Jem, in the style of a publicity shot.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS

Original Medium: TV animation
Produced by: Marvel Productions
Produced for: Hasbro Toys
First Appeared: 1985
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Jem & the Holograms was the kind of TV cartoon that parent watchdog groups of the 1980s loved to hate. It wasn't because the show was all about rock'n'roll — by that time, the parents themselves had …

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… grown up on that one-time watchdog group favorite. It wasn't because of sex or violence, either — tho it thrived on high energy, Jem avoided the sort of overt use of those particular high-energy motifs that might attract the ire of bluenoses.

No, where Jem went astray, from the point of view of those parent groups, was in being part of a coordinated promotion campaign, where the TV show sells the toys and the toys sell the accessories, and the whole thing sells the books, the records, the videos, etc. etc. etc. Like He-Man, Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears, and so many other '80s cartoons, it was subject to a charge of being nothing but a half-hour commercial.

This could scarcely be denied. The character was created by Hasbro Toys, which hoped to duplicate its rival Mattel's success with Barbie. Jem was intended to do for young girls of the 1980s what that perennial fashion plate had done for those of the '50s. Hasbro (also behind Air Raiders, M.A.S.K. and other toon-related toys) brought the character to Marvel Productions (the old DePatie-Freleng studio, where The Pink Panther had started, renamed after its acquisition by Marvel Comics). Marvel made it a part of Super Sunday, a 90-minute weekly block of programming, and launched it in syndication on October 6, 1985.

Like many of Marvel's comic book characters, Jem had a secret identity. By day, she was Jerrica Benton, president of Starlight Music, a production and promotion company founded by her late father. Practically nobody knew Jerrica was also Starlight's hottest star, Jem. The transformation was triggered by the words "Show time, Synergy" — Synergy being a computer program devised by her father which used holograms to alter Jerrica's appearance beyond recognition. (Synergy also used a hologram to manifest itself in the appearance of a young woman.) The words "Show's over, Synergy" would transform her back.

Jerrica also managed The Starlight Foundation, which, by the way, received all her earnings as Jem. Among the foundation's good works was an orphanage. This provided members for The Holograms, Jem's co-performers who also formed a large part of the supporting cast. Their rival group, The Misfits, provided a source of villainy to keep the stories moving. The cast was rounded out by Rio Pacheco, Jerrica/Jem's utterly perfect boyfriend. Needless to say, that segment had a very strong female following, with girls wanting to be Jem and be loved by Rio. But with a cast full of gorgeous women, it had a pretty good male following as well.

In fact, Jem's following was so strong, it was the only Super Sunday segment spun off into its own show, which began August 3, 1986 (also in syndication). In this series, Marvel worked in conjunction with Sunbow Productions (The Mask). Both here and in Super Sunday, Jerrica/Jem's speaking voice was done by Samantha Newark (Transformers) and her singing voice by Britta Phillips (whose other credits don't include animation). Rio was Michael Sheehan (Challenge of the GoBots). Other voices in the large cast included (but were not limited to) Cathianne Blore (An American Tail), Cindy McGee (Smurfs), Patricia Alice Albrecht (Snorks), Bobbie Block (Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?) and Susan Blu (My Little Pony).

In one respect, Jem lived up to her expectations, selling in the form of toys, music, clothing, etc. (tho oddly, considering the property's corporate connections, not comic books). In another, tho — while she was popular enough in her time, Jem didn't have anything even remotely resembling Barbie's staying power. She still retains a reasonable fan base, but is mostly just a 1980s period piece.

— DDM

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Text ©2004-08 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Mattel.