Insatiable nanny groups got plenty of ink in newspapers for years, “approving” television programming for somebody else’s children. And Yogi, likely through writer Warren Foster, got a chance to make his own little commentary on it in one of those short cartoons-between-the-cartoons.
Yogi tells us he’s about to investigate violence on TV, then turns on his set. Suddenly, the programming comes out of the set to attack him.
“Hey, hey, hey,” he moans in pain. “It’s there, all right.”
The irony is, within ten years, a cartoon like this would not be allowed to appear on network television. The Huckleberry Hound Show was praised initially for not being “violent” like Tom and Jerry, or Popeye. But organised do-gooders never stop once their goal is met. They just expand their targets. Hanna-Barbera became a target. Wave bye-bye to The Herculoids and Space Ghost, kids. Someone thinks they’re not suitable for you.
Joe Barbera complained in 1978: “Some of these groups don't know when to quit. If Chaplin or Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy were trying to do TV comedy today, they couldn't make it." And when he and Bill Hanna tried to revive Tom and Jerry in 1975 for television, Barbera told the Associated Press’ Lee Margulies “We ran into a stone wall, because some citizens for the protection of the children of the world have decided cartoons are evil, that they’re violent and full of mayhem. We showed (the network folks) five of the old Tom and Jerrys and they laughed so hard they had tears in their eyes. Then they said, ‘We can’t use them. If we put those on we’ll get killed.’”
So Tom and Jerry got emasculated for TV animation.
In 1968, Hanna and Barbera came up with a combination animated-live action The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn at $100,000 per half hour. Syndicated newspaper writer Mel Heimer noted “There will be action, Bill and Joe promise, but not great violence.”
Emboldened special interests that knocked Frankenstein, Jr. off the air didn’t see it that way. Here’s a story that from the Chicago Daily News Service that appeared in newspapers on October 3, 1969. Ignore a few things, such as “we can’t give them the cartoons we gave them ten years ago” line. Ten years earlier, Hanna-Barbera produced Huck, Yogi, Jinks and Quick Draw. And ten years earlier, either Bill or Joe said the same thing about “sharper” kids; the earlier quote mentioned shows that were contemporary to the time. The New York Times, not Variety was the source of the “inked disaster” opinion. And while lauding Dick Dastardly and the Cattanooga Cats (neither was an original concept), there’s no mention of the one new character in 1969 that became one of the studio’s top money-makers of all time: Scooby-Doo.
(As an aside, did Bill Hanna really mean to say “Erotic things are permissible”?)
Young Television Viewers Tough, Demanding CriticsRemember, this story is from 1969. Things only got worse. Activists demanded cartoons be filled with ham-fisted propaganda, so they were. I suspect their intentions were good. They thought the world would be a better place if the television set taught the lessons that parents should have been teaching about social behaviour. Considering the state of the world today, the idea was a failure. Instead, they should have let cartoons on entertainment shows entertain.
By BOB ROSE
LOS ANGELES — To most people, a 7-year-old may be a runny-nosed kid, something people wash, clothe and get off to school on time, But to two of the nation's biggest cartoon makers, he's a sophisticate, a tough, demanding critic, a hip character, completely "with" today's music, and quick to be turned off by anything phony or treacly.
"We can't give them the cartoons we gave them ten years ago. The kids now are so much sharper. They've been exposed to the Beatles, Rowan and Martin, Lucille Ball, Jackie Gleason. They don't dig Snow White and Heidi. That older stuff is only okay today for a younger crowd — say the 3-year-olds."
The man talking is William Denby Hanna, 53, half of the team of Hanna-Barbera Productions, which this year will turn but six hours of network TV series weekly for CBS, NBC and ABC. That's exactly half the total Saturday morning programming of the three networks.
"Joe Barbera and I worked for MGM for 20 years, and we turned out 125 'Tom and Jerry' animated shorts — that's the equivalent of 48 minutes of cartoon time a year. A year. Less than one-sixth of our production now in a week."
MGM fired them both when people stopped going to movies and watched TV instead. They decided to concentrate on the medium that cost them their jobs. They came up with much less complicated techniques, particularly far fewer drawings, so they could cut a movie budget of $50,000 for a five-minute film down to $3,100 for television.
The prime-time "Flintstones" series was rapped by Variety as "a pen and ink disaster." It lasted six years at night, however, and then went right onto Saturday morning network showing and simultaneous around-the-world syndication.
"We put a big ad in Variety 'The sun never sets on "The Flintstones!" I think we're in 80 countries now," Hanna says.
But it probably was "Yogi Bear" that set Hanna-Barbera apart. It was immensely popular, particularly with the college crowd.
"I'll tell you why. Say the forest ranger would bawl Yogi out for doing something he shouldn't and. demand to know why he did it. Yogi answers, 'I'm a nonconformist bear.' And he was, and the young people were beginning to dig being nonconformists themselves."
Three years, ago Hanna-Barbera sold their ten-year-old firm to Taft Broadcasting for $10,248,567 cash and 60,000 of Taft's common shares. Hanna-Barbera became a division of Taft, retaining Hanna as president president and Barbera as executive vice president. (They shift the title of president back and forth). While the sale brought security, the team felt it also brought broadened perspectives.
"I don't feel I want to sit back and watch the butterflies," says Joseph Roland Barbera, also 53.
(The two-man team has been together 30 years. A top aide says the reason they get along so well together professionally is that they, don't see each other socially. "Joe is president of the Greek Theater. His idea of a good time is to go to New York and catch all the shows. Bill is much more informal. He'd rather sail to Catalina on his boat.")
The biggest problem the newly shaped company ran into was the sudden upsurge in anti-violence protests, not that Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, Huck Hound or Yogi loved blood and gore — but the protests hit everybody.
Hanna-Barbera's "The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" was given prime-time presentation by NBC last season only to suffer quick cancellation. It was H-B's first live action animated evening series.
"It was the reaction to the assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, and some of that reaction was understandable. But it became a little incredible. Our Huck Finn series wasn't like those plotless Japanese cartoons — unremitting violence, bea[s]ts, mechanical monsters destroying people and cities.
"We had completed 14 half hours of Huck Finn. I remember sitting in the projection room with top network people. 'The kids would love it,' they said. 'But you can't show it. The pirates are chasing those kids with cutlasses. You just can't do that anymore.' What else would a pirate chase them with? A stick of marshmallow or what? But you could see that was that. We had to throw the whole show out the window."
The flat anti-violence edict practically wipes out any serious effort at adventure series, Hanna says.
"You can't do adventure any other way. I read all the Tarzan books, all the Mars books, H. G. Wells, Zane Grey. Well, you can't do without weapons, guns, violence problems, I realize that some of the violence was unnecessary and uncalled for. I remember to my surprise seeing a cartoon where a bunch of people got killed. And it wasn't one of those Japanese things, either.
But the proscription against violence hasn't been all bad.
"But there's no shooting. No guns at all. Dastardly and Muttley have a job of stopping an indestructible carrier pigeon from delivering messages across the lines. They never succeed.
"But what are their weapons? Well, we create an airplane with a huge vacuum cleaner in front of it, another with giant mallet, maybe another with a huge flyswatter. But they always miss. And the thing to remember is that none of these things is something a child can pick up. Erotic things are permissible because children can't find them.
"A writer had a gag where a machine gun spun around and cut off the tail or the wings. We eliminated the gun but not the gag. We had the propeller spin off and slice the plane up like a bologna slicing machine. It was very funny."
Hanna argues that slapstick-knockabout is perfectly okay and is not violence.
"When you have a cartoon character and two funny cars come together and they crash and all fall apart, boom, and in the next scene they're all back together again, nobody ever yells or gets hurt.
"That's pretty normal slapstick humor. And in doing it with cartoons it makes sense. Think of Laurel and Hardy, they did it and you never saw them with a gun or a knife. The same with Charlie Chaplin."
Nonviolence and humor can sell, too, and well.
"We introduced 'The Banana Splits' last year. Four rock musicians — Fleegle, Drooper, Bing and Snorky [sic] — in crazy costumes. They acted as hosts for a cartoon hour on NBC. This year they went to Hawaii for the state fair. And we just got a note from the fair boss saying they pulled in 100,000 kids and parents in just two days. Now you may never have heard of them. But the kids know them.
"This year we're introducing 'The Cattanooga Cats' on ABC. We got a young songwriter — Mike Curb — he's done more than 40 soundtracks, including pictures like 'Wild Angels,' 'Wild in the Streets,' 'The Trip,' 'Three in the Attic.' He's doing two new tunes. for each of 17 episodes.
"Too sophisticated, for a 7-year-old kid? Not a bit of it. They know every sharp music group. You can't play down to them. The cartooning we do with this fits the music. Short quips. Mod art. Fast moving patterns. Kind of an animated light show."
Hanna says the only sure way is to give kids what they like.