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Archive for June 29th, 2017

 

by Brandie Ashe

Oh, for the good old days, when almost every theatrical release was preceded by a cartoon. Nowadays, we pretty much have to rely on the folks at Disney and Pixar to get our theatrical cartoon fix, but in the 1930s and 40s, it was guaranteed that going to the movies—to see any feature—meant also seeing the latest adventures of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, Tom and Jerry, Superman, Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes gang, Mr. Magoo, Woody Woodpecker, and dozens of other animated troublemakers.

Things began to change with the so-called “Paramount Decision” of 1948, in which the Supreme Court decided that movie studios could no longer force theater chains to accept the practice of “block booking” a studio’s “lesser” products (short films and animated cartoons, namely), sometimes sight unseen, and exhibiting those shorts with feature-length studio productions. In other words, studios no longer had any sort of guarantee that their cartoons would actually be seen by audiences, so what was the point in producing cartoons anymore? It was the beginning of the end of the “Golden Age” of Hollywood animation. Many studio animation departments began to suffer in the wake of the decision, and animators at those troubled and soon-to-close studios began to find refuge in television.

In 1957, MGM, home of the Tom and Jerry series of cartoons, closed its animation division, despite the continued popularity of the duo. Tom and Jerry’s “parents,” animation directors William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, soon decided to try their luck at the still (relatively) new medium of television, and started their own animation company, H-B Enterprises (eventually rechristened Hanna-Barbera Productions). They found early TV hits with two new characters: a drawling, Southern caricature of a canine named Huckleberry Hound, and a horsey Old-West sheriff called Quick Draw McGraw. But Hanna-Barbera’s greatest television success came when the duo decided to move to primetime, introducing the world to a “modern Stone-Age family” whose lives, funnily enough, came right out of the most familiar of situation comedies.

That fabled family, The Flintstones, debuted on ABC on September 30, 1960, at 8:30PM. Its timeslot competitors? On CBS, the anthology drama series Route 66, and on NBC, yet another entry in the TV cowboy sweepstakes, The Westerner. Neither of those dramas was exactly lighting up the ratings, and so The Flintstones, perhaps by default, not only won its timeslot that year—it would go on to be the eighteenth most popular show of the 1960-61 television season and be nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series, becoming the first animated program to ever receive a nod for that award.

Yet it did this largely without support from television critics, who dismissed the show as an unexceptional novelty. And even today, the position of The Flintstones on any countdown such as this can be expected to produce debate about the merits of the show. There’s a tinge of nostalgia to the show, especially for baby boomers who grew up watching Fred and Barney’s antics—my own father, born in 1953, counts this show among his favorites of all time, and introduced my brothers and me to its dubious charms in the 1980s via the joys of syndication. But does “nostalgia” equal “quality?”

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