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Meet Bob Balser, the man who helped animate the Jackson Five

For a while there, Bob Balser was the man, at least if you were talking animated pop stars.

This is the man, after all, who went from the Beatles to the Jackson Five, and almost, to the Osmonds.

Yes, back in the late ’60s and early ’70s, musical acts starred in cartoons, and Balser had a hand in directing the best ones. And now, more than 40 years after its creation, “The Jackson 5ive: The Complete Animated Series” arrives on DVD, Blu-Ray and iTunes Tuesday. It includes all 23 episodes and 46 remastered Jackson Five songs.

“I got a copy of some of the episodes,” Balser says. “I was going through them smiling. I’m so excited.”

Balser has had a career that includes prestige animated projects such as “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” “Around the World in 80 Days,” and work with the Peanuts gang.

In 1967-68, he co-directed the classic cartoon “Yellow Submarine,” starring the Beatles. That memorable work led to his title as supervising director on the 1971 cartoon for Motown’s famous family act.

“It was started in the United States, and it was taking forever,” says Balser, who was then based in London. “They called me in, and they wanted a full season done in 11 months or less.”

Balser tossed out the work that was already done (“I looked at them and really disliked them.”) and decided that it was important that the Jackson Five solve all their problems with music and intelligence. “It was the first series with a black group,” he says. “I thought it should be positive.”

Each episode features the adventures of the singing Michael, Marlon, Jermaine, Tito and Jackie Jackson — usually centering on Michael and his pets rats Ray and Charles, plus pet snake Rosie. Motown head Berry Gordy made appearances, as did Supremes star Diana Ross.

The Jackson brothers were too busy being teen idols to voice their characters, so Balser never met them. (Ross did voice her lines, but they were shipped to Balser, so he didn’t meet her either). He never met the Beatles, whose singing voices were used in “Yellow Submarine,” either. But he did meet the Osmond brothers, who had a cartoon in 1972. Balser was asked to help with that show, but when the Jackson Five series got a second season he had to pass.

Although boomers may remember the cartoon, today’s youth may not only not know about them, some may not even know the King of Pop was in a family group. Still, with its groovy ’70s psychedelic vibe and wholesome messages, Balser is confident the cartoon still has appeal.

“They do know Michael Jackson, and the music is terrific. It’s not going to disappear,” he says.

Jackson Five photo courtesy DreamWorks Classics

'Survivor': You gotta have a gimmick

Our correspondent, Raleigh lawyer and "Survivor" fan Damon Circosta, offers his thoughts about this week's episode:

The arc of a television show is a lot like the career of a rock star. The good ones usually start with a big hit. The great ones follow that hit with a consistent and solid body of work. The legends take it one step further. They redefine the genre. They have such an impact they can turn the formulaic into something new. 

The Beatles did it to rock in the '60s and "Survivor" did it to television in the first decade of the millennium. This isn’t just another reality show, this is something that was so groundbreaking at the time that they can essentially run the same program for over a decade and still find a way to keep it relevant.

"Survivor" may have reached legend status a few years ago, and much like the Beatles at the end of their run, the producers are using some gimmicks to keep it fresh. Redemption Island, with its chance to get back in the game after the tribe has spoken, isn’t all that different from the silly costumes of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They both seem a little silly at first, but after a while you start to realize that there is something special happening here.

"Survivor's" run is remarkable. The challenges might be getting stale (I think this is the third season in a row that Wednesday night’s challenge has been used); the rewards and immunity clues are almost predictable (and it bothers me that no one but Boston Rob sees it coming); and the catty remarks when someone is voted off feel like they were written by a third-rate sitcom writer. But like an aging rock band, producers find a way to deliver time and again. The people they get to go on this show continue to fascinate, and that’s what keeps us coming back.

This episode starts off with a rift between David the lawyer, right, and Sarita the drama queen. Last week they started gunning for each other and (FORESHADOWING ALERT) you knew if the purple tribe lost, one of these two was going home.

Finally on iTunes: The Beatles

You might think today is just another Tuesday, but it's a bit more momentous than that. Finally, after years and years of wrangling between various Apples, The Beatles catalog is on iTunes. As Ringo Starr summed up, "I am particularly glad to no longer be asked when the Beatles are coming to iTunes." Go forth and dig.

(Thanks, Aaron.)

"Mad Men" recap: Do you promise not to tell?

MadMenEpisode410-LaneSecrets come out and secrets stay hidden in Season 4, Episode 10. Don, Roger, Lane and Pete see their worlds start to crumble. And at least three of them engage in stunning displays of spinelessness. The one who shows some backbone is most surprising.

The 1960s references are everywhere in this episode. Don gives Sally a thrill when he tells her that he'll be taking her to the Beatles' concert in Shea Stadium (Aug. 15, 1965); Lane takes guests to the Playboy Club; the Cold War and the space race are key to a client's business; women sit in a doctor's waiting room to get an illegal procedure; someone makes the casual offer of a Valium; "Hazel" is playing on a television set. Yet it is the past that makes the biggest impact in this episode.

Big fat spoilers ahead about this packed episode.

London musical "Imagine This" to air on UNC-MX

The acclaimed London musical, "Imagine This," will air tonight at 8pm on UNC-MX.

The story is about a group of actors in Poland's Warsaw Ghetto in 1942 who use the tale of "Masada" to keep their hopes alive while Nazis threaten their survival. The show is a filmed production of a live performance and is offered on UNC-MX in conjunction with Holocaust Remembrance Day, which occurs on April 11th.

UNC-MX (formerly called UNC-ED) is channel 203 and available only to digital subscribers of Time Warner Cable.

VH1 begins 3-week Beatles block tonight

VH1 is beginning a 3-week block of Beatles programming tonight, starting with the Emmy-nominated documentary series on the band, "The Beatles Anthology."

The in-depth documentary series will simulcast on VH1 and VH1 Classic tonight, Sept. 2, and Sept. 9 at 9pm

Then on Tuesday, Sept. 1, VH1 Classic begins "9 Days of Beatles," showing a series of classic Beatles concerts and films. It begins with a Beatles Retrospective on September 1 at 8pm, followed by the band's classic movie, "Help!" at 9pm.

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