Thursday 18 September 2014

An 11-Year-Old Turns 50

“Jonny Quest” was great. And still is.

I was seven years old when the show debuted 50 years ago tonight. I was not an action-adventure fan (and I’m still not), but I was a cartoon fan, so I tuned in. Each week, I was gripped by the suspenseful and intense stories, augmented and enhanced by beautiful layouts and designs, and the unmatched musical work of Hoyt Curtin. The Quest cues were his finest hour. He used a minimum of 22 pieces to play his short compositions and the film cutters did an incredible job matching them to the action. My sister, who was six, became terrified during the Anubis episode and ran out of the front room, yelling she would never watch the show again. That’s how good “Jonny Quest” was.

Just like the Fleischer studio artists went from animating the Stone Age cartoon series to Superman in the early ‘40s, Hanna-Barbera artists made a graphic left turn from “The Flintstones” to “Jonny Quest.” They certainly were capable; a number of them had worked on “Sleeping Beauty” and other features for Walt Disney, including the four animators credited on the debut episode. Here’s part of the Daily Variety review from September 21, 1964:

JONNY QUEST (Mystery of the Lizard Men) Fri., 7:30 p.m., ABC-TV, filmed by Hanna Barbera. Co-producer, directors, William Hanna, Joseph Barbera; teleplay, Hanna, Barbera, Douglas Wildey, Alex Lovy; film editor, Warner Leighton; animators, Edwin Aardal, Ed Parks, Hugh Fraser, Harvey Toombs. Cast: Voices of Tim Matthieson, John Stephenson, Mike Road, Vic Perrin, Nestor Paiva, Doug Young. [Don Messick was also credited; Variety missed it].
For the young uns who dream of high adventure when they're not turning up their transistors, this new item out of the Hanna-Barbera cartoonery should thrill their little hearts. It's not a cartoon, as such, but the kind of strip that runs in the funnies section, so-called. Joe Barbera describes it as “staged animation, illustrative rather than cartoon style and a brand new style for tv.” So be it and it should give H-B another perennial as companion piece to “The Flintstones.”
Jonny (of the title) is the son of an American scientist, who goes along on his hazardous missions. They run afoul of all manner of evil-doers but manage to survive their ordeals. In the opener they were beset by lizardmen, who wreck ships with a laser beam to thwart efforts of scientists to man a moonshot. Every week will be a different locale but with the same brand of derring-do.

As a side-note, the same issue of Variety noted Alex Lovy had his name on the credits of another series that made its debut the same week—“The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo.”

The trade paper trumpeted on September 29th that Joe Barbera was heading to Chicago and New York to promote the show. As a result, we find this review in the Dover Daily Reporter of October 24th:

Escapism In Cartoon Series
JONNY QUEST: It's Not Kid Show, Producer Says
By Harold Stern

NEW YORK - Joseph Barbara, who along with William Hanna created and produced "Jonny Quest" and myriad other TV animation series, has an argument that sounds plausible. I just don't buy it.
"We've never made a kid show," he insisted. "There is no such thing as a kid in television any more. After the age of 4, it's a critical audience. Don't forget, these children have been seeing reruns of 'Sergeant Bilko' and 'The Honeymooners.' They won't go for anything childish. They demand sharp, adult entertainment. Jonny Quest plays to an adult audience."
I've watched Jonny Quest and as an adult it doesn't appeal to me. I can understand why kids would watch it, but I see no relation between that series and anything close to adult television. Perhaps the confusion comes from the fact that Barbera is comparing his series to much of what is on nighttime TV. Most of that isn't adult either.
"I was reared on Zane Grey, 'Tom Swift' and the like," he said. "Then all of a sudden, it vanished. It was replaced by sick books and stories. What our series does is try to return to the true adventure story.
"Our shows don't involve fighting 2-headed monsters. Our stories are based on fact. People can identify with our adventures. The show travels all over the world and we put a lot of research into guaranteeing the authenticity of costume and locale. We don't go into space science. We're interested in romantic, escapist stories, not brutally violent shows. Brutality is the easy way out. We don't dispose of our villains that way.
"We try not to date our shows with weapons and equipment in our series on projects either barely in use or still on the drawing board. Our shows contain such things as one-man subs, snow skimmers, hovercraft, flying belts, hydrafoils, vertical takeoff planes, etc. The whole emphasis of our studio has become adventure."
That's a lot of adventure. Hanna-Barbera Productions has a total of 13 animated series currently seen on television, 9 of them repeats. There are 4 new series in the works, plus a cartoon feature based on their "Flintstones" series.
Though their success has been in the field of animation, Hanna-Barbera isn't stopping there. There are 3 live-action feature films planned, "Mr. Mysterious," "Park Avenue Indians" and "Father Was a Robot." In addition, the studio is working on 2 live-action series, an hour-long adventure series and a half-hour comedy.
Considering Hanna-Barbera's rate of growth in the some 7 years it has been in existence, there's no reason to assume that all the contemplated projects won't materialize. Prior to going out on their own, Hanna and Barbera turned out about 48 minutes of animation a year for MGM, with a staff of about 150.
Today, in their own studios, they have a staff of 320 turning out over 90 hours of animation a year.
"Our staff consists of 320 temperaments," Barbera said, "so we don't dare impose the usual restrictions on them. They don't punch time clocks, they can work at whatever hours they like. We're not a factory. We don't do piece work. We're a creative organization and we get our best results from letting our people work as they think best."

“Based on fact,” Joe? You mean like the walking, revenge-seeking mummy? And there weren’t violent deaths? Oh, right. They weren’t violent because they happened off camera.

Barbera had more to say. This was in the syndicated TV Key column. Take note, back-story fetishists. There was no Mrs. Quest because there wasn’t a need for one. Isn’t that good enough?

Escapism In Cartoon Series

HOLLYWOOD — Two of the finest noses in town for sniffing taste trends at the box office belong to those indefatigable cartoon makers, Hanna and Barbera who have added a touch of James Bond escapism to their new kids' show, "Jonny Quest," on Friday nights.
The men, pushing to keep cartoons on the air, are willing to change styles, increase animation or slow it down, anything to keep H & B in the TV business. Very little has been left out of the "Jonny Quest" storyline about an 11-year-old son of an American scientist; his best friend, a Hindu named Hadji, and Jonny's bodyguard and tutor, Roger "Race" Bannon, Bandit a dog and the Persian Peddler. Plots take the cast underwater where fish heartbeats may be listened to, or there can be chases in outer space, a fling down the Amazon or an expedition to freezing Tibet.
Joe Barbera says he won't be cramped in this escapism series.
He has taken a bold step though and eliminated Mom.
"We couldn't put Mother in the series," says Joe, "then we'd be domestic again and Mother would be in the kitchen making sandwiches. We decided to get completely away from those homey scenes where even the dogs are obedient. Life isn't like that."
Angles For Adults
Barbera won't pretend his shows have much connection with realism, particularly this year when escapism is the password. Neither will he write off the so-called adult audience when it comes to cartoons.
"I'm on a one-man crusade," says Joe, "to stop this misconception that cartoons are only for kids. We're writing for grownups, too. People are still loath to admit they look at cartoons. Take the Flintstones. I'll stack that cartoon show against any situation comedy."
Barbera likes the sense of balance given "Jonny Quest." "Do you realize we have by-passed mad scientists and two-headed monsters. Why you won't even see a moon missile on the show. We'll stick fairly close to the truth."

No mad scientists, Joe? Yeah, Doctor Zin was perfectly sane. Okay, maybe Mr. B. has us on a technicality because Dr. Zin may not have been a scientist; just a freelance power-hungry guy who was a little anti-social.

If you’re a fan of the show, you likely know today that Hanna-Barbera was developing a series around the old “Jack Armstrong, All-American Boy” radio programme but dropped the idea; footage drawn for it ended up being used in the “Quest” opening and closing. You can see the revised model sheet of Jonny by Doug Wildey is dated December 1, 1963. In digging through a few trade papers, the earliest reference I can find to the show is in Variety of December 11, 1963 which stated: “Joe Barbara [sic] (of Hanna-B) back from N.Y. where two webs want their contemporary cartoon series-adventure-action.” The sale was soon made. Weekly Variety of December 25, 1963 revealed Screen Gems’ John Mitchell had negotiated a 26-week deal with ABC-TV, mentioning the show by name.

Initially, the network wasn’t really quite sure where to put Jonny. Variety reported on January 29, 1964 the series had been moved back a half hour from a planned 7:30 p.m. slot on Sundays, but Broadcasting of February 3rd reported it would air at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays, opposite “Rawhide” on CBS and “International Showtime on NBC.” General Mills turned down a sponsorship (Variety, Jan. 29) but the series was eventually picked up by B.F. Goodrich, Pepsi-Cola and Proctor & Gamble (Broadcasting, Sept. 7). For what appears to have been a brief period in April 1964, the show was being called “Jonny Quest: File 037” but someone wisely thought better of it.

The 26-city Trendex numbers (Broadcasting, Sept. 28) show that Jonny won his time slot in the season opener, though it should be mentioned ABC was the only network that wasn’t broadcasting summer reruns and not all 26 markets may have been included. Things changed the following week. The Arbitron Report showed “Jonny Quest” wasn’t even in the top 50 and was last in its time slot. And the following week, it settled in second place, well behind “Rawhide.” However, TVQ’s second October report reported that Jonny was tied for ninth in viewers 6 to 11 years of age (my sister notwithstanding), while Fred, Barney and Dino were fifth.

“The Flintstones” had an even bigger ratings problem than “Jonny Quest.” Not only was its Stone Age butt being kicked by “The Munsters” on CBS, which was consistently in the Top 20, it was even behind “Daniel Boone” on NBC (one week, it was in third place behind an NBC “Favorite Songs Special”, Broadcasting, Nov. 30, 1964). ABC decided to do something. It decided to sacrifice Jonny for Fred. Variety reported on December 16th that it was flipping the time slots of the two shows to get “The Flintstones” away from “The Munsters” with the hope of renewing it for another season. The plan worked. “The Flintstones” was renewed. “Jonny Quest” was not. Variety listed it (March 12, 1965) as one of ten shows that had been given the “Goldenson guillotine” (Leonard Goldenson ran ABC). Iwao Takamoto wrote in his autobiography that Bill Hanna went to ABC, explained the production costs involved, the network crunched the money numbers it could get through sponsorship and passed on a second season.

And it was “three strikes, you’re out” at Hanna-Barbera. It whiffed with “Top Cat,” “The Jetsons” and now “Jonny Quest.” The studio didn’t get another shot at prime time until 1970 when it remade “The Flintstones” into “Where’s Huddles?” (CBS plunked “Huddles” into the 7:30 p.m. Wednesday slot in July and August where it became the second highest-rated summer series. It went into summer repeats the following year before disappearing for good). In 1967, Jonny followed T.C. and George Jetson into the world of 6 to 11 year old viewers—Saturday mornings—and remained on the air for three seasons worth of reruns despite being named in a report that “CBS network prexy Tom Dawson asked for suggestions on modifying the grotesque and the violent in the web's cartoon spread” (Variety, July 24, 1968). And like “The Jetsons,” there was still so much demand for “Jonny Quest” that it was reworked and brought back with new episodes in the ‘80s.

There’s a wonderful site that every fan of the show should visit. Click here. Craig Fuqua and Lyle Blosser have done a wonderful job and it’s got more information about Jonny Quest than you may ever want to know. And you can watch a great labour of love below—a documentary on the show and how it was made.


  1. Great article, YOWP! Hanna-Barbera history, par excellence! My favorite Jonny Quest episode is "The Robot Spy".
    Since we have opened up the discussion of Jonny Quest, why was John Stephenson replaced by Don Messick? He was great as Doctor Quest. True, Don Messick's interpretation of Benton Quest sticks out more in the minds of fans of the show (myself, included). But, John Stephenson's voice also fitted the character like a glove.

    Also, one more thing. How come ''The Jetsons'' and ''Jonny Quest'' were rebooted into new series, and ''Top Cat'' was not with the exception of ''Top Cat and the Beverly Hills Cats''. Surely the show's ratings in reruns were just as high.

    Most appreciated. Georgi.

  2. I was the same age as Jonny when the show was on, although my life was far from adventurous. The first episode I saw was The Curse of Anubis. (I had missed the premiere, but had purchased the Gold Key comic of the “lizard men” story some time earlier.) This episode had some of the scariest scenes in a cartoon I had ever seen outside some Disney movies. The scene showing the mummy looking through the slats of a Venetian blind was shocking. Hoyt Curtin’s music was fantastic. Years later these cues would help make H-B shows appear better than programs from Filmation, even though the animation and stories were equally bad. Interesting thing about Jonny not having a mother, because it would have made the show too domestic. Today, the mother would be in the middle of the action rather than in the kitchen baking cookies.

    Craig and Lyle’s Classic Jonny Quest site is fantastic. Sometime back, I contributed a video of a “lost” JQ opening from the 80s that they repaired and put on their site.

    IMHO, Jonny Quest was H-B’s all-time best. They’ve had some good shows since, but none better.

  3. TOP CAT proved less durable in Saturday AM reruns; only on NBC from 1964-67, as opposed to the JETSONS which was a constant rerun presence virtually every season from 1963 to '83- usually in a late morning slot or as an NBC midseason replacement. Yet I seldom remember T.C. being syndicated much in NYC beyond 1973 or so.

    CBS may have initially commissioned the reruns of QUEST for its fall 1967 Saturday AM schedule in light of the huge success of its made-for Saturday AM superhero/adventure cartoons the previous season. ABC picked up the reruns for a single (1971-72) season, and NBC midseason 1978-79 as a companion show to GODZILLA- which also had Doug Wildey as one its key creative forces. The 14-year-old QUEST reruns were apparently successful enough for NBC to bring them back sporadically for another couple of seasons.

    So the constant rerunning of the 24 original JETSON and 26 original QUEST episodes on Saturday AM obviously whetted the appetite of a new generation of viewers for new episodes. Although cable reruns seem to have revitalized TOP CAT to the point that a new Mexican-made theatrical feature was recently produced.

    1. Howard Fein,

      Doug Wildey also was involved in another Hanna-Barbera production from 1978: Jana of the Jungle.

  4. "Jonny Quest" had roughly the same problem that "Star Trek" would suffer half a decade later, in that they both came too soon for the network's demographic targeting to become sophisticated enough to help save the show. Nowadays, the networks are obsessed (to the point of going too far) to target their shows at the younger audience demos that are less likely to be brand-loyal, but in 1964 the ratings were less sophisticated -- CBS might know that Jack Benny's audiences skewered older than those watching "The Berverly Hillbillies" (and Benny's staff would make tons of jokes about it), but the networks didn't have the precise numbers to take to advertisers to show them which shows were best at getting those younger viewers.

    The fact that shows like 'Jonny' or "The Jetsons" maintained their popularity enough to justify new episodes two decades down the line showed that they were reaching a wide audience. Just not wide enough in the first half of the 1960s to justify remaining on ABC's schedule.

  5. All facets of Jonny Quest played for keeps. Art, voice acting, and especially the music. I agree, the show was Hoyt Curtin's finest moment. The story about the recording of the Jonny Quest theme driving the trombone players crazy was priceless. The music he composed when Anubis walked will forever be linked with that episode. Also some of the " chase action " music cues, even though they have been heard in The Flintstones and other H-B cartoons around that time. I had read that John Stephenson was replaced because Joe thought he sounded too much like Mike Road.I can tell the difference between the two, but that's just me. Great blog, Yowp.

  6. I love Jonny Quest. Definitely one of my favorites shows

  7. Between the failed JACK ARMSTRONG revival and "JONNY QUEST", there was THE SAGA OF CHIP BALLOO. That concept was dropped.

    I was born 7/25/1968. I first became aware of "JQ" during its 1979 NBC airings, but was no fan.
    Not until reruns aired as part of THE FUNTASTIC WORLD OF HANNA-BARBERA in the mid 1980s did that happen. I also dug its 1986-87 "second season".

    I viewed the 2 USA Network-aired flicks JONNY'S GOLDEN QUEST and JONNY QUEST VS. THE CYBER INSECTS.

    But there is a JQ iteration I personally was a nut fan of, but which too many folx would prefer to forget:

    I also remember that one time in Walgreens reading an issue of the Dark Horse Comics RAoJQ adaption. It dealt with the Roma people. Especially remembered is the scene in which a teenage Roma Man upsizes Hadji Singh: "He looks like A LOT of Rom."

  8. I was only 5 or 6 months old in September 1964 so obviously I don't recall JQ's debut. I was old enough to remember when it was part of CBS's Saturday morning schedule in 1967 and have been huge fan ever since. Great show! For my money, it was right up with live action/adventure sci-fi/fantasy shows of the era (Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Man From Uncle). Unfortunately, we are only left with those 26 episodes. Sorry that remake from the mid 80's or 90's doesn't count.

  9. In 1960, Hanna-Barbera invented the half-hour animated sitcom with The Flintstones… and, in 1964, with Jonny Quest, they invented the half-hour animated adventure series, a format far more popular today than fifty years ago, alas.

    What a shame their later years were spent grinding-out so much unwatchable product, because they really were an amazing studio in their prime!

    Indeed, 1964 was a pretty amazing year for television, as a whole. It gave us, Magilla Gorilla, Peter Potamus, Bewitched, The Munsters, The Addams Family, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Gilligan’s Island – along with Jonny Quest.

    1. I'd also like to include The Underdog Show, Linus the Lionhearted, Hoppity Hooper, The Famous Adventures of Mister Magoo, and Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C..

      Yes, a great TV year.

  10. Excellent post, Yowp. I've been to that Craig and Lyle Johnny Quest site (where I learned that J.Pat O'Malley, a name I associate with the Mouse than any one else when it comes to cartoons outside that one H-B Yogi Bear flick that year, was featured). Curtin's cues here, used on the Flintstones as well, are his finest hour....The last two posters covered 1964's debuts pretty well (top_cat_james beat me to the punch on additions to Joe Torcivia's post)). Get Smart debuted then,too.

    1. "Would you believe" Get Smart premiered 9/18/65 , Steve?

  11. And I'll add it seemed odd to me also as well that Don Mesick was replaced with John Stephenson.

  12. I can see why J.B. would think Stephenson and Road sounded similar, though I don't think they sounded enough alike to warrant replacing Stephenson on that basis alone. On the other hand, I prefer Messick's Dr. Quest because he sounds both authoritative and sympathetic--an important quality for someone bringing up two boys--while Stephenson's sounds merely authoritative.