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11 Unsuccessful Animated Versions of Hit TV Shows

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There was a time when it seemed like a good idea to create animated spin-offs for hit live-action TV shows. That time has passed. Here are 11 reasons why.

1. Gilligan's Planet

Following the moderate success of the animated New Adventures of Gilligan in 1974, Filmation and MGM decided to give the castaways a radical new makeover in 1982. In Gilligan's Planet, the Professor somehow manages to rig up a functioning spaceship before he can build a radio, fashion a boat, or successfully rattle off an SOS. Gilligan and gang are rocketed into space, where they crash land on an unknown planet inhabited by humans. The series lasted 13 episodes.

2. The Brady Kids

Filmation teamed up with Paramount in 1972 to ride the wave of The Brady Bunch's popularity with an animated series featuring only the six Brady children, their new friends, a magical mynah bird, and a dog named Mop Top. (Sorry, Tiger.) Most of the animation was recycled from The Archies and Fat Albert, but the TV show's cast did voice their own characters in the first 17-episode season. However, five more episodes were needed to put the show in syndication, but the kids (and their agent) were reluctant. The last five were cobbled together using old animation and new voice actors, and everyone promptly pretended none of this ever happened.

3. Lassie's Rescue Rangers

What's better than a dog who saves the day? A dog and eight furry woodland friends who save the day, obviously. Through 15 episodes, Lassie and her Rescue Rangers help the Forest Force protect Thunder Mountain National Park. The series ended after one season in 1973.

4. Mork & Mindy/Laverne & Shirley with the Fonz

Why make one live-action show into a cartoon when you can combine three seemingly disparate programs into one weird hour of animation? Hanna-Barbera, Ruby-Spears and Paramount put this together for one season in 1982, thanks largely to semi-successful Laverne & Shirley in the Army from the year before.

5. The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley

Martin Short's character Ed Grimley was originally featured in 1982 on Second City TV and later on Saturday Night Live. In 1988, Grimley got his own animated half-hour show produced by Hanna-Barbera, a first (and so far, only) for an SNL or SCTV character. The series ran for 13 very weird episodes, which were later rerun on Cartoon Network.

6. Partridge Family 2200 A.D.

Imagine the Partridges are neighbors to the Jetsons. Remove the Jetsons. Now do that for 30 minutes ... and repeat 16 times. You now have the entire half-season of what would later be retitled The Partridge Family in Outer Space, a show so excellent that Shirley Jones didn't even remember it existed when asked about it in 2008. (Her character was renamed "Connie" for the cartoon, and voiced by Joan Gerber.) There is no explanation in the intro or any episode about why the family now lives in the future and/or space.

7. Fraggle Rock: The Animated Series

In most ways, Fraggle Rock and its spin-off animated series were very similar, with only minor changes in format made for the cartoon (including a Muppet Babies-like treatment of Doc, who is only shown from the waist down, just like Nanny). But even retaining most of the things that made Jim Henson's original puppet-filled vision great failed to make this version a success. It ran for one season, but was canceled after those 13 episodes.

8. The Addams Family

Inspired by a 1972 episode of The New Scooby-Doo Movies, wherein Scooby and gang meet the Addamses, Hanna-Barbera gave Morticia, Gomez, Fester, Wednesday, Pugsley, and Lurch an RV and 30 minutes on Saturday mornings in 1973. (For fun, they threw in a pair of talking animals, too.) The experiment lasted 16 episodes. A more successful effort ran for two seasons in 1992.

9. The Dukes

The Dukes premiered in February 1983, when Bo and Luke were temporarily replaced by Coy and Vance in the live-action original. Thus, season one of The Dukes features Coy and Vance, who are on a race around the world (in no particular geographical order, if the episode chronology is to be trusted) with Boss Hogg, who wants to keep the Dukes from winning because then they could afford to keep their land, which he wants to buy. (How they afford gas for this race is not addressed.) By season two, Bo and Luke had returned to the original series, so the intro was revamped and the show never mentions Coy and Vance again. The race continues, of course, but the show did not. The final episode aired in October 1983.

10. My Favorite Martians

The ever-resourceful folks at Filmation adapted the 1960s hit My Favorite Martian in the only way they knew how: the animated series featured a new Martian nephew named Andy (short for Andromeda), a faithful pet (Okey, a giant furry dog-alien), and Katy, the token human girl. All 16 episodes aired in 1973.

11. Jeannie

In an effort to appeal to a younger audience, the animated spin-off of I Dream of Jeannie places a younger Jeannie under the command of a high school student named Corey Anders, presumably before she went blonde and met and married Tony Nelson. The show had a couple things going for it: the voice actors for Corey and his pal Henry were none other than Mark Hamill and Bob Hastings, who would both later voice characters for various Batman series/games, as well. But that's where the magic ended, which is unfortunate for a show about magic. The full 16-episode season ran in 1973.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]