot of stations may still not have as many households as one station in a large market.

DMA Shr-The Designated Market Area Share is the percentage of people watching in a region where all the people have the same shows available for them to watch. It's essentially how much of a market was watching each show but not reflective of total households everywhere. DMA will generally follow the same trend as household rank so as the number of households watching get lower DMA also gets lower, although two shows with identical DMA will have different household ranks. DMA is useful because in the chart DMAs from previous ratings periods are shown, giving a trend of viewership for each show.

HH Rtg-I suspect this is Households Rating and although I'm not sure, it may be a percentage of all households everywhere tuned in to a show. It's the most confusing number to me because it correlates with nothing else and fluctuates wildly, independent of ranking and DMA share.

May 84 / Nov 84 / Feb 85 Shares-These are the DMA ratings for each show from previous ratings periods. Great for establishing trends in viewership but also great for confusing me as some shows will have numbers here for periods that they weren't known to be on the air! I'll get into specifics as they pertain to individual shows.

Now let's look at the list of top 54 shows during Early Fringe in the 100 biggest television markets as reported for the ratings period of May 1985:

Households Shr/Rnk# of StationsProgramDMA ShrHH Rtg May '84 ShrNov '84 ShrFeb '85 Shr
25Love Boat145171515
38WKRP in Cincinnati147141214
473's Company146151315
627Diff'rent Strokes125111213
73New Newlywed Game12381012
Pvt Benjamin125111112
98Woody Woodpecker123121011
1021G.I Joe113111011

Here in the top ten we already have two syndicated cartoons-Woody Woodpecker and G.I. Joe. As someone who doesn't really understand the appeal of G.I. Joe I was really impressed that it ranked so high, beating out even He-Man. I have this (admittedly ridiculous) theory that the G.I. Joe toyline isn't actually popular with the public at large but it's instead a propaganda campaign subsidized by the US government and that's why it consistently sold well. Yet the numbers don't lie and it looks like G.I. Joe was genuinely a ratings winner and consistently popular in previous ratings periods. But how could that be? This all looks good until you realize that G.I. Joe didn't start airing daily episodes until September of 1985. How could there be May of '84 ratings when all that existed at that point was the 5 episode 1983 series? Isn't it odd that by May of '85 G.I. Joe only had a total of ten episodes apparently being rerun for two years and yet it still ranks number 10 in the ratings? The strangeness doesn't end there...

Households Shr/Rnk# of StationsProgramDMA ShrHH Rtg May '84 ShrNov '84 ShrFeb '85 Shr
1165He-Man MotU113131212
1214Little House o.t. Prairie114141211
1346Scooby Doo113141312
1521Brady Bunch10312910
173Hart to Hart105799
2010What's Happening104111111

Transformers comes in at #19 in the May ratings despite not beginning its Monday through Friday run until September! By May of '85 there were only 16 episodes of Transformers from the 1984 debut season. Were these being repeated daily? Again we have an instance of a cartoon with nowhere near the number of episodes necessary for syndication ranking high in the ratings. Even stranger is that there are DMA numbers for Transformers from May of 1984, a full four months before the first season began airing! How is this possible? Could it be that the four stations from which these ratings were reported carried the Transformers before any others in the US? Was the cartoon even ready to be aired in May of '84? I don't understand how any of this could make sense.

Households Shr/Rnk# of StationsProgramDMA ShrHH Rtg May '84 ShrNov '84 ShrFeb '85 Shr
2311Dukes of Hazzard94121111
2417Happy Days94999
2611Leave it to Beaver9310109
273Sanford & Son9487r8
2810Star Trek94101011
297Bosom Buddies84997
3010Bugs Bunny82779

Not much for fans of robots cartoons to talk about in the 20s except Heathcliff, which had that transforming car the Cadillac cats rode around in.

Households Shr/Rnk# of StationsProgramDMA ShrHH Rtg May '84 ShrNov '84 ShrFeb '85 Shr
318Gilligan's Island839910
3211Good Times841089
3311Laverne & Shirley849119
3415Mork & Mindy831099
354One Day At A Time8411910
3828Super Friends82111110
3917Tom & Jerry82111010

Robotech having May '85 ratings makes sense because it debuted in March of '85, but likewise it shouldn't have any ratings history from 1984! So where they're getting November and May '84 numbers is a mystery to me.

Voltron comes in surprisingly lower than I expected but thankfully it was around in daily syndication in 1984 so the previous year's numbers aren't as suspect. Still, it didn't start until September of '84 so I don't know how they could have DMAs for May. I expected Voltron to have stronger numbers after the ads I'd seen in Variety touting it as the number one new animated show of 1984. I thought it would be at the top of the list, or at least be higher ranked than G.I. Joe or He-Man. Then I realized it was all a matter of marketing spin on ratings numbers and I understood being the number one NEW animated show is different from being the number one animated show period.

Households Shr/Rnk# of StationsProgramDMA ShrHH Rtg May '84 ShrNov '84 ShrFeb '85 Shr
417Too Close For Comfort8410910
425Buck Rogers7312117
437Eight Is Enough7312107
443I Love Lucy72586
4541Inspector Gadget72888
474Andy Griffith Show62565
4815I Dream of Jeannie62666
493Anything For Money521179

Can't forget the most awesome transforming police car ever!

Households Shr/Rnk# of StationsProgramDMA ShrHH Rtg May '84 ShrNov '84 ShrFeb '85 Shr
Chips Patrol52876
5215Fat Albert51776
5325Tranzor Z52655
546Plastic Man41754

Rounding out the bottom of the bunch is Tranzor Z, who like many other shows fared better in other time slots outside of early fringe. In fact a lot of these shows aired at other times, further compounding the difficulty of creating a fair comparison of each show's relative popularity. This all remains very confusing to me. I am still totally stumped by how some shows have ratings from periods before they aired. Maybe the ratings are right and we don't know definitively when these shows first came out after all. Maybe there were test markets and other situations that IMDB and Wikipedia have no knowledge of. I wish these numbers would have been more cut and dried and simple to understand instead of confusing me more. But what I've presented here is at least a start and hopefully in the future I'll come across other ratings reports that can shed some light on the questions this one raised.

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