In 1969, a team of meddling kids and their dog first appeared on TV screens. Since then, the mystery-solving antics of Scooby-Doo, Shaggy, Velma, Daphne, and Fred have continuously appeared either in reruns or in new incarnations around the globe.
With Scooby-Doo celebrating its 50th year on TV this year, I thought I would take the time to discuss a little about how a storytelling formula established with the original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? series has led to over five decades of shows about Scooby and the gang.
As writers we are often encouraged to avoid formulaic writing. It can be predicable, cliched, and oftentimes create a sense of boredom for the reader or viewer. The consumer wants to be entertained, they want to have a sense of unpredictability in the stories being presented, and they definitely don’t want to be able to guess the end at the very beginning.
For some magical reason, Scooby-Doo and its multitude of series have used the same tried-and-true formula every single episode. And it works. Every time. We all know what the main story beats will be in an episode; how each character will react when things go awry; that there will be a chase sequence; that a trap will be set, the monster captured, and the old man/woman who was playing the monster will be revealed when their mask is removed. And, of course, some derivation of the line “And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for those kids…and that dog!”
Now, I know some will quibble that The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo doesn’t entirely fit the established formula, but the basic tenants of the storytelling are still present.
As a fan of Scooby-Doo, I think that it’s a great compliment to the series creators (Joe Ruby & Ken Spears, and of course, William Hanna & Joseph Barbera) that this formula has endured for fifty years. I really can’t think of any other TV series that could use the same formula over and over again, make it work, then carry it over into new versions of the same series and find success.
And that’s exactly what Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? did in 1969: established a formula for success.
Even now, in 2019, a new Scooby-Doo series, Scooby-Doo, and Guess Who? is on the air. Same formula. Same story beats. And it still works.
As writers we can learn a lot from Scooby-Doo. How to establish characters. How to create effective character traits. How to create an ensemble. How to get creative when things may seem formulaic in your story. Even with the formula in place, Scooby-Doo’s writers still manage to come up with creative ways to tell the same story.
So, the next time you have a moment, check out a few different Scooby-Doo episodes of the multitude of series and witness the genius use of a successful story formula. And the next time you feel like you’ve placed your characters in a no-win scenario, maybe the gang from Mysteries Incorporated can give you the inspiration you need to find success.
Heck, they’ve been doing it for 50 years. They have to be doing something right!
Check out the intros from 50 years of Scooby-Doo series below!
What’s your favorite version of Scooby-Doo? Are there other series that also follow a similar formula with each episode? Leave a comment and let me know!