Sunday, 30 September 2018

Yabba-Dabba Birthday

If nothing else, The Flintstones sure got hyped before the show debuted on this date 58 years ago.

A look at a number of newspapers in 1960 shows not only a line or two in the “TV Hilites” columns but articles on the impending series with publicity photos on the side. ADULT! SATIRIC! Those were the two words being pushed by ABC, Screen Gems and Hanna-Barbera. In other words, dear readers, this isn’t kiddie programme. It turned out not to be the best publicity strategy. People tuning in for the first time saw a plot that could have come from an old radio sitcom, a drawing style that wasn’t as sophisticated as the average animated commercial and “satire” that was little more than punny transformations of modern suburbia into pre-historic clich├ęs. Still, once people got past that and accepted what was on the screen, they liked what they were viewing. I still give a great deal of credit to Alan Reed’s performances. The show was centred around Fred Flintstone and Reed put so much into him, you accepted him as a real character.

We’ve marked the Flintstone debut a number of times on the blog (go to back to 2010 for a bunch of 50th anniversary posts), so we’ll only do so briefly today. First is a United Press International column that about appeared about a month before the show did.

TV Cavemen Set to Rock Detective-Cowboy Rating
By JOE FINNIGAN

HOLLYWOOD, Aug. 28 (UPI) — Television's detectives and cowboys get some competition from cavemen this season when a gang of prehistoric suburbanites come plodding onto the screen.
APPROPRIATELY titled "The Flintstones," the peek at one of history's first families is an animated cartoon show, brainchild of Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna. The cavemen debut Sept 30 (on ABC).
Barbera and Hanna, Emmy award winners who produced "Huckleberry Hound" and "Quick Draw McGraw," will have their cavemen facing problems of the everyday family, like baby sitters.
"We'll have Fred and Wilma Flintstone with their pals Betty and Barney Rubble," Barbera said. "They'll live in the town of Bedrock, 250 feet below sea level. "Fred Flintstone works for a construction company whose slogan is 'feel secure, own your own cave.' And, like many families, Fred has a convertible, only it's got stone wheels."
FLINTSTONE, IN some ways an early day Fibber McGee, is a typical joiner holding membership in "The Young Cavemen's Association" and for a night out, he heads for the Rocadero Tilton."
Barbera realizes the problems he faces, with his series and says, "there has been no luck with humans in animated cartoons.
"We looked at many characters and they all resembled commercials," he explained. "But, the minute we put caveman costumes on them, the characters looked very humorous. They're a spoof on human beings.
"For instance, Fred doesn't put a cat out at night, his pet is a sabertoothed tiger. And the fire engine is a dinosaur with ladders on his side."
HANNA AND Barbera decided to go into a situation comedy series after ratings indicated that the big percentage of audience who watch "Huck," "Quick Draw" and their "Yogi Bear" were adults.
Response to the wispy characters have been such that the cartoonists are faced with a personal appearance problem.
It's easy to haul a Marilyn Monroe or a Clark Gable around the country for the fans to see, but try that with a bear.
"People all over the nation want to see our characters," Barbera said. "So, we've beep taking them out on the road. You'd be surprised at the crowds wanting their autographs."
"Huck," "Quick Draw" and "Yogi" are mobbed by fans wherever they go and the producers have figured out a way to humanize their characters.
"It's arranged for three fellows to be at the airport when we arrive at a city," Barbera said. "They come aboard the plane and dress up like the characters."
Jack Gould of the New York Times infamously called the show “an inked disaster.” I suppose in terms of what he was expecting, it was. Here’s a bit of a different take from Jack Cluett of Women’s Day magazine in its October 1960 edition. A number of articles mentioned Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw, treating them as the gold standard of television cartoons. It’s a bit hard for us to understand here in the future how popular those shows were with everyone in the late ‘50s.

Cluett lifts wording right off an ABC/Screen Gems news release; I don’t know how many times I’ve read that “butcher, baker, pizza-pie maker” line.

New animated cartoon is set in stone age suburbia.
On Friday, September 30th, at 8:30 P.M. (EDT) over ABC-TV, you can see television’s first attempt to replace the comedy antics of live comedians with an animated cartoon series. The new program, created by the producers of Quick Draw McGraw, Ruff ‘N Reddy and Huckleberry Hound, is called The Flintstones.
Basically, the story is about Fred and Wilma Flintstone, an average couple with one big difference—they live in the Stone Age. Their neighbors are Barney and Betty Rubble. Fred and Wilma enjoy all the advantages of modern-day existence. They live in a split-level cave. They drive a convertible with log fins, stone wheels and a thatched-roof top. Their town is called Bedrock and it has its butcher, baker and pizza-pie maker along with a gasoline station, drive-in theater and a daily paper chiseled on stone slabs.
The prehistoric telephone is a ram’s horn with a dial system. Fred trims his hedge by manipulating the legs of a bird, scissors fashion, with the sharp beat acting as steel cutting blades. Fred works as a steam shovel operator for the Rock Head and Quarry Construction Company, his machine is a dinosaur with levers. Betty Rubble and Wilma Flintstone face the many decisions that plague the suburban housewife of today, including what to cook for supper: Brontosaurus cutlets, soft-boiled dodo eggs or lizard gizzards. They even take soiled skins to the local rock-O-mat for laundering.
Bearing in mind that producers Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera have recently seen their Huckleberry Hound receive an Emmy for the best in children’s programming, it is understandable why they are tossing The Flintstones into the adult comedy sweepstakes. But, in my opinion, it was a mistake to tag this series as “television’s first adult animated cartoon.” Actually it’s no more adult than Donald Duck even though it may contain a few more sophisticated touches. There’s no question but what the grownups will get a chuckle out of the gadgetry with a stone age flair, but these gags alone can’t hope to sustain laughs week after week.
The high point of The Flintstones, to my way of thinking, is the voices of the characters. Wilma sounds just like Audrey Meadows and is done by Jean Vander Pyl. Alan Reed does the voice of Fred, the inimitable Mel Blanc speaks for Barney Rubble and Bea Benaderet voices Betty Rubble. They are all extremely good. Indeed, the voices I heard at the preview were much better than the situations. A fast pace is an absolute must in animation even when your setting is a stone age swimming pool.
If the Mssrs. Hanna and Barbera find, after a couple of weeks of The Flintstones, that their “children’s” Huckleberry Hound has a higher rating than their “adult” newcomer, maybe they’ll forget all about the age of the viewers and concentrate on producing a funny cartoon series. If they do this, I’ll guarantee that everyone in my house from 8 to 60 will be right there watching.
As Cluett suggested, The Flintstones evolved. You can only do talking animal gadget jokes for so long. Hanna and Barbera had to find new gimmicks every year. Thus we got a baby girl, then a baby boy, then a hopperoo, then an alien with Ray Walston antennae. The show had run out of steam so much by season five that it took a schedule change to keep it on the air for another year and keep Flintstones merchandise in stores.

The Flintstones sparked a huge copycat trend of prime-time animated shows in 1961, which died in 1962 when none of the new shows garnered an audience (until, in some cases, they were moved to Saturday mornings, the dumping group of used cartoons at the time).

The series is not my favourite amongst Hanna-Barbera half-hours, but there are still enough pleasant and even funny episodes (“Dino Goes Hollyrock” is still tops for me) the make the show worth watching after all these years. In many ways, it still stands up.

6 comments:

  1. To make the first comment, I'm watching the "Flintstones" (Warner Home Video, 2000s original set, not any re-repackage), Season 4. "Dino Disappears" (Guest starring Jerry Hausner as a slightly "fussy" showman who's master of a
    "fake" showb izzy Dino, named Rocy (Hal Smith), and written by Joanna Lee, it has a resentful Dino (precipated by Pebbles's getting birthday presents over Dino, understandbaly now resentful and jealous, both having special events, ), snubbed for trying to (justifably) get his deserved attention, walking out. Fred and the family get together to rescue the pet, who gets confused with the above..(the owner: "Okay Rocky")!!

    Before, the debut of Bamm-Bamm ("Little Bamm Bamm"), introduciung Don Messick's Bamm Bamm, is a good bittersweet/happy-ending episode in its own right, with Warren Foster's inspired Rubbles wishing for a baby who gets introduced to the show but then is - a la your alter ego on The Jetsons (coicindentally also Don messick) Astro as Tralfaz - formerly owned baby/pet. (the Jetsons one is the one on Tralfaz blog)

    And started with the Janet Waldo and Don Messick guest one, "Groom Gloom"(Herb Finn), with Fred being concerned about Arnold loving Pebbles, who becomes the first teen Pebbles within Fred's wacky dream (Pebbles and Arnold, played here by Don Messick as well.)


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  2. I agree that Alan Reed made the show. Since the animation was limited, the voice actors had to carry the characterizations. While in the first few episodes, Fred seems more of a stone age version of Ralph Kramden, as the series unfolds, Reed gradually arrives at character who is much more complex than a mere Honeymooners clone. Fred is bossy and arrogant, quick-tempered and belligerent, strong-willed and wrong-headed--but there is more. He really loves his wife. He really likes his best friend. This is evident even when Fred is at his most blustery. Alan Reed exudes a unique kind of warmth that comes through despite all of the off-putting traits. He makes Fred Flintstone lovable.

    Of course, the supporting cast works perfectly together. Jean Van der Pyl, though originally playing her as a scold, turned Wilma into a credible, many-faceted woman with a remarkable depth that seems to me to go beyond a simple stone age makeover of Alice Kramden. Jean really brings out the love in Wilma's voice, as well as the rich sarcasm. As for Mel Blanc, it took him several first season episodes to "find" the Barney Rubble voice which he then carried through the rest of the series. He pitched the voice higher at first, and this continued into the Sweepstakes Ticket episode, where Barney's upper register begins to gravitate toward the more familiar lower register. (By the end of the season, Barney's lower voice has been established.) Mel Blanc likewise managed to convey warmth and depth of character, especially once he "found" Barney's voice. As Blanc once wrote, he and Alan Reed were even better friends than Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. And let us not forget Bea Benadaret, the one and only "true" voice of Betty. While Betty only carried a couple of episodes late in the run (I'm thinking of "Little Bamm-Bamm" and "Old Lady Betty"), Bea Benadaret endowed the character with a sparkle and pizzazz that made the character shine. Nobody could do the Betty laugh as she could.

    So credit where it's due to Alan Reed and the wonderful supporting cast that made "The Flintstones" memorable and timeless. Thanks, Yowp, for this post!

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  3. Has "The Flintstones" been compared to "the Three Stooges"?; though the latter has more-cultured violence

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    1. Not that I've read, Anon, at least at the time it first aired.

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  4. ...and also is in a DIFFERENT setting.

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  5. Hans Christian Brando7 October 2018 at 07:54

    And of course by then nobody remembered the Fleischer "Stone Age" cartoons, which had no recurring characters and are pretty grim (and I don't mean Natwick).

    But y'all probably know how Jay Ward loved "The Flintstones" because, as he said, it was so mediocre it made his own stuff look that much better.

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