Friday, March 25, 2011

Vintage Headlines: Adult Cartoons circa 1960

Lest you think that The Simpsons and Family Guy were groundbreaking in regard to being animated fare targeted at grownups, realize that over fifty years ago, a certain stone-age family was initially targeted to an adult-based demographic.  The Flintstones debuted in prime time in September of 1960, and then television reporter Ray McConnell made these interesting observations in response to the show's premiere:
SUBURBIA IN THE STONE AGE: A thousand years from today "The Flintstones" may be evidence of history, goofed-up, or of science fiction, also goofed-up but an eerie, prophetic caricature of life after The Bomb fell. TV fans will get a chance to make their own guess about this tonight when "The Flintstones" comes on ABC-TV and Channel 7 as a weekly cartoon comedy designed for adult viewing. It is television's first animated assault, outside the commercials, on adult funnybones. The cartoon series has been created by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, who tailored "Huckleberry Hound," "Quick Draw McGraw" and "Rough 'n Ready" for the TV tube. These were kid cartoons, primarily. The Flintstones are something else. Their fanciful out-of-kilter world is the Hanna-Barbera answer to what they believe is an adult demand for an adult cartoon. (Who demanded this? I didn't).

It goes something like this: With their pals, Barney and Betty Rubble, Fred and Wilma Flintstone bumble through life in Bedrock (Pop. 2500), the seat of Cobblestone County. They are average couples, with the same problems, foibles, ambitions and frustrations of any couples anywhere, anytime. The difference is that the Flintstones and Rubbles live in hollow boulders and wear bearskin kilts. .It's a version of Suburbia in the stone age; a homily of life among cave dwellers — in the light of some modern improvements. But whether the time is 25,000 years ago, or a couple of hundred years hence, is your guess as much as anyone's.
Another article from the same time quoted both Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera on the show's intended adult appeal:
"We had so much success our other cartoon characters —'Quick-Draw McGraw" and 'Huckleberry Hound' — and there was so much adult public reaction and acceptance that we decided to try an adult cartoon series." says Joe Barbera.

"Older people just took a liking to 'Quickdraw' and 'Huck'." Bill Hanna asserted. "Joe and I thought that possibly a cartoon series with an adult approach might be something that would please the oldsters."


jruschme said...

I found it interesting that McConnell noted the idea of a post-apocalyptic view of the Flintstones. I had only recently heard of this interpretation ("Modern Stone-Age") and was surprised to see that even early viewers might have thought in that direction.

Paul Duca said...

Another part of the "adult" targeting are the notorious commercials featuring Fred and Barney touting Winston cigarettes. It turns out that may not have been a direct, deliberate act to say "this is NOT a kiddie show".
The previous season (1959-60), Winston's makers, R.J. Reynolds, and Miles Laboratories (One-A-Day Vitamins, Alka-Seltzer, and ultimately Flintstones Vitamins) brought you the show ABC aired in the Friday at 8:30 time slot...a Western called THE MAN FROM BLACKHAWK. Viewer complaints about violence, combined with modest ratings, led the network to pull the show. In return, the two companies agreed to sponsor whatever show replaced it.