Tugs (stylized as TUGS) is a British children's television series first broadcast in 1989 on Children's ITV block on ITV, and it was produced for Television South (TVS). It was created by the then producers of Thomas & Friends, Robert D. Cardona and David Mitton. The series deals with the adventures of two anthropomorphic tugboat fleets, the Star Fleet and the Z-Stacks, who compete against each other in the fictional Bigg City Port. It takes place in the 1920s.
Due to the bankruptcy of Television South, one of the companies behind the show, the series did not continue production past 13 episodes. Following the initial airing of the series throughout 1989, television rights were sold to an unknown party, while all models and sets from the series sold to Britt Allcroft. Modified set props and tugboat models were used in Thomas & Friends from 1991 onwards, with footage from the original program being heavily dubbed and edited for use in the American children's series Salty's Lighthouse.
Why It Rocks
- While the idea of anthropomorphic tugboats is similar to Thomas & Friends (to the point where Britt Allcroft once attempted to sue David and Cardona for legal reasons), it has many elements that settle both shows apart.
- The models of the show, including both the Star Tugs and the Z-Stacks, and others like Big Mickey and the harbor environments, are very well done and detailed for 1980s standards.
- Unlike Thomas & Friends, which had the narrators voicing all the characters and telling the stories like a book (until Season 13), the show has both a narrator and true voice acting for all the characters, and their both really good, such as Chris Tulloch, a producer who worked on the show, as the Z-Stacks leader, Zorran.
- A lot of the characters are very likable such as:
- Ten Cents, a teenage tug who's always loyal to the fleet but is sometimes prone to anger and has his chipper best friend Sunshine as his sidekick.
- Big Mac is a well-meaning but serious type of tug, who sometimes takes no nonsense.
- Top Hat, a character who is posh and pretty snobby at times when things go wrong, but is hard-working and really funny.
- Warrior, who is a strong but pretty klutzy gentle giant who ain't always the brightest tool on the shed.
- OJ or Old Jones, is a old and very wise paddle steamer who is the last of his kind.
- The heart-throb Hercules, who is a compassionate and smart relaxed ladies-man type.
- All other characters are likable and/or enjoyable too, such as the caring Captain Star, who is the narrator of the stories, Grampus the ex-navy submarine, Lillie the lightship, and the antagonistic gangster like Z-Stack fleet, such as the cunning Captain Zero, the shifty leader Zorran, the sassy and mafia like Zak, the slow witted henchmen Zip and Zug, and the tough but secretly kind Zebedee.
- The soundtrack, such as the opening theme, is wonderful to listen to, since it was composed by Mike O'Donnell and Junior Campbell, the same people who also composed Thomas & Friends from seasons 1-7. There is even a beautiful, albeit short, vocal track named "Far Away" used in the final episode "Bigg Freeze."
- Many memorable, intense and amazing stories such as:
- "Pirate" (The darkest episode of the series)
- "High Winds"
- "High Tide"
- "Ghosts" (the second darkest episode of the series)
- “Up River”
- “Bigg Freeze”
- The rivalry between the Star Tugs and the Z-Stacks is interesting.
- While Thomas & Friends was said to be aimed for young ages at the time of release, this show took more steps to be aimed for older children, with it's very mature themes such as crime, death, and hostage in a show aimed at children. For example, there are violent explosions in "Munitions", and depending on the version you watch, Big Mickey, the crane, dies.
- The spirit of TUGS continues to live on to this very day. In fact, Big Mickey's model was brought over to several Thomas & Friends episodes and had even gained a face in season 21.
- Many moments of the show range from heartwarming/emotional (such as the SS Vienna departing with all the characters watching, signaling the end of the series) to hilarious (Top Hat wondering why he couldn't be a liner instead, with Warrior replying that 'he's not big enough')
- Izzy Gomez is a Mexican or South American stereotype that has not really aged well or came off as a questionable character.
- When it was brought over to the US as part of Salty's Lighthouse, it was heavily edited and severely neutered down.
- Some of the more mature episodes were heavily censored in favor of appealing more to younger children than both kids and adults.
- Some of the characters had their names and genders changed. Sunshine went from male to female for this dub as a result of this.
- Some of the changes were understandable, to avoid copyright infringement lawsuits with McDonald's, Big Mac was changed to Big Stack (Yeah they totally thought outside the box with that one). O.J. became Otis in this dub because the 1990's was a time when the O.J. Simpson murder case was still a hot topic. Both names respectively were censored for this dub.
- The rest of the changes made for that show are so hard to swallow the pill on because of the fact this one was TUGS' final fate before being left to obscurity after the cancellation of Salty's Lighthouse.
- A good example of this is that all of the music composed by Mike O'Donnell and Junior Campbell from the original TUGS series was replaced with music composed by Chase Rucker Productions, pretty much in favor of appealing to small American children, even for the 1990's standards.
- The show was short lived. While the show was aimed for older kids, but due to the concept of anthropomorphic vehicles being themed throughout the show, they thought it was aimed for younger kids.
- Robert D. Cardona went on to make Theodore Tugboat, which is similar to this show but more kid-friendly.
- All of the models from this series (with the exceptions of Top Hat, Grampus, and the Coast Guard) are now owned by the Star Tugs Company.
- Some of the models like OJ and Big Mickey also appeared in several Thomas & Friends episodes.
- There were over 90 more scripts planned, but the show was cancelled after only 13 episodes due to Television South and Clearwater Features filing for bankruptcy on respective New Year's Eve years, 1990 and 1992.