The history of the studio is a turbulent one. After its founding in 1977, Ruby and Spears launched their own venture to add more competition to their former employer Hanna-Barbera. Even from the offset, many employees were shared between both houses in addition to the stylistic similarities of their output. Aside from similar sound effects, the animation style mimicked Hanna-Barbera's tried and true Limited Animation methods. The visual similarities led to many of the early Ruby-Spears shows, such as Fangface, often being mistaken for actual Hanna-Barbera shows. Initially owned by Filmways from 1977 to 1980, in 1981 they were purchased by Taft Broadcasting, which also owned Hanna-Barbera, making them sister companies. Hence, they were animation's best example of Friendly Enemy in the industry. Further, they understood that the generation of their time would determine the next path of Western Animation and planned accordingly. The company closed down in 1996.
While Ruby-Spears did create a few original properties, during their heyday they became particularly well known for churning out a great deal of licensed properties. These ranged from animated adaptations of live-action sitcoms, to action shows centered on then-popular film and television celebrities (most notably, Mr. T and Chuck Norris), to the wildly successful 1980s update of Alvin and the Chipmunks. They even collaborated with Warner Bros. (the eventual owner of most R-S properties) to adapt two DC Comics creations: Plastic Man and Superman. This even extended to toys (such as Rubik's Cube) and video games.
However, Taft (or, as it was known later, Great American Broadcasting) had a lot of problems starting in the late 1980s, leading to them to eventually put both Hanna-Barbera and Ruby-Spears up for sale. The end result saw Turner Broadcasting purchase the Hanna-Barbera studio in full and the Ruby-Spears library prior to 1991. The studio itself however was allowed to go independent once more. After the sale, the company restructured into RS Holdings. This led to them working on projects such as Wild West COW Boys Of Moo Mesa, Skysurfer Strike Force and the American Mega Man cartoon.
One major point of confusion in regards to this history is that during the Turner buyout, the Ruby-Spears library was legally consolidated into the Hanna-Barbera one. This led to such confusion as Ruby-Spears DVDs having fine print saying they are owned by Hanna-Barbera and even some of the back catalog being marketed as Hanna-Barbera titles. The rights to the shows they produced after 1991 are split across various partners.
Both Ruby and Spears continued to be involved in television production in a limited capacity until the former died on August 26, 2020. Spears followed suit in passing almost three months later, on November 6.
List of shows produced by Ruby-Spears:
- Afterschool Special:ABC Weekend Special: Starting in 1979 with The Puppy Who Wanted a Boy until 1982's Miss Switch to the Rescue, Ruby-Spears would provide at least one animated feature a year for this Saturday morning anthology series. They did so again in 1984 with Bad Cat, and then again in 1994 (with The Magic Paintbrush) and 1995 (with Jirimpimbira: As African Folk Tale).
- Alvin and the Chipmunks (1980s version, first five seasons; rights transferred to Murakami-Wolf-Swenson, and then to DiC Entertainment)
- Child's Play (Animated sequence and lightning effects, the latter with Apogee Productions)
- Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos
- Dink, the Little Dinosaur (their final series before the sale to Turner)
- Goldie Gold and Action Jack
- Heathcliff (1980 series only; the 1984 series was by DIC Entertainment)
- It's Punky Brewster (the "It's" was never actually shown onscreen; it was largely only used in print materials to distinguish the show from the live-action production)
- Lazer Tag Academy (rights were later transferred to Saban Entertainment, who later re-released the show as "Laser Patrol")
- Mega Man
- Mister T
- Piggsburg Pigs!
- The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show
- Police Academy: The Animated Series
- The Puppy's Further Adventures (first a series of specials, then a regular series that aired as part of The Scooby and Scrappy-Doo/Puppy Hour; co-production with Hanna-Barbera)
- Rambo: The Force of Freedom
- Rose Petal Place
- Rubik, the Amazing Cube
- Saturday Supercade
- Scooby-Doo (animation for episodes aired on The Scooby and Scrappy-Doo/Puppy Hour; they were written and recorded at Hanna-Barbera)
- Sectaurs: (1986 miniseries)
- Skysurfer Strike Force (their final series)
- Superman (1988 series)
- Thundarr the Barbarian
- The Trouble With Miss Switch
- Turbo Teen
- Wild West COW Boys Of Moo Mesa (second season)
Tropes common to Ruby-Spears Productions:
- An Aesop: A number of their shows were wrapped around morals to try and make them appear more respectable.
- Always Someone Better: To Hanna-Barbera. The company never quite had the same fame and staying power as their company, and to add insult to injury, their shows were occasionally branded as Hanna-Barbera's by accident. One of their pilots was even beaten by Scooby-Doo, the most famous title associated with them, something which at least one of them was reportedly not pleased about.
- And Knowing Is Half the Battle:
- Both the Mister T and Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos cartoons used live-action wraparound segments to set up the plot of the episode and to later tell the moral of the story.
- Centurions ended every episode with a science lesson from one of the characters — including, on at least one occasion, the series' Big Bad.
- Animated Adaptation: Ruby-Spears was responsible for The Mork & Mindy/Laverne & Shirley/Fonz Hour, which was the final season of a series of shows adapting these franchises. They also handled Punky Brewster. This doesn't even get into the animated versions of Plastic Man and Superman.
- Animesque: Centurions, Mega Man, Skysurfer Strike Force, Rambo and the 1988 Superman series. All of which, appropriately, were animated in Japan.
- Episode Title Card: As with Hanna-Barbera, most of their series use them.
- "Everybody Laughs" Ending: In many of their series.
- Follow the Leader: In a weird way, the studio itself. "Two men meet working at an Animation Studio, find they work well together and form their own company utilizing many things and workers employed at the former" could be the biography to both the Hanna Barbera and Ruby Spears studio.
- Hanna Barbera invoked this rule a lot, Ruby Spears was no exception to both the former and themselves. Fangface was one example of this, with the catch that it was created by the same people who created the original Scooby-Doo in the first place.
- Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos was a pretty transparent attempt to replicate their limited success with Mister T. The formats were nearly identical - both shows featured a live-action wraparound segment starring the title character discussing the plot at the start and later restating the moral at the end, and both featured the title characters re-imagined as globetrotting heroes backed up a group of fictional characters - though while Mr. T was assisted by a group of teenage gymnasts, Chuck Norris got a full action team to accompany him.
- Friendly Enemy: With Hanna-Barbera; when Ruby and Spears left the studio they did so to become competition and perhaps one up their former employers. However in the end they would continue their style, and shared plenty of employees. Eventually, once Taft owned both studios, they became much friendlier and co-produced shows with them, and even put out composite character ads. You don't get much more friendly in competition than this.
- You can consider it a full on adoption now that Warner Bros. just considers the Ruby Spears library a part of Hanna-Barbera, both legally and in marketing.note
- Ink-Suit Actor: The main characters in many of their Animated Adaptations, as well as in Mr. T and Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos.
- Limited Animation: Just like the studio it spun off from. Though they were a little better at hiding it in comparison.
- Production Posse: With Hanho Heung-Up during the early 1980s, Toei Animation and Wang Film Productions in the late 1980s and Ashi Productions towards the end of their lifespan.
- Screwed by the Lawyers: Upon the Turner buyout, the Ruby-Spears library was sold and merged into the Hanna-Barbera one (in contrast to the Turner one that Tom and Jerry are under) so the Ruby Spears dvds are prone to not mentioning the Ruby-Spears name. Even though they were sister studios with a very friendly relationship, it is important to remember which were which.
- Whether or not many of the Ruby-Spears personnel would use the word "screwed" is debatable. Joe Ruby and Ken Spears appeared in one special feature documentary that included one of their cartoons in a montage talking about the Hanna-Barbera studio. Some may even have been helped get dvd releases by the association that would have been delayed without it. So some might choose a less harsh word such as "annoyed" by the lawyers.
- Screwed by the Network: While there is often considered a divide between Cartoon Network and Hanna-Barbera, Ruby-Spears technically is involved in this as well. From the above mentioned legal choice, most of the problems you can read on the Hanna-Barbera page under this section also apply to Ruby-Spears reruns.
- Writer Revolt: A quite literal example — much of the writing staff left the company when an idiotic business-affairs employee told the assembled writers to their faces that they were there not to be creative, but to merely execute Joe's ideas. None of them were happy at this and immediately began calling their agents. When Joe and Ken caught wind of this bone-headed statement, they fired the idiot under the pretense of having lunch (giving them enough time to empty the employee's office and change the locks).