It's sometimes easy to forget that The Monkees (and in particular, their television series) became very much a staple of kids-themed Saturday afternoon television in the late 1960s and early 1970s. After The Monkees and NBC mutually agreed to end production of The Monkees in 1968 after only two seasons (and multiple Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Comedy Series in 1967), the series premiered in syndication in the fall of 1969 on a new network, CBS, where it was shown through September 1972 (either at 12 noon or 12:30 pm). Shortly afterward, the show moved to ABC, where it aired through the summer of 1973 (during the 1 pm time slot).
Ironically, by the time the series premiered in syndication, promoted as a product of the kiddy crowd, The Monkees as a group had spent the better part of the last two years trying to break out of their manufactured, teenybopper image. By recording as a self-contained band (the albums Headquarters and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd. as well as the singles "Pleasant Valley Sunday" and "Daydream Believer"), the quartet proved they were not just a product of Donnie Kirshner's world. A series of successful concert tours throughout 1966-1968 highlighted their talents as a live attraction. A feature film, the wildly offbeat and eclectic Head, seemed to be created to appeal to a more sophisticated audience. Even in 1969, the year their old TV show premiered on Saturday afternoon TV, The Monkees (now a trio after the departure of Peter Tork) were releasing albums and songs that reflected a more mature sound. They even conducted a concert tour backed by an all-black rhythm and blues band.
Despite all of these efforts to be taken seriously as a musical entity, Micky, Davy and Michael were seemingly torn between projecting a new image for The Monkees while also satisfying the demands of their Screen Gems contract, which included filming commercials throughout 1969 and 1970 for Kool-Aid (and related tie-ins such as Nerf balls). Kool-Aid sponsored The Monkees television show when reruns began in September 1969.
However, there was a concerted effort to promote new Monkees music in the Saturday afternoon repeats. The original soundtrack of the shows were changed in an attempt to promote fresh cuts from albums like The Monkees Present (1969) and Changes (1970). In some instances, songs that didn't see official release until the 1980s (like "Steam Engine," "If You Have The Time," and "Apples, Peaches, Bananas and Pears") appeared on the new soundtracks of the syndicated reruns (and sometimes in mixes that to this day remain unreleased).
For an in-depth listing of the new songs that were chosen for the late 1969/early 1970s reruns, visit these pages at the Monkees Film & TV Vault website:
1969-1970 season on CBS
1970-1971 season on CBS
1971-1972 season on CBS
Almost right away, The Monkees became a ratings success in syndication. In his book, The Monkees: The Day-by-Day Story of the 60s TV Pop Sensation, Monkees historian Andrew Sandoval noted that the first few weeks of repeats on CBS earned an audience of over 8 million viewers. In a 1971 article written by future Rhino Records chief Harold Bronson, he wrote that "the foursome receive something like 1,000 fan letters a week (down from the 5,000 a day at the height of their success, but still substantial for a re-run series)."
But even with the newer songs being plugged in the highly-rated repeats, it failed to change the dwindling fortunes of the group in late 1969 and 1970 when it came to record and concert ticket sales. The Monkees Present, released in October 1969, managed to climb to just #100 on the Billboard chart. With Screen Gems hoping to capitalize on the success of the Saturday afternoon reruns, the 1970 album, Changes, recorded by just Micky and Davy, missed the charts completely. (It finally charted in 1986 during the group's revival that year.) In the fall of 1969, a Colgems employee told music trade magazine Amusement Business that The Monkees were in need of a strong effort to rebuild their success, which wasn't a hopeful sign for concert promoters. Micky, Davy and Michael performed their last concert together as a trio in December 1969 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
By early 1970, Michael's efforts to be released from his Monkees contract were completed, though he would still film sponsorship commercials with Micky and Davy through April of that year. The final Monkees single, "Oh My My," peaked at a lowly #98 in June 1970. Micky and Davy conducted one more recording session in September, but the single, 1971's bubblegum-esque "Do It In The Name of Love," would be credited to Dolenz & Jones and not to The Monkees.
In 1975, The Monkees television series was sold to local markets for syndication, which resulted in another generation of Monkees fans. A year later, a new greatest hits album was released, peaking at #58 and remaining in the Top 100 LPs for over sixteen weeks.
Here's a collection of photographs from the Saturday Afternoon rerun era, including pictures from Kool-Aid commercial shoots and various other promotional clippings.
Interview with Wayne Avers