Monday, July 02, 2018
Obscurity of the Day: TV Tee-Hees
Henry Scarpelli is best known for his work on the Archie line of comic books and the newspaper comic strip, but his work in comics started long before that in the 1940s. His first brush with newspaper work came when he signed on as assistant to John Henry Rouson, working on the Sunday of his strip Little Sport. That would have been in the early to mid-1950s.
Little Sport was syndicated by General Features, and Scarpelli must have made a favorable impression with the syndicate, because they awarded him his own bylined feature, TV Tee-Hees. Newspapers were deathly afraid that TV was going to kill their market, but tried to embrace it to stay relevant. In the mid-1950s it became common for papers to issue daily or weekly television program listings, giving TV junkies a reason to buy the paper even if they didn't read it otherwise. As always, the syndicates latched onto the new feature by offering a cartoon or comic strip specifically designed to accompany the listings.
The most popular of these features was Bil Keane's Channel Chuckles, but it was hardly alone in the genre. Henry Scarpelli's TV Tee-Hees covered the same ground, starting as a weekly panel in August 1956*. The weekly panel, which ran 2-columns wide, usually came in the actual shape of a TV set complete with dials, though some papers cut off some or all of that (see top three samples). Newspapers used the panel in their weekly TV listing sections, generally included with the Sunday paper.
General Features must have been pleased with the reception, because they asked Scarpelli to begin producing a daily 1-column version of the panel, which could run in papers that printed daily TV listings. This version began in July 1957** and met with enough newspaper buyers to keep it afloat.
Although the panel never rivalled Channel Chuckles in popularity, at a small syndicate like General Features it was counted as a success. There was even a book version offered by Fleet Publishing in 1963.
The panel even outlasted General Features itself. The syndicate was bought out by the LA Times in the late 1960s, and the imprint was dropped in December 1974, along with many of its features, but TV Tee-Hees was retained. A bigger syndicate meant higher expectations, though, and apparently TV Tee-Hees didn't quite make the top of the ratings there. The panel went off the air in 1978 (lasting until at least July of that year***).
* Source: Creator in The Cartoonist magazine, December 1968.
** Source: Editor & Publisher, 7/27/1957.
*** Source: Springfield Leader and Press.