Riverdale TV: A Short History of Archie Comics Adaptations on the Small Screen

Archie Comics: Archie and Riverdale TV Series
Bikas Das/AP

03/09/2016 AT 05:00 PM EST

The new year brought good news to longtime fans of Archie Andrews and his friends: The CW has ordered the pilot for Riverdale, a live-action show that will offer a "gritty" take on the long-running comics series. Gritty or not, it's a good fit; after all, if any network can get teenage longing right, it's the CW, which has already found success adapting other comics into shows such as Arrow, The Flash and iZombie.

Since news of the pilot order hit in January, there's been Archie news trickling online. New Zealand actor K.J. Apa was cast as Archie, and 90210 vet Luke Perry was picked to play Archie's dad. And yes, that latter bit should make you feel a little old, but hey – at least the CW is keeping up its tradition of making sure everyone on its shows is as beautiful as possible, parents included. In fact, Madchen Amick (Twin Peaks) and Marisol Nichols (24) were cast as the mothers of Betty and Veronica, respectively. Cole Sprouse has been cast as Jughead, and various up-and-comers will be playing Betty, Veronica and Josie (yes, of the Pussycats fame).

However, it won't be the first time Archie and friends have escaped off the comics page and into other mediums. Archie, after all, has been around since 1941, and people have been following his adventures ever since. With the buzz around the upcoming TV pilot, we thought we'd round up some of the famous and not-so-famous instances of Archie in popular culture.

Archie (1964)

Archie's first attempt at TV stardom didn't quite take. This pilot wasn't picked up to series, but you can still watch it in full online. Fun bonus: The actress playing Archie's mom in that first scene is Jean Vander Pyl, who at the time was already voicing Wilma on The Flintstones. Can't you recognize the voice?

The Archie Show (1968)

The gang's first series was an animated one, and though it continued to air for a full decade, only 17 half-hour episodes were ever produced. The show's real claim to fame, however, is the song "Sugar, Sugar," which was created for the show and was released in 1969 as if Archie and friends were really the band responsible. It hit No. 1 on the Billboard Top 100, making it the first song by a fictional band ever to do so, and it remained at the top for four weeks.

And yes, that is that Sabrina who turns Archie into the frog – the same character Melissa Joan Hart would eventually play and one that most people might not think had any pop culture connection to "Sugar, Sugar." Sabrina would get her own series in 1970.

Josie and the Pussycats also got their own show that same year, though produced by a different studio (hence the reason they didn't interact with Archie the way they did in the comics). Valerie, who was added for the show, became one of the first regularly occurring black characters on a Saturday morning TV show, and she was retroactively combined into the comics. A then-unknown Cheryl Ladd provided the singing voice of Melody, the blond band member.

The Archie Situation Comedy Musical Variety Show (1978)

It's nearly completely forgotten to history, and this video is all we can find of it. It features one fantastic take on Miss Grundy and a lot of TV-grade special effects that probably looked pretty cool back in 1978. As the video above explains, it's actually a follow-up to a 1976 Archie pilot that at one point starred David Caruso as the redheaded Archie.

The New Archies (1987)

Junior high-aged versions of Archie and friends appeared in this short-lived Saturday morning cartoon adaptation. We won't mention it again.

Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again (1990)

On May 6, 1990, NBC aired a two-hour TV movie detailing what Riverdale would be like if Archie had grown up, moved away and made everybody else sad. When Archie (Murphy Brown actor Christopher Rich) returns to Riverdale for his reunion, he finds Betty (Lauren Holly) unhappy, Veronica a four-time divorcee and Jughead a psychiatrist who's terrified of women. Had the movie found an audience, it could have been a pilot for a TV series. Alas, this was all we got of this Thirtysomething-esque take on Archie.

Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1996)

Yes, everyone knows about the ABC sitcom, but there's an interesting little Riverdale-related footnote in the Sabrina Spellman story. Before the show got picked up, Melissa Joan Hart starred in a TV movie version of Sabrina that aired on Showtime. The movie plays out fairly differently from the show, and even features a pre-Two Guys and a Girl Ryan Reynolds in a supporting role. Strangest of all is that it takes place in Riverdale, not neighboring Greendale, where Sabrina lives in the comics and most other adaptions. The success of the subsequent TV show resulted in three animated spinoffs as well.

Archie's Weird Mysteries (1999)

Oddly, it was both a show that was educational in nature and also had Archie and friends chasing down paranormal phenomenon, like X-Files lite. It's perhaps most notable today that Book of Mormon and Girls actor Andrew Rannells provided the voice of Archie.

Honorable mentions

This piece focused on the many TV adaptations of Archie properties, but it has to be noted that in 2001 a Josie and the Pussycats movie managed to beat any sort of Archie movie to the theater. Fifteen years later, there's not been a squeak about an Archie movie. You'd think someone would have tried at this point, right?

In 2003, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa was readying to open his play, Archie's Weird Fantasy, which centered around Archie Andrews coming out as gay. Archie Comics sent Aguirre-Sacasa a cease-and-desist letter, and the play had to be amended to remove any explicit reference to its source material. And that's a story in and of itself, but the weird epilogue is that in 2014, Aguirre-Sacasa was named chief creative officer of Archie Comics. Twist ending, right?

In 2005, Australian rock duo the Veronicas found themselves in the receiving end of a lawsuit from Archie Comics, lawyers for whom claimed that the band's name and likeness infringed upon the company's copyright on the character Veronica Lodge. Eventually the comics company and Warner Bros. music reach an unusual settlement deal: cross-promotion. Lisa and Jessica Origliasso, the sisters who comprise the band, made a guest appearance in an issue of the comic, which in turn offered readers a free download of their song "4ever."

One more subtle Archie reference that we've always liked. In the movie Heathers, Winona Ryder plays Veronica Sawyer, who ditches her best friend (Renee Estevez) in order to hang with the cool girls. The friend's name? Betty Finn. It's Betty and Veronica – plus Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Neat, right? Go tell your friends.
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