Saturday, 3 May 2014

TV Animation, 1960

The Golden Age of Prime Time Animation, if there was such a thing, was awfully short. But it received a steady build-up.

Through the 1950s, a stream of old theatrical cartoons flowed onto TV screens. Then Hanna-Barbera showed, thanks to Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw, that half-hour made-for-TV cartoon shows could be lucrative. Animated commercials showed cartoons were an effective sales tool. So, what was the next logical step?

If you’re Ollie Treyz at ABC-TV, you know what the answer is. Treyz was an aggressive and savvy programmer. He was also at last-place ABC, so he had nothing to lose. Treyz built his network amidst the sneers of some critics by airing non-highbrow canned programming produced by film studios—westerns and crime shows, mainly. So why not gamble on animation in prime time, something that his old buddy John Mitchell at Columbia’s Screen Gems—the bankrollers of Hanna-Barbera—wanted to try?

So it was that the talk of the trades in the early part of 1960 was about TV animation. Hanna-Barbera’s success with Huck and Quick Draw suddenly inspired the set-up of new limited animation studios that hired old-time animators churning out new product for sale. And Hanna-Barbera’s success in 1960 with “The Flintstones” suddenly inspired the creation of other prime-time animation shows. They all failed. By the end of 1961, it was evident the boom had gone bust. Joe Barbera felt the problem was prime time on Mondays through Thursdays was not the time for animation, and there simply weren’t enough good animators and cartoon writers at the time (see Weekly Variety, December 20, 1961, pg. 25).

But let’s turn back the clock a bit to this interesting analysis in Sponsor magazine from June 30, 1960. Perhaps the most interesting part of the story is the references to cartoon series that were never aired. Were episodes ever made? If so, what happened to the artwork or films? And what was the cartoon series from Warner Bros. that ABC planned to air in addition to “The Bugs Bunny Show”? Animation archaeologists reading here may know.

There are three series that the story doesn’t mention. One was “Q.T. Hush.” Ads for it had been placed by M. and A. Alexander Productions in Sponsor, which also reported on January 30, 1960 that 20 episodes had been completed, ten episodes of 3½ minute cartoons comprising one story. And Sponsor reported on May 7, 1960 that “Affiliated Television Productions has obtained tv rights to ‘There Oughta Be A Law’ from McClure Newspaper Syndicate for cartoon production; Affiliated is also producing The Goofs, a 130-episode five minute adult cartoon.” Who knows their fate?

Incidentally, the lack of a mention in the story of “The Rocky Show” is puzzling; it had debuted in 1959.

The story discusses animated TV commercials as well. Fortunately, some are available to view today on video web sites. The Ajax elves and the Jell-O “Chinese Baby” commercial, which ran for a number of years, may be familiar.

^ ABC TV will venture three nighttime animated shows this fall, including one aimed at adult audience
^ New animation production for syndication will soon rival or replace old theatrical libraries on tv

Animation for tv is on the verge of mulitple major breakthroughs.
During the 1960-61 season, animation will take important first steps in getting into several areas from which it was previously excluded.
ABC TV, first of all, has three nighttime animated half hours on its fall schedule—the first animated shows ever to earn nighttime network slots. Bugs Bunny is set for Tuesday and another series is set for Friday; both will go in at 7:30 p.m. and will be produced by Warner Bros.
But there's much more in the implications behind ABC TV's The Flintstones, produced by Screen Gems' Hanna-Barbera Productions and sold to Miles and R. J. Reynolds for 8 :30 p.m. Friday. This animated series is—as the names of the advertisers indicate—definitely for an adult audience.
You can be sure that other networks will be watching the ABC TV animation venture closely and won't be very far behind in scheduling nighttime animated series of their own if the new trend clicks.
Behind ABC TV's buy of The Flintstones is the success of Screen Gems’ Hanna-Barbera Productions with its two other national animated shows, Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw, both in national spot and sold to Kellogg's, the former (a 1960 Emmy winner) now renewed for a third season, and the latter for its second.
The new scope of national animation programing may be seen in this one fact: Come fall, Screen Gems will have four national animated shows on television—the three shows listed sponsor above plus Ruff & Reddy on NBC TV.
A second animation development of major proportions will hit the syndication field in 1960-61. Up to now, virtually all animated programs in syndication were produced for theaters and later released for tv: such as Looney Tunes, Popeye, and Bugs Bunny, to mention but a few. Produced-for-tv animations were rarer: Crusader Rabbit. Felix the Cat, plus several shows produced for network, such as Mr. Magoo and Gumby, which were later put in syndication. But the new syndication season will see an animation production effort of unprecedented proportions.
At least half a dozen syndicators will bring out new animated series. Trans-Lux Tv will follow up its success with Felix the Cat by bringing out Rube Goldberg and one other program. CBS Films and Terrytoons have already started selling Deputy Dawg and are ready with a second series, Fearless Fosdick. ZIV-UA, a major distributor of theatrical cartoons, will produce its first animated series for tv : Mell-O-Tunes. Hank Saperstein will produce an animated version of "Dick Tracy." Flamingo will enter cartoon production with Nutty Squirrels. CNP has brought out a stop-motion series, Henry and His Claymates, and also has an animated Bob and Ray Show, and Paramount will make new Popeye cartoons.
There'll probably be more made-for-tv animation programing placed in syndication during the 1960-61 season than in all previous seasons combined. Two forces are shaping syndication’s new enthusiasm for animation: the time period situation and animation's good rerun performance.
Since the networks have taken control of more and more time periods after 7:30 p.m., the syndicators have replied by producing the kind of show largely designed to go into an early evening slot. Also, animated reruns held up better than live action shows. Main repeat runs are possible with relatively little loss of ratings appeal. Thus a show like CBS Films’ Fearless Fosdick, with an estimated half hour cost of $75,000, could eventually earn more than an action-adventure show budgeted at $32,000.
Animation in syndication will also get a boost from post-‘48 theatrical product, although some of these packages will find their way to network before they go into syndication. ABC TV’s Bugs Bunny, for example, will consist mostly of Warner Bros, theatricals of recent vintage.
A third animation breakthrough appears ready to take place on the technological front. One producer, Westworld Artists Productions, is keeping under wraps a new automation process which, if applied to animation, is said to be able to crack open the present high cost price structure. The new process, Animascope, is understood to be increasingly economical the larger the production unit. While it might not accomplish major savings on a 60-second commercial, it is said to bring half hour production costs down to $45,000 and full-length feature costs down to $1 million. The new technique utilizes live action photography for analysis of motion: these images are transformed into lines by special photographic processing and some details are added by conventional animation.
Other technological developments in animation which may well affect tv production within the next few seasons involve adaptation of stop-motion, slide-motion, and other camera techniques. Some of these innovations carry along with them unusual economies as well as novel effects. HFH Productions, for example, eliminated cels in producing a special one-use network program opening, photographing objects which were placed directly on the camera stand. The result, which ran for slightly over one minute, cost $1,800, compared to the usual $5,000-6,000 for one minute of animation.
A fourth aspect of animation worth watching is tv commercials. The trade estimate, that one-fourth of all tv commercials work is in animation, based on the volume of the past several seasons, will continue to be a useful rule-of-thumb. Robert Lawrence Productions’ analysis of 1960 business so far reveals that ll% of its volume is in all-animation commercials and that 26% is in commercials using some animation. There is no significant change in these figures when they are compared to last year. While no changes in the total amount of animation work in commercials is expected for 1960-61, some new creative tendencies have been predicted.
There is both an optimistic and a pessimistic side to the question of animation creativity in commercials. One producer felt that animation people would play an increasingly important role in commercials planning from the beginning, especially since agencymen whose background is chiefly live action may not also have sufficient understanding of the specialized capabilities of animation. In this view, a golden age of animation creativity in commercials was imminent in the coming season.
But another producer took a gloomier view of the subject. So many fresh developments have taken place in animated commercials in the past two seasons, this producer felt that the creative cycle was moving back from a phase of exploration to a new phase of imitation. Squeeze-motion was a new commercials style utilizing animation of the past two seasons, but no other new contribution to animation style could be seen on the commercials horizon.
The performance of commercials containing animation is a continuing subject of debate. A recent Schwerin study discovered that hybrid commercials—using both animation and live action—performed better than those using either all animation or all live action alone. In the recent First American Tv Commercials Festival and Forum, the proportion of commercials containing animation which won first prizes was considerably higher than the proportion which was considered. Animated entries constituted approximately one out of five of the 250 semi-finalists, but commercials containing animation walked away with one out of three of the 37 first prizes.
These top winners included Minneapolis Gas (Knox-Reeves) made by Grantray-Lawrence and Playhouse Pictures; Fresh (Daniel & Charles) by Elliott, Unger & Elliot; American Dairy ice cream (Campbell-Mithun) by TV Spots, Inc.; Ernie Ford program opening (J. Walter Thompson) by Playhouse Pictures; Union Oil (EWRR) by Playhouse Pictures; two commercials by Lestoil (Jackson) by Robert Lawrence Animation; United Cerebral Palsy by Newsfilm Productions; King Cotton Sausage (Rosengarten & Steinke) by Fred Niles; Kaiser foil (Y&R) by Freberg with Playhouse; Johnson & Johnson Strip, Patch & Spot (Y&R) by Elektra, and Seven-Up (J. Walter Thompson) by Ray Patin.
The commercials festival also served as a reminder of memorability of animated commercials. Nine of the spot shows in the Commercials Classics of past seasons contained animation. They were: Ajax (Sherman & Marquette) by Shamus Culhane: Muriel (Lennen & Newell) by Shamus Culhane; Hamm's (Campbell-Mithun) by Swift-Chaplin: Bardahl (Miller, Mackay, Hoeck, Hartung) by Ray Patin; Alka Seltzer (Wade) by Swift-Chaplin; Jello (Y&R) by UPA and Swift-Chaplin; Paypo (FRC&H) by Storyboard; Phil Silvers Camels openings (Esty) by Pelican; and Butternut (Buchanan-Thomas) by Freberg/Fine Arts.

There were a number of ads for cartoon series in the various editions of Sponsor in the first half of 1960. The MGM ad above (with a surprising reference to Tex Avery) is one of them. Below are a few more. The most intriguing of the bunch is the two-pager for Willie McBean. Obviously, producers were serious about it because a good chunk of cash must have been spent on the ad. Yet the show never aired. In 1965, Rankin-Bass turned Willie McBean into a stop-motion feature.

UAA was United Artists Associated. In 1958, it had worked out a deal to buy Associated Artists Productions, Elliot Hyman’s company which had bought the rights to Popeye and Warner Bros. theatrical cartoons in 1958 and blanketed North American stations with them.


  1. Whoa ... WIlly McBean was going to be a cartoon before Rankin-Bass made it in stop-motion in 1965?

  2. Good to see Bugs and Popeye put aside their differences to work together.