The Flintstones was Hanna Barbera’s foray into prime time. This was the first half hour cartoon/comedy series. The show was loosely based on “The Honeymooners” with Fred as Ralph and Barney as Ed (the second time they based a character on Art Carney, the first being Yogi Bear). The setting was a stone-age town named Bedrock. Fred is a working class man working at the local rock quarry. The show was so popular it proved to be the most commercially successful network cartoon series for three decades until the Simpsons stole this claim to fame.
In this make-believe version of ancient times, dinosaurs and other extinct animals co-exist with cavemen. Like their modern equivalents, these Stone Age people live in modern style homes, eat at restaurants, go to the drive-in and listen to records. Of course the technology is made up of mostly rock and wood structures and the like. Their clothing is fashioned from animal skins. And everything is powered by animal power. Like the theme song suggests the cars are powered by Fred’s two feet.
The concept for the Flintstones came from the idea that Hanna Barbera had success with Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw but they realized that they had not reached their potential as they did with the theatrical productions they created for MGM such as Tom & Jerry which appealed to audiences of all ages. So they decided to create the first animated sit-com.
They experimented with a few ideas including Pilgrims, Indians, Romans and Hillbillies as the setting for the two families based on the Honeymooners. Finally they decided that by using a Stone Age family they could transform basics such as wood, stones and animals into an industrial age feel. Under the working title of The Flagstones they pitched the idea of a modern stone-age family consisting of Fred, Wilma and Fred Jr. their son. They created a 90 second pitch to entice sponsors on the idea.
Besides the obvious Honeymooners influence which they denied animation historians point to a 1955 cartoon directed by fellow MGM director Tex Avery about a bank robber in stone-age Dallas which was entitled The First Bad Man. Many of the sight gags showed up years later in the Flintstones.
Joe Barbera explained that selling the show to a network and sponsors was not an easy task.
“Here we were with a brand new thing that had never been done before, an animated prime-time animated show. So we developed two storyboards; one was they had a helicopter of some kind and they went to the opera or whatever, and the other was Fred and Barney fighting over a swimming pool. So I go back to New York with a portfolio and two half-hour boards. And no one would even believe that you’d dare to suggest a thing like that, I mean they looked at you and they’d think you’re crazy, but slowly the word got out, and I used to the presentation which took almost an hour and a half. I would go other the two boards and tell them what they did, and do all the voices and the sounds and so-on, and I’d stagger back to the hotel and I’d collapse. The phone would ring like crazy, like one time I did Bristol-Myers, the whole company was there. When I got through I’d go back to the hotel the phone would ring and say “the president wasn’t at that meeting, could you come back and do it for him.” So I had many of those, one time I had two agencies, they’d fill the room I mean God about 40 people, and I did this whole show. I got to know where the laughs were, and where to hit it, nothing; dead, dead, dead. So one of the people at Screen Gems said “This is the worst, those guys….” he was so angry at them. What it was, was that there were two agencies there, and neither one was going to let the other one now they were enjoying it. But I pitched it for eight straight weeks and nobody bought it. So after sitting in New York just wearing out, you know really wearing out, pitch, pitch, pitch, sometimes five a day. So finally on the very last day I pitched it to ABC, which was a young daring network willing to try new things, and bought the show in 15 minutes. Thank goodness, because this was the very last day and if they hadn’t bought it I would have taken everything down, put it in the archives and never pitched it again. Sometimes I wake up in a cold-sweat thinking this is how close you get to disaster.”
As a sign of the times seasons one and two were sponsored by Winston cigarettes. Check out this video of Fred and Barney smoking cigarettes in a Winston television ad.
During the third season the Flintstones gave birth to Pebbles. This lead to a decline in the popularity for adults and the show took on more of a children’s feel. Then came the birth of Bam Bam whom the Rubbles adopted bringing the show down even further.
The show went off the air on April 1, 1966 after cancellation.
Flintstones. Meet the Flintstones.
They’re the modern stone age family.
From the town of Bedrock,
They’re a page right out of history.
Let’s ride with the family down the street.
Through the courtesy of Fred’s two feet.
When you’re with the Flintstones
you’ll have a yabba dabba doo time.
A dabba doo time.
You’ll have a gay old time.