Thursday, 8 May 2014

Cartoons Live On Location

Television stations, apparently, couldn’t just rely on kids to turn on the set and watch cartoons on their own. They went out and advertised their shows.

I was leafing through 54-year-old copies of Sponsor magazine the other day (this gives you an indication of what my life is like), and found some items related to our favourite TV cartoons.

TV stars made personal appearances, so you’d find Wild Bill Hickok hired to open a supermarket or the Cisco Kid in a parade. Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear were no different, except a drawing couldn’t very well walk around in public. So people dressed as Hanna-Barbera characters were available for the asking, sometimes in conjunction with stores that sold H-B merchandise or TV stations that broadcast their cartoons. The TV stations promoted their promotions in Sponsor.

While Yogi appeared in the cartoon “Rah Rah Bear” (1959) about the Chicago Bears football team, he also had a baseball connection. And I don’t mean with the name Yogi Berra. Check out Yogi’s appearance to the right. Yogi must have inspired his fellow bruins as they beat the Nashville Vols 12-1 on a seven-hitter by left-hander Bob Allen that night (April 17, 1960). That put the team in a first-place tie in the Southern Association. Alas, the Bears ended the year in seventh place and dumped their manager along the way.

Besides special events, TV stations took out full-page ads. Here’s one that’s interesting, considering that Taft Broadcasting bought Hanna-Barbera about a dozen years later.

That one’s clearly aiming for the college group; Huck was huge on campus when he debuted in 1958. This ad is part of the large “Huckleberry Hound for President” campaign that appeared everywhere except on the TV show. But a TV station jumped on the bandwagon. It was published on October 10, 1960.

KGLO, Mason City, Iowa crowed in the September 19, 1960 edition of Sponsor that it telecast a live political convention campaigning for Huck, viewers got bumper stickers and car window signs pushing Huck and a ballot sheet of 4,000 signatures stretching 1½ city blocks was filled with presidential endorsements. You can read more about the presidential campaign in this post.

Sponsor stated in its edition of October 17, 1960 that “The Flintstones” had received a mixed reception from critics, but not with audiences. On its debut week, the prime time cartoon earned a 19.5 rating and a 37.7% share, beating all other shows in its time slot. Below, you can see what one ABC affiliate did to promote the Modern Stone Age family. Apparently the Flintmobile was out of service, so it had to settle for an antique car. It’s a good thing the cartoon was new because no one today would ever mistake these two for Fred and Wilma.

In fact, mentions of “The Flintstones” found their way into ABC-TV ad copy, pushing it as a success story (and a reason to buy the network’s time). Sponsor, in an article, partly credited the cartoon characters plugging Winstons during the show. Is it any wonder other networks jumped on the idea of prime-time cartoons the following year, one starring this man:

The ad from Sponsor shows you Stang couldn’t have been hurting too much for cash when he auditioned for the role of Top Cat the following year.

The public appearances did more than plug some TV cartoons. They were part of a multi-million-dollar business. Witness this article in Weekly Variety of December 21, 1960. The photo is yet another from Sponsor.

Estimate $ 40,000,000 Merchandise Gross on ‘Huckleberry Hound’ in ‘60
Huckleberry Hound, the realized gold fantasy of Hanna-Barbera and Screen Gems, is due to expand his personal appearances in ‘61 to include “live” tv dates. Currently being prepped are two “live” act promotions for local telecasting. Bulletin sent out to stations alerting them of the development brought 20 affirmative responses within a week.
In one of the promotions, Huck will be accompanied by Yogi Bear and his new girlfriend, Cindy Bear. In the other, he’ll be accompanied by Quick Draw McGraw and his sidekick, Baba Looie.
Ed Justin, SG merchandising manager, plans to schedule the air dates in coordination with promotional appearances at major department stores.
Those department store tie-ins are of no small consequence. It’s estimated that in ‘60 the Huck line of merchandise grosses about $ 40,000,000 on the retail level. Usual licensing arrangement calls for a 5% royalty for use of characters by the manufacturer, the 6% taken at the wholesale level. If $ 20,000,000 is estimated for the wholesale gross of the Huck line, Hanna-Barbera cartoonery and SG will share about $ 1,000,000 in royalties in ‘60.
The Cindy Bear and Baba Looie costumes, now being completed, will be new to the p. a. trail.
During ‘60, costumes for Huck, Yogi and Quick Draw made well over 150 promotional appearances at department stores and at major local events such as college football games and parades. In addition, last summer an attraction starring Huck and Yogi, with Eddie Alberian as emcee, put in appearances at fairs and amusement parks.

A hound, a bear and some prehistoric humans had turned into enormous cash cows. 54 years later, the latter two still are today.

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