The New ‘Ghostbusters’ Didn’t Ruin ‘Ghostbusters,’ The Original ‘Ghost Busters’ Did
When angry fans made the trailer for Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters the most disliked movie trailer in the history of YouTube (now at 880,000 thumbs down as of this writing), their accompanying comments repeated the same complaints. The digital effects looked bad. The broad physical comedy didn’t work. The cast was gallingly female. (Recent example, all spelling errors theirs: “why woman ? im not sexist but i think its not good to use them.”) Over and over, they returned to one singular conclusion: The new Ghostbusters would not only ruin fans’ collective childhoods, it would ruin the original Ghostbusters.
But the “original” Ghostbusters from 1984 weren’t the original Ghostbusters. And no matter how Feig’s Ghostbusters turns out — even if it’s the worst remake imaginable — there’s no way it could ever be as bad as the real original Ghost Busters.
Yes, that’s Ghost Busters, two words. The real original Ghost Busters appeared in a short-lived television series that aired on CBS for a single 15-episode season in 1975. The Ghost Busters, created by writer Marc Richards, featured a trio of hapless paranormal investigators. The team consisted of Spencer and Kong, played by former F Troop stars Larry Storch and Forrest Tucker, and a large gorilla named Tracy — really a guy in a gorilla costume worn by actor and famed film-memorabilia collector Bob Burns.
In each episode the Ghost Busters receive an assignment by their unseen boss “Zero,” then follow his instructions to catch some kind of ghost or, more frequently, the ghost of a famous monster of pop-culture history. During their brief tenure on television, the Ghost Busters faced off with Count Dracula, the Wolf Man, and Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, just to name a few of their more familiar antagonists.
It’s a perfectly acceptable premise for a television program, but the execution is shockingly poor, even by the standards of 1970s kids’ TV. Some aspects are flat-out incompetent. The opening credits call Storch’s character Spencer, spelled with a C:
But the door of the Ghost Busters’ office spells Spencer with two S’s:
The Ghost Busters’ operation is pretty low rent, so I guess maybe you could argue this is part of establishing their image as bumblers? If that was true though, why not have the S scratched out with a C written over it? More likely the show was made so cheaply and so quickly that by the time they caught the error it was too late to change it.
The show is so cheap and so dumb and so formulaic that every single episode is exactly the same: Goofing off at the Ghost Busters office, picking up Zero’s assignment, then wandering around the same castle on the edge of town where every single ghost and monster takes up residence. Literally every episode is identical except for the villain. It’s like Groundhog’s Day: The Series but horrible.
In general, the effects and production values are on the level of an Ed Wood movie. The show doesn’t even have an actual shot of an actual castle. They use this drawing instead:
And since every stupid episode takes place in this stupid castle and its stupid graveyard, you see that drawing a lot. In the second episode, Dr. Frankenstein and his monster show up there; in the third episode, the Canterville Ghost takes up residence; in episode four, the Wolf Man and a gypsy are hanging out there. Why even bother with assignments from Zero? Every single one is basically just, “Go back to the spooky castle and catch the ghost that’s there this week.” If these Ghost Busters had any brains they’d just stake the place out, wait for the new tenant to show up and zap them.
Zapping ghosts is one of the few ways The Ghost Busters actually resembles the Ghostbusters with Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd. Spencer, Kong, and Tracy have a “Ghost De-Materializer” they use to eliminate the spooks haunting their town. The difference between the Filmation Ghost Busters and the movie Ghostbusters is that the movie Ghostbusters catch ghosts — floating apparitions that fly and spew slime and are clearly beings from beyond the grave. The TV Ghost Busters claim that these fictional monsters are ghosts — they don’t fight Count Dracula, they fight Count Dracula’s ghost — but because the show’s budget was so low, they couldn’t afford to make these creatures look dead or ghostly. And they don’t catch these monsters, they erase them out of existence forever. So it looks like the Ghost Busters show up and then savagely murder people.
The Ghost Busters straight-up killed that poor, sweet dude who thought he was a dog!
This show is just awful. It steals the Mission: Impossible self-destructing assignment gimmick, not just once or twice but in every single episode. The only difference is the exploding message is always in a different unlikely form, and it always blows up in poor Tracy’s face.
The whole series operates with this sort of cartoon logic. Between the slapstick chases, obvious mysteries, heroic anthropomorphized animals and spooky castles, it’s clearly an attempt to translate the Scooby-Doo, Where Are You formula to live action. But the results are so consistently stupid they make Scooby-Doo look like Finnegans Wake. (On the plus side, this reaction GIF of Tracy at the end of one episode is maybe the best summation of writing on the internet circa 2016 I’ve ever seen.)
The only really compelling mystery the Ghost Busters solve is one from my own childhood, and from the childhoods of many ’80s kids who grew up watching two totally separate Ghostbusters cartoons. There was The Real Ghostbusters, inspired by the Reitman film and featuring the continuing adventures of its characters, and Ghostbusters, an unrelated series about a different group of heroes, including a gorilla, driving around in a transforming jalopy:
In an age before the internet, these doppelgangers were truly a mystery. How could there be two different Ghostbusters shows, and why did one have nothing to do with the movie besides the title? The 1975 Ghost Busters was the answer. Columbia actually licensed the Ghostbusters name from Filmation for the Reitman film; when the film became a smash and birthed a cartoon sequel, Filmation wisely capitalized on its popularity by turning their own Ghost Busters into a cartoon. So their cartoon starred Tracy the Gorilla from the old series, along with the sons of the old Ghost Busters, Jake Kong Jr. and Eddie Spencer Jr.
Even though the Filmation Ghostbusters had a talking skeleton head and the team put on their uniforms in what looks like the Negative Zone, it’s actually less cartoonish than the live-action Ghost Busters, which had jokes about stinky cheese sandwiches, the old paintings-with-moving-eyes gag, and big bowling-ball bombs with the word “BOMB” written in white letters:
Watching the 1975 Ghost Busters is kind of like getting blasted in the face with seltzer: drippy, obnoxious, and annoying. My favorite episode is “The Dummy’s Revenge,” because it suggests that ventriloquist dummies can have ghosts, and therefore possess souls, and because the title “The Dummy’s Revenge” basically describes every single episode of this dopey show.
But as dopey as this show is, it still introduced the concept of Ghost Busters (at least under that title; comedy ghost hunters on screen date back to the days of Bob Hope). Which means that for all the hand-wringing from enraged Ghostbusters fans over the 2016 reboot, the beloved 1984 film is, in fact, an unofficial reboot as well. Or, at the very least, it wasn’t the first Ghostbusters.
But as every comment thread in the history of the Internet proves, being first doesn’t automatically make you best. Just because something is the new version of an old thing doesn’t automatically make it bad; just because something is the old version of something that’s getting remade doesn’t automatically make it better. A concept’s execution, not the concept itself, determines its quality. If you think the new Ghostbusters is truly ruining your childhood, look at this way: As a concept, ghost busting has been ruining childhoods since at least the mid 1970s.
Here’s the first full episode of The Ghost Busters. Do not watch it.