Wednesday, September 22, 2010

They’re New! They’re Old!

The irony of the advertising game is that there are two ways to sell something—make it appear it’s old and familiar, or it’s completely new. And no one knows that better than the corner office-coveting expense-account jockeys in television.

The 50th anniversary of The Flintstones is next week; it’s the reason the blog has had a flurry of posts on the series for the last month. So it’s fitting to look at some of the publicity barrage to get people to watch the show. And the marketing gurus at Hanna-Barbera and ABC, unable to decide whether the show was old and familiar or completely new, decided to pitch it to the public both ways.

Much like today when Frasier is invoked before the debut of the next Kelsey Grammer failure, H-B’s PR hype kept reminding potential viewers The Flintstones was from the studio that brought them their old, beloved friend Huckleberry Hound (much the same way H-B traded off Tom and Jerry when pushing Huck). But The Flintstones, said the shills, was something different, too. It was an “adult” cartoon. That made it new, not one of those tired old animated things viewers were wearying of seeing (which, if you think about it, included Tom and Jerry). And, don’t forget, the flacks reminded, about the Stone Age gimmick/hook. Olden times were actually new.

Junkets were set up for entertainment reporters to fly to the big city for screenings designed to hype the show before it aired. And to use the trip to jockey their expense account even more, I’d suspect.

This first feature story took up almost three-quarters of a page in the TV section you find in those newspaper weekend magazine supplements. It’s not a review of The Flintstones, but expounds on the background on the show and Bill and Joe. The best part is the Ed Benedict-style publicity art of Barney. I’ve seen it in a couple of newspapers around this time but this is the cleanest version (though it’s cut off a bit by a column of type). This ran in the Gettysburg Times of Saturday, Sept. 17, 1960.

Note the way Joe Barbera tells how he sold the show is a lot different than the anxiety-filled tale he wove in later years.


Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera Create “The Flintstones”
By CHARLES J. LEAVY

William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, who gave television the award-winning cartoon “Huckleberry Hound” and gave children of all ages pleasure with their presentation of “Ruff and Reddy” and “Quick Draw McGraw,” have now come up with an animated comedy for adults.
Premiering on ABC-TV September 30th, this newest creation of Messrs. Hanna and Barbara “The Flintstones” paints a bright picture of family life in suburbia as it might have been in prehistoric times. The language and behavior of the characters will be those of the modern family, but the settings, costumes and props will be out of the stone age. The pleasures and pressures of suburbia from crab grass to commuting will be shown in prehistoric dwellings instead of split-level houses. The rigors of office procedure will be depicted with chisels and stone tablets instead of typewriter and triplicate forms.
An Average Couple
Basically, “The Flintstones” is the story of Fred and Wilma, an average couple whose everyday problems, ambitions, frustrations and mores are similar to those which confront any odern married couple.
They are friendly with the couple next door, Barney and Betty Rubble, with whom they enjoy the simple things in life and the tribulations which occur from time to time.
But even though the two couples get along extremely well, they are not above embroiling themselves in minor skirmishes — as all good neighbors do on occasion.
Fred and Wilma enjoy all the advantages of modern-day living. They live in a split level cave. They drive a convertible car, complete with fine, solid-spoke rock wheels and thatched-roof convertible top.
Live In Bedrock
They live in the town of Bedrock, 2,500 population and the seat of Cobblestone County. The town has its butcher, baker and pizza-pie maker along with a theater, gas station, drive-in restaurant and a daily newspaper, “The Bedrock Bugle,” printed on stone slabs.
This then are the Flintstones and their environment.
But the story goes deeper than that. For one has to know the creators, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, to know the intimate details of how the Flintstones were born.
“We had so much success our other cartoon characters — ‘Quick-draw McGraw’ and ‘Huckleberry Hound’ — and there was so much adult public reaction and acceptance that we decided to try an adult cartoon series,” says Joe Barbera.
Is Handsome Man
Joe is a youngish man in his forties who could easily be taken for a motion picture star because of his handsome appearance.
“Older people just took a liking to ‘Quickdraw’ and ‘Huck’,” Bill Hanna assented. “Joe and I thought that possibly a cartoon series with an adult approach might be something that would please the oldsters.”
Once the idea was formulated and set up on story boards, the biggest job began — selling the idea to the industry.
There's a unique story behind the sale of “The Flintstones.” The transaction was contrary to all the standard procedures of the industry. The Madison Ave. contingent, rarely known to buy a vehicle sight unseen, bought the series without seeing a pilot film.
Sold To Agency
The original and offbeat sales job of Joe Barbera sold the series to the hard-headed agency men.
He arrived in New York toting story boards and, placing them around the room, proceeded to race around enacting the roles of each character in the series. His talent with inflections and speech intonations had the executives laughing in no time. They bought the series immediately.
One of the biggest obstacles against animation had been its high cost. In 1957 “Good animation was too expensive and limited animation too shoddy.” Hanna and Barbera knew they would have to whip this problem if they expected any possibility of acceptance. As a result “Planned Animation” was developed by the two men. The new technique of planned animation affords a savings of about half over full animation while maintaining the highest quality results.
Three years ago, cartoonist William Hanna and Joseph Barbera were unemployed and their prospects were approximately nil.
Today Hanna and Barbera Productions has grown to be one of the largest cartoon producing companies in the world.
Not Artists Originally
Oddly enough, neither Hanna nor Barbera began their careers as cartoonists or artists. Bill Hanna, born in New Mexico, spent his school years studying engineering and journalism. After college Hanna joined a California firm as a structural engineer for the building of the Pantages Theater in Hollywood. Setting aside his early engineering aspirations, Bill Hanna joined Leon Schlessinger’s [sic] cartoon company. His duties, as he explains them, were “To run for coffee, clean cartoon cells [sic], sweep up the place, and drown my bosses with story ideas.”
Joe Barbera was born in New York City and attended the American Institute of Banking. Upon graduation, Barbera went to work as an accountant for New York’s Irving Trust Co. An inveterate doodler and dreamer, Barbera started submitting cartoons to the leading magazines and managed to sell one to Collier’s. Spurred on by his first sale, Barbera stepped up his output and soon became a regular contributor to the leading magazines. After a short deliberation Barbera decided on a career of cartooning as opposed to the world of finance He subsequently joined Van Buren [sic] Associates as sketch artist.
In 1937, Bill Hanna was hired by MGM as a director and story man and Joe Barbera was employed as an animator and writer at the same studio. Working side by side, the two men developed an idea for a new and different cartoon series. The result—the birth of a world famous cat and mouse, “Tom and Jerry.”
In 1957 they left MGM, and this move proved to be the biggest break of their lives. As a result, the highly successful Hanna and Barbera Productions was born.

Bob Foster of the San Mateo Times was pre-sold on the show. He wrote about it in his weekend supplement column twice before it appeared in homes. The first column is from Sept. 3, 1960. In it, Joe Barbera engages in more ironic salesmanship—he boosts his credentials using Tom and Jerry one minute, then disses his old cartoons the next.

TV SCREENINGS
Bob Foster
HOLLYWOOD—Joe Barbera, a couple of years back, was happily employed at MGM producing cartoons like “Tom and Jerry” and other fabulous little animated people for the roaring Lion of Culver City.
Then the panic overtook Metro and out went Joe and one of his sidekicks, Bill Hanna. “This was one of those lucky breaks you don’t recognize until long after it has happened,” the handsome young head of Hanna-Barbera productions, producers of “Huckleberry Hound” and “Quick Draw McGraw” told me in his office the other day.
“Our first television effort was “Ruff and Ready,” [sic] and that story of how we sold that one is rather amazing. I must remind you that I tried to sell the idea at Metro and got no place. Maybe they were getting tired . . . and because the first attempts at selling original cartoons, to television had failed, we couldn’t even get into some of the studios,” he recalled.
“Finally, I dropped by Screen Gems and pulled off the trick. Screen Gems bought the “Ruff and Ready” series and we found ourselves in business.”
“I think we have taken animation back to its early days when they were really cartoons. Simple animation is much, funnier than these sophisticated things that took over the industry about 15 years ago.”
EVERY INCH OF animation is done by hand, and each half-hour segment takes 12,000 individual drawings (called by the trade, cells) and requires the work of some 120 skilled artists, layout men, editors and inkers.
Now Hanna and Barbera are all wrapped up in “The Flintstones” a gentle satire on modern family living as depicted by Fred and Wilma Flintstone.
The Flintstones are an average couple having the same problems, ambitions, frustrations of couples everywhere. There’s just one difference—they live in the Stone Age.
FRED FLINTSTONE WORKS as a dino operator for the Rock Head and Quarry Cave construction company. Fred belongs to the YCMA (Young Cave Men’s association); attend dinosaur races and some [sic] to have an infinity for getting into minor squabbles with friends as all good neighbors do.
The voices for this series to be seen Friday nights at 8:30 p.m. include Alan Reed (Yogi Bear), Jean Vander Pyl, Bea Benaderet and Mel Blanc.
Never have I seen such a happy operation. The animators and the artists seemed to be thoroughly happy, and “they can work at home” Barbera explained. “Some of our most creative work has come from our artists who work at home. Some prefer to work here,” he said.
A visit to the camera room where the celluloid transparencies are done, proved to be fascinating. Here the transparent drawings are put under a large camera which takes one picture at a time. When run off at 30 frames per second, [sic] the drawings come to life.
If TAKES SEVEN MONTHS TO produce a half-hour animated film like the Flintstones.
Barbera invited me to look at a little of the action. It looks like viewers are in for a real first class treat. This could be one of the sleepers.

And two weeks later, Foster’s mind hadn’t changed.

SPEAKING OF NEW SHOWS each time I see even small portions of “The Flintstones,” ABC’s new situation comedy without actors, the more I’m convinced that the network has come up with a real sleeper. Yesterday ABC held a closed circuit preview of all their new shows. When “The Flintstones” came on, the place was in hysterics. This is great cartoon comedy, and I’m sure that television audiences will more than enjoy it.

Now here’s a review that isn’t quite a review. The columnist of the Provo Daily Herald used Fred and Barney as a jumping off point to swipe at the holier-than-thou types who would try to shame programmes off the air using the odious guise of “protecting our children.” Things haven’t changed a lot in 50 years, have they?

BE KIND TO MY FLINTSTONES
Kiddie Corner?-Not Here This Is for Adult Kids
By ELAYNE SCHWARTZ
Television Editor

I can’t wait until Friday, Sept. 30 when I can ask TV viewers how they liked the Flintstones. I think they are great.
I met the Flintstones in Hollywood recently when I along with several other TV Editors from across the United States, was taken on a personal tour of ABC properties; and I liked them, the Flintstones, that is.
I’m easy to please and the Flintstones are pleasing people so we got along well right off.
“The Flintstones” will make its debut as an “Adult Cartoon” on Sept. 30. Mark the date. Just mark it if you want to meet the Flintstones but don’t accuse me of anything but stupidity if you don’t like them.
* * *
I tremble to recommend any show after reading a recent report from NAFBRT (National Association For Better Radio and Television). They labeled as objectionable such shows as “Our Gang,” (I like it as much now as I did 25 years ago); “Popeye,” (he wouldn't hurt a flea and is still doing a lot for pipe tobacco sales not to mention spinach); “Lone Ranger,” (Gee, just imagine a generation not knowing “Hi Ho Silver, — Haaa Way'); “Robin Hood,” (I think the times I saw and enjoyed Robin Hood were some of the greatest vicarious adventures I ever had even if he was a crook???); “Roy Rogers,” (Oh come now NAFBRT! Roy Rogers objectionable? I’m beginning to feel TV wasn’t such a good idea after all); “The Three Stooges,” (They can still make me laugh.)
Seems most of these “objectionable” shows only appeal to the “base” in the human being, or such is the claim. I’m basic!
More than just “objectionable,” “Superman” was dubbed by the association “most objectionable.” I remember this: “Up, Up, and Haaa-way.” And that is just the way man is going today, too. Superman does it without a rocket. Remember how “objectionable” the travels were for Flash Gordon and now his escapades are reality—and then we have “The Flintstones,” well I won’t read NAFBRT.

Too bad the networks never stood up to special interest claques. But that’s another story.

After The Flintstones premiered, not all the stories were so rose-coloured. Next week, right here, on the eve of the show’s 50th anniversary, you’ll get a chance to read some of them.


A hearty yowp to reader Billie Towzer for the newspaper ad clipping from June 9, 1961 for KYTV Springfield, Mo.

5 comments:

  1. The more highbrow TV critics (OK, I know that's kind of an oxymoron) were getting the vapors about the glut of prime-time cartoons in the early 1960s (which was one of the things that helped spark FCC Chairman Newton Minnow's 1961 "Vast Wasteland" speech, which turned into the Holy Grail of credos for 'responsible' children's programming advocates over the next 20 years). I've seen a lot of the negative reviews in the past on "The Flintstones" from the bigger cities TV critics, so it's nice to see that, at least in the smaller metro areas, the critics weren't as dead set about disliking something from the get-go because it meet their standards of what a prime-time show should be.

    (However, I'm also interested in hearing more about that Alan Reed-voiced Yogi Bear. Yaba-Daba-Boo-Boo?)

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  2. Of course, the REAL "old" thing about the Flintstones was that it was SPECIFICALLY BASED on "The Honeymooners"!! [Another of the old "Hanna-Barbera takes specific shows or old theatre cartoons and redoes them thing"!!]

    Excellent series of Flintstones articles this year,Yowp.




    Steve

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  3. Thanks for all the Flintstone articles. What a great time capsule of Hanna-Barbera TV animation information from the 60s!

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  4. Interesting from that first article, the line "The town has its butcher, baker and pizza-pie maker" can be heard in narration in the S1 episode The Tycoon (the only episode with true narration? I think so), which didn't air until 1961, months after this article. Maybe it was used in some kind of press release by the network or H-B. Rare example of continuity in The Flintstones world!

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  5. And, as reference, a scene from the episode At the Races, which's from the 1st season (1960-61) of The Flintstones (Hanna-Barbera/Columbia Pictures, 1960-66).

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