|From his first appearance, no one could have guessed that The Pink Panther would become the cartoon icon he is today. The character was first seen in the opening credits of the Inspector Clouseau film, The Pink Panther. While he was never seen in the movie proper (in the film the name was given to rare diamond), audiences fell in love with Pink's cool sense of style and Henry Mancini's jazzy theme music. DePatie-Freleng (who had designed the title sequence) were commissioned to create a series of Pink Panther theatrical shorts, many of which aired with the various Pink Panther feature sequels.
A collection of Pink's shorts aired on NBC in 1969 under the title The Pink Panther Show. Just like in the first appearance, the cat never spoke, using his nonverbal wits to outsmart his foes. In its first season the show also featured segments starring an Inspector Clouseau-inspired character named The Inspector (voiced by Pat Harrington Jr., "Schneider" on primetime's One Day At A Time). Comedian "Crazy" Lenny Schultz hosted the show, along with the Ritts Puppets.
After one season, the hosts were dropped from the show and a few new characters were added. The Ant and the Aardvark starred an ant who sounded like Dean Martin and an anteating aardvark who sounded like Jackie Mason. Comedian John Byner did both voices. Misterjaws was a nearsighted shark with a German accent who relished in scaring swimmers by sneaking up on them and yelling “Gotcha!” The last segment starred The Texas Toads, two rural reptiles who were always in danger of being eaten by birds. This segment was also known as The Tijuana Toads.
These many old and new DePatie-Freleng cartoons came together for one Saturday morning extravaganza in 1976. The Pink Panther Laugh and a Half Hour and a Half not only boasted one of the longest Saturday morning TV show names to date, it also bundled Pink, Misterjaws, the Inspector, the Ant and the Aardvark and the rest into a single convenient package.
The first Pink Panther cartoons made specifically for television came in 1978's The All-New Pink Panther Show. Accompanying these segments was a new character named Crazylegs Crane. With the help of his son, Crane Jr., the dim-witted bird chased a dragonfly named Dragonfly without much success. After running steadily on television for ten years the Pink Panther was taken off the air in 1979.
Five years later, NBC launched Pink Panther & Sons. While the panther still refused to speak, it didn’t really matter, since he was always surrounded by his sons Pinky, Panky, and Punkin, who more than made up for their father’s silence. With the title character reduced essentially to the role of babysitter, the series left the air after a less-than-stellar run.
The final version of the beloved character debuted in 1993 as the syndicated The Pink Panther. While these episodes were well written and artistically animated, the series upset many traditional Panther fans by giving the character a voice (even if that voice did come from Matt "Max Headroom" Frewer). Whatever support it may have lost, the show won back fans old and new with its slapstick humor and its resurrection of The Ant and the Aardvark and fellow DePatie-Freleng creation The Dogfather (voiced by Joe Pesci). The new version also featured new creations Voodoo Man and Manly Man.
After two seasons and 52 episodes, the Pink Panther again slunk into hiding, but after three decades of fame, it isn't likely the great cat will be gone forever.