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The ever-popular Land of the Lost. Beware of Sleestacks bearing gifts! (Courtesy Rhino Home Video)

 

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The Kroffts didn’t limit themselves to just producing children’s shows. In fact, they attempted to further their modern-age Disney status in 1976 and created their own theme park, "The World of Sid and Marty Krofft," at the Omni in Atlanta. Utilizing their previous experience with parks like Six Flags, the brothers concocted a Krofftian universe that was entirely indoors.

"It was kind of like the eighth wonder of the world," recalls Krofft. "You rode up in a free-standing 10-story escalator, and worked your way down to this fantasy land of shows and rides. We had a pinball ride where you got inside a pinball and got knocked around the workings of a pinball machine. We were ahead of our time there. That park only stayed open for eight months, but we did about 600,000 people. We had a lot of problems and we couldn’t correct them. The safety situation in Atlanta wasn’t great."

Even more dangerously, the Kroffts stretched their empire into prime time with that most ’70s of TV genres, the variety show. Michael Eisner, then an ABC exec, gave them a break with The Donny and Marie Show (1976-79), which became a big success. And then Eisner threw them a not-such-a-great-break with The Brady Bunch Hour (1977), which was based on his belief that audiences were dying to see the cast of the original Brady Bunch sing and dance. That belief proved horribly wrong. And then there was the short-lived success of The Bay City Rollers. ("That was probably one of my worst experiences, to deal with that group. Nothing but trouble. But I survived it. You know, they all can’t be easy. The easiest ones never work.")

By the early ’80s, the networks were less interested in live action shows for their Saturday morning programming, and Krofft shows waned while stuff like The Smurfs were in. Nevertheless, the Kroffts were still enjoying some prime time success with Barbara Mandrell & The Mandrell Sisters (1980-82). However, the death knell for variety shows was officially tolled by a Krofft show that is remembered to this day as one of the worst programs ever: Pink Lady and Jeff (1980). In hindsight, having two Japanese hosts who couldn’t speak English wasn’t such a great idea. Likewise, the brothers’ stab at Broadway, Broadway Babies, didn’t work out either. The Krofft empire took a much lower profile, with projects like D.C. Follies in the mid ’80s and a toned-down Land of the Lost in the early ’90s.

These days the Kroffts are still busy at work, coming up with ways to mine some of the Krofft nostalgia that’s evident in TV Land’s Super Retrovision Saturdays, the new Rhino videotapes, and numerous web page tributes. They’ve got a Pufnstuf movie on the drawing board, for instance, to be co-produced by Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander (the writing team behind Ed Wood and The People vs. Larry Flynt). And the marketing department has got a slew of new Krofft beanie dolls lining store shelves. Despite all this renewed attention, however, getting past the studio gates–and being heard by someone who has the power to greenlight a project–is harder than ever.

"It’s tough. If we weren’t Sid and Marty Krofft, but were in the same age range, I don’t think we could get into the door," says Krofft. "But now [the execs] ask for the autograph, so at least we can get into the door. Most of the time, though, nobody can make a decision. You used to deal with the bosses, the guys who were the heads–the Michael Eisners and Fred Silvermans. Now you’ve got to work your way up the ladder, ’cause if you go up there now you get buried. The egos bury ya."

Nevertheless, the brothers are pitching some new concepts, including the mysterious Andy Lumpkin’s Puppetarium ("And that’s all you get right now, all right?"). In this age of plotless Teletubbies ("I’ve seen that. Pretty stupid."), marketing-driven Pokemons ("You never know what things kids will buy."), violent Power Rangers ("I’m not a fan."), and "message"-oriented Barneys ("Kind of a rip-off of Pufnstuf. I thought it was a good thing, so I left them alone."), now is indeed the time for a new Krofft revival–so another generation of kids can learn what a Saturday morning trip through the imagination is really like.

"You’ve just got to keep trying," says Krofft. "You just can never give up; it’s okay to surrender, but never give up. ’Cause giving up is the end, right?"

Originally Published: June 3, 1999 Metro Pulse

 

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