The Scooby-Doo franchise is an enormous and expansive pop culture staple: it boasts feature length films, animated TV series, comics, toys, games, and tangential merchandise. For 47 years, the animated, lovable Great Dane Scooby has solved mysteries with his crew. It’s a weird and unexplained detail that only two out of the 15 different animated Scooby series have ever made it past a second season before cancellation.
From 1969, when it first aired, to now in 2016, when the newest iteration of the franchise, Be Cool, Scooby-Doo, will soon finish up its first season, there has never been a series to make it past 52 episodes. When comparing it to other animated series with similar cultural significance, there really aren’t many that share the trajectory; SpongeBob SquarePants is over the 200-episode mark and that’s only been on the air since 1999. So why can’t Scooby-Doo ever last?
It’s not as if cancelling and rebooting a few years later is a recent trend. When Scooby-Doo, Where are You! first aired in 1969 under Hanna-Barbera, it aired on CBS and only ran for, you guessed it, two seasons, ending in 1970.
Ratings were declining and Hanna-Barbera scrapped it, taking a two-year hiatus for production before releasing a new series called The New Scooby-Doo Movies in 1972. Same animation, same cast, same team, and same mysteries, but the series had special guests like Batman and the Three Stooges in its hour-long episodes.
This one didn’t last long either and ended with – again – two seasons in 1974. The show didn’t resume until 1976 when Scooby-Doo moved to ABC. Fred Silverman, originally one of the executives at CBS in charge of daytime programming — who suggested to William Hanna and Joseph Barbera that they create a Saturday morning cartoon about teens solving mysteries — transferred to ABC.
He made a deal with Hanna-Barbera and new episodes of Scooby-Doo aired at his new station. During this block from 1976 to 1985, Scooby-Doo seemed to be suffering from commitment issues, because eight different series started and ended during those nine years , and most versions were beyond similar to the preceding cartoons.
Much like the original “reboot” on CBS, these all pretty much involved the same creators and talent. There were just slight changes to account for fluctuating interest; Velma’s voice actress changed, the gang outside of Shaggy and Scooby were gone in some, and new characters like Scrappy-Doo popped up to join the fray in others. There was even a series with Vincent Price acting as Scooby’s guide as he, along with Shaggy and Daphne, tracked down dangerous ghosts that were terrorizing the world.
The creators and station were attempting to make each series stick, but not one made it past the 24 episode mark. This block was the first of many future adaptions to consider that the monsters may actually be monsters. A few series did stick with the original man-under-the-mask story, but like the Vincent Price adaption called The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, there were instances of ghostly terrors that weren’t just created using smoke and mirrors.
It wasn’t until 1988 that creators totally revamped the series, starting the babification trend of the time to make well-known characters and franchises into kids, like with The Muppet Babies and Tiny Toon Adventures.. A Pup Named Scooby-Doo released that September, and it was the first series to ever make it to three seasons, even going all the way to season four before being cancelled.
This had a different style, tone, and it also brought back the entire gang for the first time since the 1970s. All of the previous iterations had been pretty much the same in terms of style and approach, so this was a refreshing revamp that could entice new viewers to enjoy the shenanigans of the Mystery Machine Gang.
After this point in time, we saw Scooby-Doo series really diverge from one another. The updated What’s New, Scooby-Doo? debuted in 2002, Shaggy and Scooby-Doo Get a Clue arrived in 2006, Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated debuted in 2010, and the newest, Be Cool, Scooby-Doo began airing in 2015. Each have wildly different approaches to how they tell the story of four teens and a dog solving mysteries, and with the ever-changing and chaotic world of television, animators and writers have to come up with a way to retell a story that’s been told for over 40 years.
And thats the reason for the numerous updates. People have been watching Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, and Scooby solve small-town mysterious where the villain yells at them for being meddling kids since 1969. That’s a long time for the same characters to be doing the same thing. Creators have had to update the show for new audiences, tip their hats to the many previous incarnations before them, and retain what everyone loves about the original.
Not counting the two live-action films which premiered in the early 2000s, there have been 34 different animated Scooby-Doo movies.
The comics, which have been releasing since the 1990s, also have to update to accommodate for shifting interests. Two series under DC Comics followed the usual formula like the one above and there are over 200 issues to sift through, but now DC is releasing Scooby Apocalypse, which completely updates the characters with tattoos, gauges, and monster-fighting weapons in (as you can probably guess from the title) a post-apocalyptic world brimming with real ghosts and ghouls.
Scooby-Doo has so much media and so much history behind him that it’s hard for TV series to stick around long enough to sustain any sort of large viewership. While the series itself might not stick around for very long, the franchise still overcomes the test of time.
Scooby-Doo is a household name, “zoinks” and “jinkies” are everyone’s go-to tongue-in-cheek responses to monsters, and everyone still wants to have an actual Scooby Snack.
Rebooting the series every couple of years is actually a good thing for new writers and animators. Fans of the old shows can bring new life, new jokes, and new mysteries to a franchise that is nearing its 50th anniversary, and fans will never get bored with the diverse entries into the growing list of TV series. Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated even strayed completely away from the formulaic nature of episodes and ran through an overarching storyline with darker villains and even relationship drama between characters.
The newest addition to the canon, Be Cool, Scooby-Doo, probably won’t make it much farther than season two, but fans don’t have to worry because there are still movies, comics, and another inevitable animated series a couple of years down the road.