It seems odd calling the show a failure. New episodes were made in the ‘80s. There was an animated feature film. And it’s still part of the popular culture for people of certain ages. References to the show, although clichéd by now, crop up in news stories about flying cars or labour-saving technology of the future.
But it was a failure in one aspect. George, Jane, Judy, Elroy et al only lasted a season in prime time before becoming nostalgia fodder through season after season of Saturday morning reruns. So that brings us back to why. It could have been because three family shows were battling for the 7:30 p.m. Sunday time slot (Disney’s “Wonderful World of Color” on NBC easily won the ratings war, knocking CBS’ “Dennis the Menace” out of prime time and into Saturday reruns along with the “The Jetsons”). It could have been because the prime-time cartoon craze had passed (even “The Flintstones” fell from 23rd to 30th). It could have been economics, specifically ABC guaranteeing co-sponsors American Home and Colgate-Palmolive (and later Minnesota Mining and Dow Chemical) a minimum number of adult viewers for a specified number of dollars. Or it could have been viewers thought it was an inverse of “The Flintstones” and one Flintstones was enough for them (the theory expounded by Television magazine in its April 1963 issue). Whatever the reason, Broadcasting magazine reported on April 1, 1963 that “The Jetsons” were moving to kid-friendly rerun time. Marx Toys, which began making licensed Rosey the Robot toys even before the show began airing, bought the time. (As a side note, Television reported in its July 1963 edition “The Jetsons” was consistently in the top five in Japan).
There were high hopes in TV Land for the show. Here’s a syndicated column picked out of a newspaper of September 5, 1962.
New Cartoon Series Set By ABC
By CHARLES WlTBECK
HOLLYWOOD - The big duds last season were the animated cartoon series. This fall only one new one sneaks in, “The Jetsons” beginning Sunday, Sept. 23 on ABC.
Are the grownups going to push the kids aside to watch "The Jetsons," a family who live in the next century? Of course, Hanna and Barbers, producers of "Huckleberry Hound" and "The Flintstones," hope the little darlings will dial in "The Jetsons" to see how life is 100 years from now and kindly include their parents.
This could happen because "The Jetsons" may attract would-be inventors and dreamers. The show is going to be full of mechanical gadgets that we don't have around yet. The writers are sitting up all night playing Thomas Edison. What will be possible in 2062?
Push Button Dominates
The dominating influence will, of course, be the push button. There'll even be push buttons exercises for weak fingers. Maybe the forefinger will double in size. For instance. Jane Jetson pushes buttons for food, reading and transportation. When she sends Elroy, age 8, to school she merely pushes the button labelled grammar school, and off he goes down the chute of the Sky Pad Apartment. If it's raining she'll spray a raincoat on the boy. If she pushes the wrong button for him, Elroy will soon return, marked Reject.
The Sky Pad Apartments are equipped with "high level, adjustable living." The Jetsons can adjust their apartment at any level and can even rise above the log or smog. The showers are like our car wash establishments.
Father Jetson will step on a slidewalk moving into a shower. Then he'll enter a dry spin and end up in the talcum and finishing touch area. If he feels tired at the end of a day, he'll take a "husband pacifier." Soft music is heard, cocktails are whipped out and the man is soothed by gentle murmurs.
When George Jetson wants entertainment he'll attend a football game where the players are robots who come apart at the seams with a jarring tackle. The coach merely pushes buttons and in rush Sullivan and Wojahowski, fighting robots to the bitter end.
The idea with "The Jetsons" is to have reasonable inventions that could come from our present culture.
Dress Try-on Trick
Designers have already made dresses of paper that can be worn once and thrown away. That will be old hat in the future. In this series Jane Jetson will go shopping, but instead of trying on dresses, she'll merely take one to a mirror that will show how she looks in the dress. The telephone will have a TV screen so Jane Jetson can put on a "morning mask" If she doesn't want to be seen without her makeup on.
While the gadgets will be the come-on, the family will still be the endearing factor. They have real hearts and they don't eat pills instead of food. George Jetson it hard working and lovable, especially by his big dog Astro who has his own way of talking and always sits next to George.
Then there's wife, Jane, 33, a little homemaker, always pushing buttons and always talking to her mother. Judy, 15, and Elroy, 8, round out this All-American family of the future.
One thing hasn't changed—the humor. Evidently it's the same 100 years from now. No one's figured out what the gang will laugh at then.
Daily Variety liked “The Jetsons,” too. Here’s Helm’s review from the edition of September 25, 1962. ABC fed the show in colour to all owned and operated stations as well as any affiliates that wanted a colourcast. The network ate the A.T. and T. colour charge.
(Rosey The Robot)
Sun., 7:30 p.m., KABC-TV (Reviewed In Color)
Filmed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.
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 another 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 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 for sales of color sets. Voices of the characters, many doubling from “Flintstones,” were perfectly matched and the animation finely drawn. Helm.
One thing that dawned on me reading these two pieces is that there’s more talk about gadgets than characters and that may have been another reason the show didn’t work in prime time. TV was moving to more outrageous lead characters—hillbillies, talking horses, witches and so on. George Jetson wasn’t over-the-top. He wasn’t supposed to be. The idea behind the show was to put a stereotypical ‘50s dad and his family in a time that ‘50s science and technology magazines thought the future would be like. With a humorous twist.
Whatever the reason, the prime time failure of “The Jetsons” worked to its advantage. Moving to Saturday mornings put it squarely within reach of the show’s main demographic. Kids liked it and watched the same episodes over and over, just like they did the same Bugs Bunny and Popeye cartoons during the weekday. “The Jetsons” just kept rolling along, attracting three generations of kids. I’m sure it’s the kind of failure most cartoon producers would like to have.