Animated Situation Comedy 1960-1966
Before 1960 animated movies and tv shows were always popular, especially with kids, but usually played second fiddle to their live-action counterparts. Screens Gems, at the time the television subsidiary of Columbia Pictures, were keen to buck this trend and have a prime-time cartoon show. John Mitchell, head of Screen Gems, encouraged animation producers William Hanna and Joseph Barbera to come up with something that would do the job. Eventually their storyboard artist, Don Gordon conjured up the idea of a stone age family living a modern life. The idea may have been influenced by some early black and white cartoons from the Fleisher Studios called Stone Age Cartoons.
The Hanna-Barbera team fleshed out the idea and undoubtedly modeled the four main characters on those from the classic comedy The Honeymooners. Fred Flintstone was a dead ringer for Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason) with his wife Wilma being similar to Ralph's wife Alice. Their neighbors, Barney and Betty Rubble evoked Ed and Trixie Norton.
The combination of the stone-age setting and the proven family situation was enough to convince Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera to pitch for a prime-time slot on television. They knew that the show would need to appeal to adults while ensuring it was entirely suitable for a family audience. They made a short pilot (it ran for less than 2 minutes) and convinced cigarette company Winston to sponsor the show.
It was originally called The Flagstones, but this was changed to The Gladstones because of the similarity to the Flagstons, characters in a popular comic strip. Eventually The Gladstones gave way to The Flintstones and was first given a spot of 7.30pm on Friday nights on ABC.
The Flintstones was ground-breaking as a full half-hour situation comedy that allowed the storylines and characters to develop. By using animation, Hanna and Barbera were able to create scenes and effects that would be beyond the budget of a live action show. An example of this is the use of prehistoric creatures as slaves around the house, such as a bird that played a gramophone and a baby elephant that was a vacuum cleaner; and they had a pet dinosaur, Dino.
Fred Flintstone and his wife Wilma live in prehistoric times alongside dinosaurs. They live in a suburban cave, next door to best friends Barney and Betty Rubble. In later episodes Fred and Wilma have a cute baby girl, Pebbles, with Barney and Betty adopting wild-child Bam-Bam.
Fred and Barney tend to get up to various antics, like skipping out and leaving the wives alone at home or hatching a scheme that inevitable goes wrong. Even their efforts to do good deeds often end in calamity, with Fred often being the loser. Despite this, and despite Fred's bad temper at times, he and Barney mean well most of the time and their tender side is really brought to the surface when they become fathers (in the third season). Their wives tend to keep everything together and keep the men on the right track - but only just.
Towards the end of its run, a space traveler, The Great Gazeoo, is introduced. The show also included many characters that were modeled on contemporary tv and music celebrities.
Who was Who?
Fred Flintstone was played by Alan Reed and Mel Blanc played Barney Rubble. In 1962 Blanc had a serious auto accident that put him in a coma (Daws Butler took up Barney Rubble's part for a while). A doctor, desperate to get him talking again, eventually revived him by saying "Bugs? Bugs Bunny? Are you there?" Mel replied "What's up Doc?" in the character's voice and he eventually made a full recovery. Wilma Flintstone was played by Jean Vander Pyl and Betty Rubble was played by Bea Benaderet and later by Gerry Johnson.