The series featured both live action and animated segments and was Hanna-Barbera’s first foray into mixing live action with animation.
In 1967, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera approached Sid Krofft and Marty Krofft to design costumes for a television series which would feature animated and live-action segments, with the whole show hosted by a bubblegum rock group of anthropomorphic characters. The format of the series was loosely based on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. The Krofft brothers give credit to the success of the series for opening the door to their own entry into television. NBC picked up the Krofft series H.R. Pufnstuf, which was launched during an hour-long special hosted by The Banana Splits on August 30, 1969. The show's live-action segment Danger Island, a cliffhanger serial, as well as the short-lived Micro Ventures, an animated series consisting of only four episodes, ran alongside the animated segments Arabian Knights and The Three Musketeers.
Each episode represented a meeting of the "Banana Splits Club," and the wraparounds featured the adventures of the club members, who doubled as a musical quartet, meant to be reminiscent of The Monkees. The main characters were Fleegle, a beagle; Bingo, a gorilla; Drooper, a lion; and Snorky, called "Snork" in the theme song lyrics, an elephant. Fleegle would assume the role as leader of the Banana Splits and preside at club meetings.
The characters were played by actors in voluminous fleecy costumes similar to later Sid and Marty Krofft characters such as H.R. Pufnstuf. They all spoke in English, except for Snorky who "spoke" in honking noises, Drooper with a Southern drawl in the manner of Michael Nesmith and Fleegle with a pronounced lisp. The Splits' segments, including songs-of-the-week and comedy skits, served as wraparounds for a number of individual segments. For the first season, some of the live-action segments, specifically those used during the musical segments, were shot at Six Flags Over Texas, an amusement park located in Arlington, Texas.
For the second season, filming took place at the Kings Island amusement park, located in eastern Cincinnati, Ohio. In many episodes, the Banana Splits would be seen riding on the Runaway Mine Train roller coasters, Log Flumes, Bumper Cars, Merry-Go-Rounds, and many other rides at Six Flags and Kings Island. Also featured were the "Banana Buggies" mentioned in the theme song. These were seen driven by each live-action character in the opening and closing segments and occasionally in the wraparound and music video segments as well. The buggies were customized Amphicat six-wheel drive all-terrain vehicles each decorated to resemble the character who drove them.
The Banana Splits was one of the first Saturday morning cartoons to utilize a laugh track, which would become commonplace for future Hanna-Barbera series.
During the first season, the Banana Splits segments often concerned the group's confrontations with a rival club: The Sour Grapes Bunch. The Sour Grapes were not seen on camera, but would send notes (usually a challenge or some other kind of threat) delivered by one of the "Sour Grapes messenger girls," who would dance into the Splits' clubhouse wearing purple minidresses, matched with pink leotards, tights and black go-go boots. They would normally intimidate or frighten the Splits until they gave the note to Fleegle. They would then dance out and take a bow before leaving. Five young actresses appeared as the messenger girls: Debra Thibodeaux, Colette Chenault, Julie Graham, Kathy O'Dare and Shirley Hillstrom; only one would appear at a time, always called "Charlie" in the context of the show, except for the performance of the song "Doin' The Banana Split" (the segment first appeared in episode 5, originally telecast October 5, 1968) which featured all five girls dancing with The Banana Splits. Their dance instructor was Byron Gilliam. Both Julie Graham and Kathy O'Dare would later appear in the 1970s TV series Happy Days.
The Splits also occasionally were visited by the Mariachi-tuned Dilly Sisters (an actual musical act from Mexico), who would appear at their door playing guitars and singing "The Mexican Hat Dance" or "Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay". In other recurring features during the first season, Drooper and Bingo offered advice to viewers in the "Dear Drooper" segment, while Fleegle served as the reporter for Banana Splits News. Other running gags included Fleegle repeatedly hitting himself by accident with his oversized gavel. The show introduced some catch phrases: the line, "That's an ooch," would be said every time a member was hit or injured (sometimes, it would be a double or triple-ooch depending on the extent of the injury). Other memorable sayings included "Hold the bus!" and "Uh-oh, Chongo!" (the latter from the serialized Danger Island segment).
In the second season, all new live-action segments were produced with the Banana Splits characters, while the animated segments and Danger Island serial were reaired. (Arabian Knights and Danger Island were reruns from Season 1, while The Three Musketeers were replaced by repeats of The Hillbilly Bears, previously seen on The Atom Ant/Secret Squirrel Show.) For the new season, the set was slightly modified, and the Splits' recurring routines were all new: Fleegle attempted (quite unsuccessfully) to perform magic tricks as alter ego The Great Fleegali, while Super Drooper fought crime and Coach Bingo kept the rest of the group active in sports competitions.
Other new elements included School Time, Nursery Rhymes and a Gag Wall segment (reminiscent of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In), as well as Fan Club meetings where the Banana Splits would read viewer mail. Goofy Gopher (voiced by Paul Winchell) would pop out from a flower pot to deliver the occasional one-liner, joining Cuckoo, who popped out of the Cuckoo Clock, and Banana Vac (an electric talking moose head) as secondary characters. The characters' costume designs also received an overhaul (introduced in the next-to-last Season 1 episode, "The Great Banana Splits Buggy Race)," with Snorky, who was originally covered in hair, now clean-shaven and sporting a yellow and blue striped vest.
Syndication & Cable
In syndication, the show was re-edited into a half-hour format and retitled The Banana Splits and Friends Show. That package consisted of 125 half-hours, including 36 Banana Splits Adventure Hour cutdowns (edited from the 18 original first season episodes; the 13 additional episodes produced for the 1969-1970 season were not included in the syndicated package; reconstructed versions of the 36 syndicated edits continue to air on Boomerang occasionally). Several other Hanna-Barbera series (originally unrelated to The Banana Splits, apart from having been produced by the same studio) were folded into the syndicated series as well: Atom Ant, Precious Pupp, Hillbilly Bears), Secret Squirrel, Squiddly Diddly, Winsome Witch), Yogi's Gang, and The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
The syndicated Atom Ant, Precious Pupp, Hillbilly Bears, Secret Squirel, Squiggly Diddly, Winsome Witch and Yogi's Gang episodes had a rotation of eight repeating clips edited into them, with Jimmy MacDonald redubbing Fleegle's voice to introduce various cartoon segments. The clips originated from Season 2 episodes, as did the syndicated series's opening and closing titles. It was the only Season 2 material included in the syndicated package.)
Live Action Performers
- Fleegle - Jeff Winkless (billed as Jeffrey Brock)
- Bingo - Terence H. Winkless (billed as Terence Henry)
- Drooper - Dan Winkless (billed as Daniel Owen)
- Snorky - "Jimmy" Dove (Singing Voice); Robert Towers (Vocal Effects)
- Fleegle - Paul Winchell
- Bingo - Daws Butler
- Drooper - Allan Melvin
In Other Media
- Gold Key Comics began publishing a comic adaptation featuring the characters in 1969, releasing eight issues through 1971. Drawn by Jack Manning, these comics followed the musicians trying to find work or on the road between gigs.