Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Gruesomes Vs Television

Loud, brash, fast-talking P.R. people didn’t really exist, did they?

Apparently, they did. At least that’s the impression I get reading about Arnie Carr, whose hyperbole pushing Hanna-Barbera cartoons on television writers seems to have amused columnist Hal Humphrey of the Associated Press.

Arnie was born August 9, 1931 in Chicago and after graduating from the University of Missouri, got a job conducting tours for the U.S. State Department. Evidently, Arnie was looking for more glamour. In the ‘50s, he came west and landed a gig handling publicity for KABC-TV in Los Angeles. He moved over to Screen Gems and that’s how Hanna-Barbera inherited him. He’s the short guy in this drawing by H-B writer Tony Benedict. Arnie started his own company in 1962 but kept the cartoon studio as a client. He died on February 11, 2001.

Hal had some words to say about Arnie in THIS column and couldn’t resist ribbing him in another piece dated December 11, 1964. It also gave Humphrey a chance to comment on the latest fad in TV at the time—what we now call “the high-concept show.” Beautiful genies in bottles, housewives who are witches, antique cars that are the reincarnation of Ann Sothern, and two gothic comedies that battled each other for ratings—one having a far-too-close connection with a certain animated sitcom.

Stark Cartoon Drama Too Realistic For TV
By HAL HUMPHREY

For years now the press agent for “The Flintstones” has pestered me to write something about his cartoon series, and I’ve brushed him off on the grounds that I prefer to write about shows with real people in them.
“I suppose you are going to tell me now those geeks in ‘The Addams Family’ and ‘The Munsters’ are real people,” shouted Arnie Carr, the press agent in question. Particularly galling to Arnie is the fact “The Munsters” is in the same Thursday night time slot as “The Flintstones” and presently beating them to death in the Nielsen rating poll.
THE FINAL INSULT is the fact that the Hanna-Barbera Co., creator of “The Flintstones” and Arnie’s bosses, tried several years ago to sell another animated TV series called “The Gruesomes” and were told by the networks it was “too frightening” and the humor “too gruesome.”
In an episode of “The Flintstones” last month Hanna-Barbera brought “The Gruesomes” (Creepella, Weirdly and son Gobby) on as guests, and the ABC censorship department apparently okayed it as good clean fun.
But Arnie knows it is too late to outmonster “The Munsters,” so he is taking the tack that Fred and Wilma Flintstone are just plain folks (“My kind of folk” is the way he puts it).
“YOU CAN IDENTIFY with the Flintstones because they have the same problems as you or I,” adds Arnie, warming to his subject. “And think of future generations. Don’t tell me you want your grandchildren to watch reruns of ‘The Munsters.’ It’s un-American. Where is the empathy? The feeling of belonging?”
A session like this with Arnie may not convince the trapped listener that a cartoon family is something to identify with, but it does start a person thinking about one of Madison Avenue’s cardinal commandments, which up to now has been emblazoned on the wall of every TV producer: “Thou shall create only characters with whom everyone can identify.”
As Arnie heatedly points out —and admittedly with some validity— how does one identify with a character whose head is attached through his neck (Human Munster)?
FOR THAT MATTER, who ever has lived next door to a family where the mail is delivered by a hand called “Thing” or there is a beautiful witch named Samantha who does dishes without an advertised cleaner?
As recently as a year ago anyone submitting such characters to the men running TV would have been read out of the league, but now the further into fantasy you go, the better your chances of winding up on TV next season. A comedy starring a car which talks is already under serious consideration for 1965-66.
It isn’t easy to analyze the motivation for this radical switch in the thinking along Madison Avenue. Maybe it is simply the ultimate rejection of reality by the men wearing the oxford gray flannel suits. Either their analysts or Sen. Thomas Dodd’s juvenile delinquency investigating committee have scared them into this fantasyland.
ANOTHER SEASON of this sort of thing and “The Flintstones” will look to the Madison Avenue crowd like a Paddy Chayefsky drama about tenement life in Brooklyn with Ernie Borgnine and Thelma Ritter.
Arnie the press agent believes we need TV shows like “The Flintstones,” but I am not sure any more that he is right. Look at what happened to “Playhouse 90.” People don’t want problem shows.
If Arnie and the Hanna-Barbera Co. are smart, they’ll turn Fred and Wilma Flintstone into Martians with butterfly wings.

Nostalgia may have coloured people’s memories, but I never liked the Gruesomes. Hanna-Barbera simply took the ugly-is-beautiful schtick overused in The Addams Family, cartoonised it, and ran it into the ground even more. If there’s a storm out, it’s a “lovely night.” If there’s a growling gila monster, it’s a “cute pet.” Hey, Bill, Joe! We got the joke already.

Hal Humphrey may have been a little psychic. Hanna-Barbera didn’t turn Fred Flintstone into an alien. They merely imported one from the planet Ziltox. Methinks if Arnie Carr couldn’t sell Pebbles and the Gruesomes to the sceptical press, he’d have an even tougher time with Gazoo. And, probably to his chagrin, grandkids of TV viewers in 1964 are enjoying Al Lewis as a hammy vampire. People don’t want “belonging” in comedy. They want laughs. The copycat Gruesomes never had them.

7 comments:

  1. Several seasons before the Gruesomes' aborted stint as the Flintstones' neighbors, Mike Maltese developed a somewhat similar family of monsters that appeared in three Snooper & Blabbers and one Snagglepuss episode. Daws Butler voiced the father a la Peter Lorre and the baby resembled a small Frankenstein monster, but wore some kind of nightgown and only emitted croaking sounds.

    Much like Maltese creation Bigelow Mouse, who guested in Augie, Yakky, Snagglepuss and Loopy episodes, Hanna and Barbera may have had this monster family on the back burner for possible series development. (This is how Yakky and Snagglepuss eventually became headliners.) As indicated above, the quick success of the two live-action monster sitcoms in fall 1964 revived the idea of a comedic animated monster sitcom.

    Eventually H-B would produce two animated adaptations of the Addamses twenty years apart. And the Gruesomes would be somewhat retooled as the Creepleys, members of the LAFF-A-LYMPICS' "Really Rottens". The character designs are certainly similar enough, as is the father's continued tendency to speak like Peter Lorre.

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  2. Good point, Howard. Yowp already covered ONE of said Snoopers before here..The Addamses and the Munsters were on two competing networks, imagine if all THREE networks each had their own monster series ,like Ben Casey, another show The FLinstones referred to more than once, Dr.Kildare, and any other Doctor show premerin g around the same time that actually didn't exist. Ironically, the two mid 1960s live action teenage girl starring shows Gidget and Patty Duke were on the same network, ABC, likewise later two certain families the Bradys and Partidges, on the same network. Not even "one network with a sitcom battling a competitor elsewhere" at least with ABC by the time the sixties pressed on.

    Yet..

    Those two monster sitcoms weren't even on the same network but were competitors, healthy or not so. ABC had the Addamms, and CBS had the Munsters, if memory serves me.]

    Steve C.

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  3. The Gruesomes made their last TV appearance on 1971's "The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show". I agree with "Yowp", the Gruesomes really weren't very funny and awfully derivative of The Addams Family (another series I'm not terribly fond of). The whole "monster family neighbors for the Flintstones" idea just wouldn't go away, when in the late 70's, The Frankenstones (a Munsters rip-off this time) showed up in a few Flintstones reincarnations (guess someone at H-B forgot The Gruesomes or maybe the Saturday morning standards and practices didn't approve of them).

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  4. I also agree with Yowp,too, Deb. But then HB gave us animated "BEVERLY HILLBILLIES" and paired 'em AGAINST the GRUESOMES. The Gruesomes played... Bug music. Yech.:)

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  5. Amazing how many neighbors the Flintstones and Rubbles had that didn't last more than two episodes: The Gruesomes, the Brickrocks, Loudrock. Maybe Fred's snoring drove them out.

    The Hatrocks were also two-episode wonders, no doubt inspired by the huge success of the Beverly Hillbillies. Like the Gruesomes, they were similarly one-dimensional. Any notion of giving them their own series would likely have also been hampered by the censors. How can you have a half-hour animated prime-time sitcom in which firing guns would be a regular gag?

    Teaming the Hatroccks and Gruesomes in one episode showed the desparation for ideas by THE FLINTSTONES' fifth season- even though the episode itself is one of the funnier ones of the post-childbirth era. Jethro's recurring "You mean that?" and the repeated gag of the whole gang playing 'bug music' make it worthwhile.

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  6. There was a contrived feeling to a lot of the Season 5-6 episodes of "The Flintstones", as if the stories were written around specific situations/characters, as opposed to the characters and situations coming naturally out of the stories (the show had never been shy about borrowing celebrities or other situations to peg the show's stories on, but by Season 5 the attempt to manipulate the kiddies and in some cases cross promote other ABC seires was blatantly obvious).

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  7. This answers a lot of questions related to my blog post:

    http://boomerbust-scooter63.blogspot.com/2010/08/munsters-and-addams-and-spawnsoh-my.html

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