Sunday 23 September 2012

50 Years of the Future

It’s only natural that a blog named for the best character on “The Jetsons” should mention the cartoon series’ 50th birthday today.

“The Jetsons” was an animated catalogue of what people of the post-war era thought the future would look like, based on what they’d read and seen in science magazines, world fairs and even TV ads and paid industrial films. It was an era of consumerism and “The Jetsons” featured amazing products of the future one could buy to make their life easier, most of them based on concepts that had been kicking around. Of course, there was a down side, too. Some of those new-fangled things didn’t work or blew up. George Jetson got caught in traffic jams worse than anyone dealt with in 1962. And he put up with a boss who had never heard the term “anger management.”

The show was one of the first that ABC broadcast in colour, though that wasn’t really much of a selling point. I watched the series in black-and-white until the early ‘70s and I suspect I was no different than a lot of kids back then. It would have been odd growing up and seeing these interior backgrounds in colour. If I had to guess, I’d say they were by Dick Thomas.

“The Jetsons” failed in prime time because of numbers—more people watched “Disney” on NBC. Once reruns moved into kid-time on Saturday mornings, it flourished. Years later, it resulted in the Hanna-Barbera studio’s new owners bringing it back with far less entertaining new episodes and a movie that’s best left forgotten.

During the show’s original run, Joe Barbera was the front-man for pre-premiere newspaper stories. But here’s one published 50 years ago today in the Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram that quotes Bill Hanna. Only once. The story sounds as if it’s based on a press release by Arnie Carr’s publicity department.

Bert’s Eye View
TV and Radio Editor
George Jetson fed the micro-tablet newspaper into the reading machine and pressed buttons until he got to the sports page.
There was a picture of the coach of the local football team George pressed another button.
“We’ll moider ‘em,” said the voice of the local coach.
George grinned and absent-mindedly flicked a few cigarette ashes on the rug.
An electric-seeing-eye vacuum cleaner came buzzing out of its wall cabinet, sucked up the ashees and discreetly returned to its niche.
George glanced out of the window and noticed the smog. He pressed a button and his Sky Pad Apartment immediately rose 1,000 feet above the smog.
AN IMMEDIATE RISE to popular acclaim is hoped for George and the rest of “The Jetsons” by his creators, Hanna-Barbera Productions.
“The Jetsons,” a futuristic cartoon-situation comedy a la “The Flintstones,” makes its debut in Color at 7:30 p.m. today on channel 7.
The Sunday series is about a family living in the year 2062. An average family, it has the ordinary astro-age conveniences available to middle-class families.
There is for example, their nuclear-pellet-powered space car which gets 40,000 miles to the pellet. (Economy cars get 60,000 miles per pellet.)
There is the dog-walk, a treadmill which periodically serves up fire hydrants.
A pneumatic tube is used for transporting the children to and from school.
Occasionally the wrong child is returned, but there’s no major problem. Just simply press a reject button until the right child shows up.
* * *
AN UPCOMING episode will feature an anti-gravity dance floor that permits the dancers to gyrate on the ceiling.
An astro-age rock-and-roller, Jet Screamer, will bellow:
“I know a swinging place out on the edge of space.”
He’ll introduce a new dance, the solo swivel, which may be the successor to the twist.
Hanna-Barbera Productions feel “The Jetsons” are bringing a new twist to television with its comic astro-age outlook.
Those who have been associated with the series—the same professionals involved in the production of “The Flintstones”—think “The Jetsons” should move ahead faster in the ratings than the caveman cartooner.
This would be quite an accomplishment for “The Flintstones” were practically an overnight success.
Bill Hanna shares the enthused optimism about “The Jetsons” but isn’t personally going out on any prediction limb.
“You just can’t say until the guy in front of the tube watches it.” he said.
For the guy in front of the TV tube—even though it isn’t pneumatic—also has a reject button.

And here’s another newspaper piece that reads like filler supplied by Carr’s people.

Questions And Answers On ABC-TV’s ‘The Jetsons’
Who dreams up the futuristic gadgets seen in “The Jetsons”?
Three occupants of the “think room” at Hanna-Barbera Productions devote full time to this project.
What have been some of their best brainstorms?
The Peek-a-boo Prober Pill, a tiny diagnostic device that televises — with commentary —- after it is swallowed by a patient; a miniaturizing machine used by Jetson’s boss to shrink shipments of Spacely Space Sprockets and shipping charges; the fooderacycle [sic] unit that instantly prepares and serves any menu selected from its card index.
How many drawings are used in “The Jetsons”?
More, than 12,000 individual drawings (cells) go into each half-hour segment.
How many man hours does each segment require?
A total of 16,000, including all production departments such as dubbing, recording, lab and musicians.
How did H-B happen to follow up their Stone Age “The Flintstones” with a series set 100 years in the future?
The 2060’s setting was one of the ideas proposed when H-B decided to make their first cartoon series with humans instead of animals. It was rejected in favour of the prehistoric Flintstone setting because the idea seemed “too far out” a couple of years ago.
What is the major difficulty in making “The Jetsons”?
Keeping a hundred years ahead of the present due to the scientific breakthroughs being made.
Is there an example of this?
The long-legged bug shaped Moonwalker now in production for moon exploration. On this Joseph Barbera comments that if one of his artists had submitted such a sketch a couple of years ago, he would have thought he was crazy.
How are futuristic sounds for the series made?
With electronic devices and from a sound effects library containing more than 5000 sounds, from “Snores and Shivers” to “Poofs and Pops.”

“The Jetsons” had a great opening. There’s that jumping theme song by Hoyt Curtin and his band and the memorable close-up shot of Earth from outer space, with overlays of drawings to simulate a 3-D effect.

Suddenly, the sound of drums and horns and the shot cuts to a starry black exosphere with moving geometric shapes in the foreground.

The blue skies and space needle buildings of Orbit City quickly fade in, and then the Jetson family zooms toward the camera twice. We get to meet the family. There’s perspective animation during the opening which Hanna-Barbera almost never used in its cartoons because of the cost.

Elementary schools used to have tall windows like this. About 1910.

What?! Cash? In the future? Those three guys in the “think room” aren’t thinking.

We didn’t have “malls” in the early ‘60s. We had “shopping centres.” So that’s what the Jetsons have.

The name “Tralfaz”, at least as it applies to Astro, was heard in the episode “Millionaire Astro.” This is a scan of a cel from that episode, featuring Tralfaz’s dog house that’s on the masthead of this blog. The colour isn’t quite the same as what you’ll see on the cartoon DVD.

One wonders if Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera and their talented artists ever expected “The Jetsons” to last this long. The show’s half-way to 2062, the year its set in. It might just make it there.


  1. "Elementary schools used to have tall windows like this. About 1910."

    Funny, I went to a high school that reminded me of this look back in the 90's (it was built around 1960), recently the renovated the building and got rid of the original window panels so now it looks less appealing. Today's schools aren't about "window space" as I call it (of course that only leads to daydreaming I suppose).

    "We didn’t have “malls” in the early ‘60s. We had “shopping centres.” So that’s what the Jetsons have."

    From what one blogger has shown to me, the country of Sweden led the way in enclosed shopping centers during that time! America had to wait at least a few years before they started showing up by the 70's.

  2. We had the 'big window' look in New York on one side of our junior high school, which, IIRC, was circa 1954 construction, so it would kind of fit into the time-line for coming up with an update's 2062 'look' in 1962, if that style also was popular in the mid- and late-50s out in Southern California (the elementary school had the big-window-with-castle-ornaments look of circa 1898, and I was surprised a few years ago to see it turn up as the exterior transition shot of the school on "Wizards of Waverly Place". No magic or flying cars in either building, AFAIK).

  3. Way back in the 1980's I had friends who's Great Dane was name Tralfaz.