Thursday, 6 September 2012

The Jetsons Are Not Top Cat

Why did “Top Cat” fail? Easy, implied Joe Barbera. It had cats in it. And he wasn’t going to make that mistake again.

That, more or less, sums up why “The Jetsons” became Hanna-Barbera’s third attempt at prime time success. While he pitched “The Flintstones” in 1960 as something new, two years later he was pitching “The Jetsons” as something familiar. And, in at least in an interview with syndicated columnist Joan Crosby, he managed to avoid the word “Flintstones” in his description.

George, Jane, and all made their debut 50 years ago this month. Here’s Crosby’s preview column from September 1st, focusing on Astro, Rosie (who was in only a handful of the original episodes) and the gadgets (“The Flinstones” had gadgets, ergo…). Somewhat remarkably, the interview doesn’t really answer the question of what the show’s about.

Space-Age Cartoon Series Aimed at Adult Groundlings

HOLLYWOOD — Life in the space age, as seen from the brains of Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, will be unveiled for a breathless public on September 23 when ABC completes the countdown that will send The Jetsons, a new animated cartoon series, into orbit.
In order to get a scoop on some of the comforts of the space age, a conversation was arranged with Joe Barbera, the tall, dark, good-looking, live-wire spokesman for the firm, which has achieved both fame and fortune with series such The Flintstones, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw and so on.
The difficulty lies in the fact that it is very hard to transfer a conversation with Barbera to paper because neither typewriter nor printing press is equipped with sound effects, and Joe’s conversation is filled with whooshes, clicks, glissandos, whistles and wails, all of which illustrate some of the effects to be seen in The Jetsons.
The animated family which plays the lend in this show is composed of father George, mother Jane, daughter Judy (a teenager with a pony tail), brother Elroy and the funny family pooch, Astro.
“A cartoon series for night time scheduling must have people, not animals for interest,” Barbera said between sound effects. “It should have a young married couple and either neighbors or relatives. All live action situation comedies have one father, three kids and one maid, so we went around the bush trying to find the right combination for the Jetsons, and we came up with parents, two kids and a dog. Our dog, who talks with the letter ‘r’ very prominent in his speech—“I’m rust a puppy,” he says—is the funniest dog I’ve ever seen. Lassie is going to have to fight for her life.”
If Lassie has a rival in Astro, Hazel has an arch rival in Rosie, the Robot Maid. “She talks with a beep—‘Maids, beep beep, are nothing but a, beep beep, bunch of beepniks,’” Joe said.
Other innovations, as seen by Hanna-Barbera: Atomic powered golf carts. If a golf ball happens to drop over the edge of the course suspended in space, a parachute opens; drive-in Spaceburger stands orbit the earth so that one goes by every 35 minutes. You don’t have to go to it, it comes to you; a football game is played by robots with coaches controlling the plays from the sidelines by pushing buttons.
Not everything is different in the future envisioned by Hanna-Barbera, however. There are still teen-age idols and they sing a space version of rock ‘n’ roll with lyrics that sound like “eeep ark vark eeep ape” or just like those we have with us today. The teen-age idol of the future, by the way, is named Jet Screamer.

Joe’s unexpressed hope that the similarity of “The Flintstones” would translate into Flintstone-level success for “The Jetsons” didn’t happen. At least, in prime time. The space-agers lasted one season of 23 cartoons, though they moved into kid territory and ran rorever, uh, forever. Joe would go back to pushing novelty again in plugging “Jonny Quest” in 1964.

A couple of the cels from the original opening—I’ll qualify that in a second—surfaced at the Van Eaton Gallery some time ago. Compare them to what you saw on TV.

The second cel is odd in that the briefcase and George were never in that position together in the opening animation. Compare it to two drawings used in the opening.

You know, I’ve never actually paid attention to the people in the moving sidewalk before. You’ll notice “The Jetsons” predicted people walking with their noses down while looking at their smartphone screen, except they’re watching TV in these drawings. I’m still waiting for hats and shoes with the Saturn rings around them to be invented.

We’ll have more about the Jetsons when we get closer to their 50th birthday.


  1. The second cel is odd in that the briefcase and George were never in that position together in the opening animation. Compare it to two drawings used in the opening.

    Well, that's what you get when cels do get mixed up in these gallery collections.

  2. I was wondering: JOAN Crosby..instead of JOHN?SC

    1. Yes. Two different people. I suspect one is a woman and the other is not.

  3. One moment from the Jetsons showed a schoolboy watching his wrist-TV: the one millionth rerun of the Flintstones, of course. The 80s revival of the show (syndicated?) did indeed cater more to kids, and there was the feature film (Tiffany substituted for Janet Waldo by studio execs). Some comedians have wondered "OK, the Jetsons had flying cars--now we're in the future so where are they?" But supposedly the Jetsons takes place in 2062 so there's still potential for them...

    1. At a science fiction convention a club I belong to puts on, we've done a panel called Dude, Where's My Flying Car?

  4. On the other hand, the original opening and closing titles for the final episode of The Jetsons that turned up on YouTube last year shows George still reading a standard dead-tree newspaper, for the Scotch Tape closing bumper. So Bill, Joe & the staff missed out of forecasting the iPad or e-readers.

  5. Yep, I always loved that cross plug line thrown in " Elroy's Mob " about the " Billionth re-run of The Flintstones ". Boy, that prediction is just about right!

  6. This will be raised later on in Jetsons articles, but to point out a hunch; A lot of people have pointed out that the show was a takeoff of the Blondie film series from the early 1930s.

    However the character of George Jetson could have been based on Wilbur Post from Mr. Ed. In behaviour, appearance, even red hair.

    YOWP said that Morey Amsterdam was cast as George Jetson at first, but wonder if they ever asked Alan Young to do it.

  7. The 1960's Jetsons might have lasted only one season, but the reruns were so popular that the series was brought back in the 80's with new episodes. I found some adult humor in the 80's episodes as well.

    As for the background people in the opening credits, good observation! I never noticed that myself, either. Speaking of "modern technology" in "The Jetsons", remember the beginning of the episode "Jetsons Nite Out"? George is seen looking at a small tv screen glancing at headlines and when he found an article he liked, he pushed a button and the person on the screen started talking about said article. That is so close to how we read and see news online today!

  8. Rosey the Robot, though seen each week in the end credits, only appeared in two episodes of the original series--"Rosey the Robot" and "Rosey's Boyfriend". In the 1980's revival series, she appeared in nearly every episode. She was voiced by Jean Vanderpyl, who of course was also Wilma Flintstone, Winsome Witch, and nearly every female character in "Top Cat." It's interesting to compare the Wilma voice to the Rosey voice. The two characters actually met in "The Jetsons Meet the Flintstones", although they interacted only briefly--Jean did not get much of a chance to "talk to herself."

    I've always been a little puzzled by the idea that "The Jetsons" were a futuristic version of "Blondie." Aside from having Penny Singleton common to both series, I don't observe much resemblance. True, both focus on a domineering boss and a lot of office politics, but the family dynamic is quite different. Jane rarely proves herself smarter than George, and she is generally more peripheral to the storylines than Blondie was. Astro functions much differently in the Jetsons' household than Daisy does in the Bumsteads'--Astro's personality often drives the plot, whereas Daisy was more reactive. And Elroy and Judy have little in common with Baby Dumpling and Cookie. There is a little more parallel between George and Dagwood, and Spacely and Dithers, but they ultimately seem like quite different characters to me.

  9. SC33, the comparison between the two doesn't appear to have been made anywhere during the show's original run. It seems to be something some commentator on the internet invented based solely on the fact Penny Singleton was on both shows.
    The "domineering boss" scenario was hardly anything original to Blondie.

  10. Actually, Joe Barbera mentioned to me that "The Jetsons" WAS a futuristic version of Blondie (as he saw it). Whether they were successful in their execution is another matter. I was developing yet another version of Jetsons for prime time, and Joe was helping and giving me advice about the show.

  11. Hi, Byron. Thanks for the note. Joe never mentioned it in his interviews at the time the show premiered and no one else ever made the connection, either.
    The show's a solid one. It's a shame it never worked in prime time.

  12. The first time I remember a Blondie-Jetsons comparison was in a magazine article on the then-upcoming 1980's revival of the show. It may have been in Comics Collector or Comics Feature.