Yabba dabba does! How The Flintstones set the stage for the adult animation boom | TV and radio


Anyone who was a kid in the 1970s probably remembers Flintstones as a Saturday morning staple, a yabba-dabba-doo period of prehistoric frolics and cheerfully anachronistic dinosaurs. But when it first aired 60 years ago, The Adventures of Fred and Wilma, the titular Stone Age family, were aimed at adults. They are the direct ancestors of the golden age of adult animation that we enjoy today.When it first aired on the ABC Network on September 30, 1960, it was released at 8:30 p.m., after bedtime for most children. It was the studio’s first prime-time show put together by Tom and Jerry creators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, and they had spent months trying to convince networks that an animation intended for an audience. adult could function.

The Flintstones was an attempt to replicate the hugely popular “Hi Honey, I’m Home!” Type of 1950s domestic family sitcom, typical of Jackie Gleason’s The Honeymooners. But Hanna-Barbera wanted to give it a touch, and a setting not limited by a two-room studio. They went through various iterations, from the Old West to the Romans, but nothing stuck until one of the artists lazily drew two cavemen standing near a record player, with their pointed beaks. ‘an exotic bird acting like the needle on the stone disc. Hanna-Barbera had her concept, and after a few false starts on the names – first, The Flagstones, then The Gladstones – they settled on The Flintstones.

The Flintstones’ lifestyle was based on the postwar boom. Photograph: Everett Collection / Rex Features

The story is that once the pilot episode was produced, the networks were immediately won over – so much so that during a test screening in the presence of several network bosses, there was a disheartening lack of laughter from from the reunited leaders, which Hanna and Barbera learned. later, it was because no one wanted to give their rivals how much they loved the series before the auction started.

It was certainly a gamble to air a cartoon at 8:30 p.m., but it paid off, and The Flintstones proved to be incredibly popular. While we can now think of it as just another of the many children’s cartoons that emerged from the ’60s, it dealt with very adult subjects. It wasn’t until after it was first broadcast that rehearsals became a staple on children’s television.

“We’re watching The Flintstones today and you can see the lifestyle is clearly based on the post-war boom,” says Dr Steve Henderson, director of the Manchester Animation Festival, who due to the Covid pandemic, will take place this year online, from November 15-30. “Wilma and Betty keep saying, ‘Load it! Which was very 60 with the rise of credit cards. And while there are all of these jokes, such as the bird record player and the Brontosaurus crane at the quarry where Fred and Barney work, it’s basically the portrait of a very ambitious modern family.

It was so ambitious that the sponsorship came from pharmaceutical companies, which marketed the Flintstones vitamins and, famously, from the tobacco industry; in the commercials there were animated slot machines in which Fred and Barney exhibited the taste and quality of Winston cigarettes.

Amid puns and gags, serious – and sometimes dark – topics were explored. Henderson says, “The Flintstones was actually the first show to portray married couples sharing a bed, which wasn’t normal on TV at the time. And there are episodes where Barney and Betty discuss not being able to have kids, and when they end up having baby Bamm-Bamm, they have to get into a custody battle.

“Fred has a gambling addiction and can be a horribly manipulative person who will do anything to be able to play bowling.” Henderson also says there was even an episode where Barney was going to kill himself. “He was standing on a bridge with a boulder attached to him and had to be denounced. And when you watch it all, you realize that this was not a children’s show at all.

The Simpsons portrayed the nuclear family in the late 1980s.

The Simpsons portrayed the nuclear family in the late 1980s. Photograph: Fox

Without ever reaching the popular heights of The Flintstones, other prime-time shows followed from Hanna-Barbera including Top Cat and The Jetsons. It’s no exaggeration to say that without Fred, Barney and his colleagues we might not have had The Simpsons almost 30 years later and, from there, the adult animation that prevails today. hui.

“While the Flintstones were the postwar boom family of the 1960s, the Simpsons were the nuclear family of 2.4 children of the late 1980s,” Henderson says. “And the success of that made the networks ask for more family-centric programming, and so we have Family Guy, American Dad! and Bob’s Burgers.

In 2001, the Adult Swim Cable Network was launched, becoming the Cartoon Network’s adult nighttime programming. Adult cartoons flourished, and the release became more surreal, rather than just copying the 50s sitcom format. Animation these days is governed by shows such as Rick and Morty, A Dysfunctional Spy. , Archer and Bojack Horseman, in which a former horse-headed television star languishes in alcohol, drugs and sexual boredom.

Bojack Horseman, one of the shows that governs the animation.

Bojack Horseman, one of the shows that governs the animation. Photograph: Everett Collection Inc / Alamy Stock Photo

Bojack Horseman was Netflix’s first animated series, and the rise of streaming services once again elevated gaming into adult animation. We could be ready for an even greater increase in quality and yield thanks, in part, to Covid. Henderson says, “Obviously after the Flintstones and The Simpsons everyone wants this success, but they have to do something different, which is why we see so much inventiveness. We’re definitely living a bit of the golden age of adult TV animation, and I think it’s going to increase. The coronavirus has changed the entertainment industry. While animated content has always been considered the poor cousin of live action, people are now seeing that you can do animation with multiple people sitting at home and don’t need to bring in. a crowd of people in a studio to do a show. So I think we’re going to see a lot more quality animation after this period. ”

If Henderson is right, animation fans will certainly be in debt to the 60-year-old foundation upon which current growth was built.


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