Saturday, 10 December 2016

The Golden Age That Never Happened

TV in 1960 was looking for something new, and thought that something would be cartoons.

Through the ‘50s, there was an explosion of westerns, detective shows and family sitcoms that would have been at home in the radio days ten years earlier. The ‘60s would eventually bring housemates that were genies, mothers who were cars, wives who were witches, and other outrageous concepts. But before that, television decided the next gimmick would be animation.

The success of The Flintstones in 1960 had networks scurrying to buy half-hour cartoon shows. And the failure of those shows in 1961 had the networks scurrying to find half-hours that weren’t animated. Syndicated shows like Huckleberry Hound attracted families but the prime-time sitcoms were treated by audiences as kid programming, and that didn’t bring in the numbers of viewers to satisfy sponsors.

Here’s a feature story from the New York Herald Tribune of April 2, 1961 summing up the situation. A few things written here are incorrect; not all of the proposed Jay Ward series below were animated and I’m sure you know which ones didn’t get on the air. I wish the scans of the artwork were better. The concepts of Alvin and the Chipmunks that accompany the story are ones I’ve never seen before (the great Bob Kurtz made the final character designs). And I wonder if Scott himself drew the picture of him and Ward in straightjackets.

The Animated Future

Picture, if you will, a typical Western street before a shoot-out. On one side of the street are Wyatt Earp, Sheriff Matt Dillon, Billy the Kid, Bart Maverick, the Deputy, and all the other Western heroes plus all the private eyes on television. On the other side of the street are Huckleberry Hound, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Mr. Magoo, Beany, Bugs Bunny, Deputy Dog, Mr. Peabody and Yogi Bear. Someone drops a handkerchief, private eyes and cowboys draw their guns and animateds draw their creations.
For the Family
The animated strips have already taken over most of the children’s time and have already begun with shows like “The Flintstones” to capture adult time. Thanks to a recent change of attitude among sponsors, the so-called cartoon shows are going to be all over the television screen next year. Sponsors as well as Madison Ave. have finally discovered that not only do children watch animated films on television, so do adults, a combination that equals family entertainment. That’s what sponsors always have been looking for.
Already in production for next season with time allotted are half a dozen new animated shows that will replace most of the Westerns and the private-eye shows. Format Films, Inc., this week signed a $2,000,000 contract to make “The Alvin Show,” scheduled for Wednesdays, 7:30 to 8 p.m. on CBS, sponsored by General Foods. The character of Alvin, the singing chipmunk, is based on the brainchild of Ross Bagdasarian, who wrote and recorded the original “The Chipmunk Song” (which sold 10,000,000 copies) and the albums that followed. Mr. Bagdasarian is producing the series.
Bob Clampett’s “Beany Boy” and “Cecil the Seasick Serpent,” which were originally hand puppets, are now being transmitted onto the animated drawing board by Mr. Clampett. The new show, budgeted at $2,000,000, will be on ABC-TV next season.
Rocky Road to Success
Jay Ward and Bill Scott, producers of “Rocky and His Friends”—now in its third year—and creators of such characters as “Bullwinkle,” “Mr. Peabody,” “Sherman the Dog” [sic] and “Boris Badenov,” have four new animated series set for next season: “Simpson and Delaney,” “Fractured Flickers,” “The Green Hopper,” and a variety show called “Whatts Gnu.”
Hanna-Barbera Productions, producers of “Yogi Bear,” “The Flintstones,” “Huckleberry Hound” and “Quickdraw McGraw,” have a new show, “Top Cat,” which will air in October on Wednesday nights, 8:30 to 9 p.m.
At least half a dozen other animated shows are planned for fall, which brings up the question, “why are these cartoons all so popular?”
Jay Ward and Bill Scott believe animated shows are popular because cartoons are the only medium people love as a medium—“even when lousy.” “We’re a writing studio,” they explain. “We write our shows as funny, sharp and sophisticated as we can make them.
“Even though animated shows have a large audience of kids, you have to remember it’s the same kids who watch ‘The Untouchables,’ ‘Twilight Zone’ and Bob Hope. Kids today as exposed to an adult work and they’re sharp. Our stuff is sharper and more sophisticated than many of the dramatic shows. Everything we do is a satire and whimsy—that makes the fun.”
Messrs. Ward and Scott, who claim the distinction of being “the only two animated (cartoon) people in the world who haven’t worked for Walt Disney,” say their shows differ from the old Disney cartoons, such as “Donald Duck” and “Pluto,” in two important areas.
Realer and duller
“Disney worked twenty years to get animation to appear as real as possible, and the nearer he got to reality the duller the shows got,” they said. “We believe animation should involve a push beyond reality. If you’ve got a picture that can be done with live characters, you might as well use live characters. We use animation to sell a story, Disney uses the story to sell animation.
“If you turned off the sound and watched one of our shows, the appeal would be mostly for children. With the vision off and just the sound on, the appeal would be for adults. The whole show appeals to every one. And if you listen, we say things that are mighty sharp.”
William Hanna and Joseph Barbera say there is an underlying philosophy about the “Flintstones” and “Yogi Bear.” “It’s to project warmth and good feeling. We spoof lots of things—Hollywood, cars, television, and even our own animated commercials. But we don’t see anything funny in violence and sin. Even our villains are nice guys.
“We don’t write stories for children or adults, or any particular age group. Our shows are made for the family. We have no thought of sending a message out to the world. We’re just trying to do what cartoons are meant to do in the first place—satirize what we do with a lifelike interpretation.”
“The Alvin Show” will be the first animated series with music as an integral part of the plot. “The show will be like nothing else on the air,” promises Mr. Bagdasarian, who as a musician uses the name David Sevile [sic]. “What we have is a kind of variety show written for intelligent children as well as people who like fun. We’ll touch on everything from satire to just pure fun.”
Obviously, satire and sophisticated humor are basic elements of the new and future shows featuring animation. If they words go over the kids’ heads, the pictures will tell the story. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the sponsor Kellogg, received a letter recently from six scientists at White Sands Proving Ground asking that “Huckleberry Hound” be moved to a later hour because “it’s one of our chief relaxations.”
Most of the fan mail sent to the other shows comes from adults or teen-agers, rather than children. Like the sophisticated comics who are popular today—Shelley Berman, Mort Sahl, Bob Newhart, et al.—the creators of the animated shows also have troubles with pressure groups, even sponsors. Humor can have a double edge.
Never Aired
Not long ago, for example, Rocket in “Bullwinkle” found an arch-fiend endeavoring to undermine the world’s economy by counterfeiting box tops. General Mills let Jay Ward Productions know in short order that their economy is based on box tops. The show was never aired.
Sponsor conflicts are rare with animateds, however. Even rare are troubles with stars—“Erasers are cheap,” said Bagdasarian. “If we create a character we don’t like, we just erase him out of the story.”
The rush to animation has given producers one headache: there is a shortage of animators in Hollywood. Jay Ward Productions has spent $2,500,000 in Mexico City during the last month hiring artists. They also sponsor a free school for tyro cartoon workers.
Most of the other producers admit there’s a lot of “moonlighting” in the business, with a large portion of the work being done at the homes of artists who are employed at other studios during the day.
The shows announced for the fall are all in production. There seems no doubt that when “Gunsmoke,” “Maverick,” “77 Sunset Strip” and the other Westerns and private-eye shows fall by the wayside, it will be sophisticated humor that killed them—not bullets.


  1. So did The Green Hopper go on to become Hippitty Hooper a few years later? Did Simpson and Delaney or Whatts Gnu go on to became nothing?

    1. Yes and yes, Doug.
      I recommend Keith Scott's book "The Moose That Roared," a whole history of the Ward studio that goes into all these projects that never got sold.

  2. So, if there were 30 episodes of "Beany and Cecil" in the season, in inflation adjusted terms, each would have had a budget of $500,000 US in 2016.

  3. Looking back with 55 years of hindsight, it might have been best if CBS and NBC had swapped their prime-time animation shows, and had The Alvin Show paired with Disney's "Wonderful World of Color" while The Bullwinkle Show got the CBS mid-week prime-time gig. The Alvin episodes have several stories that are targeted towards adults as well as kids, but not as much bite as the Ward studio did with their humor. Might have fit better as a lead in to Walt (even though America would have lost the chance to hear Bill Scott as Bullwinkle intone that Mr. Disney was waiting for him with a baseball bat unless he ended the show).