Friday, October 01, 2010

The Flintstones

The Flintstones turned 50 yesterday. It lasted six seasons with several follow-up spin-offs and sequels. It held the record for longest-running prime time animated show until the Simpsons blew them away (season 21 just premiered last week).

Basically the Flintstones were an animated version of the Honeymooners. There were a few differences besides the obvious. The Flintstones were more affluent. They lived in the suburbs and Fred had a fairly good job in the construction industry. During the 3rd season the Flintstones had a baby, Pebbles. Half-way into the next season their best friends adopted a boy, Bamm Bamm, the strongest baby in the world. In contrast, the Honeymooners lived in a run-down apartment building and were childless.

The show had a number of running gags around how prehistoric life was the same as modern life. The Flintstones had stone-age equivalents of all of the modern comforts. Dinosaurs provided power. Birds and small mammals acted as vacuum cleaners and garbige disposals. An instant camera had a wood-pecker who would carve a picture into a small piece of stone.

The show was an example of Hanna-Barbera's limited animation. The characters were designed so that entire episodes could be filmed with no or limited new drawings. Each character had a torso that never moved and covered the hips and shoulders. This only left the lower arms and legs and head to move. The heads were oversized so that the mouth could be animated on a stationary head.

Even though the animation was primitive, it did give the writers a lot more freedom. The Wikipedia entry dismisses the plots as standard 1960s sitcom plots but that understates the show. New locations were cheap - they only required a new background painting - so the show was freed from the fixed set. Because of budget constraints, most sitcoms took place in a few regular sets. Shows seldom ventured out into the sunlight.

By the show's sixth season it had jumped the shark. It introduced the Great Gazoo, an advanced alien with nearly magical abilities who could grant any wish. Gazoo was unreliable and the wishes always came out wrong. This is usually considered an example of a show that has lost its novelty.

The show moved from prime time to syndication and Saturday morning. Pebbles and Bamm Bamm became teenagers and received their own hour-long Saturday morning show.

The show inspired a pair of big-budget, live-action movies produced by Steven Spielberg. The movies were box office hits but won some Razzies.

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