Scooby-Dooby-Doo, where are you? On our TV screens for more than five decades, that’s where. Scooby-Doo‘s been a part of the pop culture lexicon for nearly all of those now 54 years. The 1960s were arguably Hanna Barbera’s golden era, with The Flintstones, Yogi Bear, The Jetsons, Top Cat, Jonny Quest, Space Ghost, and Wacky Races among the most recognizable titles of the day. However, most other shows stayed confined to the ’60s and ’70s, only living on today in reruns. Some – notably The Flintstones – continued with spin-offs and movies, but there were often long hiatuses between projects.
As for Scooby-Doo, there’s rarely been a hiatus lasting more than a few years. For the most part, it’s aired continuously since its debut in the ’60s. Nowadays, fans can usually count on at least one new movie per year. But what’s the secret? How has the mystery-solving dog, a rather formulaic premise when you break it down, been a part of our lives for so long? Let’s take a look at the history of Scooby-Doo and what’s behind its enduring legacy.
The Early Days
What was that note about a formulaic premise? At its heart, most Scooby-Doo iterations do follow the same structure, with the inaugural show Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! as the best example. Nearly every episode featured the gang traveling somewhere in their Mystery Machine and encountering some sketchy character in a supposed haunted location.
After finding some clues, they set a trap to catch the creep, with the culprit being some local who wants to scare people away for selfish reasons. Change the location, ghost, and perpetrator, and repeat the following week.
While this has remained the go-to format for decades, subsequent adaptions have shaken things up a bit. The second show in the franchise, The New Scooby-Doo Movies, paired Mystery Inc. with some well-known celebrities of the early ’70s. By 1979, the premise had gotten a little stale, so Scooby-Doo’s now-infamous nephew Scrappy was added to the gang. Shockingly, his addition didn’t save the show.
The 1980s saw Scooby‘s biggest changes to date. Monsters-of-the-week were abandoned, and the first half of the decade saw Scooby, Shaggy, and Scrappy in decidedly non-paranormal activities without the rest of the gang. This also didn’t work, and the show tried to win back some of those lost fans by returning Daphne and ghost-hunting to the next iteration, The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo.
At the decade’s end, the show turned to the then-common practice of “babyfication,” where popular cartoon characters of the day were reverted to their younger selves. A Pup Named Scooby-Doo ushered the ’80s out and the ’90s in. But this wouldn’t last either, as the franchise was effectively dead after 1991.
But of course, we wouldn’t be here talking about this if that was the end. Successful rerun ratings and home video sales convinced Hanna-Barbera and Warner Bros. to relaunch Scooby-Doo. And they came out swinging. The titular canine returned in 1998 with arguably his magnum opus, the original movie Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island. For the first time since 13 Ghosts, the monsters were real, and fans loved it.
The Modern Era
After 2001’s Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase, the “real monster” concept was abandoned, and the bad guys were once again people in disguise. Despite subsequent films not living up to Zombie Island‘s standards, it set a precedent, as at least one new movie has been released every year since 1998.
2002’s What’s New, Scooby-Doo? felt like the property returning to its roots, modernizing the concepts from Where Are You?. But this didn’t mean we were done experimenting. Who could forget the wild live-action movies and all their CGI Scooby glory? The early 2000s were a crazy time.
The new shows took inspiration from what may or may not have worked in the old days. Shaggy and Scooby-Doo Get a Clue placed the titular two characters together without the rest of the gang in an overarching story.
Next, Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated was the franchise’s attempt at balancing the best of both worlds. It kept the weekly person-in-disguise while also featuring a series-long overarching mystery with real supernatural elements. Since Mystery Incorporated is regarded by fans as possibly the darkest and best TV series, it’s safe to say the experiment was a success.
Then we had Be Cool Scooby-Doo!, which abandoned anything serious and focused almost exclusively on cartoony, over-the-top slapstick. Scooby-Doo and Guess Who! copied the format of The New Scooby-Doo Movies but with modern 2010s celebrities.
Guess Who! ended in 2021, and 2023 gave us *sigh* that show. You know the one we mean. The Scooby-Doo show without Scooby-Doo where everyone is a horrible person. All fans owe a retroactive apology to Scrappy and everything else about Scooby-Doo that was previously considered “as bad as it could get.”
So what has kept Scooby-Doo relevant for 50 years? It’s safe to say that consistently offering fans something new with each TV series and movie has helped it never fade out of the spotlight. But in all that change, there’s a familiarity as well. It’s Scooby-Doo; no matter what the story, fans have an idea of what they’ll see.
For better or worse, Scooby always returns after a hiatus doing something different. Sometimes it’s Zombie Island, which singlehandedly launched the franchise’s dominance of the 21st century. Other times, it’s the current show (which apparently is getting a second season) that reminds us 54 years is a very long time.
Scooby’s always bounced back from slumps, and fans should have every hope that it will again this time. At its heart, the show is about four kids and their dog that solve mysteries. That’s what fans know, what they expect, and what will bring them back. Over five decades, we’ve seen just how far that concept can go, which is something that very few other shows can claim.