The Story (or lack thereof) of Underdog

underdog houndThe idea of a dog as a hero isn’t that unusual; in our society and culture, we recognize that the loyalty, strength, obedience, intelligence, and generally good nature of dogs makes them the best companions we could want or expect. This idea has taken many forms over the years, and in the 20th century, with the advent of television and other mass media, the opportunity to go even further with the idea of dog-as-hero grew even more! Thus we have the birth of Underdog.

Just the Facts

Maybe you don’t remember the television show Underdog; if you were born just before or even after the turn of the millennium, then you probably don’t! Underdog is an animated television show that debuted in 1964 and went on a run of 124 episodes, well into the early ‘70s. The show depicted Shoeshine Boy and his life as Underdog, a hero akin to Superman who appears when the girl-of-his-dreams, so to speak, is threatened by villains such as Simon Bar Sinister. Wally Cox provided the voice for Underdog.

The actual story of Underdog’s genesis is a lesson in how modern mass media manufactures meaningful symbols for us to attach to, remember, and be marketed to through, among other things. In this case, a General Mills executive by the name of Dancer Fitzgerald Sample teamed up with Chet Stover, Treadwell D. Covington, and Joe Harris to create a television cartoon show that could sell General Mills breakfast cereal.

Where Underdog Went from There

Underdog was the big winner of the many shows developed to serve this purpose, and when the show was successful, the team formed their own company called Total Television, a company that folded when General Mills dropped out as the sponsor of the show. (After all, the show was made to support them!)

These days there’s everything from radio versions of Underdog, syndicated reruns, and of course, the 2007 remake of the show. Like most remakes, it didn’t do all that well; perhaps Underdog is just past its prime. The idea of the dog as hero isn’t, however, and whether it’s Air Bud or Lassie, we’ll always be looking to our canine companions for help on the silver screen.