Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Cartoon Classroom

Television as babysitter? Yakky Doodle as educational TV? Yes and yes, according to Jayne and Neal’s dad—Joe Barbera, that is.

By 1964, puppet shows and old films were giving way on Saturday morning television to cartoons—a good percentage of them made by Hanna-Barbera. The studio had been in operation for seven years. A lot of the print columns in years previous had concentrated on the “first” angle—first made-for-TV cartoon series, first prime-time cartoon series, that sort of thing. Joe and Bill Hanna still used that concept to push “Jonny Quest” and the Alice in Wonderland TV special but needed to find a different gimmick to sell their product to viewers. So they tried to tell the world their cartoons were educational.

Joe kinds of skirts past an explanation of how his studio’s cartoons were educational in this UPI column that appeared in newspapers starting December 24, 1964. After all, Pixie and Dixie aren’t exactly the Muppets teaching kids how to count on the yet-to-be-invented Sesame Street, though you could practice your counting watching how many times the same tree passed behind them when they ran from Mr. Jinks.


Two richest baby sifters boss a cartoon factory
By VERNON SCOTT
UPI Hollywood Correspondent

HOLLYWOOD (UPI) — The country’s richest baby sitters—and most active—are Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon factory.
At some time or other throughout most of the day little kids plop themselves—or are locked into playpens—in front of a television set to be babysat by Hanna-Barbera productions.
It beats paying a teen-ager, and it relieves mothers of entertaining their offspring.
The tots are exposed to whole gallery of wacky characters Quick Draw McGraw, Touche Turtle, Yogi Bear, Peter Potamus, Ruff & Reddy, Magilla Gorilla, Wally Gater [sic], and, well, you get the idea.
These far-ranging cartoon animals survive a series of misadventures that make their soap opera competition pale by comparison. In all there are 13 half-hour series beaming around the country on various channels and different times of the day.
In 52 countries
They are seen in 52 countries and by some 350 million persons (although mostly kids in this country) according to Joe Barbera, a handsome, articulate man whose fine Italian hand is unerringly on the pulse of the nation’s smallfry.
In addition to the daytime shows, H-B also produce “The Flintstones” for nighttime adult viewing and a new and revolutionary cartoon series titled “Johnny Quest.” [sic] The latter is a half-hour adventure drama involving serious plots and new techniques in cartooning
“We’re very proud of this one,” Barbera said during a Brown Derby lunch. “It’s costing one-third more than we expected, but it's worth it. The idea is giving birth to three new shows, too.”
Hanna-Barbera have been approached time and again to put together a Disneyland-like park incorporating their myriad cartoon characters. Plans are in the works now to make it a reality.
“We have 320 full-time artists working on our cartoons right now,” Barbera said. “But we’re planning to produce our first live feature film, starring real actors.”
Says cartoons educational
Barbera is convinced his cartoons—the ones that do the baby-sitting during the day—are contributing to the education of the play-pen set.
“There are no sponsors for three-year-olds and under,” he explained “There isn’t a broad enough audience The sharp kids of four and five today wouldn’t put up with nursery rhyme stuff. They’re too hip; they've seen much more sophisticated things.
“So the real little ones have to watch our shows produced for older children and adults. It brings them along much more quickly than you’d suspect.
“They're not only entertained by our shows, they’re educated as well. Our aim is to reach all age groups, and I think that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

Thinking it over, I learned the following things from Hanna-Barbera cartoons:

● There will be flying cars in the future.
● How to sing the Kellogg’s jingle (even though I didn’t eat their cereal).
● New words like “meeces” and “pic-a-nic” and phrases like “Now just a rock-pickin’ minute!”
● There was a god in Egypt named Anubis (okay, that one’s really true).
● Daws Butler was one of the best voice actors on the planet and Mike Maltese was a funny man (for really true again).
● Adding a little green alien to a series means it’s run out of ideas (far too true).

But, more importantly, I laughed or smiled a lot at some silly stuff on the screen, and eventually learned that people need to stop and do that in their lives every once in a while. I learned it from Quick Draw McGraw and Daffy Duck and the Fleischer version of Popeye, and Rocky and Bullwinkle, and many others. Cartoons may not be educational, but they spread happiness to millions and considering how life can get, that’s something just as good.

8 comments:

  1. Who is standing between Mr. B. and Mike Maltese in that picture?

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    1. Put your mouse arrow over the picture, and it will tell you that it's Alex Lovy.

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  2. Repeat; bring back the early HB cartoons back to Boomerang, somehow.

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  3. H-B really hadn't made it to Saturday mornings when this article came out -- September '65 was when the studio added Saturday fare to their syndicated and prime-time offerings. But the studio and the networks were already feeling the pressure to provide cartoons that were more 'educational' in tone, going back to the pressure starting in 1961 from Newton Minnow over at the FCC.

    CBS and Total TV had already offered up the Mr. Whoopie segments in "Tennessee Tuxedo", and other cartoon studios were working to produce series with better messages for the kids. This story comes across as Joe Barbera trying to diplomatically fight against even more outside control of is cartoons than there already was (and as it turned out, demands by Kellogg's or Welch's Grape Juice for certain things in the shows would be nothing compared to what H-B would get from Fred Silverman and other network suits once they went to Saturdays in earnest. Either from 'responsible children's television' advocates or network suits on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, what fun there was left in TV cartoons would have the life sucked out of it before the end of the decade).

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  4. Put your mouse over the picture, Dave.
    I wholeheartedly agree, Anon.

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  5. Young would-be cartoonists probably learned quite a bit from the best of the Hanna-Barbera output. Despite the limited animation, once the artists got the hang of limited animation, they were producing some wonderfully expressive cartoons, especially with The Flintstones. Maybe the actions didn't always match the actor's delivery of the lines 100%, but when they did, these shows sparkled. In my opinion, The Flintstones, Top Cat and The Jetsons (the real Jetsons, not the 80's revival) had some of the best looking work to come out of the studio.

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  6. I also wholeheartedly agree with Anon and Yowp about bringing the early HB stuff back.SC

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  7. Great blog Yowp. I love and agree wholeheartedly with the last statements on what " You have learned " to the very last sentence. I look at things that way, also. Great Job! Steve and Anon, I have learned in my 30 plus years in broadcasting, that if you had to take an intelligence test, no no..better yet, a common sense test to own a major network, very few of them would be on the air.. Look what Viacom did to " Nike At Nite ", and later " TVland ". There's always hope, and I would love to be proven wrong, but, don't hold your breath.

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