Originally broadcast on Wednesdays (8:30–9pm Eastern), Top Cat was co-sponsored by Kellogg’s and Bristol-Myers (Bufferin). The central character, Top Cat (called T.C. by close friends, “pro-vid-ing it’s with dignity” according to the lyrics of the theme song) is the leader of a gang of Manhattan alley cats living in Hoagy’s Alley: Fancy-Fancy, Spook, Benny the Ball, Brain, and Choo Choo.
Top Cat and his gang were inspired by characters from a popular 1940s ‘B’ movie, “The East Side Kids”, but their more immediate roots lay in The Phil Silvers Show, a late-1950s military comedy whose lead character (Sergeant Bilko, played by Silvers) was a crafty con-man. Maurice Gosfield, who played Private Duane Doberman on The Phil Silvers Show, provided the voice for Benny the Ball in Top Cat, and Benny’s rotund appearance was based on Gosfield’s. Additionally, Arnold Stang’s vocal characterisation of the lead character, the eponymous Top Cat, was based on an impression of Phil Silvers’ voice.
Other influences include the movie Guys and Dolls, where actor Stubby Kaye played a short, stout street-wise gambler: a virtual Benny the Ball prototype. Lastly, an unlikely contender (as it also came from Hanna Barbera) was the character Hokey Wolf on The Huckleberry Hound Show, whose segment also paralleled The Phil Silvers Show.
A frequent plot-thread revolved around the local beat cop, Charles “Charlie” Dibble, and his ineffective attempts to evict the gang from the alley, due to their constantly attempting to earn a quick buck (usually by an illegal scam). Dibble’s appearance was modeled on his voice actor, Allen Jenkins. The word dibble had previously meant only an implement for drilling holes in which to plant seeds, but now acquired a second meaning in the vernacular as slang for police officers.