On April 15, 1994, when Space Ghost Coast to Coast made its debut, Cartoon Network officially stopped being a 24-hour channel entirely made up of old cartoons that Ted Turner had acquired. The series was the cable network’s first—and most influential—original animated series. Blending footage from a short-lived 1960s cartoon with a new awkwardly paced, cheaply produced, animated late night "talk show" setup, the series proved to be surprisingly popular with audiences, paving the way for the channel to produce similarly strange and original animated series. In 2001, the channel's tendency toward non-kid cartoons begot the late night programming block Adult Swim, which is now a brand of comedy in itself.
1. THE ORIGINAL SPACE GHOST HAD LESS THAN 90 MINUTES OF SPACE GHOST ANIMATION.
Space Ghost and Dino Boy was a series that ran for just 20 episodes on CBS in 1966 and 1967. It was created by Alex Toth, a cartoonist who himself didn’t care for Space Ghost’s design. Even with such limited material, Space Ghost Coast to Coast animator C. Martin Croker still managed to only have to make five new pieces of animation for the series' first episode, with the rest of the images coming from the original series.
2. TED TURNER INITIALLY REFUSED TO GIVE CARTOON NETWORK ANY MONEY.
Mike Lazzo started working for Turner in the TBS mailroom before gradually becoming Cartoon Network’s first programmer. At first, Turner insisted that he work only with the classic Warner Bros., MGM, Popeye, and Hanna-Barbera cartoons in their library. Lazzo’s frustration with not having any original programming and not having the money to change that fact was the first step to the strange creation of Space Ghost Coast to Coast.
3. JAY LENO AND DAVID LETTERMAN INSPIRED THE CONCEPT.
Lazzo, as well as fellow Cartoon Network staffers Khaki Jones and Andy Merrill, had a meeting trying to brainstorm ways to incorporate their properties into something new. After talking about Space Ghost, Lazzo went home that night and kept thinking about the character, as well as Leno, the recently installed host of The Tonight Show, and Letterman, who didn’t get the gig and was starting his own show on CBS to compete with Jay (with Chevy Chase and Arsenio Hall also competing for viewers). The next day, Lazzo presented his colleagues with the start of an idea.
4. THE ANIMATOR BECAME THE VOICE OF ZORAK BY DOING A GREAT IMPERSONATION OF HIM IN FRONT OF THE BOSS.
The aforementioned Croker was a Space Ghost fan from childhood, and nailed his impromptu audition. He would eventually get the voice gig for Moltar, too. Croker also came up with the idea of setting the show in space and suggested that Zorak and Moltar should be performing their bandleader and producing duties as unwilling prisoners.
5. THE OLD FOOTAGE OF THE CHARACTERS APPEARED ON A NEWLY DESIGNED SET THROUGH ROTOSCOPING.
Croker hand-drew talk show host poses for Space Ghost, like his tapping of index cards against the desk. He purposely didn’t use any technology so that the old footage and new footage wouldn’t look blatantly different.
6. HERVÉ VILLECHAIZE SIGNED UP TO PLAY SPACE GHOST’S SIDEKICK.
Sadly, the Fantasy Island actor committed suicide during pre-production for the series.
7. LA TOYA JACKSON WAS ALSO SUPPOSED TO BE A PART OF THE SHOW.
She was signed to “do some kind of fanfare/dance routine” for the opening, according to Merrill, but nothing came of it.
8. THE ORIGINAL PILOT WAS PRODUCED IN A CLOSET, AND THE GUEST WAS DENZEL WASHINGTON.
When Merrill edited clips of Washington’s interview on CNN Showbiz Today (promoting the movie Malcolm X) with old Space Ghost clips, he did it on a tape-to-tape VHS editing system, with a Radio Shack mic, just to see if Lazzo’s idea had any legs.
9. THE FIRST 15 SHOWS WERE WRITTEN BY THE NETWORK EXECUTIVES.
Lazzo and his fellow employees would schedule cartoons during the day and find an empty conference room to write scripts at night. During this time the editing, which was being done by Mike Cahill, was still taking place in a closet. "We were constantly fighting with the employees of Cartoon Network Latin America because their copier was right next to where he was editing—which was deafening," Lazzo told IGN.
10. WRITERS FROM LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN WERE EVENTUALLY HIRED.
When the budget went up to $30,000 per episode, Spike Feresten, who earned an Emmy nomination for writing “The Soup Nazi” episode of Seinfeld, and Steve O'Donnell, former head writer for Letterman and future head writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live! joined up. Other notable scribes include Mystery Science Theater 3000 creator Joel Hodgson, who wrote on the episode “Urges”, and future Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas got his first TV writing credit penning the season 3 premiere “Explode.”
11. GEORGE LOWE’S OUTTAKES VOICING SPACE GHOST WOULD BECOME PART OF THE SHOW.
For budgetary reasons, famous announcer and original Space Ghost voice Gary Owens didn’t get the late night talk show gig. Instead it went to announcer George Lowe, who enjoyed that his improvising would sometimes make the final cut. In one incident, he inadvertently burped, and attempted to save face by saying he had “Too many Cokes." The ad-lib made it into an episode, to the delight of his guests, The Ramones.
12. THE GUESTS WERE INTERVIEWED AT CNN BUREAUS.
At first, acting students were hired to wear a Space Ghost suit and interview the celebrities, but the guests kept laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. The producers eventually settled on having George Lowe ask the questions through a phone-patch into the guests’ ears, while the celebrities pretend they were able to see the animated host. Later, the writers would add quips from Space Ghost in response to the answers, and give him new questions to ask to make the taped answers sound crazy.
13. THE BEE GEES MISBEHAVED THE MOST.
14. NASA NAMED ROCKS ON MARS AFTER CHARACTERS.
Space Ghost, Zorak, Moltar, and Brak became names of Mars rocks after NASA’s Pathfinder mission in 1997.
15. ERIC ANDRE BASED HIS LIVE ACTION TALK SHOW ON SPACE GHOST COAST TO COAST.
Before he started shooting Adult Swim’s The Eric Andre Show, "I rented as many seasons I could get my hands on and did a Space Ghost marathon by myself in my house, just so I could absorb as much Space Ghost as I could," Andre told The Huffington Post in 2012. "I picked Mike Lazzo's brain about it ... and he couldn't give a shit about Space Ghost. He's like, 'What? Space Ghost? Space Ghost is dead to me."