The world of Saturday morning is filled with stories of unlikely success, but The Alvin Show may have the best one of all. Somehow, a basement recording experiment turned into a multi-platinum single, which turned into two wildly popular animated series.
Ross Bagdasarian was a songwriter of moderate success at best, but taking the performing name David Seville, Bagdasarian recorded the surprise hit novelty single “Witch Doctor” in 1957. The sped-up “oo-ee-oo-ah-ah” of that song’s chorus caught on like wildfire, and Bagdasarian/Seville decided to push things further. Recording his own voice on four separate tracks, then speeding up three of the voices, Seville created “The Chipmunk Song,” part of a Chipmunk Christmas album (“Christmas, Christmas time is here…”). The “chipmunk” designation had come from Bagdasarian’s children, and the individual Chipmunk names—Alvin, Simon, and Theodore—were the names of Liberty Records executives Al Bennett, Si Warnoker, and Ted Keep.
“The Chipmunk Song” went on to sell five million copies, and the futures of Alvin, Simon and Theodore began looking brighter and brighter. Format Films was hired to bring the trio to television, and with the success of The Flintstones in 1960, CBS decided to debut the animated The Alvin Show on 1961’s prime time schedule.
Wearing floor-length sweaters, the Chipmunks engaged in weekly antics and musical skits, while an impatient animated David Seville tried to keep them in line. Alvin was the brash leader, bespectacled Simon was the calmer and smarter one and Theodore was the pudgy giggler.
Sharing the half hour with the Chipmunks was Clyde Crashcup, a wacky inventor. With the help of usually silent assistant Leonardo (who only whispered into Crashcup’s ear), the professor lectured the audience on his various “inventions”—birthdays, the bathtub, etc.
Up against the hit Wagon Train, The Alvin Show fared poorly in prime time, but the characters themselves proved to be enormously popular with young viewers. And so, in 1962, The Alvin Show popped up in repeats on CBS’ Saturday morning. Here the show found a more welcome home, airing to widespread success for three seasons.
The show continued to run in syndication over the ensuing years, and Bagdasarian/Seville continued to release numerous Chipmunk albums. The songwriter died in 1972, but his creation remained popular long after his death. In 1979, NBC aired a season of The Alvin Show repeats, and in 1980, Ross Bagdasarian Jr. recorded a new album tiled Chipmunk Punk. Alvin, Simon and Theodore rocketed to resurgent fame, and in 1983, NBC unveiled the all-new Alvin and the Chipmunks. The new series was an instant hit, running for eight seasons, and Ross Bagdasarian’s unlikely success story continued to be written into the 1990’s.
USA / CBS – Format Films / x25 minute episodes / Broadcast 4 October 1961 – 18 September 1965 and 17 February – 1 September 1979.
Creator: Ross Bagdasarian
Ross Bagdasarian as Alvin, Simon, Theodore, David Seville
Sheperd Menken as Clyde Crashcup