Saturday 24 November 2018

The Quest For Publicity

Jonny Quest was an amazing series for its time in so many ways, from Hoyt Curtin’s score (and the work of the sound cutters to pick the cues to fit the action), to the background art, to the suspenseful stories to angles picked by the layout men. It’s unfortunate the show never got the ratings necessary to be able to continue for a second season.

Hanna-Barbera was coming off a string of losses. Top Cat failed in prime time in 1961. The Jetsons did the same the following year. The failures made the networks shy from buying animated series for evening hours, but Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera convinced ABC to make one more try in 1964.

To push Jonny Quest in the press prior to its debut, Hanna-Barbera trotted out its super salesman—Joe Barbera. Among his many talents, Barbera adeptly knew how to plug his cartoons. He was also very good at selling the story of Hanna-Barbera, the little underdog operation, run by two ordinary guys (and Oscar-winners, make sure you mention that), that became a monster success.

Here’s a nice feature story that appeared in a couple of papers on October 24, 1964; it appears the writer was a scribe for several newspapers in Pennsylvania. If you’ve checked out other Quest newspaper stories on this blog, some of Barbera’s talking points will be familiar. Joe mentions “units.” I suspect he’s referring to something Jerry Eisenberg mentioned, that he and Lew Ott teamed up to work on Jonny Quest. I haven’t checked the credits to see if the same sets of animators worked together but as reader Howard Fein has pointed out, Carlo Vinci and Hugh Fraser worked together on a number of half-hour shows.

One other note: Chris Webber’s blog has some frame grabs from the Quest DVD (I’ve grabbed some of his grabs). It’s a shame he didn’t blog for long but you can check out some artwork there.

Animators Using New Technique In 'Quest'
"In 'Jonny Quest' we have design planes that are possible, but slightly ahead of what's really available because equipment evolves so fast. And you can't tell children that last year's jet is next year's. They won't believe it."
They also won't buy it . . . and it was the licensing and franchising of "Jonny Quest" products that had brought soft-spoken, Brooklyn-born Joseph Barbera back East for a quickie New York visit.
And you don't need more proof that that that "Jonny" which bowed in color in September on ABC (Fridays, 7:30 p.m.) is a sure success. But as Barbera spread a circle of prints from "Jonny Quest" around him you felt that that wasn't what mattered so much. He kept talking, thinking in terms of series' values and audience acceptance.
"We're using, a whole new technique in Quest. It's illustration, not cartooned. We brought some of the best illustrators from around the country for this one. "Of course the others are doing fine, too. Oh you like 'The Flintstones?' So do I."
"But the story in 'Quest' did seem to cry for something new. We have a leading scientist much sought after for consultation and sought out, naturally by enemies. That's why the government assigns Race (isn't he handsome) as permanent bodyguard.
"Then there's the doctor's 12-year-old Jonny and his adopted Jaji [sic], who's from India.
"We went one-third over our expected budget researching, enough to make sure our background are authentic. Now we can travel around as no live company could possibly afford to do . . . and with the good art work you should feel you're there."
20 Nice Years, 7 Mercurial Ones
Barbera is one-half of the seven-year corporate miracle that is Hanna-Barbera Productions.
In 1937 Bill Hanna chucked the engineering and journalism he'd studied for, to do something more creative, being idea man and director for animated cartoons. Joe Barbera chucked the banking and accounting for which he'd studied, to draw magazine cartoons. MGM saw him, as a animator-writer teamed with Hanna and together they created "Tom and Jerry," turned off some 125 episodes and won seven Oscars by 1957 when—after two decades in the same shop and with growing families—they got their pink slips. MGM was getting out of the animated field.
On went the Bill and Joe thinking caps. What came out as a goal was television. Back to MGM they went with "the big idea." Wouldn't MGM like to consider the medium? MGM would not.
"So we decided to go into business for ourselves." The Screen Gems TV subsidiary of Columbia Pictures sensed a hot idea and went along with financing and distribution phase.
The work space was nil, the staff numbered three, but the enthusiasm was boundless, and in a short time out came a 15-minute show "Ruff and Reddy," still seen in many parts of the world.
"Well, you see, there really was a need for something new, fresh animations especially for television. Re-runs of old—usually very old—theatre cartoons was pretty much it when we got in," Barbara explains. "And the more we got into it, the more we found innovations to simplify production and add interest.
Barbara reached for another photo.
"This is the new building. Isn't it a honey?
"We turn off as much production here in a week as we did at MGM in a year . . . and with no time clocks, no memos and a minimum of supervision. Our units work out the details themselves.
"Do I draw any more?" He smiled. "Well, only to the extent that I'll show an artist what I might have in mind, rather than try to tell him . . . but otherwise it's up to a unit to do its own work."
"Unit," that seems to be the Hanna-Barbera modern invention to outstrip anything that's being designed in "Quest."
"You see we feel it's up to creative people to determine their own best working hours. Each unit determines its own deadlines, by what time one phase of a job has to be finished so another can proceed. Everybody works hard, but at times of personal choosing, and it proves to be the times when they produce fastest and best."
And the "fastest and best" dossier now totals—with this season's "Jonny Quest"—13 series in seven years! ("The Flintstones," "Huckleberry Hound," "Yogi Bear," "Quick Draw McGraw," "Touche Turtle," among others).
And as for Barbera, "Well, I never sleep anyway, but it's worse right now on a trip." There's one irony, though. Barbera, who turned his back on banking for the creative life, has to pay more and more attention to finance.


  1. Had ABC not made the decision to save 'The Flintstones' by moving it back to its Friday 7:30 p.m Eastern time slot it had vacated for Jonny, the show might have survived (or, conversely, if William Paley had gotten his way and CBS had never scheduled "The Munsters" at 7:30 p.m. Eastern on Thursday to take away much of the younger audience from Fred & Barney, Jonny Quest would have gotten a Season 2 from ABC).

    1. Very good points you make, J.Lee. And as for CBS and William Paley, we all know GILLIGAN'S ISLAND lost to a still-running GUNSMOKE, which THEN lost to younger,hipper urban shows (or rather, post-WWII appealing, perhaps, younger hipper, urban shows_.SC

  2. I think I combination of factors was at play, one of which was the same problem with The Jetsons. The show didn't attract enough adults to enable the network to attract the kinds of advertising dollars needed to (a) make airing Quest more profitable than something else and (b) allow H-B to afford the kind of artwork it needed to make the show in the first place. I don't have dollar-figures but Jonny Quest must have cost more to make than Magilla Gorilla.
    Screen Gems had so much invested in Flintstones merchandise, I imagine it did all it could to keep the show on the air so it could get raking in the percentage from all those toys, games, etc. From a business standpoint, the switch made perfect sense. (It's a shame The Flintstones was running on fumes in the final season).

    1. SG certainly had a lot of sway with ABC in the winter of 1964, since "Bewitched" had debuted and was really the network's first-ever smash hit sitcom, placing No. 2 in the ratings that season (Jonny might even have gotten a boost after the shift to Thursdays if it had been paired with that show -- which was more adult in the first season, but also appealed to younger audiences. But there was a one-hour gap between the two shows, with Screen Gems' 'Donna Reed Show' and the final ABC season of 'My Three Sons' in-between them).

  3. When Jonny Quest was airing, I had no idea or concern about ratings. As a kid, I was impressed with the show and thought it was fantastic. The one episode that really scared me was the "Robot Spy" story. That thing was creepy, like a giant spider, and I was terrified of spiders. But I kept watching anyway, and of course Jonny and his father and friends triumphed. The entire show was kind of like that--startling visuals that made us return again and again for more. Those were great days to be a kid!

    1. True, it was a great time for this kid. Jonny Quest meant business right out of the starting gate. Spies, sabatours, monsters made of energy, and of course..a live mummy. It did have it’s scary moments. The shadowing used in “ The curse of Anubis “ added to it’s creepiness, and of course, Hoyt Curtin’s score was always the icing on the cake.

  4. I brought it up on this blog years before, but I'm actually kind of glad JQ wasn't renewed. The 1965-66 season was when H-B made the transition to the xerography process for their cels, which very likely would have replaced the beautiful comic book-style inking employed on "Quest". To get an idea of what that might have looked like, just check out the "New Adventures of..." episodes from the Eighties. Ugh.