THE BLOODHOUND GANG (1980)
Contrary to popular opinion, The Bloodhound Gang is not a rock group but a fictional drama that aired in roughly 5 - 7 minute segments at the end of the US PBS Children’s Television Workshop programme 321 Contact (1980-88), and was also screened in the UK. It featured a group of young detectives solving cases using scientific methods and at the time was popular enough to feature in the '321 Contact magazine'. The Bloodhound Gang is certainly television fiction but is it a television programme?
It certainly bears all the hallmarks of a ‘television programme’ having a title sequence (in this case, with a song) and resembling a ‘series of serials’. It has a regular format of characters and setting and each narrative is given a title (for example, ‘The Case of the Thing in the Trunk’ and ‘The Case of the Cackling Ghost’) and often divided into short ‘episodes’, with a voice reminding us of scenes from the previous episode at the start of each new installment. Furthermore, it is reasonable to conjecture that many viewers treated The Bloodhound Gang in the way of other programmes: they were aware of its place within 321 and some would tune in especially to watch each episode and find out how the narrative enigmas were resolved. However, it was not formally recognised in television listing magazines as a ‘programme’ which referred simply to 321 Contact. Therefore, it was absent from the schedules, and, although it was often screened at the same time at the end of 321 on weekdays, sometimes in repeated form, this was by no means always the case even with the early seasons; if the main subject matter of 321 overran, there would be an announcement that The Bloodhound Gang would not be transmitted that day. So as a ‘series within a larger educational programme’ does The Bloodhound Gang risk being forgotten about? And is it not important to a full study of television history?
With The Bloodhound Gang seemingly absent, we must take on the role of bloodhounds ourselves following their scent so that they do not remain forgotten. Although the third season episode ‘The Case of Mr. Quickfingers’ was released on VHS in the US, since there has been no DVD release of their escapades, and no trace of them on www.epguides.com, tracking down The Bloodhound Gang might seem to be an impossible endeavour. Thankfully, however, some viewers have not forgotten them; not only are there interviews with cast members on the Web, but also a Google search leads one to information about The Bloodhound Gang narratives (titles, number of episodes per serial, details of repeats and airdates) contained on www.tv-com. Since this information is to be found in entries arranged in the production order of 321 work must be done to order the episodes in airdate sequence. We know from a comparison with the TV.com site that a listing put on Facebook is incomplete in giving the titles of narratives and also does not give us the information to be able to put the episodes in order by airdate. We do, however, need further verification as to the accuracy of the TV.com guide as well as more information as to who wrote and directed the episodes. The information TV.com has to offer about The Bloodhound Gang in later seasons of 321 furthermore becomes scarcer and we need to ask whether this is due to poor cataloguing (there is, for example, an earlier omission for ‘The Case of the Thing in the Trunk’ Part 2 from Season 1) or whether it is because there came to be fewer instances of this detective drama. Additionally, some viewers went to pains to videotape ‘segments’ and have made these publicly available on You Tube. You Tube is an important archive of those programmes, or parts of programmes, that have not been commercially released in DVD form. Yet if one notes the serial titles from TV.com and taps them into the search engine on You Tube it becomes painfully apparent that although a good selection of the narratives are available to view, there are many which are not. Further work is needed to give The Bloodhound Gang their true place in television history.
However, from what we know, we can place The Bloodhound Gang in relation to other programming of a variety of genres. As a live action ‘series of serials’ within a larger ‘programme’, The Bloodhound Gang is not only a development on the sketches within a larger programme of The Electric Company (1971-77) and those on the 1970s The Muppet Show, like ‘Pigs in Space’, but it also more closely goes down the route of the earlier US NBC programme The Banana Splits. The Banana Splits was a Saturday morning variety programme for children produced by Hanna-Barbera, which lasted for 31 episodes between 1968 and 1969. It both featured animated segments such as Micro Ventures, Arabian Nights and The Three Musketeers and it too contained the live-action serial: in this case Danger Island. Thankfully, through DVD, Danger Island is being saved from obscurity. Furthermore, The Bloodhound Gang participates in the detective genre and, to be more specific, in the detective genre for children, involving as it does a small gang of youngsters solving cases. The adult private detective, Mr. James Bloodhound, was always absent from the office. A fruitful comparison can therefore be made between The Bloodhound Gang and The Red Hand Gang, which also preceded it in television history. The Red Hand Gang was first broadcast on the American NBC channel in 1977. Like The Bloodhound Gang, it took the shape of a series of episodic serials with a stable format of child investigators, albeit younger, and in this case with individual episode titles and cliff-hangers at the ends of episodes to be resolved in the next installment. However, it was extremely short-lived compared to The Bloodhound Gang, there having been in all 3 narratives of 5, 4, and 3 episodes, totaling only 12 episodes. But even though it was short-lived, The Red Hand Gang was not screened as ‘part’ of a larger ‘television programme’ but was a Saturday morning television series in its own right, with episodes that were far longer than those of The Bloodhound Gang, resembling the standard length of television programme episodes with pauses for advertisement breaks. It has therefore been easier to research The Red Hand Gang and it has been released on DVD in its entirety. Similarly, The Bloodhound Gang echoes the programme The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mysteries which aired on ABC from 1977 to 1979, with slightly older characters, and which has also been released commercially on DVD.
The Bloodhound Gang can also be placed in the context of British programming. While there are numerous mystery-adventure series involving children, such as the serial Treasure in Malta (1963) and The Famous Five (1978-79), as well as comedy drama serials within the larger programme of The Two Ronnies (1971-87), the educational fictional drama would be familiar to anyone growing up in the UK in the 1960s to 2000s and watching television screened in the day, first on BBC1 and ITV and then on BBC2 and Channel 4 and was a precursor to BBC2’s The Learning Zone. This type of ‘edutainment’ not only differs from the documentary form of some Schools programmes but also from presenters reading a fictional narrative from a book (often to a puppet) with accompanying images appearing on screen (examples being Reading with Lenny (1977-80) and Let’s Read with Basil Brush (1982-84)). As in the case of 321 Contact, Look and Read fit in with a Public Service Remit and it was a series of dramas designed to help primary school children develop literacy skills. Look and Read was preceded by such experiments in Television Club (1962) and Merry-Go Round (1965-66) and between 1967 and 2004, 20 adventure narratives aired, all with titles and divided into episodes in the manner of serials but with each serial having its own theme song.
Each episode was divided into two parts with an educational section acting as a bridge between them; from 1974 onwards, a character called Wordy would help children with their vocabulary; educational songs were, for a time, present; and teachers were both given pamphlets for each serial with exercises and games for their pupils, and later encouraged to get pupils to access such material on the Internet. Look and Read is certainly not an isolated use of ‘edutainment’ for children of different ages; other examples, in a variety of genres, include Yorkshire TV’s How We Used To Live (1968-2002), a series of period dramas centering around the lives of family members from the Victorian age through to the 1960s; ATV’s Starting Out (1973-92), dramatizing the lives of a poverty stricken family who had moved from the north to London and the financial challenges they faced; and a variety of mathematic programmes like the BBC’s Maths File (1980-81) which, as opposed to featuring The Bloodhound Detective Agency, saw a police inspector from Mathematical Investigations pitted against villains and using maths to outwit them. Some of these programmes were in the style of more dramatic narratives than the type where the education element was heavy handed and interfered with the drama. These fictions often fit in more closely with the definition of a ‘television programme’ rather than being slotted into a larger programme, say at the end, and are often of a longer length. Some information is available on websites and that, often mistrusted, resource Wikipedia can be essential in supplying a list of seasons, titles of episodes and their original airdates. However, not much has been commercially released as yet. An exception is the Look and Read science fiction serial, The Boy From Space originally broadcast from 21 September 1971 to 30 November 1971 but presented on DVD in its remade colour form. This is essential in giving a sense of what those Look and Read serials were like. The Amazon.co.uk page for the DVD of How We Used To Live, meanwhile, simply says that the item is currently not available. Therefore, in many cases one must again rely on You Tube. So this places The Bloodhound Gang in context.
Finally, we must note that it is important to give The Bloodhound Gang its place in television history for the sake of those who grew up with 321 Contact and feel a sense of nostalgia towards the drama. This is evidenced by the reactions of certain viewers on You Tube. A few examples will suffice. One viewer, for instance, states in the comment box ‘This is GREAT! Takes me back to my childhood! Love it…’ while another writes ‘Ahhh, yes, I remember this like it was yesterday’. Another exclaims ‘OMFG. It’s the F***ING Bloodhound Gang! *dies from intense 80s flashback*’ while another still types ‘Wow...I’ve wondered if I’d ever see this episode again and here it is. Haven’t seen it in 25 years!’. Indeed, yet another viewer writes ‘oh thank god this is here. I was looking specifically for this episode’. So not only the drama but also specific serials have not been forgotten by some. We can see, then, that The Bloodhound Gang, as indeed other ‘edutainment’, was what some television viewers watched and enjoyed and must not remain ‘missing’.
Thanks to Tim Harris for suggesting The Banana Splits and The Two Ronnies as sources.
Review: Andrew O'Day. 2015
for Television Heaven