Saturday, 15 April 2017

Making Cartoons is Fun

1961 was the great boom-and-bust year for prime-time animated cartoons. The success of The Flintstones, which had debuted on ABC the previous year, had the networks playing copy-cat. CBS aired The Alvin Show, while ABC added Top Cat and Calvin and the Colonel to the line-up. All were brand-new. All became a night-time bust. As for NBC, it decided to repackage an old ABC non-prime time show with some new elements. So it was the network broadcast The Bullwinkle Show.

Bullwinkle’s slot wasn’t really prime-time, or at least certainly be considered that today. It was 7 p.m. on Sundays, opposite the second half of Maverick and the first half of Lassie. The people at Neilsen reported by season end that families preferred the real dog over the cartoon moose. It was their loss.

Keith Scott’s essential book The Moose That Roared chronicles how NBC simply couldn’t be bothered promoting the show. So producers Jay Ward and Bill Scott plugged it themselves, and probably more creatively than anyone at the network could. With Ward’s contention that television was “just one big hunk of blandness” (Variety, Aug. 2, 1961), they sent out comedy mailers and flyers under the irreverent “Operation Loudmouth,” unveiled a Bullwinkle statue on Sunset Boulevard with ridiculous pomp and hit the newspaper interview circuit.

Here’s a feature story from the King Features Syndicate’s TV Key service. The most interesting comment is at the end, where Scott decrees that Jay Ward Productions was keeping out of the animated commercial business. That didn’t last. In fact, their long campaign making Cap’n Crunch spots pretty much kept the company afloat.

Subliminal Show Moose Is Cartoon Star Now

Preceding the Walt Disney color show on Sunday nights at 7:00 p.m. in the fall over NBC will be a new color animated cartoon series, the Bullwinkle Show. Bullwinkle is a moose, a character from ABC's afternoon cartoon series, Rocky And his Friends, a flip and rather sophisticated show nobody saw except kids who apparently liked the animal characters very much.
Jay Ward and Bill Scott, producers of Rocky, called it their "subliminal show." It was on the air, but no one seemed to know about it. Rocky was just below the TV threshold of consciousness. A Des Moines TV reviewer caught the show once by accident at 5:30 p.m. and labelled it "a delightful surprise."
Scott and Ward can now put away the "subliminal" label, because grownups as well as kids will look in on Bullwinkle while waiting for the Disney hour, and the waiting will no doubt become a habit. The two young producers are confident. "We know we're funny," says Scott. "The problem has been to get air time when someone can see us."
The two men take the blame for not getting an animated cartoon show on TV earlier. "We didn't make a major sales effort," says Scott. "We didn't go around banging doors and pushing. We were too busy making shows. Suddenly we learned there is a tremendous difference between sales acceptance and public acceptance."
It appears sponsors and ad men still don't think too much about the sales power of animated cartoons. Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear helped break down their resistance. "It was a touchy area," said Scott. "No one in the agency world knew a good animated cartoon from a bad one. There was no reference point. Now they're getting educated."
The high cost of animated cartoons was another point. But Scott and Ward have figured out a way to get around that. They have a tie-up with a Mexican firm where costs are 25 per cent cheaper and most of their animation is done south of the border.
"They're turning out a show and a half a week. Our efficiency is up," says Scott. "There are only ten or twelve Americans in the whole operation down there."

The Bullwinkle characters will sound familiar because people like Edward Everett Horton, Hans Conried, radio Gunsmoke's Marshal Dillon (Bill Conrad) and Paul Frees do many of the voices.
"We go for actors," says Bill Scott, who is the voice of Dudley DoRight, the noble mounted policeman. "It's like picking out the fish for your guppy tank. What we look for is a community fish to join our group."
Like Rocky and His Friends, the Bullwinkle Show will use a narrator, so the stories and action can jump around easily. "If the narrator is up in the recording session, everything falls into place," says Ward. "If not, we have a hard night. If the actors are down, we just turn out the lights and go home."
Scott and Ward record at night so they can make use of busy actors. "We seem to use short ones," says Scott. "A magnificent golden backwash of people who can't do anything else because of their height." These are veteran radio actors, who wanted to be actors, but were too small. Radio was the only place where they could make a living.
"From 1947 to 1953, things were really tough on the radio voice people who were having trouble in their own industry and could no longer count on the movie cartoon business which went down the sink," says Scott. Residuals on commercials saved them, and now the voice people are in great demand, and reaping the dividends. People like Dawes Butler [sic], Paul Frees, Mel Blanc and June Foray find gold in their mailbox most mornings.
To Scott and Ward, the main fun is making cartoons. They bumbled along with people they liked, avoiding the commerce of commercials. "They're extremely lucrative," says Scott. "That's why we don't do them."
Scott used to write a few and that was enough for him. Now with a Sunday night time spot, both men can put their minds back on their animals. Sales resistance, imagery and other double talk can be a part of the past maybe.

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