Popularizes Prime-Time Cartoons Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Cartoons took on new significance as The Flintstones—a satirical look at modern-day life placed anachronistically in an impossible Mesozoic world—aired during peak adult viewing hours.

Summary of Event

By scheduling The Flintstones during prime-time hours when it premiered on September 30, 1960, the American Broadcasting Company American Broadcasting Company (ABC) showed initiative. No other major television network had considered airing a cartoon during peak adult viewing time. Produced originally by Hanna-Barbera Productions, The Flintstones did not exhibit any outstanding cartoon merit, yet the program aired for six full seasons. As a programming decision, ABC’s choice was inspired; The Flintstones became the most popular cartoon of all time. Decades after its cancellation, The Flintstones remained widely seen through syndication. More than three hundred million people in eighty countries have watched The Flintstones in dozens of languages. Flintstones, The (television program) Animation Television;animation Ha nna-Barbera Productions[Hanna Barbera Productions] Comedies;television Situation comedies Television;comedies [kw]Flintstones Popularizes Prime-Time Cartoons, The (Sept. 30, 1960) [kw]Prime-Time Cartoons, The Flintstones Popularizes (Sept. 30, 1960)[Prime Time Cartoons, The Flintstones Popularizes] [kw]Cartoons, The Flintstones Popularizes Prime-Time (Sept. 30, 1960) Flintstones, The (television program) Animation Television;animation Ha nna-Barbera Productions[Hanna Barbera Productions] Comedies;television Situation comedies Television;comedies [g]North America;Sept. 30, 1960: The Flintstones Popularizes Prime-Time Cartoons[06690] [g]United States;Sept. 30, 1960: The Flintstones Popularizes Prime-Time Cartoons[06690] [c]Radio and television;Sept. 30, 1960: The Flintstones Popularizes Prime-Time Cartoons[06690] Hanna, William Barbera, Joseph

The Flintstones centers on Fred Flintstone, who lives in the town of Bedrock. Fred and his family live in suburbia with a twist—the setting is Stone Age suburbia. Fred is married to Wilma, who acts as a devoted and very tolerant wife. While Fred is a kind and considerate husband, he believes a wife’s place is in the home.

Living in a split-level cave next door are the Flintstones’ neighbors, Barney and Betty Rubble. There is nothing that Barney would not do for his friend and mentor Fred. Barney is not bright, and he usually ends up having to explain to Wilma and Betty why his latest escapade with Fred has gone seriously wrong. Most of the time, Wilma and Betty can only laugh and commiserate with each other at the way Fred has managed to get Barney involved in his schemes. The Stone Age housewives simply describe their unpredictable husbands as “the boys.” No matter what happens to Fred and Barney, their wives always accept them back with laughs and hugs.

The Flintstones was based on the very successful 1950’s live-action situation comedy The Honeymooners. Honeymooners, The (television program) Like The Flintstones, The Honeymooners satirized the American lifestyle. Jackie Gleason played the bombastic husband Ralph Kramden; Art Carney played Ralph’s ever-present sidekick Ed Norton. When Mel Blanc Blanc, Mel auditioned to play the part of the voice of Barney Rubble, he was asked by Hanna-Barbera to imitate the voice of Art Carney. Blanc told the studio that he did not imitate other people, at which point Blanc gave a rendition of what became the famous voice of Barney Rubble.

The Honeymooners is more biting and satirical than The Flintstones. Ralph Kramden is much more cynical about life than Fred is, and he treats his wife with far less respect than Fred does Wilma. The Flintstones manages to lose much of the biting edge of The Honeymooners and replaces the earlier show’s dark comedy with slapstick. Neolithic Bedrock provides numerous opportunities to enhance the simple stories with time-appropriate solutions. Whereas the Brooklyn apartment of the Kramdens is quite sparse, the Flintstone residence has every convenience.

Wilma vacuums the floor with the long trunk of a friendly baby mastodon. A needle-billed bird plays the family’s records. When Fred sits down at the piano to play for his family, the instrument of choice is of course the “Stoneway.” Before going to work in the morning at the Rock Heap and Quarry Construction Company, Fred uses his automatic razor, a clam shell with a bee flying around inside. A hungry buzzard acts as a garbage-disposal unit, and a wide-billed pelican is used as a waste receptacle. Wilma dusts her house with a long-necked plumed bird, giving special attention to the turtle lampshade. Out in the yard, Fred can be seen cutting the lawn with a sharp-toothed dinosaur strapped to a stone-wheeled cart. Denizens of the Bedrock community have drive-through restaurants, a bowling alley, and a Y.C.M.A. (Young Cave Men’s Association). For the Flintstones, Bedrock proves to be the perfect middle-class suburb.

By the end of The Flintstones’ first season, the show had become part of American viewing habits. To open the show’s second season, the cartoon featured a much-publicized appearance by songwriter Hoagy Carmichael Carmichael, Hoagy . The episode marked the first time a celebrity portrayed an animated character in a cartoon. Such innovation only enhanced the show’s ratings. For the episode, Carmichael wrote and performed his own music; to fit the occasion, the music was written in “rocks-trot time.” Introducing celebrities further established The Flintstones as the forerunner of the new animation. Other guest appearances were made by Tony Curtis, who played “Stony Curtis,” and Cary Grant, who played the matinee idol “Cary Granite.” The cartoon appealed as much to adults as to children, and its ratings soared when actor Ann-Margret played herself and sang in the episode entitled “Ann Margrock Presents.”

Executive producers William Hanna and Joseph Barbera had discovered in the making of the cartoon Huckleberry Hound Huckleberry Hound (television program) that adding satirical humor attracted an adult audience. Building on this success, the writers of The Flintstones incorporated as much satire as was possible. This in turn encouraged a strong adult viewership and caused Fred’s “yabba-dabba-doo” cry to become a symbol of the new American cartoon. For thirty minutes each week, families could gather around the television and enjoy the Flintstones and the Rubbles living the American Dream in Bedrock, the seat of Cobblestone County.

Significance

Television entertainment, like its motion-picture counterpart, demands continual change and innovation. Up until the late 1950’s, cartoons had been very expensive to produce. Television continued to have a voracious appetite for programming that in many ways obliged the makers of cartoons to become more cost-effective. Hanna-Barbera was at the time producing two very successful cartoons, Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound, which were the prototypes for The Flintstones.

A new method of creating cartoons had been developed at Hanna-Barbera. By maintaining a stationary background and limiting characters’ facial expressions to only six movements, the cost of making a cartoon was vastly reduced. For some, this new method suggested a step backward in the field of animation. On a strictly economic basis, however, television could now successfully air cartoons more regularly as a result of reduced production costs. The number of drawings required to make a thirty-minute show was reduced in some instances by nearly 97 percent.

Previously, such studios as Walt Disney, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and Warner Bros. had placed great emphasis on the quality of their animation. Disney led the way in this respect and had become the industry standard; any full-length Disney animated film was assured success at the box-office. More basic cartoons still appealed to audiences, who were interested as much in character and story as in breadth of animation technique. The Flintstones managed to bring these two dimensions together.

Situation comedies and soap operas had become the staples of television by the late 1950’s. Television operated on the basis of providing entertainment that offered an escape from everyday responsibilities. With The Flintstones, that escape also provided a humorous look at modern America. At a time when new inventions were continually making housework less laborious, The Flintstones managed to mimic this new trend in technology.

Social commentary is always best received when approached indirectly. The Flintstones, unlike The Honeymooners, took a mellow approach to living in a progressive society. Bedrock had all the conveniences that a modern twentieth century city had, yet life seemed easier and simpler. The message that The Flintstones presented in its half-hour broadcasts was that technology served humanity, and not the other way around. This message was complicated, however, by the fact that “technology” in the show was consistently portrayed as animals laboring inside devices. A radio, for example, would be a stone box with a parrot inside who announced the news. Machines saved human labor, but they constituted the backbreaking work of dinosaurs and prehistoric mammals. Thus, the show portrayed the comfort of the middle class as dependent upon the sweat of a working underclass, albeit an underclass of the amusing and nonhuman variety.

Fred Flintstone in many ways typified the early 1960’s American male. Fred was a simple man at heart whose first priority was his family. A strong believer in the work ethic, he exemplified middle-class America. Politics, religion, and sex were subjects that did not seem to exist in prehistoric Bedrock. What did matter to the Flintstones was getting the lawn mowed on the weekend and perhaps going and watching a film at the drive-in theater or listening to Fred play on the Stoneway. The most difficult part of Fred’s life was dealing with his boss, Mr. Slate, at the gravel pits where Fred worked.

The Flintstones, unlike many other animated cartoons, managed to appeal to the adult community through stories that had much relevance to everyday life. In many ways, The Flintstones represented real people with whom audiences could identify. In turn, the show’s real-life basis assured its popularity. The Flintstones and Rubbles, along with their families, became more than mere cartoon characters—they became part of the decade’s cultural fabric.

The birth of Fred and Wilma’s daughter Pebbles was a major television event. Never before in television or theater cartoons had there been such anticipation of the arrival of a child. The birth of Pebbles on February 22, 1963, was the highest-rated television birth since Lucille Ball, playing the character of Lucy in I Love Lucy, gave birth to her television son. With the adoption of a son by the Rubbles later in the season, both families on The Flintstones could boast special offspring, making the television families’ lives even more like the lives of the baby-boom families that were the show’s audience.

Taking the formula that had been developed with The Flintstones, Hanna-Barbera launched The Jetsons Jetsons, The (television program) in September of 1962. The Jetsons, too, was family based, with episodes revolving around George and Jane Jetson and their children Judy and Elroy. The Jetsons was a fast-paced show that portrayed a future in which machines perform many of life’s daily tasks. Though designed to appeal to the same audience as The Flintstones, the show did not do as well as expected and was soon canceled. In 1985, forty-one new episodes were made, and this time The Jetsons became popular.

The Flintstones have managed to remain timeless. Successive generations have been able to identify with the cartoon family, and the program attained lasting success in syndication. While the show was never intended as anything more than mere entertainment, somehow The Flintstones managed to represent an America that was hardworking and enjoyed the fruits of a technological society. Flintstones, The (television program) Animation Television;animation Ha nna-Barbera Productions[Hanna Barbera Productions] Comedies;television Situation comedies Television;comedies

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Booker, M. Keith. Drawn to Television: Prime-Time Animation from “The Flintstones” to “Family Guy.” Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2006. Overview of the history of prime-time animation, a genre founded by The Flintstones. Index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hilton-Morrow, Wendy, and David T. McMahan. “The Flintstones to Futurama: Networks and Prime Time Animation.” In Prime Time Animation: Television Animation and American Culture, edited by Carol A. Stabile and Mark Harrison. New York: Routledge, 2003. Essay on the function of prime-time animated series within the overall lineups of the major broadcast networks. Part of a collection on prime-time animation that illustrates the varied legacy of The Flintstones on both broadcast and cable networks. Bibliographic references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lenburg, Jeff. The Encyclopedia of Animated Cartoon Series. Westport, Conn.: Arlington House, 1981. One of the most comprehensive and complete guides to cartoons produced up until 1980. Every Flintstones episode is listed along with the season in which it first aired. A valuable reference for any cartoon aficionado, as the book cites all the major cartoons made for theatrical and television distribution.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sennett, Ted. The Art of Hanna-Barbera: Fifty Years of Creativity. New York: Viking Studio Books, 1989. A lavishly produced book; the introduction gives a brief history of the founders of Hanna-Barbera. Every cartoon series Hanna-Barbera produced is discussed. The Flintstones is discussed in considerable detail.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Solomon, Charles. Enchanted Drawings: The History of Animation. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989. Follows animation from the first known commercial cartoons to the 1980’s. The approach is historical, although the emphasis is on showing that cartoons play an important role in modern culture. Solomon’s contention is that the cartoon has a legitimate place in entertainment programming.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Woolery, George W. Animated TV Specials: The Complete Directory to the First Twenty-Five Years, 1962-1987. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1989. More than just a reference book, this volume gives a brief synopsis of some of the many special episodes of The Flintstones that aired after the original series. Each synopsis outlines the main plot of an episode and explains the outcome; these specials tried to re-create the Flintstones in their heyday.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Children’s Television: The First Thirty-Five Years, 1946-1981. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1983. Another comprehensive title from Woolery. Gives a complete list of all principal characters and voices of The Flintstones. Also has an extensive article outlining the origins of the cartoon and a complete index to all the spin-offs from the original work. An invaluable guide for those who want to compare The Flintstones with other cartoons of the period.

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