Sid and Marty Krofft are no spring chickens, but they’re full of forward-thinking ideas, and as a result, their joint career is taking an interesting turn.
Sid, 86, and Marty, 78, are best known for creating 70s television shows, like H.R. Pufnstuf, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, and Electra Woman & Dyna Girl. In recent years, the Kroffts have ushered in several reboots and spin-offs of their existing shows, and their multi-platform approach provides a compelling case study for any traditional TV producers who are approaching new media.
The Kroffts have been producing shows together since the 50s, but the most relevant phase of their creative collaboration began in 1969, when they brought H.R. Pufnstuf to NBC. With its colorful puppets and unique characters, Pufnstuf has since endured as a cult favorite, as have several of the other children’s series the Kroffts premiered in the following years. In 2007, for example, TV Guide selected Pufnstuf as one of the top 30 cult TV shows of all time.
It’s been a long time since Pufnstuf was on the air, but several decades after their heyday, the Kroffts are surging back into the spotlight on a new platform: The Internet.
In February 2015, Amazon Studios announced its plan to reboot Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, with the company’s VP, Roy Price, referring to Sid and Marty as “geniuses.” Just a few weeks later, Legendary and Fullscreen announced a new version of Electra Woman & Dyna Girl, with YouTube stars Grace Helbig and Hannah Hart landing the titular roles. Fullscreen CEO George Strompolos called that project “our plot to break the Internet.” Meanwhile, more than a decade after releasing their last TV show, 2015 also marked the Kroffts’ return to the small screen. They produced a Pufnstuf spinoff, Mutt & Stuff, for Nickelodeon. It has since been picked up for a second season.
The cult appeal of The Kroffts’ TV shows has assisted their transition into the digital world. Price, for example, was a kid when the original version of Sigmund came out. “If a buyer like Roy knows the theme song, I’m in good shape,” said Marty Krofft in an interview with Tubefilter. “Our old shows, the ones the adults have grown up with, they’ll watch those,” he later added, “because they get goosebumps from the past.”
While nostalgia is a big driving factor in the Kroffts’ modern-day creative process, they are also playing the tendencies of their young viewers. As Marty puts it, kids are still kids, even if they’re watching content on the Internet rather than TV. “You have to produce your shows for an audience,” he said. “There’s new tech out there, all the new systems and everything, but the audience is still the same. Kids are still the same. You tell them a great story with great characters, and you’re gonna get them to watch these shows.”
Perhaps the biggest piece of evidence in support of that claim is that shows like Mutt & Stuff and the upcoming Sigmund reboot are still using old-school puppetry in a children’s TV landscape dominated by animation. “We’re up against cartoons, and we’re the only live action show,” said Marty of Mutt & Stuff. “If you take a look at our show, it’s not like what we did in the 70s, but it’s not unlike it either. If you have puppets and kids, you can’t miss.”
Even with their old-school tendencies and their reliance on tried-and-true formulas, the Kroffts’ plunge into the modern media landscape has required a certain amount of adaptation. With Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, their struggles have been most evident. They have had to write a show that captures both the classic feel of the original series and the modern, social media-driven sensibilities of stars Helbig and Hart. “When we did it on Saturday morning, it was totally different,” said Marty, “so we had to make a dramatic change without losing the feeling. That wasn’t easy, and the writing had to be worked on quite a bit.”
Nonetheless, Marty believes he and his brother have ultimately created a worthy reboot for fans of the original series. It’s a “definite change for the concept, but the base is Electra Woman and Dyna Girl,” he said. As for Helbig and Hart’s fans, Marty was fairly blunt when I asked if he thought they would tune in. “They like everything the girls do,” he said.
With one show live, two more in the works, and a fourth potentially on the way, the Krofft brothers have revitalized their brand in the digital age. Their style has always been a unique, singular one, and in a world where individual expression is rewarded, they fit well. “In the digital age, there’s less interference,” said Marty.
The only question is whether Sigmund and Electra Woman and Dyna Girl will draw the audiences their respective producers are looking for. According to Marty, the former series will begin production in April, while the latter will make its international arrival on iTunes in June. Both young and old audiences are expected to await these upcoming releases, and with the Kroffts, that’s all part of the plan.