Thursday, 24 May 2018

Dinner With Yogi and Quick Draw (and Maybe T.C.)

Despite what some people and web sites would have you believe, cartoons weren’t just for Saturday mornings way-back-when. In fact, it took until the mid-1960s for animation to bump puppets and most filmed live-action reruns off the Saturday morning schedule.

For those of us of a certain vintage, after-school time was cartoon time. Local TV stations bought all kinds of cartoons from syndicators and ran them to death for years, sometimes with a human host in a costume doing funny routines between them. Late afternoons/early evenings were kids time on TV just as it had been on radio. Hanna-Barbera’s first huge successes were in that time period; the Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw and Yogi Bear shows generally ran somewhere between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. (the rise of half-hour network and local newscasts pretty much pushed cartoons out of that slot).

Since kids could watch cartoons at around dinner time, it’s only appropriate that Hanna-Barbera would help you eat your food while showing you Snooper solving a case at the same time. They licensed TV trays.

Television stations have been around since the late 1920s, but it was 1948 that all the networks had their prime-time schedules filled on weeknights for the first time. And, according to this patent, 1948 was when the TV tray, as we know it today, was invented. Happy 70th birthday, TV tray!

The ad to right is from 1961. All three of Hanna-Barbera’s “Kellogg’s” syndicated half-hours were on by that time. The artwork on the trays is really good and the scenes depicted on them should result in at least a smile. They remind me of scenes in those short cartoons between the main cartoons. Here are some of the trays. I wish I could tell you who the artist was.



There were plenty of opportunities to pull out a TV tray and tune in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon in 1961. The studio had five half-hour series on the air, with the Flintstones and the three pre-prime-time shows joined by Top Cat. Things looked good for Hanna-Barbera; the networks wanted animated shows at night because of the success of the Flintstones. Top Cat beat out Keemar, the Invisible Boy from Format Films, Sir Loin and His Dragon and Shaggy Dog Tales from Creston/TV Spots and Sweetie from Pabian Productions (Jim and Tony) for a prime-time spot. In fact, it was the first foreign show bought by Canada’s new CTV network.

But Top Cat placed second behind Joey Bishop in its debut week with a 32.7 audience share (Bishop had 45.5). The studio had was feverishly working to get more shows ready; by the following February 5th, Variety reported only 24 of 30 episodes were done. Five weeks later, ABC announced the series had been renewed for the following season, but would be moved to Saturday mornings, at the time still pretty much a dumping ground for old cartoons amongst shows like Fury.

Top Cat fans folded up the TV trays and got out the cereal bowls instead.

12 comments:

  1. I never knew these TV trays ever existed.

    And while on this topic...were there ever Top Cat TV trays?

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    1. Not that I've seen, Matt, but I'll be happy if someone reading here has a definitive answer.

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  2. When a TV series is "renewed", that generally means that new episodes will be produced for the following season. Were plans for additional Top Cat shows eventually scrapped by ABC, or did you simply mean that the existing programs were to be repeated in the Saturday daytime slot?

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    1. Variety wrote the story and used the word "renewed." I'm just quoting.
      Considering the cost of each show, I doubt new episodes were ever planned for Saturday morning, which was still a low-billing time period in 1962.

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  3. They couldn't eat their cereal on the trays? (And considering Kelloggs was sponsoring all the series save for The Flintstones, wouldn't that be appropriate dining fare?).

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    1. People who are nostalgic on-line about Saturday morning cartoons wax on about cereal bowls. Not one has ever reminisced through misty eyes about a TV tray. I suspect TV trays were not a part of their Saturday morning childhood.

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  4. I had a TV tray like those when I was little, and there is a mystery about it that I noticed when I looked at these photos. It came roaring back. The holy Grail for which I have been seeking since I was four. All these trays have dots around the outer edge. Every one of them. The dots may be in different colors from tray to tray, but the pattern is the same. Now maybe it's just a mid-century modern art decorative touch, but as a child I thought the dots meant something. What do those dots represent? Why are they there? Do they do anything? I must know. If anyone knows please, solve my lifelong mystery.

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  5. We had all of these TV trays when I was growing up. Such a HUGE part of my childhood. I've since picked up the "Music-Makers" tray on Ebay. Oddly, it's more like a breakfast-in-bed tray than like a TV table tray. And I've always wondered about those dots too! Maybe some Russian spies were trying to brainwash us kiddies?

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    1. We did, too, I think.I remember the dots.SC

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  6. I never saw any Top Cat trays, but in the U.K. there are T.C. mugs: https://www.mugbug.co.uk/mug/top-cat-mug-hes-the-most-tip-top-top-cat-hanna-barbera/2592/

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    1. Wasn't TC called "Boss Cat" in the UK (supposedly because there was a Top Cat cat food that predated the show)?

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    2. For some time, yes. But since the 80s he is known there as Top Cat.

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