Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Happy 55th Fred, Wilma, Barney and Betty

Fred Flintstone is a good guy underneath, despite his bluster, pig-headedness and other faults. Barney Rubble is a good-natured, loyal friend. Both of those things remained constant through various incarnations of the Flintstones. That’s why the Bedrockers have survived for so long and are still popular today.

The internet is one big calendar. It loves birthdays, anniversaries, death-iversaries. Today marks 55 years since the Flintstones made history in becoming the first prime-time, made-for-TV cartoon series. (No, that’s not Ubba Ubba from Ruff and Reddy making a guest appearance in the ad you see. It’s Fred, Jr. who was dropped from the show in development around the time the name “Flagstones” was changed to “Flintstones.” Someone evidently didn’t tell whoever supplied newspaper ads for ABC affiliates because this appeared in a number of papers).

The Flintstones initially suffered from its advance hype. It was pushed and pushed in interviews as an “adult” show. Critics expected something more sophisticated than what it saw, they anticipated a cartoon full of pointed satire on modern day life. That wasn’t what they got. The reviewers weren’t generally happy. Besides the storyline of the debut cartoon, “The Flintstone Flyer,” the laugh track and the animation also came in for criticism (reviewers may have thought prime-time would bring about higher budgets to pay for rendering closer to what Uncle Walt was showing off on his Sunday evening show. You can read the “inked disaster” review from the New York Times and other printed lashings HERE). In fact, this blog has been around so long, we’ve “anniversaried” the show plenty. Read some thoughts about the Flintstones HERE. The critic for the Yonkers Herald Statesman wasn’t altogether negative, but didn’t appear to have a high opinion of TV sitcoms themselves:

It’s a bit too much like an animated “Honeymooners,” but your previewer will guarantee you at least five solid laughs and that’s way above average. You’ll love the bowling scene, the way the paper is delivered, and the neighbor’s flying machine.
Daily Variety generally reviewed all the major new TV shows every fall. In fact, it had reviewed the Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw shows favourably days after their debuts in the late ’50s. So here’s what the Show Biz Bible had to say about the Flintstones debut. The original closing animation with credits was removed when the show went into syndication in 1966, but Variety of October 3, 1960 has preserved some of the names that were originally on the screen.
THE FLINTSTONES
(Fri., 8:30-9 p.m., ABC-TV)
Filmed by Hanna & Barbera for Miles Labs. Producers-directors, Joe Barbera, Bill Hanna; written by Joe Barbera, Mike Maltese, Dan Gordon; animator, Carlo Vinci; camera, Frank Paiker, Roy Wade; layout, Walt Clinton; editor, Joseph Ruby; Music, Hoyt Curtin; production Supervisor, Howard Hanson.
Voices: Alan Reed, Jean Vander Pyl, Bea Benadaret, Mel Blanc.
Animated animals are more fun than animated people. At least that’s the way it is with the assorted animals and people that pop out of television’s most creative and productive cartoonery, Hanna & Barbera. “The Flintstones,” a “people” program and first of the company’s series aimed specifically at the adult audience, proved a disappointment in its ABC bow.
Paradoxically, “The Flintstones” seems less adult than “Huckleberry Hound” and “Quick Draw McGraw,” H&B’s two remarkably clever and consistently enjoyable programs supposedly ticketed for children but equally, if not more, appealing to young adults. “Flintstones,” in keeping with the overworked current vogue, is a family comedy about two couples living in the Stone Age. There is irascible Fred Flintstone and his wife, Wilma, and easygoing Barney Rubble and spouse, Betty. The relationship of the couples, notably the men, is reminiscent of “The Honeymooners,” notably Gleason and Carney. In essence, it is a satire on modern suburban life, but in the opener it didn’t come across.
There is a laugh track, a negative factor not present in “Huck Hound” and “Quick Draw.” Apparently adults need to be advised when to chuckle, whereas children are bright enough to draw their own conclusions. Character voices are neatly conveyed by Alan Reed, Jean Vander Pyl, Bea Benadaret and Mel Blanc. Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna share the producer-director shots. Tube.
Weekly Variety went into further detail in its review of the show in its edition of October 10, 1960:
THE FLINTSTONES
With Alan Reed, Jean Vander Pyl, Bea Bendaret [sic], Mel Blanc, others
Producers - Directors: Joe Barbera, Bill Hanna
Writers: Barbera, Mike Maltese, Dan Gordon
30 Mins., Fri., 8:30 p.m.
MILES LABS, R. J. REYNOLDS
ABC-TV (film)
(Wade, Wm. Esty)
Out of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon shop, which has turned out such tv winners as "Huckleberry Hound" and "Quick Draw McGraw," comes the first animated series for "adult" tv with a regular cast of characters and running story line.
On paper and perhaps on the drawing board as well, "The Flintstones" looked like a shoo-in for ABC, particularly in view of the H-B track record for satire and sophistication in their cartoon fare. But a shoo-in it’s not—it will draw sizeable audiences for a start because of its novelty value and because there’s a reasonable quota of laughs in the-show, but on the basis of the first episode it doesn’t seem to have the qualities that make for staying power.
"Flintstones" is billed as a satire on suburban living, and it has the trimmings. Set in the cave-man era, its characters nonetheless live like modern suburbanites with all the latest conveniences, except that the settings and props are made out of prehistoric materials. The idea is good—it sharpens the eye for the more absurd aspects of "modern conveniences," and it enables the viewer to look at modern life from a fresh viewpoint. Unfortunately, though. Hanna & Barbera failed to take advantage of this. There were some fine sight gags, to be sure, but no satire at all, nothing to point up anything silly in modern life.
But that’s a minor matter. The main trouble with "The Flintstones" is the Flintstones, the title characters. The key to success in any situation comedy — and any cartoon series, for that matter—is that the leading characters must be likable. The Flintstones aren’t. Fred Flintstone (voice by Alan Reed) is a noisy, boastful bore, with nary a good quality to be seen. His wife (Jean Vander Pyl) is altogether a colorless character. The other regulars are their next-door-neighbors, voices by Mel Blanc and Bea Benadaret. But he’s portrayed as a stupid dolt of whom Flintstone is always taking advantage, and she’s rather dull.
As a consequence, there isn’t much for the viewer here in terms of regular tune-in except the occasional novelty of cartoon comedy, but one-dimensional comedy in the script sense at that. Fred Flintstone isn’t going to garner the kind of popularity that H-B’s Huck Hound or Yogi Bear have occasioned, since he’s not a particularly likable kind of guy. Nor is Barney Rubble, the neighbor, though he’s got a better chance.
Opening storyline was a routine sort of affair, with the men feigning injuries to get out of going to the opera so they could sneak off to bowl instead, then getting back home ahead of the wives, The stanza had its funny moments, and some of the animated props were amusing, but the entire script was pretty rudimentary, and as for the satire, it just wasn’t in evidence.
"Flintstones" is not only disappointing in itself, but because it’s a pioneer effort that could have opened the door to more animated comedy and perhaps more satire with it (a cartoon is so impersonal that it can use satire where ordinary comedy would hesitate). Someday, perhaps an adult cartoon series will make its way onto the networks, out "Flintstones," based on the preem offering, doesn’t qualify. Chan.
The critics did have some points, but audiences didn’t care. They quickly embraced the characters and the situations and the show was in the Nielsen Top 20 by November. It even spawned a 45 on the singles chart, but the studio itself had nothing to with it. More on that in a moment.

As for Hanna-Barbera itself, the studio seemingly could do no wrong. Weekly Variety, December 7, 1960:

Hanna-Barbera’s Billings Mounting
That Hanna-Barbera, Screen Gems marriage continues on its prosperous course. Kellogg’s, via Leo Burnett, has inked for another season of “Huckleberry Hound” and “Quick Draw McGraw.” Season of ‘61-‘62 Will find three Hanna-Barbera shows in national spot, with Kellogg’s picking up the tab. The third is “Yogi Bear,” which makes its debut next month as separate series.
SG also is looking for a renewal of Hanna-Barbera’s “Flintstones” next season on ABC-TV. Show, doing fine in the rating meter for the current season, has picked up another six episodes via exercising of options, with the web and sponsors now committed to 32 episodes for the season, instead of 26.
“Yogi Bear” national spot series prior to its January debut also had the number of episodes committed increased from 26 to 32.
The trades had predicted before The Flintstones debuted that if it became a hit, copycats would follow. It did and they did. Of course, you know ABC picked up Top Cat for the following fall. Weekly Variety, in one of a number of articles focusing on TV cartoons, revealed in its March 15, 1961 issue that CBS had picked up Alvin and the Chipmunks and Sy Gomberg’s The Shrimp, Don Quinn had come out of retirement to work with Bob Clampett on an animated The Edgar Bergen Show, Calvin and the Colonel had been added to the ABC schedule, while Bill Cooper Associates with shopping around Simpson and Delaney, a Jay Ward show, while California National Productions was looking for buyers for Sir Wellington Bones and a Bob and Ray show lending their voices for spoof narrations of old movies. Interestingly, there was no mention of the Bullwinkle Show, which also appeared in fall 1962. Two weeks earlier, the paper reported Disney turned down the idea of an animated sitcom for NBC.

The craze over cartoons ended quickly. Weekly Variety reported on October 18, 1962 the new shows (Calvin, Alvin, Top Cat) were taking a beating in the ratings but the networks had committed 26 episodes of each because of high production costs and then one set of reruns to try to recoup their investment. However, the Flintstones sailed onward, with critics now in the Bedrock family’s corner.

Perhaps the most interesting story of the Flintstones first season involved a union dispute. From Variety, April 5, 1961:

IATSE, NABET In Jurisdictional Tussle Over Screen Gems Robot
Chicago, April 4. — What’s the union for robots? That's what WBKB here has to find out before it can use one for "personal appearances" this week.
Station is confronted with a new jurisdictional dispute between NABET and IATSE over who's to operate the remote controls, an engineer or a stagehand. The robot in question is one developed by Screen Gems to promote ABC-TV’s “Flintstones.” It's a 300-pound mechanical replica of the character, Fred Flintstone.
“Real Life” cartoon will tour the ABC-TV affils after making its debut on the Chi station.
Fred Flintstone was entertaining off-camera as well, but Hanna-Barbera saved the idea of a robot for another series.

Ah, we mentioned a 45 on the charts. In January 1961, Capitol Records released “Goodnight Mrs. Flintstone” by the Piltdown Men. Behind the song were Ed Cobb and Lincoln Mayorga of the Four Preps. The band was a seven-piece studio group featuring a couple of saxes (alto and baritone?), piano, electric guitar, electric bass and drums. It was an under two-minute instrumental that owes a lot to “Red River Valley” and “Good Night Ladies.” No, the song never appeared on the TV show. It’s actually pretty tame but Billboard reported on March 27 it was No 13 on the British charts. Listen to it below.

5 comments:

  1. Variety did have a bit of a point on Fred -- in the first couple of episodes his gruffness spills over at times into physical cruelty against Barney that could come across as off-putting when you've never seen the characters before.

    Ralph Kramden might shove Ed Norton for doing something dumb, but he wouldn't punch/smash him with an object like prototype Fred did. But those overly-rough edges on Fred were softened out by the mid-point of the season (and, unfortunately, kept getting more and more softened so that by the time Seasons 5-6 rolled around, there weren't many edges left to be seen in the character).

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  2. Yabba Dabba Doo! They didn't show the first actually-done episode, "The Swimming Pool", as everyone knows, because of course Fred and Barney fought too much so "The Flintstone Flyer" opened the show 55 years ago (still ends with Betty and Wilma waiting for Fred and Barney to land...:) Interesting, both the foursome and their voices are alone in this except for an opera diva at Betty and Wilma's show..)

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    1. Not quite. At the very beginning, the newsboy is heard announcing himself (Jean VanderPyl), and there's a man inside of the bowling alley's drink vending machine (Mel Blanc, doing his Senor Wences imitation).

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    2. Correct. Still, no other voice actors are heard (a la Season 2's episode wherere Barney and Betty had to stay over sat the Flintstone house due to the Rubbles's plumbing problems-forgot episode-only the Blanc-voiced plumber is seen in that one..). (It was quite unlike the actual first one made, "The Swimming Pool", which boasted Daws Butler, Hal Smtih (that angry neighbor who was blasted off the air by the jazzy music!), Bill Thompson and Mike Rye (all of whom except for the last were considered for Fred and Barney--after all, the first played both Fred and Barney in the 1959 pilot and Smith and Thompson considered for the husbands). SC

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  3. And enjoying the 55 years of the premiére from The Flintstones in the USA, thru the prime-time from ABC, the Boomerang channel (from Brazil and Latin America) returned to broadcast The Flintstones at the late nights, everyday.

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