A year after Underdog debuted on NBC in 1964, the titular super-canine made his first of many appearances in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. A shrewd bit of marketing boosted the publicity surrounding Underdog’s inaugural parade float.
NBC aired the parade from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. on November 25, 1965. An Underdog episode entitled No Thanksgiving aired immediately following the parade. The half-hour episode revolves around Thanksgiving, time travel, and arch-villain Simon Bar Sinister. An NBC press release dated October 28, 1965 summarizes the plot.
“The storyline concerns the efforts of Simon Barsinister [sic], the mad scientist, to stop a Thanksgiving Day parade and thereby capture an entire city. His method is to use a ‘time machine’ to return in history to the day before the first Thanksgiving, stirring up enough bad feelings between the Pilgrims and Indians so that nobody has anything to be thankful for.
But Underdog thwarts those evil plans by his usual ingenuity, skill, finesse, and clean-living sneakiness. Of course, his super powers come in handy, too.”
An underdog can be defined as one whom nobody expected to win because of circumstances, lack of skills, and fate. Notwithstanding the odds, the audience roots for the underdog. Such is the case with the canine crusader. Also, matching the right voice to a character can make or break a character. Who else but Wally Cox could have voiced Underdog? Cox portrayed a dignified timidity a decade prior in the title role on the 1950s sitcom Mr. Peepers.
When Underdog moved to CBS in 1966, becoming part of Super Saturday, two new segments appeared. Go Go Gophers gave a cowboys and Indians premise, with the heroes belonging in the latter camp. Inept military coyotes conflicted with gophers Ruffled Feathers and Running Board, yet they could never quite exercise their military authority in a winning fashion as the gophers outwitted them at every turn. In the cat-and-mouse themed Klondike Kat, Savoir Faire frustrates the titular character, a Canadian Mountie. Savoir Faire is a French Canadian mouse of the criminal persuasion.
Joe Harris, one of Underdog’s creators believes that heroes without flaws do not engross the audience. Especially children.
“Heroes are generally uninteresting. Underdog is really almost an anti-hero. He’s not super-proficient. We all know Underdog will get the villain, but he bumbles and stumbles along the way. That makes him interesting to children. Also, he only speaks in rhyme. That makes him different from other superhero characters. In addition, he has vulnerabilities which make him less certain of achieving his goal which is to capture Riff Raff or Simon Barsinister.”
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