November 29, 2014

THE HISTORY OF THE FLINTSTONES



MEET THE FLINTSTONES

            They’re the modern Stone Age family. 

Barney, Fred, Betty and Wilma.

William Hanna and Joseph Barbera had a desire to recapture the adult market for their productions; their having become largely regarded as “children’s entertainment.” They decided what they needed was an animated situation comedy for primetime.


A wooly mammoth fountain and a dinosaur lawnmower are just some of the Stone Age technology.

            After toying with several ideas, they eventually settled on the Stone Age as the setting for the show. Barbera would tell film critic and historian Leonard Maltin in a 1997 interview it was in part because of the ease it made in converting modern conveniences into Stone Age ones. Cars would be foot powered, animals served the functions of household appliances (which they’d often complain about to the audience), clams were used as electric razors, newspapers were giant rock slabs, etc. Hanna would go on to attribute The Honeymooners as a major influence on the project, as it was the most popular show at the time and regarded by him as the funniest. Tex Avery, with whom Hanna and Barbera were in friendly competition with, has also been cited as another inspiration; specifically his cartoon The First Bad Man, which featured a bank robber in Stone Age Dallas that introduced similar visual jokes that the Flintstones would become known for.

 
Under the working title The Flagstones, a short demonstration film was created in order to sell the series to potential networks and sponsors. The short featured the characters of Fred, his wife Wilma, and their son Fred, Jr. They spent several weeks pitching the show until finally young fledgling network ABC bought it. As the series was developed, several changes occurred such as the removal of Fred, Jr. and the name eventually becoming The Flintstones in order to further differentiate it from the Flagstons in Hi and Lois.

Fred and Barney hard at work in an autographed print.

Taking place in the town of Bedrock, the series focused on blue-collar gravel pit worker Fred Flintstone (Alan Reed), his wife Wilma (Jean Vander Pyl) and their best friends and neighbors Betty (Bea Benaderet through season 4, Gerry Johnson for the remainder) and Barney (Mel Blanc, Daws Butler for several episodes in season 2 after Blanc was in a near-fatal car accident) Rubble. Most of the time, Fred and Barney would get into some kind of misadventure, often linked to a get rich quick scheme Fred cooked up and hapless Barney would fall for. Other prominent characters included the Flintstone’s pet Snorkasaurus Dino (Blanc) and Fred’s boss Mr. Slate (John Stephenson). Other characters would have some kind of rock or mineral as part of their names, even celebrity parodies such as Stony Curtis for Tony Curtis or Alvin Brickrock for Alfred Hitchcock. The show debuted September 30th, 1960 and was a hit, landing its adult demographics with the familiar sitcom setups it employed and the style of writing for the series.

The Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes.

The Honeymooners influence was evident throughout the show. Fred was the overweight, overbearing loudmouth who constantly tried to get above his station, and Barney was the hapless dimwit who could out-eat Fred and not gain a pound. Both belonged to a lodge, the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes that involved wearing silly hats, and enjoyed bowling whenever possible. The similarities were so great that at one point Honeymooners creator and star Jackie Gleason had considered suing Hanna-Barbera for copyright infringement, but decided he didn’t want to be the one that got a beloved show pulled from the air.


Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm joined the family.

By the third season, changes were made. Originally opened with an instrumental theme called “Rise and Shine” by series composer Hoyt Curtin, by the season’s third episode the show gained its iconic theme “Meet the Flintstones” performed by the Skip-Jacks and a 22-piece jazz band, as well as a new opening sequence. It was decided to introduce a baby to the family, based on a suggestion from Sheila Barbera. Originally intended to be a boy, Hanna and Barbera were convinced to make it a girl by marketing because girl dolls sold better than boy dolls. The third season employed the show’s first ongoing story arc leading up to the birth of Pebbles (Pyl, who also had her own baby at the same time) and the adjustment period that followed. The following season, the Rubbles, unable to have children, would go through the process leading them up to the adoption of their son Bamm-Bamm (Don Messick); a super-strong baby. The Rubbles also gained a pet Hoppasaurus, Hoppy (also Messick). It was at this point that Benaderet would leave the show to focus all her attention on Petticoat Junction, being replaced by Johnson. The final season introduced The Great Gazoo (Harvey Korman), an exiled alien that used his incredible powers to help Fred and Barney, often getting them into even more trouble and ultimately teaching them a moral lesson.



After Pebbles, the series’ tone softened and the writing became more juvenile, costing the show its adult demographic ratings and its original sponsor of Winston Cigarettes. With a move from their original 8:30 timeslot to 7:30, a renewed focus on toys and merchandising, and the acquisition of Welch’s grape products as a sponsor, the show had effectively returned to the kiddie fare it was originally created in opposition of. The series was quietly cancelled in 1966 after 166 episodes, but had secured its place as the longest-running primetime animated series, unsurpassed until The Simpsons in 1995. The Flintstones left one final mark on viewers with the theatrical release of The Man Called Flintstone that same year.

The Great Gazoo teaches his favorite Dum Dum a lesson on a signed print.

The series performed exceptionally well in syndicated reruns, earning Hanna-Barbera more money than it had during its entire run on ABC. With the show as popular as it ever was, CBS executive Fred Silverman approached Hanna-Barbera with the notion of reviving the series, beginning the Flintstones’ journey to Saturday mornings.

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