Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Almost New This Fall

Who would you rather watch—the Jetsons or Coo Coo Cat?

We know ABC TV’s answer to that question. The Jetsons debuted on the network in fall 1962. Coo Coo remained in a filing cabinet at Hanna-Barbera, his opportunity for stardom never being fulfilled.

Some time ago, Mark Christiansen posted a storyboard for a Coo Coo cartoon on his blog. We’ve dug around and found that Bill Hanna actually talked about the stillborn show with UPI Hollywood columnist Vernon Scott in 1961. That was the year where the success of The Flintstones wrought other night-time cartoon shows—none of which were renewed for a second prime time season.

Hanna and Joe Barbera were prepared for that eventuality with some other shows, as we read in this column which appeared in newspapers starting December 1, 1961. This version appeared in the Binghamton Sunday Press.

So Cartoons Are Driving You Nutty—Blame Fred Flintstone
Rash of New Ones Wins Kids but Adults Wince

HOLLYWOOD -—If televised cartoons are driving you crazy, don’t throw a brick at your TV set, loft it in the direction of Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Between them Hanna-Barbera are responsible for 2½ hours of weekly cartoon havoc, more than all other cartoon shows put together. The cartoon mania started last season with the runaway success of The Flintstones, on Channel 12 at 8:30 Friday nights.
Sensing a good thing, a fistful of other characters with enough money for pen and ink rushed more animated abominations on the air this year. Hanna-Barbera, inspired by their own stroke of fortune, added a new one themselves, Top Cat.
They should have quit while they were ahead.
• • •
TOP CAT stands a good chance of having a can tied to its tail before the season is over. Other H-B productions, Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw are prospering.
In the event Top Cat becomes a polecat, Hanna-Barbera have three new cartoon shows ready to take its place. Hanna, a gentlemanly individual, is sincerely devoted to providing televiewers with a batting average of four hits out of five, he’s doing pretty well.
“To enjoy cartoons it should be understood that they are family entertainment—not just for children or limited to adults,” he said. “Children have introduced such characters as Huckleberry, and Yogi Bear to their parents. And now they all watch together.
• • •
“ONCE YOUNGSTERS introduce a cartoon series to their elders, and if the show has any merit at all, the adults are hooked and become fans themselves.”
Waiting in the wings should Top Cat become a fallen feline are The Jetsons, The Gruesomes and a medley show starting Cops and Roberts, Bill and Coo Coo, and Casey Jones.
Hanna said “The Jetsons are the opposite of the Flintstones. They live several centuries in the future and suffer the same nutty family problems as Fred and Wilma Flintstone.
The Gruesomes are a family of sickniks who live in a haunted house—similar to the sort of wierdos found in the famed Charles Addams cartoons.
The other offering is a grab bag of dogs, birds and other animal characters which seem to do better than animated human beings.
“Animals generally are more whimsical than human characters,” Hanna said. “That’s why they've been more successful in the past. The Flintstone family proves people can be just as funny in cartoons.”
Before leaving his Brown Derby lunch, Hanna predicted there would be fewer cartoon shows on the air next year, adding “there is no such thing as an ‘adult’ cartoon.”

The Gruesomes should be familiar to Flintstones fans, as they finally landed in Bedrock as Stone Age neighbours. Interestingly, Hanna-Barbera showcased their predecessors, Mr. and Mrs. J. Evil Scientist, in four Snooper and Blabber cartoons, one Snagglepuss, and a comic book series, but there’s no mention of a series for them. As for “Cops and Roberts” and “Casey Jones,” if anyone has information about them, please post a comment. It’d be (get ready for this one) Coo Cool if an animated demo of the cartoon was made and is hiding in the H-B archives somewhere.

One thing bugs me about Hanna’s comments to UPI. The Flintstones was built up in studio publicity, including TV ads, as an “adult cartoon.” Then, after it aired, critics pounced on the claim; one went so far as to suggest Quick Draw McGraw was more adult. Both Hanna and Joe Barbera backtracked, and you’ve just read Hanna’s denial the claim was even made. But, to be polite, he’s mistaken. Barbera flat out told syndicated columnist Charles Leavy just before The Flintstones debuted:
“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.”
Joe was known to, shall we say, somewhat modify his stories over the course of time. Regardless, the Flintstones still enjoy incredible success, 53 years after first appearing on television. Poor Coo Coo never got the chance.


  1. Never heard about " Coo Coo " until this blog. Interesting. I'm totally in the dark, so someone may have already written about the possible voice-overs for the show. I wonder if his voice would have been a Daws or Don creation... or would H-B have hired a recognizable entertainment personality as they were starting to do around that era, with Daws and Don doing a lot of the side characters. Plus all the " regular suspects ", ala John Stephenson, Frank Nelson, Hal Smith, Howard McNair, Julie Bennett, and too many to mention. Just a thought. Great blog, Yowp.

  2. H-B's prime time shows tended to be derivative of something (other successful shows or themselves), so it wouldn't be a stretch to assume Coo Coo would have been based on someone or something that already had worked in movies or TV. But it's hard to guess, based just on the storyboard, though the character does seem to be on the passive side (Jack Benny as a cat?).

    The Gruesomes arrived on The Flintstones at the time when ABC and/or Bill and Joe were throwing just about anything that had been successful with young audiences into the mix to see what would work. In this case, it was ABC's own decision to buy the Addams Family for the 1964-65 season that appears to have brought the characters back from the prime-time dead. Be nice to see a '61 storyboard, to see if the character modifications date from then, or if the original look was closer to the J. Evil Scientist & family layouts.

  3. Coo-Coo's design looks extremely derivative of both the prime-time cat of the previous season whose name rhymes with his, and of Fibber Fox. Based on the layout drawings, it appears that he would have a very upbeat personality- which would make him less interesting than Mr. Jinks, whose beatnik/iconcoclast character and malapropisms made him endearingly offbeat.

  4. They probably would have hired Marvin Kaplan to do the voice. Interestingly enough at the time of Top Cat, Woody Allen had not been known that much, so Kaplan wasn't doing an impression, he was doing his voice. He also appeared with Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Judy Holliday and Tom Ewell in 1949's ''Adam's Rib'', great actor.