“The Flintstones was the first animated sitcom in television history. They paved that gravel road and it’s been smooth traveling ever since.” — Steve Cox, author of Mining Bedrock: The Voices Behind Television’s First Animated Sitcom, The Flintstones
The Digital Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship are pleased to present this retrospective commemorating the 60th anniversary of the broadcast premiere of The Flintstones, Hanna-Barbera’s animated series set in the Stone Age (but inspired by The Honeymooners and mid-20th Century suburban America) that introduced the world to Fred and Wilma Flintstone, Barney and Betty Rubble, Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm, Dino, Mr. Slate, The Great Gazoo, and a host of other memorable supporting characters.
The popular series (recently released on Blu-ray and reviewed here) originally ran in prime time on ABC from 1960 to 1966 and spawned numerous spin-offs, TV specials, movies and tie-in merchandise. It premiered 60 years ago this autumn, and for the occasion The Bits features a Q&A with a trio of pop culture and animation historians who reflects on the series’ appeal six decades after its debut. [Read on here...]
The Q&A participants are (in alphabetical order)…
Jerry Beck is the author of over fifteen books on animation including The Flintstones: The Official Guide to the Classic Cartoon (Running Press, 2011). He teaches animation history at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) and blogs at Animation Scoop and Cartoon Research.
Steve Cox is the author of over twenty books on pop culture including Mining Bedrock: The Voices Behind Television’s First Animated Sitcom, The Flintstones (forthcoming from BearManor Publishing). He has also written for TV Guide, The Hollywood Reporter, US, Los Angeles Times and St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Herbie J Pilato is the author of a dozen books on classic television and is the host of Then Again with Herbie J Pilato, now streaming on Amazon Prime and Amazon Prime UK.
The interviews were conducted separately and have been edited into a “roundtable” conversation format.
Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): How do you think The Flintstones should be remembered on its 60th anniversary?
Jerry Beck: As a milestone in TV history — and animation history. The show was the first full-length animated narrative (previous TV cartoons were three separate 7-minute segments — think Yogi Bear — in a half hour program). It was the first animated sitcom on a major American TV network. It was the first TV cartoon aimed at adults. I could go on.
Steve Cox: As the first animated sitcom in television history. They were the first and cracked open that pterodactyl egg for the rest. Now look at the television landscape: The Simpsons has aired more than 600 episodes, Family Guy has aired more than half of that. The Flintstones paved that gravel road and it’s been smooth traveling ever since. What network executives at first feared is now welcomed on prime time everywhere. What once was shoved to Saturday morning is now watched in prime time, in fact any time.
Herbie J Pilato: The Flintstones stands out in the history of television as a terrific television show, in several categories. It’s not just a wonderful animated series that is written well, it’s also a very funny sitcom that has stood the test of time...clearly.
Coate: Can you remember when you first saw the show?
Beck: I was five years old when the show premiered. I remember waking up in the middle of the night — so I thought (it was 8:45pm) — and my parents were watching the show. I don’t recall the specific episode, but I never forgot what I was thinking: that cartoons weren’t only for kids. They were all ages. That has guided my entire career.
Cox: I grew up watching the show in reruns, afternoons in St. Louis on a popular independent station, so that was my version of binge-watching at the time. While I don’t recall discovering them, I actually probably watched later incarnations on Saturday morning (Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm) and worked backwards.
Pilato: I remember the show during its original run on ABC in the 1960s. My family used to go shopping on Friday nights, when The Flintstones first aired, and I remember wanting to make sure we got home before the show started. I also remember my Mom buying me The Flintstones vitamins one Friday night, but me not knowing they were vitamins. I thought they were candy. So, when I started to chew the vitamins as if they were candy, I remember how horrible they tasted. In fact, I can still taste how horrible they were. Thankfully, there are Flintstones gummy bears today.
Coate: In what way is The Flintstones significant?
Beck: It was a reminder, at the time, that animation could also be very entertaining fare for adults (as well as kids). Its six-season primetime run was a record for over 20 years (until The Simpsons came along). The show also proved that indelible characters could be created in limited animation — Disney didn’t have a lock on that.
Cox: The significance of the show changed over time, for me anyway. When I was a kid, the program was significant because it appealed to the child in me. The over-the-top gags and characterizations (and characters, like the Great Gazoo) are what made me laugh. But as I watched it later on, into my adulthood, the story-lines and how they mirrored real life situations and dilemmas were what appealed to me.
Pilato: The Flintstones is significant today because due to its Stone-Age premise, its comedy remains timeless, even if some of the pop-culture references are dated… like Ann Margrock, Cary Granite, Tuesday Wednesday, etc., in reference to the movie stars of the day, Ann-Margret, Cary Grant, and Tuesday Weld, when the show initially aired. But as the author of the original Bewitched books, and the Twitch Upon a Star and The Essential Elizabeth Montgomery biographies, my favorite guest stars on The Flintstones were and remain Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York. And as opposed to the others I mentioned, Elizabeth and Dick actually lent their voices to their guest appearance, whereas the other celebrity guest stars were voiced by The Flintstones main cast members.
Coate: Which character is your favorite?
Beck: That’s a hard one. I’m partial to the Rubbles. Barney. Betty. I’m a purist and love the first two seasons above the rest… and yet I’m a fan of The Great Gazoo in later seasons. I guess it has to be Fred — because I can relate to him. He’s the everyman, with big dreams. That’s me.
Cox: I would have to say that Barney Rubble was my favorite, followed by Dino. Both were voiced by Mel Blanc and I simply marveled at his performances. Not that the rest of the cast weren’t astounding in their performances — they all came from radio (Alan Reed, Jean Vander Pyl, and Bea Benaderet as the original four) and knew their craft.
Later on, in grade school believe it or not, I began a correspondence with Mel Blanc whom I had simply sent a letter to in care of Hanna-Barbera Studios in Los Angeles. He responded enthusiastically and we ended up becoming friends. Early on, when I would make an (expensive) long distance call to the great man himself, I’d ask him to give me a sample of some voices and it was usually Barney and Dino. Never mind he supplied the vocals for Bugs Bunny and stable of fantastic Warner Brothers characters. I was blown away by the voice of Dino — which, by the way, was a very difficult voice to perform because it was done by Blanc on an inhale. For you or me, we would cough terribly trying to wheeze out that Dino voice, but with Mel Blanc and his powerful pipes, he could create a character out of that sound. How perfect was Dino’s voice?
Pilato: I love all of them, but if I have to choose, I’m going to say Barney, because he was always so amiable on the show… so carefree, and even-tempered. Nothing really riled him. He was a good guy. Certainly, Fred was a good person, too. But like Archie Bunker on All in the Family, it took Fred a while to come around to compromise, etc. But he did come around. Fred was nowhere near the bigot that Archie was, but he was uneducated and ultimately lovable, like Ralph Kramden on The Honeymooners, which influenced The Flintstones, and to some extent, I think, All in the Family, too.