Monday, 27 September 2021

Let's Party With T.C.

What were Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera doing the night Top Cat debuted 60 years ago?

Watching TV, what else?

And so were members of the Hanna-Barbera staff and sundry actors, as detailed in this story in the Pittsburgh Press of October 2, 1961. The series aired beginning September 27th.

The story focuses on the money the studio tied up in the series, hoping to reap profits in all kinds of merchandise. And there were potential BIG profits.

The New Steve Allen Show premiered immediately preceding T.C. I have not been able to discovered what the “animated insert” was that caught the attention of the H-B staff.

Animated Cartoon ‘Top Cat’ Watched Intensely By 160

$800,000 Investment Spells Reason For Their Interest
By FRED REMINGTON, Press TV-Radio Editor
HOLLYWOOD, Oct. 2—There was something strange and ironic about 160 prosperous, well-dressed adults watching an animated comic strip with silent, fierce intensity.
They were members of the Hanna-Barbera organization, gathered to watch the television debut of their newest property, "Top Cat." For its first appearance they had taken over the Tahitian restaurant on Ventura Boulevard. It's a spectacular place, visible for miles up and down the San Fernando Valley by the great flaming torches which mark its entrance.
The intense preoccupation of these people with an animated cartoon becomes understandable, though, when you consider the finances involved.
“We have $800,000 in this thing before the public has ever set eyes on it,” said Bill Hanna, one of the partners in this fantastically successful firm of animators.
"We are irrevocably committed to making thirty of them at $68,000 a half hour," said his partner, Joe Barbera.
Hanna-Barbera merchandise—Yogi Bear dolls, Flintstone paint sets, etc—last year grossed 43 million dollars. The cartoons are seen in 38 countries by an estimated 300 million people.
This week the Hanna Barbera offices here received, a fan letter on "The Flint-stones"—now also a comic strip in The Press—which they cherish. It was from a viewer in Russia who watches 'The Flintstones" on a TV channel in Helsinki, Finland. The English was faltering, but the Russian got across the idea that like many other people he digs “The Flintstones.”
"I wonder if we've got 'em saying 'Yabba-dabba-doo' in Russian," mused Joe Barbera.
Present for the "Top Cat" kickoff were most of the actors who provide the voices: Arnold Stang who is the title character, a breezy Runyon-esque Manhattan alley cat; Maurice Gosfield who is another of the cats.
The "Top Cat" party had gotten underway at 6 p. m. and was swinging pretty well by air time at 8:30. There was one brief interval during the Steve Allen show, which preceded it, when stillness fell over the room.
This was when Allen introduced a brief cartoon segment on his show. This was a New York-done animation and the California animators of Hanna-Barbera rushed to the room's many TV sets to inspect it.
One kept his face not three inches from the screen during the brief cartoon insert on the Allen show.
"Brush work is kind of rough," he said to a colleague. "But the jokes are good." The other nodded in agreement.
But when "Top Cat" came on absolute hush fell over the room. The lights were lowered. It was like curtain time at a Broadway opening or the first pitch of a World Series.
When it was over there was wild applause. People shook hands with one another, "You got another winner, Joe," someone told Barbera.
"Thanks," he said gratefully. “I like it. You like it. Now if the public just likes it. . .”

By the way, there was a little confusion at the time about the first episode that aired. The ad above lists "The $1,000,000 Derby" (animated by Ken Muse) and that is what Variety reviewed two days later. But there were a few ads with a drawing from "Top Cat Falls in Love" in some papers. It actually aired October 18th. I can only guess the network made a late switch. I don’t know what the production order was.

Top Cat showed up on the 1961-62 prime time schedule along with a host of other new animated series. Networks thought they’d have another Flintstones-like success on their hands. They didn’t. The prime-time animation fad died, though Hanna-Barbera convinced ABC to give it a go the following season with a show just like The Flintstones—except in reverse. It would be set in the future, not the past. It was cancelled before the TV year was up.

But Top Cat was only a failure in prime time. The same 30 episodes were run over and over again for years. It’s never been among my favourite H-B shows, but it has a great cast and wonderful background music by Hoyt Curtin and his session men.

1 comment:

  1. Happy birthday, T.C.!
    A tribute to the Latin Spanish dub of the show:
    #JulioLucena #JorgeArvizu #CarlosBecerril #SantiagoGil #VíctorAlcocer #ArmandoGutiérrez