The 50th Anniversary of the First Cartoon in Prime Time

Starting with “2 couple” shows, The Lucy show was the first (in “Desilu” studios, from “Desi” Arnaz and “Lu”cille Ball), to use the 3 camera setup that every show-even today-uses.

Only later, with the new multiple storyline plots did they require more family, as in “My Three Sons”, “The Donna Reed Show”, “Leave it to Beaver”, “Dennis The Menace” (sorta), and a host of others in that crossover time between B&W and Color.

It was a really interesting time for TV, as you had the “adventure” formula (Rawhide, Gunsmoke, Dragnet, The Rifleman, Wanted: Dead or Alive, etc.) alongside the “entertainment” formula (The Red Skelton Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Bing Crosby Show, The Perry Como Show, Candid Camera, What’s My Line, etc.) with the then new formula “game show” (Name That Tune, The Price is Right, You Bet Your Life, To Tell the Truth, I’ve Got a Secret, etc.) that defined the era, at the same time you could watch the “family drama”, which evolved from more than one family. Just have a lot of weird characters, and play them against each other (The Beverly Hillbillies, The Donna Reed Show, The Patty Duke Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, My Favorite Martian, My Three Sons, etc.). But you weren’t done with first run, excellent television.

You also had the emergence of the “30 minute comedy”, which took it’s lead from skits on the “entertainment” shows above, and took sometimes a single character and built a world around them in the new 30 minute format. These pioneering shows included My Favorite Martian, The Munsters, Gilligan’s Island, The Addams Family (from a comic strip), McHale’s Navy, Bewitched, Gomer Lyle, U.S.M.C., Car 54 Where Are You?, etc.). And for the grown-ups, you had all the serious stuff, the classic “drama” which came mostly from translating books into short stories for screenplays, as with The Fugitive, Combat, The Virginian, Dr. Kildare, Lassie, Ben Casey, The Untouchables, Perry Mason, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, etc.

So the only thing missing from that outstanding era is the one type of show that the era is defined by: “cartoons”. The Flintstones weren’t alone, as there was Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color (which often ran cartoons). But that was it for prime time cartoons in 1960. It was all new, and the tried and true westerns and dramas were easy tools to get dollars out of sponsors’ pockets.

In 1962, the next cartoon to hit prime time was The Jetsons by Hanna Barbera. ABC waited to see what would happen for 2 years, then released Johnny Quest. Either you didn’t know about the show, or you worship it. A friend of mine named his kid Race after Race Bannon, Johnny’s bodyguard. You could say that Venture Brothers owes it’s formulaic success to Johnny Quest.

Anyone remember Aeon Flux on MTV’s Liquid Television?

So the next time you watch an episode of Star Wars: Clone Wars, Ren & Stimpy, Home Movies, Family Guy, Futurama, The Simpsons, South Park, Samurai Jack, Rocko’s Modern Life, or even SpongeBob SquarePants, consider the way television was changed from the year The Flintstones first aired until today.

Just a thought…

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