Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Family of the Future Still Here Today

It’s a tribute to Hanna-Barbera studio that today, when we refer to the future, we refer to the past as well. Read a newspaper or web story about a technologically advanced home or kitchen gadget or car (especially the flying variety), there will likely be a reference to “The Jetsons.”

It can be argued the stars of “The Jetsons” weren’t the Jetsons at all, but all those gadgets designed to make Life In The Future so much less of a burden. They were beautifully conceived by the designers and layout artists at the studio.

Ah, the gadgets weren’t enough. Nor was the comic relief of Astro or the corporate suck-up Uniblab. The show didn’t resonate with enough parents. It lasted one season in prime time. When it was moved to Saturday mornings in fall 1963, it settled in for seeming endless reruns (the first season, it ran opposite “Mighty Mouse” and “Fireball XL-5,” at least in New York; “Mighty Mouse” and “Fury”, in the Pacific Northwest).

The show debuted 52 years ago today. Here’s what
Daily Variety out of Los Angeles wrote about the season opener in its edition of September 25, 1962. Virtually all the reviews I’ve read are optimistic and positive. This one is by “Helm” and I believe I’ve clipped together the full review.

THE JETSONS (Rosey The Robot) Sun., 7:30-p. m., KABC-TV (Reviewed In Color)
Filmed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera; producers, directors, Hanna and Barbera; associate producer, Alex Lovy; teleplay, Larry Markes; animators, Irv Spence, Don Lusk, Grant Simmons, Ray Patterson; film editor, Joe Ruby.
Cast: Voices of George O'Hanlon, Penny Singleton, Janet Waldo, Daws Butler, Don Messick, Mel Blanc, Jean Vander Pyl.
It's one of the rarities of television that a producing studio, using the same formula, can follow one hit with another. More to the credit of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera that it's a cartoon. Many tried to capitalize on the popularity of H&B's "Flintstones" but none achieved its high estate. By the simple device of looking ahead with The Jetsons, whereas "Flinty" looks back into the Stone Age, they achieved a new delight for the young 'uns and plenty of [parents] looking over their shoulders in this early evening fun show for the tyke monopoly on the home sets.
Into the Space Age a few hundred years hence are propelled the Jetsons, whose family life is so simplified that the press of a button can do a thousand chores. When the whatchamacallit goes on the blink a maid is hired and Rosey the Robot directs traffic when the boss is invited to dinner. Every gimmick to imply speed and the easy life is employed with hilarious effect. For a color cast on ABC-TV for its own and other equipped stations, it was a huge success. The tint was clear and inviting and a big plus or sales of color sets.
Voices of the characters, many doubling from "Flintstones," were perfectly matched and the animation finely drawn. Helm.

Oh, an unoptimistic and negative review? The following day, Weekly Variety had these words (mind you, it sourly spoke about the other shows it reviewed on the same page, too):

THE JETSONS PARTICIPATING ABC-TV (film, color)
Producers-Directors: William Hanna, Joseph Barbera; Writer: Larry Markes; 30 Mins.; Sun., 7: 30 p. m.
With George O'Hanlon, Penny Singleton, Janet Waldo, Daws Butler, Jean Vander Pyl, Mel Blanc, Don Messick.
The cartoon cycle, which took off with the click of "The Flintstones" a couple of years ago, is still rolling fitfully. Although a couple of such series proved to be disappointments last season, ABC-TV is trying again this fall with "The Jetsons," another Hanna-Barbera pen-and-ink creation which is being used for the first ABC color telecasting on the web's o& o's on a limited number of affiliates.
"The Jetsons" can be considered to be the 21st Century descendants of the prehistoric "Flintstones." But beyond electronic and mechanical gadgetry which underpins "The Jetsons" humor, nothing much else is new. In fact, the preem stanza (23) revolved around the oldest situation comedy chestnut known to man: the boss comes to dinner to the home of an employee bucking for a raise. History repeated itself with a monotonous predictability when the upside down cake dessert lands on the boss' head.
Even more important than the absence of a fresh point of view is this cartoon's lack of style. The artistic approach was not ruffled by originality. Among the characters, the Jetson family was as standardized as a cereal box. Only the robot maid, "Rosey," had a glimmer of interest due to the thinly disguised takeoff on "Hazel." At 7: 30 p. m. Sunday nights, this series may succeed in attracting the less critical moppet audiences."

The artwork of the Skypad Apartments you see above is not from the debut; it’s the opening shot (panned up) of “Uniblab,” a tremendous cartoon where we learn that hypocritical, back-stabbing, corporate ladder-climbers in the future won’t be restricted to humankind. Hoyt Curtin came up with some spunky ‘60s electronica over the pan shot. The original credits were ripped off all of the episodes (but one) years ago, so I can’t say who was responsible for the lovely Skypad setting or who did the animation (if I had to guess, I’d say a tamed Carlo Vinci does some work on it). We have some experts reading here who probably can spot the animators miles light-years away. Here’s a Judy exit; each drawing is shot on two frames.



Writer Barry Blitzer beautifully sets up the plot through some memorable office scenes, only to hearken back to them in Uniblab’s alcohol-soaked fall from grace. And if you’re not a fan of Don Messick, listen to his performance as the drunken Uniblab. It’s priceless and couldn’t have been done better by anyone.


13 comments:

  1. It was only one season? Yipes! I forgot that. What a creative show. Thanks for the pix. I love the artwork,

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  2. “Into the Space Age a few hundred years hence are propelled the Jetsons…”

    According to Gold Key Comics, The Jetsons #1, the year is 2062, exactly one hundred years in the future. Of course, that’s just in the comic book. The actual series may have taken place later. I don’t remember actually hearing a specific year mentioned on the show.

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  3. This is a question that has been bothering me for some time - Could George Jetson's character have been influenced by The great actor and comedian Alan Young, who was playing Wilbur Post in ''Mr. Ed'' at the time. There is some similarity.

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  4. Much more so than Wilbur on MISTER ED, George was clearly the futuristic version of “Joe Mc Doakes”, a character actually played by George O’Hanlon in a long-running series of Warner Bros. comedy shorts. These are very funny shorts that never really got into the public consciousness, alas.

    Then again, with Penny Singleton cast as his wife, Dagwood Bumstead is likely a huge influence as well.

    My comment above was removed for a misspelling.

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    1. Yes! Joe Mc Doakes !.Thanks Joe. I remember the first year Turner Classic Movies was launched, they ran these classic shorts in between the main features all the time. I used to point at O' Hanlon, ask my youngest son to listen, then ask.." Who is he ?". He would get this ear to ear grin, and say " George Jetson ". Yikes, it's been close to 17 years since I've seen those Warner's Short Features. I can see George Jetson being a version of the Joe Mc Doakes character.

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  5. The studio pretty much knew Uniblab was a hit, since they managed to do two sequels with him (it?) later in the season. If 'The Jetsons' had made it to Season 2, I don't know if the Hanna-Barbera 'formula' problem would have settled in with the character, where today we'd be talking about all those episodes where Uniblab sabotages George only to have Henry bail him out by sabotaging the robot at the finish. But in his limited exposure, he was a great mechanical weasel.

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  6. Paul, advance publicity material used 2062 but I don't believe the show ever did.

    Joe, I agree about McDoakes though oddly, McDoakes was more cartoony in many ways. I've finally been able to piece together another review and post it when mentioned another TV sitcom based on a panel cartoon.

    J.L., somewhere on the blog I quote either Hanna or Barbera promising Jane Jetson would become pregnant in season 2. So maybe Uniblab could have been a babysitter. That could be funny. But the one with Uniblab and Jetson and the army fell flat for me.

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    1. To me, the army one felt like they wanted to reuse the original episode's plot line, but tried to come up with a different setting than Spacely Sprokets for the story. They probably would have been better off making Uniblab a new hot-shot employee of Cogswell Cogs and having him sabotage George while working for Spacey's main rival.

      I still wonder what the rules are for Planet Poker, compared to regular poker.

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  7. There was a second season of sorts, in 1985's 41 shows created for the syndication market, with an abbreviated 10 episode season three in 1987. But by the time these shows were created, Hanna-Barbera was really past their prime. These shows play out much like the Saturday Mornning Flintstones spin-offs, never quite reaching the same tone as the prime-time originals.

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  8. Hugh Fraser, frequent partner to Carlo Vinci in the early-mid 1960s, animated the scene with Jane, Elroy and Judy. Fraser seemed to favor drawing his characters with their hands on their hips. And BTW Vinci also animated on the "Uniblab" episode.

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  9. As best I recall, the (no longer incomprehensible) year of 2062 was not mentioned in the original TV series, but was established on Page One of the first JETSONS comic book.

    As Western Publishing (Gold Key Comics) was notorious for working up to two years in advance, it would add that the reference to 2062 would have come from the sort of advance publicity materials that Yowp cites, because no finished episodes of THE JETSONS would have been available for the Gold Key Comics staff to view, when preparing that first issue.

    That would also account for why the Gold Key Comics version of The Great Gazoo (though rendered visually accurate by Pete Alvarado, and also on the cover by Phil DeLara, in THE FLINTSTONES # 34) was somewhat different from his video counterpart. He must have still been in the conceptual stage when the comic-book story was created. Wilma could see him and, most importantly, he LEFT FOR HOME at the end of his first story. In this way, one might consider the Gold Key Gazoo to be the superior version.

    THREE would seem to be the “Magic Number” for the repetition of any formula. It’s enough to leave you satisfied, but not over-saturated.

    The “Wabbit Season / Duck Season” and what I call the “Cowardly Sylvester and Stupefyingly Oblivious Porky in Danger” trilogies are prime examples of this. I maintain that the “Sylvester / Hippity Hopper / Giant Mouse” series would be more fondly thought-of today, if it were limited to its first three efforts, rather than the many, many that we did get.

    Thus, Uniblab should have reared his oversized, Saturn-like, ugly metal head ONCE MORE in a theoretical 1963-1964 season of THE JETSONS, fallen victim once again to his robotic weaknesses, and moved directly into a guest-starring role on LOST IN SPACE, where they were always looking to hire a good (or even bad) robot!

    BTW, I really LIKED “G.I. Jetson”, precisely because of Uniblab’s unexpected appearance as George’s commanding officer in the Space Guard! Sequels were far less common in those days, when even great guest-starring characters were routinely discarded when the “episode-ending-reset-button” was pressed.

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  10. 9/25/14
    RobGems.ca Wrote:
    If The Jetsons continued for a 1963-64 second season:
    1)ABC TV would have had more courage to show it, since there were less than many outlets that ABC could transfer across the US market, because at the time they had less outlets than their competitors CBS& NBC. Also,The chance to see The Jetsons originally in color was less often, because not all of the ABC transmitters had color transmitters in 1962, thus making alot of disappointed viewers see the show in B&W. There was also the tough job of beating NBC with "Walt Disney's Wonderful World Of Color" to contend with at the time.
    2)Uniblab would have made more appearances, no doubt, because he was a foil for George. I would suspect Jet Screamer & Mac The Superintendent Robot would have made 2nd or 3rd appearances as well.
    3)Would H-B have thought of a silly idea of adding a character like Orbitty in the imagined 1963-64 season for cuteness factor or to sell toys (courtesy of Ed Justin-he would have approved!)to the tiny tots no matter how nauseatingly cute he is? Look what they did to the final season of "The Flintstones" by adding Hoppity. Was it really a good idea or just a ploy by Mr. Justin to sell more H-B toys. Screen Gems no doubt would have seen dollar signs I can picture SG VP John Mitchell Smiling with approval at this idea.
    4)The Flintstones made a few attempts at crossing over celebrities from other movies & TV shows (Bewitched, Bonanza, James Darren, Hoagy Carmichael, Ann Margaret, etc.) Would The Jetsons have done the same thing? Picture James Darren On a Jetsons episode; would it have worked?
    5)A new closing with a new layout idea during the closing credits(replacing "Jane! Stop This Crazy Thing!" would have been to me a bad idea; that scene was too memorable.)
    6)Screen Gems'Dancing Sticks for a closer. Did they ever show any repeats with this logo in the 1964-70season on NBC or CBS? I scarcely remember an early 70's repeat syndication with the "S From Hell Logo". By 1976, these logos were gone, never to be seen on The Jetsons again. A Warner Brothers shield logo replaces the episode repeats today, followed by a Cartoon Network logo.
    7) About that 1985-87 version: a lot of Jetsons fans dislike that version, saying that the show had lost it's originality, including John Kricfalusi,who worked on a few episodes. It's been over 25 years, and he never tires of stating that these episodes were weak. I always thought the1985-87 episodes were okay. Not great, but okay. H-B has done much worse. Much of the hatred of these episodes are aimed at the introduction of Orbitty, a cute but insignificant pet they adopt. If Ed Justin would have thought the show had continued back in 1963,he would have thought of selling thousands of Orbitty plush toys. After all, it didn't bother him to sell tons of Hoppity and Dino toys. Incecidentaly,Idon't remember any Orbity toys in the 1980's.Justin was long gone by that point; He would have made Orbitty a selling point under his watch.
    8)Re-cycled music cues by Hoyt Curtin or new musical ones? Can you imagine "Jonny Quest" scores in a Jetson's episode?
    9) New music composed by Danny Hutton if they lasted a season longer?
    I guess we'll never know. By 1963, "The Jetsons was cancelled and soon on the Saturday morning schedule. This is how most of us Baby Boomers & X-Generation people remember seeing them after one failed season.

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  11. Thanks for the article..a handful of major H-B voices appeared because of the showm and many household and airline gadgets.....I mean, look at the Seattle Space Needle in Seattle, Wash. or the LAX International Airport in Southern Calif.!SteveC

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