January 21, 2017


(ABC, September 23, 1962-March 17, 1963
Syndication, September 16, 1985-November 12, 1987)

Hanna-Barbera Productions, Screen Gems (season 1)

            After successfully visiting the Stone Age, Hanna-Barbera set their sights on the future with The Jetsons. George Jetson (George O’Hanlon) lived with his family--wife Jane (Penny Singleton), teenaged daughter Judy (Janet Waldo), son Elroy (Daws Butler), and dog Astro (Don Messick)--in an apartment in Orbit City on earth. He worked an hour a day for two days a week as a literal button pusher at Spacely Sprockets, owned by the grumpy miser Cosmo Spacely (Mel Blanc). Like most sitcom fathers, George was often beset upon by his family’s antics, his boss’ overlording, or his own schemes backfiring. It was heavily influenced by the Space Age sensibilities of the time: cars resembled flying saucers, sidewalks moved on their own, food came from a machine with the push of a particular button, bathrooms bathed a person automatically, robots were everywhere, etc. But, despite all that, the residents of the world suffered the weariness of the daily grind familiar to those in the present. 

Astro, Judy, George, Elroy and Jane getting their photo taken by Rosie.

            The Jetsons debuted on September 23, 1962 on ABC, becoming the first program that the network would broadcast in color. Unfortunately, it was up against Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color and Dennis the Menace and performed poorly as a result, leaving it cancelled at the end of its sole season. However, ABC continued to air it through 1964 on its Saturday morning schedule, after which it moved to CBS and then NBC for the next two decades. Hanna-Barbera pondered the possibility of a spin-off featuring an older Judy, but that was rejected by CBS and ultimately retooled into the series Partridge Family 2200 A.D. A resurgence in the show’s popularity led to Hanna-Barbera producing an additional 41 new episodes in 1984 to create a syndication package with the original 24. While essentially the same show, elements were updated with the times such as putting a greater focus on technology that gave the Jetson’s robotic maid Rosie (Jean Vander Pyl) more prominence and George a work partner in the form of sentient computer, R.U.D.I. (Messick). The family got a new pet: a spring-legged alien named Orbity (Frank Welker). Plots expanded from standard sitcom fare to feature more science-fiction elements. The theme, while similar, was also updated to include some modern synthesized instrumentation.

            During the revival’s production, Universal Pictures acquired the rights to produce a film based on the show. Written by Dennis Marks, the film sees the Jetsons relocated to an asteroid colony to oversee Spacely’s new plant that keeps being sabotaged. One of the challenges faced by the production was the advanced age and poor health of many of the cast members. 71-year-old Butler died of a heart attack before recording a single line, leading to the casting of Patric Zimmerman as Elroy. 76-year-old O’Hanlon and 81-year-old Blanc both died after they completed their recordings, with Jeff Bergman stepping in to fill in for both of them for any additional dialogue. While Waldo did record her lines for Judy, singer Tiffany was stunt-cast to replace her and sing a few songs in the hopes that she would prove a box-office draw. Unfortunately, Jetsons: The Movie was critically panned when it was released in 1990 and ultimately only earned $20.3 million. It wouldn’t be until 2017 that another film, the direct-to-video The Jetsons & WWE: Robo-WrestleMania!, would be produced. 

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