Why did “Top Cat” fail? Easy, implied Joe Barbera. It had cats in it. And he wasn’t going to make that mistake again.
That, more or less, sums up why “The Jetsons” became Hanna-Barbera’s third attempt at prime time success. While he pitched “The Flintstones” in 1960 as something new, two years later he was pitching “The Jetsons” as something familiar. And, in at least in an interview with syndicated columnist Joan Crosby, he managed to avoid the word “Flintstones” in his description.
George, Jane, and all made their debut 50 years ago this month. Here’s Crosby’s preview column from September 1st, focusing on Astro, Rosie (who was in only a handful of the original episodes) and the gadgets (“The Flinstones” had gadgets, ergo…). Somewhat remarkably, the interview doesn’t really answer the question of what the show’s about.
Space-Age Cartoon Series Aimed at Adult Groundlings
By JOAN CROSBY
HOLLYWOOD — Life in the space age, as seen from the brains of Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, will be unveiled for a breathless public on September 23 when ABC completes the countdown that will send The Jetsons, a new animated cartoon series, into orbit.
In order to get a scoop on some of the comforts of the space age, a conversation was arranged with Joe Barbera, the tall, dark, good-looking, live-wire spokesman for the firm, which has achieved both fame and fortune with series such The Flintstones, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw and so on.
The difficulty lies in the fact that it is very hard to transfer a conversation with Barbera to paper because neither typewriter nor printing press is equipped with sound effects, and Joe’s conversation is filled with whooshes, clicks, glissandos, whistles and wails, all of which illustrate some of the effects to be seen in The Jetsons.
The animated family which plays the lend in this show is composed of father George, mother Jane, daughter Judy (a teenager with a pony tail), brother Elroy and the funny family pooch, Astro.
“A cartoon series for night time scheduling must have people, not animals for interest,” Barbera said between sound effects. “It should have a young married couple and either neighbors or relatives. All live action situation comedies have one father, three kids and one maid, so we went around the bush trying to find the right combination for the Jetsons, and we came up with parents, two kids and a dog. Our dog, who talks with the letter ‘r’ very prominent in his speech—“I’m rust a puppy,” he says—is the funniest dog I’ve ever seen. Lassie is going to have to fight for her life.”
If Lassie has a rival in Astro, Hazel has an arch rival in Rosie, the Robot Maid. “She talks with a beep—‘Maids, beep beep, are nothing but a, beep beep, bunch of beepniks,’” Joe said.
Other innovations, as seen by Hanna-Barbera: Atomic powered golf carts. If a golf ball happens to drop over the edge of the course suspended in space, a parachute opens; drive-in Spaceburger stands orbit the earth so that one goes by every 35 minutes. You don’t have to go to it, it comes to you; a football game is played by robots with coaches controlling the plays from the sidelines by pushing buttons.
Not everything is different in the future envisioned by Hanna-Barbera, however. There are still teen-age idols and they sing a space version of rock ‘n’ roll with lyrics that sound like “eeep ark vark eeep ape” or just like those we have with us today. The teen-age idol of the future, by the way, is named Jet Screamer.
Joe’s unexpressed hope that the similarity of “The Flintstones” would translate into Flintstone-level success for “The Jetsons” didn’t happen. At least, in prime time. The space-agers lasted one season of 23 cartoons, though they moved into kid territory and ran rorever, uh, forever. Joe would go back to pushing novelty again in plugging “Jonny Quest” in 1964.
A couple of the cels from the original opening—I’ll qualify that in a second—surfaced at the Van Eaton Gallery some time ago. Compare them to what you saw on TV.
The second cel is odd in that the briefcase and George were never in that position together in the opening animation. Compare it to two drawings used in the opening.
You know, I’ve never actually paid attention to the people in the moving sidewalk before. You’ll notice “The Jetsons” predicted people walking with their noses down while looking at their smartphone screen, except they’re watching TV in these drawings. I’m still waiting for hats and shoes with the Saturn rings around them to be invented.
We’ll have more about the Jetsons when we get closer to their 50th birthday.