Times Staff Writer

Parents were horrified by them. Elementary schools banned them. Psychiatrists feared they would teach innocent minds to laugh at violence, deformity and pain.

Now they’re coming to your TV screen. (The series is scheduled to start Sept. 19.)

They’re the Garbage Pail Kids, a warped takeoff on the cuddly Cabbage Patch Kids. Created for bubble gum trading cards by Topps Chewing Gum Co., the Garbage Pail Kids--including Bustin’ Dustin, a baby boxer with a perpetual nosebleed; Basket Casey, who dribbles his own severed head toward the basketball hoop; and Well Done Sheldon, the boy roasted to order at the stake--launched a controversial nationwide children’s fad last year.

This year, the Garbage Pail Kids are the inspiration for a fall Saturday-morning children’s series on CBS. And, while CBS insists that “The Garbage Pail Kids” will feature the fun aspects of the Garbage Pail phenomenon rather than the gross-out elements, some adults are already fuming.

“I know (CBS vice president of children’s programming) Judy Price says some of the creepier aspects of the cards will not be part of the series,” said Peggy Charren, president of Action for Children’s Television. “But to have a show based on the cards is a pitch and an endorsement and a validation of the Garbage Pail Kids cards.


“She (Price) is promoting a kind of humor that is nasty,” Charren continued. “These cards use stereotypes that are ghastly. It’s like allowing a child to call someone a ‘retard’ in the house--it promotes that kind of thinking. CBS used to be the leading voice in broadcasting, and what are they doing now for children? A series on the Garbage Pail Kids!”

Said Thomas Radecki, research director of the National Coalition on Television Violence: “Sure, they won’t show the most gruesome (cards). But by using anything related to the cards, they’re . . . saying it’s OK to get a laugh out of brutal sadism.”

Although CBS has also received some complaints from its affiliated stations about the show, the network defends its “Garbage Pail Kids” series. Price describes it as a “wacky, totally innocent” show with the same kind of appeal as Mad magazine.

“It’s not going to be ‘Care Bears,’ but it’s going to be responsible,” she said.

The show, which will follow “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” on the Saturday-morning schedule, taps into the same love for nuttiness that has made Pee-wee Herman so popular with kids, Price said. “In the (TV) environment of today, kids aren’t getting much of that. Since the Smurfs, the last five years have been soft and cuddly--or else it’s super-hero, action-adventure shows.”

Although the characters on the show--Split Kit, Clogged Duane, Elliot Mess, Terri Cloth and Patty Putty--are modeled “as closely as possible” to the cards, CBS avoided using any of the nastier Kids, Price said. “Some of the cards are a bit much for us to do: They show torture, mucus. Of course we’re not going to do that. Our characters are based on the cards that are just silly and absurd. I think it will be funny, and outlandish and something totally new for kids.”

Price shrugs off the idea that the TV show, innocent or not, might serve to promote the cards. (The Topps firm, although it sold the “Garbage Pail Kids” license to CBS, has no plans to buy commercial time during the show.) “We haven’t created the cards or the phenomenon; the majority of kids already have them,” she said. “Expose kids to something horrible? That’s ridiculous.”

As decribed by Price, kids on the series will be normal children who can “trash out,” Superman-style, into their Garbage Pail identities. Split Kit becomes half nice guy, half tough guy. Clogged Duane melts like wax in order to slip down drains. Elliot Mess has his body parts scrambled. Terri Cloth has no face, so she can paint on new identities. Patty Putty’s face is on her hand.

The show, produced in Taiwan, went into development with a lawsuit still pending against Topps by the producers of the original Cabbage Patch Kids, Original Appalachian Artworks (OAA), for satirizing their wholesome “soft sculpture” babies, each of which comes with adoption papers. The suit was settled out of court in February, when Topps agreed to pay an “undisclosed sum” to OAA and to make changes in the design of some cards. Price said she pursued Topps about using the Kids, rather than vice versa.

And CBS is not the only company bringing the Garbage Pail Kids to the screen. In August, Atlantic Releasing Co. will release a live-action movie about their own clan of Garbage Pail Kids: Greaser Greg, Ali Gator (half boy, half alligator), Valerie Vomit, Messy Tessie (whose nose runs), Foul Phil (who has bad breath) and Windy Winston (who suffers from chronic flatulence). The film, described by an Atlantic spokesman as “a family film,” has not yet been rated by the MPAA.