The Pac-Man Cartoon: The First Video Game TV Show

When something rises in massive popularity, you need to exploit in in every way possible and that’s what happened when Atari had a huge hit on their hands and released the Pac-Man cartoon.

The Pac-Man cartoon was put out by Hanna-Barbara and aired on ABC. It was based on the successful Pac-Man game, came out in 1982 and ran for 44 episodes.

I just barely remember the Pac-Man cartoon as I was only around 5 years old at the time. There was no way not to know of the Pac-Man video game as it was -and is- one of the biggest games in history. The simple dot eating Pac-Man took the world by storm and, of course, would lead to a cartoon series.

The Pac-Man cartoon is an interesting story as it took a different approach compared to most cartoons of the 80s. Let’s take a look back, shall we…

Setting The Stage For The Pac-Man Cartoon

If you for some reason need an update on what Pac-Man was I would like to welcome you back to civilization and hope your time being raised by wolves was uplifting and joyous.

The Pac-Man video game was created by Namco in 1980 and is just a yellow pie with a slice missing eating a bunch of dots in a maze. He is trying to avoid getting eaten by four ghosts who actually have names:

  • Blinky
  • Inky
  • Pinky
  • Clyde

Interesting, however, each of the ghosts not only has a name but a personality trait. Those traits being shadowy, speed, bashfulness, and pokey. Pac-Man started out in Japan as Puck Man but was released in North America as Pac-Man by Midway games.

The development of the game started in 1979 with the intent of appealing to both men and women. Up to then, video games were primarily for the bros, and it was thought that a game that had universal appeal would bring in more of the ladies. Not that the guys in the arcades would know what to say to them.

Apparently the iconic image of Pac-Man was designed after the creator, Toru Iwatini saw a pizza with a slice missing. He also made the ghosts look “cute” to further appeal to girls. Either way, Pac-Man was brought to the world with midway making the smart move of changing the name from Puck-Man.

You can imagine what kids would have scratched out on the arcade cabinets to change that to…

The Success Of Pac-Man

So Pac-Man is an obvious success or we wouldn’t be here discussing it nearly 40 years later. It actually didn’t have a massive response in Japan but caught on like wildfire in North America. It quickly became more popular than any video game in history and at one point upwards of 30 million people were using it in 1982.

The popularity took everyone by surprise – especially distributors7 and other competitors. It would overtake Asteroids as the best-selling arcade game in American history and apparently grossed $1 Billion in quarters which is just insane to think about. Each unit went for around $2600 and they would sell around 400,000 of them. 

That’s another billion right there.

If you convert that for today it’s around $2.6 billion for sales and income generated by quarters. It can’t be understated how massive this thing was. Pac-Man made so much money, just in the first year, that it surpassed the income of any movie made before it – even Star Wars.

By the end of 18 months, it was estimated that 7 billion freaking quarters had been used to play Pac-Man. It won the best commercial game at the 1981 Arcade Awards (which were a real thing) and is considered one of the most important games ever made. It also would create massive spinoff products and an amazing/awful song called “Pac-Man Fever”.

All of these extra merchandising and spinoff products would generate another billion dollars.

And that brings us to the Pac-Man cartoon

Creating The Cartoon

So as mentioned this series came out in 1982 and was riding the enormous success of the video game. What would make this show unique – among some other things we’ll get to in a minute – is that it was the very first cartoon based on a video game. Many others would follow over the years, but Pac-Man was the godfather.

Or Pac-father

The show was released by ABC starting on September 25, 1982, and would run until November 5, 1985. In it’s first season it was packaged together during the Pac-Man/Little Rascals/Ritchie Rich show. The next season it was combined with the Iconic Rubik, The Amazing Cube into a combined “top fads of the early 80s” cartoon hour. Check out my article all about Rubik, The Amazing Cube.

The Plot Of The Pac-Man Cartoon

The show is all about Q-Bert, sorry, Pac-Man and his wife Ms. Pac-Man who is actually named Pepper – Take that Tony Stark. They have a baby named Pac-Baby, a dog named chomp-chomp and a cat with an unrelated video game name of Sour Puss.

Pac-Man and his Pac family live in Pac-Land and it’s a world that’s filled with spheres and different shapes like that. Everything is seemingly fine in Pac-Land but we have the ghosts show up aka Clyde, Blinky, Pinky, Inky, Huey, Lewie…sorry, wrong show.

The ghosts assemble themselves as the “Ghost Monsters’ and, like the video game, try to destroy Pac-Man’s life. The Ghost Monsters have a boss named Mezmaron who is a Darth Vader-like character who is just pure evil. There are a lot of connections between Mezmaron and Gargamel from the Smurfs which was another Hanna-Barbara show.

In a very Max Max style, Mezmaron is trying to control the source of all the “power pellets” in Pac-Land. If he can control this main food supply he can essentially control all of Pac-Land.

Over the 44 episodes there are some of the wacky plots that would happen:

  • The Ghosts create an earthquake machine to rock the land
  • The Pac-Land World Series is attempted to be ruined by the Ghosts
  • For some reasons the Ghosts are able to steal the Space Shuttle
  • We learn the origin of the power pellets
  • Mezamaron creates a giant robotic Ghost Monster
  • A Pac-Land Olympics

I’ll give the show’s creators some credit: They did use a lot of out of the box creativity over all the episodes. But then again, this is a character that’s basically a pizza missing a slice.

There were also a few holiday specials including a Halloween and Christmas one. The Halloween special was actually aired on prime time on ABC October 30, 1982, but was basically just made up of two Halloween segments from the show. 

The Voices Of The Pac-Man Cartoon

The Pac-Man cartoon featured some pretty substantial voice talent. This was just before cartoon shows exploded into release and there was constant work. Let’s take a look at the main characters;

  • Pac-Man was performed by Marty Ingels who was on a ton of shows in the 60s including the Addams Family, The Dick Van Dyck Show, and Bewitched
  • Ms. Pac-Man was Barbara Minkus
  • Mezmaron was voiced by Allan Lurie who provided many voices for shows like The Jetsons, The Smurfs, and The New Yogi Bear Show
  • Inky – Barry Gordon: Gordon has done a TON of work including the Smurfs, Jetsons, Snorks, but you definitely would remember his voice as Donatello in Ninja Turtles along with voicing Rocksteady
  • Blinky & Pinky was Chuck McCann – he did voices on G.I. Joe, The Get Along Gang, The Smurfs, The Snorks, and Duck Tales
  • Clyde voiced by Neil Ross – Ross did voices for Transformers, Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, and was the voice of the narrator at the Biff Tannon Museum in Back to the Future 2. 
  • Pac-Baby was Russi Taylor who was in My Little Pony, was the modern voice of Minnie Mouse including in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and was Martin Prince on the Simpsons 
  • Sour Puss was done by the great Peter Cullen aka Optimus Prime (check out my article all about the history of the Transformers)

The Response To The Pac-Man Cartoon

I think the response by kids was decent but not overwhelming epic as it only lasted two seasons. Who did have a great response to the show, however, were advertisers. Pac-Man was such a huge video game and the cartoon was awaited with huge anticipation. This made advertisers salivate and practically line up down to block to get time slots during the show.

The overwhelming demand created commercial breaks that were twice as long as normal. This is not ideal for kids with minimal attention spans who just want to watch more Pac-Man. In later years commercial breaks would return to their normal length. 

What made Pac-Man unique was this was one of the only times a show was released due to the success of a product. In most cases with cartoons, the show is used to launch toys. In this case, the intent was just to capitalize on the popularity of something that was already a success. It would still create interest in Pac-Man but it was about putting more content out there as opposed to using the show as a 22-minute long commercial.

Over the years Pac-Man set the stage for more cartoons to be based on video games such as the Saturday Supercade which would feature games like Frogger, Donkey Kong, and Q*bert. Saturday Supercade would be made by Ruby-Spears Productions which brought us Rubik, The Amazing Cube

Final Thoughts

Over the years there have been a ton of shows and cartoons based on video games such as:

  • The Super Mario Bros. Super Show
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Sonic X
  • Double Dragon
  • Captain N. The Game Master
  • Pokemon
  • Carmen Sandiego

And none of this wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for a missing slice of pizza.