Saturday, 20 October 2018

Solar Swivelling Into Prime Time

Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera had a problem in 1962. The problem was 1961.

Their studio had a prime-time success with The Flintstones. Animation suddenly became the latest TV copycat fad. Networks bought cartoon comedies for prime time in 1961—and they all fizzled. The fad quickly died. The networks wanted to try something else.

What were Bill and Joe to do? If they wanted to rack up another sale for a lucrative network prime time period, they needed something sure-fire, a guaranteed hit. What they did was invert a guaranteed hit—The Flintstones. Putting suburbia in the past worked. Why not put it in the future?

Thus, The Jetsons was born.

Hanna and Barbera sold the show the same way as they sold the modern Stone Age family—with gadgets. Here’s an example from the New York Daily News of September 5, 1962 (the show first aired on the 23rd). There’s a reference to the Jet Screamer episode without mentioning Jet Screamer.

'Solar Swivel' Sends 'Em In ABC-TV's 'The Jetsons'

After doing the Twist over the holiday weekend with my teen-age nieces and antagonizing an army of revengeful muscles I never knew I had, I can safely predict that will not be around when "solar swivel" keeps our next generation of teen-agers in orbit. It's also a foregone conclusion that when the day arrives every American home is equipped with wall-to-wall TV, somebody else will be writing this column—not I.
There are days, especially during the summer months, when even 21 inches of TV are more that this keeper of the home screen can stand up under. Wall-to-wall TV and the "solar swivel," which will be done on an anti-gravity dance floor, are a glimpse into the futuristic life of "The Jetsons," an average American family living 100 years from today.
Despite the time span, George Jetson, his wife, Jane, teen-age daughter Judy and their 9-year-old son, Elroy, will be visiting us regularly on ABC-TV this fall. They'll be around in the form of an animated cartoon series this-year's one and only new-comer produced by the Hanna-Barbera Studios in Hollywood. According to Joe Barbera, one of the partners in the production outfit: "This has been the toughest selling season for animation. We're lucky to be rolling with 'The Jetsons.' People just weren't interested in buying them."
Good Record
Barbera was speaking generally, as a look at the record will attest. In the five years since Hanna-Barbera Productions was formed, these leading cartoon creators have been responsible for the majority of cartoon shows on TV. Among them: "Rough and Reddy," [sic] "Huckleberry Hound," "Quick Draw McGraw," "Yogi Bear," "Top Cat" and "The Flintstones," TV's popular Stone Age family.
The producer concedes a science-fiction series will keep his artists' and writers' imaginations working overtime today. It's not like the old radio days when a writer could put Buck Rogers in a space ship and keep him flying from planet to planet for several successful and profit able years.
"No siree," says Barbera. "As fast as we think up an idea which by all calculations should not become a scientific reality for another hundred years, we learn of some new scientific development just like it. Keeping one step ahead of the lab boys is rough."
Listening to the producer, one could envision the headache writer Jules Verne would have if he were alive today. A book like "Around the World in 80 Days," for instance, would probably undergo five title changes before it got off the presses.
Three-Hour Day
The 21st Century family you'll soon be meeting live in the Sky Pads Apartments. George Jetson, who works an average three-hour day, is employed by Spacely Sprockets Co., a completely automatic factory. As described by Barbera, it will be plush living, all right, but the family problems will be the same. The problems all know about.
But some of those "easy living" devices are enough to make "The Flintstones" turn green with envy. There's the Foodarackacycle. It stores, processes, prepares and serves the food to the Jetson household. Food cards are fed into the machine and the designated meals is served up instantly.
Sneaky Machine
As a woman, we found the most interesting gadget described by Barbera to be a seeing-eye vacuum cleaner. It's a machine with two electronic eyes which seeks out dust, dirt and debris and consumes it. It even has a sense of humor. When the mistress of the household isn't watching it lifts up the rug and sweeps the dirt under it.
Ben Casey and Dr. Kildaire [sic] better be on guard, too. There is a prober pill used in diagnosis. It has minute antennae that send back messages to the doctor as it makes its rounds inside the patient.
If you peel back the layers, there isn’t an awful lot that’s original to The Jetsons. Elvis-like teen idols and dance crazes had been made fun of before. The family lives in a building that looks like Seattle’s Space Needle. Push-button living had been touted in “home of the future” industrial films. Development of flying cars had been tracked in science and mechanical magazines. The thing about The Jetsons was it put all of these futurism ideas together in one place and made them funny.

The one thing it didn’t duplicate was the prime-time success of The Flintstones. The show was banished in 1963 to Network Cartoon Rerun Land—Saturday mornings, where it found a loyal audience. “Say,” Joe and Bill must have thought, “if kids will watch old cartoons on Saturday mornings, what if we make NEW ones for Saturday mornings?” But that’s another story.


  1. The design, and the first-time use of George O'Hanlon, Penny Singleton, and Janet Waldo for three/fourths of the family, and Howard Morris for Jet Screamer, made the Jetsons for me (Judy's gravity-deying ponytail, and her early day mini with pants made her design inpirsired, and Astro was a heck of a better designed and portrayed Great Dane than Scooby Doo ever was). Andother things made it fun..but it's easy to see why it didn't have more than seaosn till Sept.1985 (which actually improved on the original, if you ignore E.T. like Orbitty.) Zoom Zoom Zoom, Baby Jet Screamer!:) SC

  2. It bwould have been interest if Hanna-Barbera had yet a third such cartoon, this time set in the present (the 60s), as the humor in the first two of the series often could have fitted in the present. It also was cool when a retro-in-Bedrock Captain Caveman short featured Futuro, the time-traveling supervillain from the present (1981).