How Ted Nichols Created the Perfect Atmosphere for a Spooky Comedy Show.
(This is a very long post. I apologize for the inconvenience.)
“I always had a real urge to compose and write.“— Theodore Nicholas Sflotsos (Ted Nichols), 2013
I’d like to start this post by saying that I plan to only focus on Nichol’s work on “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!,” and while I am aware that he previously worked on Jonny Quest and The Flintstones, that’s a story for another day.
This past month saw the 50th anniversary of the Scooby-Doo franchise, and boy was that fun to celebrate! If you weren’t in-the-know at the time (or still are not), then allow me to explain: the first entry in the Scooby-Doo franchise is the infamous animated TV series, “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!,” which first aired from 1969 to 1970 on CBS. The first aired episode, “What a Night for a Knight,” premiered on September 13, 1969 – 50 years ago, last month. I had originally planned to make a detailed, scripted video for the anniversary, but it didn’t get too far before I realized the true scope of the project. So what better way to honor the anniversary, and my failed media attempt, then by talking about it all here?
Let’s have some fun – Scooby Style!
To start, let’s discuss the history of Scooby-Doo. The series eventually known as “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” went through two other, lesser-known phases before it settled into the series that we know today. Heck, the show barely even focused on the mysteries to begin with!
In the late 1960’s (circa 1968), “The Archie Show” debuted on CBS, and no one could have guessed how influential a fictional band could be. When their hit song “Sugar, Sugar” hit the airwaves the next year, the public couldn’t get enough of the so-called “bubblegum pop” genre. It was everywhere – and gosh, is it awful to listen to today! (Apologies if you enjoy that stuff, I just can’t see the appeal.) Regardless of my personal opinion, the show proved successful. So successful, in fact, that CBS wanted another show that served the same purpose, but with a twist: rather than focusing only on the music standpoint, they thought it would be a good idea to have the group solve mysteries between each gig. Originally, Joseph Barbera (of Hanna-Barbera fame) had attempted to develop this new show. His version, called House of Mystery, didn’t get very far before he decided to pass it along to Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, as well as the person who ended up designing the Mystery Inc. gang, Iwao Takamoto.
Ruby and Spears had worked in the animation industry before – Ruby was an inbetweener for Walt Disney Animation (where he studied art and animation), and eventually got hired at Hanna-Barbera sometime in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s. Spears, on the other hand, was a good friend of William Hanna’s son, and got hired as a sound editor in 1959 for Hanna-Barbera Productions. The two met in the editing department at H-B, and proceeded to work together for several decades. As for Takamoto, he had some exceptional animation history – he worked as a character designer for Walt Disney on Cinderella, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, and One Hundred and One Dalmations. After leaving Disney in 1961, he joined Hanna-Barbera, and is best known there for designing characters such as Astro (The Jetsons), Scooby-Doo (Come on, you know where he’s from), and Penelope Pitstop (Wacky Races in 1968; The Perils of Penelope Pitstop in 1969).
With The Archie Show as inspiration, the idea that sparked came to be known as Mysteries Five. The show focused on a group of five teenagers who played in a band, and their dog, Too Much (who played the bongos). The teenagers at this point were known as Geoff, Mike, Kelly, Linda, and W.W., Linda’s brother. Initially, they would only solve mysteries when they weren’t performing at a gig. After all, the main focus at this point was the music that the teen band made. Just before the initial pitch, Ruby and Spears changed Too Much from a Great Dane to a Sheepdog, as they didn’t want to draw comparisons to Marmaduke (and just imagine that timeline!) – luckily for us, however, the pitch was rejected by Fred Silverman, who was the executive for daytime programming at CBS. After that inital pitch and subsequent rejection, the two decided that they needed to fix a few things.
The next evolution of the show changed the characters into the ones we know today – or at least, more accurate versions of them. The character known as Mike was removed, and the others were changed around completely: Geoff became “Ronnie,” who in turn was later renamed “Fred,” Kelly became “Daphne,” Linda became “Velma,” and W.W. became “Shaggy.” At this point, the dog was still known as “Too Much,” but was reverted to his Great Dane design again. Also worth noting is that at this point the personalities of the teens were changed, too. Each character was now representative of a character from the show The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1959-1963). Ruby and Spears re-pitched the show to Silverman, who enjoyed it. He disliked the name Mysteries Five, however, and decided on the name Who’s S-S-Scared? instead. When he presented it to CBS exectuives for their upcoming 1969-1970 Saturday Morning cartoon block, CBS president Frank Stanton felt that the artwork presented was – I’m not even kidding – too scary for children, and thought that the entire show was going to be the same. So he passed on it. Once again, the team behind the scenes would have some work to do before the show could be greenlit.
The last revisions to the show were made mere weeks before the final pitch. The whole band element was dropped almost immediately, and instead the crew decided that the show should focus more on Shaggy and Too Much.
“But wait, Cade – where does the whole ‘Scooby-Doo’ name come from? I mean, at this point, he was still known as ‘Too Much!'”
Well, the story goes that while on a flight to a development meeting for the show, Silverman was inspired by Frank Sinatra. His scatting at the end of “Stangers in the Night” (most notably the “doo-be-doo-be-doo” section) gave Silverman the idea to rename the dog “Scooby-Doo,” and to rename the show Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! After improving the focus, the name, and the art (we can only assume this happened), the show was finally greenlit for premiere in the upcoming 1969-1970 season. Now there was only one thing left to do… make the show. (Zoinks!)
Isn’t this post supposed to be about music?
Well, if you’ve stuck with me thus far, thank you. I know that was way more lengthy than it needed to be, but trust me – there was a real reason behind it. And now that we’re done with the history of the show, we can finally talk about our good buddy Ted Nichols. So, who is this guy? What did he do? Why am I asking you all of these questions? It’s simple – he gave the show life in a way that hasn’t been matched since 1969! How did he do this? Follow along, and I’ll take you on a musical journey.
Look hard enough in the end credits of any episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, and you’ll see the credit “Music Director – Ted Nichols.” You see, Ted Nichols was, and still is, the man responsible for creating the classic, unforgettable underscore for Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! More on that in a minute…
Nichols was raised on music – he joined a local boys choir in fifth grade, and took up violin at age 10. In high school, he worked his way up to student director of the orchestra and choir. Recalling the accomplishment, in a 2013 interview, he stated: “Then it really started my career I think at that time. But I always had a real urge to compose and write.” He joined the Navy after graduating high school, and even started his own dance band while in Corpus Christi, Texas. After his Navy days, Nichols attended Baylor University, where he played violin, saxophone, and clarinet, and he earned a music teaching degree. He joined the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (what a title!) when the Korean War started. He founded the Air Force Bandsmen Training School at this time as well. After all was said and done, he returned to Texas where he taught music at a few public middle and high schools. He earned a master’s degree in composition from Texas Arts and Industries University, and soon moved to California to pursue that lifelong dream of composing. He taught at a California high school, and soon found himself working for Santa Ana College as a band director, and even started the marching band at California State University in Los Angeles. Nichols also spent time in a quartet in Disneyland, where he met and became acquianted with Walt Disney himself!
While at a local church, Nichols met an animator from Hanna-Barbera who began singing in the choir. Jokingly, Nichols once remarked, “Well, why don’t you introduce me to your boss?” The next week, he recieved a call from William Hanna. Once at Hanna-Barbera, Nichols began his career by writing cues for Jonny Quest (1964-1965). His work was well-recieved, and he was asked to write music for a Flintstones Christmas show. He was officialy hired around 1963, and served as musical director until 1972. While at Hanna-Barbera, Nichols worked on several episodes of Jonny Quest, The Flintstones, and others. When Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! was officially picked up in 1969, he had his work cut out for him.
“I looked at a lot of drawings about Scooby-Doo before I even wrote, because I try to get the feeling in my mind – hey, this is the kind of style that you want to write for.”– Ted Nichols, 2013
Ted Nichols and Scooby-Doo Go Hand-in-Hand. For example, did you know that the iconic theme song wasn’t the real first theme?
It may be hard to accept at first – “what else could replace the iconic ‘Scooby-Dooby-Doo, Where Are You?!'” you may ask. Well, take a listen for yourself! This is the original theme song used for the show, when it first aired in 1969:
That’s probably not the theme you’re used to, and that’s because it was only used for the first two initial episodes of “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!,” which were “What a Night for a Knight,” and “A Clue for Scooby-Doo.” After those episodes aired in 1969, the theme wasn’t heard again until 1990, when the series was resurrected for air on USA’s Cartoon Express block. In fact, until 1998, you could hear this theme on any network that broadcast the show – this includes TNT, TBS, and of course, Cartoon Network. In 1998, however, Turner remastered all episodes of the series, and decided to remove any instance of the original theme in favor of the more popular theme, composed by David Mook and Ben Raleigh. What’s so strange about the early history of the show is how randomly the music could appear. It’s at this point that I should mention that the theme was also used for the end credits. What’s even stranger is that the times that it was used for the end credits outweigh the amount of times it was used for the intro to the show. Eventually, however, the theme was laid to rest, as the more popular version of the theme solidified itself as the one that would be remembered. So apart from the first two episodes and a few occasional end credits, this theme was quickly forgotten until it reappeared in the 1990’s, only to disappear again late in the decade. The only reason I ever found out about it was because someone uploaded it to YouTube several years ago, and it’s intrigued me ever since.
Let’s change gears, though. “So what, Cade – he made a forgotten theme song – anything else?” Well, yes, actually. There’s a lot more to this whole shebang than you realize. (Volumes might need to be adjusted.)
It’s the first thing you hear when the first episode begins; this slow, spooky, dreary theme that borrows the melody from the theme Nichols wrote, as well as having a cliffhanger ending. We now know that this track is called “M1, Take 05” (although some would argue that it’s “Theme 1, Take 5”). But that doesn’t change what it is – and what it is, is part of the long-lost Scooby-Doo underscore.
An underscore is different than production music or a film score, although it shares characteristics of both. In this case, the “underscore” is really a series of cues created by Nichols for use in certain situations. It’s a cost-saving effort, really; this way, you don’t have to pay to license music for every broadcast of the show, and you don’t have to pay someone big bucks to score an entire episode. What the people behind Scooby-Doo did instead was pay an in-house composer to create reusable music tracks. Then, they could be seamlessly stitched together to fit an episode. This is why so many tracks are recycled in older Scooby-Doo shows. The show itself was on a very limited budget, as was most TV animation at the time. It wouldn’t see any sort of profit if it was blowing something insane, like $1 million per episode (especially $1 million in 1969!).
Each episode of the show followed the same formula of being real spooky and having a creepy villain to catch. The hand-painted backgrounds depicted these desolate, creepy, deserted places that no one dared to go, and the music needed to match that aesthetic. Ted Nichols knew just what to do, because he was able to write memorable cues like this:
There’s a pretty big chance you’ve heard these before, and often at that. These are some of the most common tracks used on the show. What’s even stranger is that some of these tracks have multiple segments and can be up to almost 4 minutes long! I gave you anywhere from 30 seconds to one minute of each. Some of them are really short, but still memorable, and there are a few more I haven’t covered yet.
Something a lot of these cues share is the common melody of the original intro theme, and I want to bring that to your attention again. As we’ve discussed, the original intro to the show was only used twice as the intro and multiple times as the end credits, yet almost half of the library of music reuses this theme – in multiple places, too. It’s a very common occurrence in the show, which makes me question why they even replaced the theme song in the first place. I remember reading some gibberish a long time ago that said something about the bubblegum pop version being an idea of the network to help push the show to teens, but I don’t know if I buy that exact explanation. It might be a more popular theme song, but I wouldn’t say that it’s necessarily better. (I know, I know… them’s fightin’ words.)
Of course, we’ve discussed the history of the show already. The first pitch for the show was your average Archies knock-off; but the gang, instead of focusing solely on mysteries, would instead perform music in the show. When they weren’t at a gig, then they’d be out solving groovy mysteries. Again, we covered this. The idea of bubblegum pop music, however, was slightly reinstated in season 2 of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, where Austin Roberts supplies us with some of the most definitive bubblegum pop to ever grace the face of TV. It’s not bad by any means, and it’s definitely iconic to the series, but it doesn’t help sell the danger of the villain and the mystery (or at least, not to me).
So, Scooby-Doo was a bubblegum pop teen show from the start. That idea was scrapped after the network rejected it. After some revisions, it eventually found its way onto CBS. This story we know. What we don’t know, however, is why they even decided to change the theme song in the first place. Well, I’m no conspiracy theorist, but my best guess is as follows: we know that the original show’s theme song was “spooky” and really set the tone for the mystery aspect of the show. However, we also know that the network at one point saw the show as too scary for children, and therefore, I theorize that CBS ordered a new theme song once they heard the first one. This way, they could use the new theme song as something to attract the kids, and not scare them away. (Although, if you ask me, Jonny Quest should have been given the same treatment, if this was truly the case. That show had so much more of a danger factor than Scooby-Doo.)
…That’s just my guess, however. It shouldn’t be taken seriously. I’m just having a little fun.
There are two tracks I haven’t played, and there’s good reason. We discussed that some of those earlier tracks share the same melody and theme. Well, this isn’t the only case of this happening. Two of the show’s other tracks with this idea are “M2, Take 08” and “M3, Take 11.”
It might be hard to hear at first, but these two themes share a strikingly similar melody. I’m not going to go crazy describing a theory as to how this might have been “another theme song used for the show at one point” or something. These themes are actually most common among light-hearted situations, such as the rides in the Mystery Machine, or the interaction with Scooby and the frog in “What a Night for a Knight.” Whatever this theme was meant to be, we don’t know, but the fact that they’re similar suggests there was possibly once a bigger plan for them.
…Or I could just be crazy, who knows? (Don’t worry, I’m only kidding.)
At this point, I bet you’re wondering something. You’re probably asking,
“Cade, how did you get these cues? You said before that they were ‘long-lost.'”
Well, for a long time, they were. In fact, they weren’t publicly available until earlier this year – just in time for the 50th anniversary, I might add. And this is the really fun story to tell. (I can hear the groans now – “just end this post already! You’ve pretty much written a book at this point!”) Just stick with me a little bit longer! I promise that it’s almost over!
The Search for the Lost Underscore (or, How the Cues Came to Be)
When the themes were recorded for the show in the late 1960s (as some cues appear in other shows), they were likely stored in the studio archive. For years, these themes were reused in subsequent series of the show.
And thanks to people like SpaceHunterM (whose YouTube channel can be found here), we now know that the last occurence of these cues in Scooby-Doo was in 1985, 16 years after the first series had aired. Of course, they’ve popped up in several places since, including Time Squad and Family Guy. I guarantee there’s more examples, but those are the two most common.
For years, many people, including myself, had no real hope of finding the cues used in the show. If you wanted these cues, you were SOL (crap outta luck, for those unaware).
Then came the SkoolDays blog post.
Sometime around February 2011, a post popped up on the SkoolDays Blog discussing the underscore for the show. But it wasn’t until 2013 that things changed. A user named DBD, who went by “Dan D.” posted about having a collection of 46 cues used in the series, as well as being used in Penelope Pitstop. He offered to send a link to the original poster. Naturally, everyone (including myself) hopped aboard the “send me this please” train in the hopes of finally getting a copy of the underscore. Everyone threw out emails left and right. People are still asking for it, including some posts from earlier this year. But 2 years came and went. Nothing. We didn’t hear from this “Dan” guy. And of course, people got anxious and suspicious. Even me. Was this guy joshing us? Had we been bamboozled? As it turned out, yes and no.
Dan finally replied in early 2015 stating that he had simply forgotten his old email, and would “reply in due course.” And then, he said that he didn’t want to start spreading links around if there’s “any chance in aiding an official release.” Okay, at this point, we know this guy might be a legitimate poster, but let’s keep going. It gets weirder.
In April 2015, a user named “Glen” posted about finding a weird CD at a record shop. It was called, “Scooby-Doo the Original Session Masters by Hoyt Curtin,” and he claimed that it had 42 tracks and ran for 44 min. He claimed that it was officially pressed and not a CD-R, meaning that it wasn’t just recorded by some random person for their own amusement. After doing a little bit of digging, I was able to find the supposed artwork (see here), which is just a promotional image for Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island from 1998, meaning that it was produced sometime after then. Glen claims that it has some WB logos on it, meaning that it would have been produced by Warner Bros., who own the Scooby-Doo series. It could be possible that this was a very limited promotional item for that movie, but it’s more likely that this is something that was supposed to not get out to the public. It’s very possible that this CD was made for employees of Warner Bros., but even that theory raises a few questions:
- Considering that the Scooby-Doo series has never reused the cues after 1985, what would the purpose be in having this CD for company use?
- The artwork and title feature the words “by Hoyt Curtin,” but the supposed music on this CD is by both Ted Nichols and Hoyt Curtin, which makes a bit of sense – after Nichols left Hanna-Barbera in 1972, Hoyt Curtin took over in composing Scooby-Doo music. But this wasn’t Curtin’s first rodeo:
- he had composed for Hanna-Barbera since around 1960, and did several themes for The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Top Cat, and more, so he was more than qualified to take on the task.
- Ted Nichols only produced music for “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!,” and Hoyt Curtin composed the music for several subsequent series. Does this CD also include that music?
We’ll probably never know the answer, because the only two known copies are from Glen on the blog, and the person who posted the supposed artwork on Flickr… in 2008. They go by “j_pidgeon.” They haven’t posted anything in well over a year, and don’t appear to be active. I left a comment on their lastest post from well over 6 months ago and haven’t heard from them at all, so it’s very unlikely that we ever will get to find out what was on this CD unless one of you all finds it somewhere. And yes, I did attempt to message them directly via Flickr and have also yet to hear from them. Who knows? Give it a few years and we might find out what we’re dealing with.
So, flash forward to October 2016. Someone had previously begun to openly suspect Dan of creating a hoax. He then, in a geture of good faith, presented a Dropbox link that housed two files: an .mp3, and a screenshot. The .mp3 was of “M1, Take 05” (in a very high quality) and the screenshot was of several other track names that he has. The link doesn’t work anymore, unfortunately, but I did take advantage of the option when it presented itself originally and downloaded the files. It wasn’t much, but we finally had one piece of the puzzle. Dan wasn’t lying to us, and he really did want to release this stuff to the public. There was just one thing standing in the way… the legal system.
As it turned out, there was more to Dan than meets the eye. “Dan D.” was really Dan Dzula, an Emmy award-winning sound producer who had done branding work with Cartoon Network in the mid-2000s. He obtained a copy of the files – for what purpose, I don’t know – and he’s been trying to get a legal reissue since then. Appearently, he runs a small “reissue/lost-and-found record label” named Squirrel Thing, and has been trying to contact several sources to find the rights holders to this music. He wants to re-release it legally, but I have a feeling that Turner wouldn’t really like that too much. Speaking of which, I’ve attempted to contact Turner, Warner Bros., Cartoon Network, and Rhino in the past about this idea, in an attempt to help Dan get some information, but I haven’t heard back from anyone.
In fact, no one at these companies appears to really care that much about Scooby-Doo, but I know that can’t be true. This year, they re-released a bunch of DVDs with a 50th Anniversary sleeve, and The New Scooby-Doo Movies was announced to get a Blu-Ray release. Warner obviously cares about Scooby-Doo since they’ve kept the series alive for so long (and, you know, have released 33 direct-to-video movies), but what I don’t understand is why they haven’t released the music. In the past, they’ve released various underscores for almost every other show they’ve produced, including some very obscure shows like Auggie Doggie and Snooper and Blabber. Yet, for all the shows they’ve released the underscore for, Scooby-Doo isn’t among them. And hopefully soon, we can find out why. Until then, all we can do is contact these companies and hope that one of them listens.
Though, despite all of these setbacks, there’s still plenty of hope.
During 2017 and 2018, a YouTube user by the name of Badgeramazing ON SETT (available here) set out to recreate as much of the original music as possible by stitching together snippets of several episodes and several dubs of them to make entire tracks… or at least, as close as we were able to get. They’ve uploaded every track they’ve completed to a dropbox link. As far as I’m aware, their dropbox link still works, and their YouTube channel shows off all of the tracks they’ve done, so please, check them out and give them a like for working so hard to reconstruct them from scratch!
Here we are, in 2019 – The 50th anniversary of the Mystery Inc. gang. Were there any breaking developments? I mean, at this point we’d been teased by Dan and by Glen; the CD was nowhere to be found; and any company that I tried to contact left me on read.
Well, the joke’s all on them, because that’s when our big break finally happened!
I personally found out on June 19th, but my research leads me to believe that sometime around June 6th or 7th, a website containing a .zip file was uncovered by someone anonymous. I don’t mean that they were anonymous, no – we really don’t know who found it or how anyone found out about it. The news just kind of spread slowly. I found out by checking YouTube that morning and seeing some videos that SpaceHunterM had posted. They consisted of the various Ted Nichols cues, as well as their original origin scenes in the Scooby-Doo series. I was ecstatic, and I soon found the files for myself on this website:
We don’t know where these files came from or how this random website obtained them, but the only clue is that the files were apparently added on June 20, 2003. There’s an option to “contact the webmaster,” but since the site hasn’t been updated in what I assume is 16 years, it might be impossible. Inside this .zip file is a treasure trove of files, including 69 music files and a link to the website that it was uploaded to (which is very redundant). These files appear to have come from a cassette or reel-to-reel, as the analog hiss is very audible. Most of them have a weird panning issue. The sound quality isn’t fantastic by any means, but it’s still not bad. Every now and then you’ll hear a click or pop and honestly, I don’t know where they could have come from.
But that doesn’t matter. Here we are, after 50 years of Scooby-Doo, and we finally have some of the cues that we have been searching for. And honestly, it’s so fun to listen to these. There’s so many memorable little moments that make up the entire piece.
And something else that’s worth noting, for those of you with basic music knowledge, is that whatever time the piece in conducted in (mostly 4/4), the entire track will follow that pattern. Even for the longer tracks this is true! Starting with the count off you can hear, just keep counting. Even things that sound like they shouldn’t line up, do line up. This whole thing is so interesting, really. But it isn’t over yet. There’s still several cues that are missing, and the majority of the cues included in the .zip file were either composed by Hoyt Curtin, not used, or possibly are from other projects.
I have uploaded all of the files available so far to archive.org, and you can find them here! There’s so many more cues to hear, so give them all a listen!
With all of that said, it’s been a bit of a journey to try and find something that you’d think would be more available than it really is. I know this wasn’t a huge search – we’re not looking for a downed plane or someone on the FBI’s most-wanted list. There’s not an active party looking for this stuff. There’s just a small group of people who would really love to hear all of this music again. All-in-all, we’ll likely never see a full release, or any. We’re probably getting our hopes up. For the time being, I’m content and happy. I’d still like to see a full release, or at least, a remastered one. Some of these could really use a musical tune-up.
Turner, Rhino, Warner, or Cartoon Network… if you’re out there, please, hear my plea: It’s Scooby-Doo’s 50th. Let’s celebrate and jam out, Scooby-Style!
Oh, and by the way, it turns out that we finally know why “Mine Your Own Business” has a different title card theme:
I apologize for this being such a long post, and I promise that this will be my longest post. With that said, I hope you enjoyed it. I might as well write my college thesis on this topic. Anyway, all jokes aside, let me know what you think down below:
- Would you like to hear more of the Scooby-Doo underscore?
- Do you think we’ll ever get a release?
- Do you think Dan will ever give us all of the tracks?
We can only hope.
“And we could have the entire Scooby-Doo underscore, if it wasn’t for you meddling corporations!“
-Cade Utterback, Weekend Warrior
Copyright 2019 by Cade Utterback. All Rights Reserved. Keep On Keepin’ On.