The Bizarre History Of The Dueling Ghostbusters
Photo: The Real Ghostbusters / Columbia Pictures Television Distribution

The Bizarre History Of The Dueling Ghostbusters

For as long as people have believed in ghosts, people have wanted to know how to get rid of them. From exorcists and spiritualistic mediums to high-tech solutions like those posited in the hit 1984 comedy Ghostbusters, the idea of these "professional paranormal investigators and eliminators" have long occupied our cultural consciousness.

The ideas reach back to the 19th century and beyond, but Ghostbusters's success thrust them into the mainstream in a new way, and the ensuing years saw an unusual happenstance - dueling cartoon series, both about these professional investigators of the unknown, and both called Ghostbusters.

How did this happen? Many people believe one must have ripped off the other, but the truth (as is so often the case) is stranger than fiction.

  • It All Began On The Set Of 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

    With filming for Ghostbusters already well underway - and with less than a year left to complete the most ambitious movie any of the team had ever worked on - the filmmakers were horrified to discover that Filmation had released a short-lived and little-known live-action children's show called The Ghost Busters, which had aired on CBS in 1975.

    This meant the name Ghostbusters might not be free to use, a snag that would cost the production time and money when they had neither to spare.

    Panicked, people behind the scenes began making desperate phone calls to clear the use of the name, even while production was ongoing.

  • Alternate Scenes Were Filmed Using Different Names, Just In Case

    Unsure if they would legally be able to use the name "Ghostbusters," the filmmakers began feverishly creating alternatives, including names like "Ghoststoppers" and "Ghostbreakers." The stopgaps were inadequate to the task at hand, however, and the whole scenario eventually came apart when the crew was filming an outdoor scene with hundreds of extras shouting, "Ghostbusters! Ghostbusters!"

    Since the production was unable to get the group together for another take, associate producer Joe Medjuck later told Vanity Fair, "I got on a payphone and called Burbank and said, 'You guys have got to clear that name!'"

  • Filmation Believed 'Ghostbusters' Stole Their Idea

    "I think they ripped us off," Lou Scheimer, founder of Filmation, told R.J. Carter of The Trades years later. "I said, 'That's ridiculous. That's our show. That's our premise, that's our concept.'" Scheimer had his attorneys reach out to Columbia, who were producing Ghostbusters, but Columbia was under the impression the previous show had been a cartoon. When Scheimer told them that it had been a live-action series, at least according to his recollections, they replied, "Uh-oh. We've got a problem."

    But beyond the barest notions of their premises and titles, the two projects were extremely different. Both were comedic shows about catching ghosts, but the 1975 series - which ran for only a handful of episodes - utilized much broader comedy, including an intelligent ape (who often wore a beanie) as one of the titular Ghost Busters.

  • The Two Companies Ultimately Worked Out A Lucrative Deal

    Filmation founder Lou Scheimer later recalled, "What happened was we made a deal with Columbia to give them the rights [to the name] to do the picture, and we got $500,000 for the use, and I made a dumb move." The "dumb move" he's referring to is not asking for exclusivity on any other rights, such as animation rights to the property. "I didn't make a deal with them that excluded the animation," he said. "I never thought of it."

    While the deal paid off well for Filmation at the time, it lost out in the long run when it came to licensing dollars. As a contemporary Los Angeles Times article on the eventual dueling cartoon series points out, "The stakes are high. Tens of millions of dollars in license products are riding on the success of these shows."

    Nearly 40 years later, it's pretty obvious which version won out.

  • Filmation Wanted To Work On The Animated 'Ghostbusters' Show

    Since Filmation still had the rights to the "Ghost Busters" name and Columbia had the rights to the movie, Lou Scheimer of Filmation thought, "Why not do something together? We've got rights, you've got rights." Filmation approached Columbia with the idea, but the two studios couldn't work out a satisfactory arrangement.

    Without any rights to the movie or its characters, Scheimer decided to make an animated version of their earlier, live-action children's show. He had his concerns about not working with Columbia, though. "Because they'll have one, we'll have one, and nobody will know what's going on," he later told The Trades. "And as it turned out, that's essentially what happened."

  • After The Success Of The Film, The Original 'Ghost Busters' Made A Comeback

    Unable to work out a deal with Columbia, Filmation decided to move ahead with an animated Ghost Busters project of their own. They had the name, just not the rights to the movie, so they went back to the well of their 1975 original.

    The first episode of their series featured the protagonists of the live-action show passing on their ghost hunting business (and the intelligent ape who went with it) to their sons - a technique that The Real Ghostbusters, Columbia's eventual animated series, would use years later to introduce The Extreme Ghostbusters. Together, the three would continue busting ghosts and various other oddities across the show's 65 episodes, which aired from September through December of 1986.