History of Hanna-Barbera Part 6: The Jetsons & Wally Gator
Following the debut of the Flintstones on ABC in 1960, a wave of prime-time animated series flooded the airwaves for the next several years. NBC had The Bullwinkle Show and The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo, CBS aired The Alvin Show, and ABC played Calvin & the Colonel and Beany & Cecil. ABC also contracted Hanna-Barbera to produce three additional prime-time series. As previously discussed, Top Cat premiered in 1961 to a lukewarm reaction, but they already had their next series lined up, which would be their attempt to catch lightning in a bottle a second time.
September 23, 1962 - March 17, 1963
Jumping away from the Stone Age to the futuristic year of 2062, The Jetsons focuses on a family living in the sky utopia of Orbit City. It’s a perfect future with skies filled with flying cars, interplanetary space travel, and instant food machines. But at its heart, it still has shades of the world we know buried deep within it.
George Jetson (voiced by comedy actor George O’Hanlon) is the father, a family man employed by Spacely’s Sprockets who always seems to mess up despite his good intentions.
His wife Jane (Penny Singleton) tries her best to protect the family and isn’t afraid to stand up to George’s boss Mr. Spaceley. She loves technology, but also appreciates the historical arts.
Their daughter Judy (Janet Waldo) has the personality of a typical modern teenage girl, but with an obsession for futuristic technology (which, ironically, makes her even more like a modern teenage girl today).
There’s also their son Elroy (Daws Butler), a well-mannered six year old boy genius.
Astro is the family dog, very much a pre-cursor to Hanna-Barbera’s later Scooby-Doo character in his speech patterns (both were voiced by Don Messick).
Besides the core family, one rerecurring character was Rosie the Robot (Jean Vander Pyl) is the Jetson’s rental maid; Interestingly, in the original run of the show, she only appeared in two episodes. Despite this, she's since become more associated with the family than any other side character.
George’s boss Cosmo Spacely (Mel Blanc) is a greedy short-statured man with a huge temper, even more harsh on George than Mr. Slate was on Fred Flintstone in that he doesn’t just fire George occasionally, he does it at least once per episode.
The show does undeniably draw many parallels between it and the Flintstones, but it’s also heavily inspired by the comic strip Blondie. Interestingly, Judy and her counterpart, Blondie herself, both share the same actress, Penny Singleton, who played Blondie in a series of 28 films between 1938 and 1950.
The Jetsons premiered September 23, 1962, airing Sunday nights at 7:30PM opposite Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color and the final season of Dennis the Menace. In an interesting bit of trivia, The Jetsons was actually the very first program on ABC to ever premiere in color. During the 1962-1963 season, ABC experimented with color broadcasting with three animated series: The Flintstones (which was entering its third season), Beany & Cecil (which had been a mid-season show earlier that year), and The Jetsons (debuting in color). ABC wouldn't fully transition to color until the early 70's, well after its competitors NBC and CBS.
Being based on the ratings-winning formula that the Flintstones, there was an expectation that the Jetsons would do well for Hanna-Barbera and ABC. However, the opposite happened; The Jetsons bombed in the ratings. There’s a few possible reasons, most evident is how it was put up against Walt Disney (which also caused the cancellation of Dennis the Menace). Some have speculated that it may be because the popular sitcoms of the 60’s tended to have some sort of unusual main character (like Mr. Ed the Talking Horse or Jeannie the Genie), while George Jetson was more or less a 1950’s sitcom dad transplanted into the future. Others have pointed that many Americans were becoming pessimistic about the notion of looking to the future, as the Cold War dragged on with no end in sight and worries about nuclear war continued to heighten (the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred only a few months after the Jetsons ended); Audiences just weren’t looking for a family from a perfect future when in reality the future looked bleak.
Whatever the reason, the Jetsons only lasted a single season of 24 episodes in prime-time. For the next two decades, it became a long-standing Saturday morning staple, bouncing around between all three of the major networks: ABC (1963-1964), CBS (1964-1965, 1969-1971), and especially NBC (1965-1967, 1971-1976, 1979-1981, 1982-1983). In 1985, the show was finally revived with full force, gaining a whopping 51 new episodes in syndication. They even got their own movie in 1990.
The Hanna-Barbera New Cartoon Series
September 3, 1962 - August 26, 1963
That same season, over in syndication, Hanna-Barbera decided to do something slightly different with 1962’s batch of funny animal characters. Previously (with Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, and Yogi Bear), the package shows they put together consisted of a star character along with two back-up shorts, all presented as a uniform half-hour of entertainment with bumpers showing the characters of the individual segments interacting among one another. However, there was still a market they hadn’t yet tapped where the majority of TV animation during the early 60’s (prior to the rise of Saturday mornings) was going to: Local children’s shows.
These local shows, such as Portland, Oregon’s “Popeye's Pier 12” (hosted by Ramblin' Rod Anders), would usually feature a local entertainer hosting a show in front of an audience of children, with the real highlight of the show being short (4-7 minute) cartoons. It was common for these cartoons to feature a serialized story across an entire week (such as Crusader Rabbit and Clutch Cargo), but there were also gag cartoons (such as Tom Terrific and the made-for-TV Popeye shorts), not unlike Hanna-Barbera’s typical output. Stations were usually more willing to give airtime for cartoons on local children’s shows rather than individual half-hours, so Hanna-Barbera decided to produce a product that could be presented as both.
Marketed as “The Hanna-Barbera New Cartoon Series”, this was actually a collection of three individual segments: Wally Gator, Touche Turtle & Dum Dum, and Lippy the Lion & Hardy Har Har. Stations would be given the option to air the 5-minute segments together (often being called just “Wally Gator” as he was the character H-B was pushing most) or split as part of their local children’s programs.
The first segment follows the escapades of Wally Gator, a cajin alligator who longs to escape the zoo he’s trapped in. The zookeeper, Mr. Twiddle, tries his best to stop Wally from escaping. Wally almost always does escape, but finds himself in trouble in the city, such as running from a hunter or being mistaken for an escaped convict. The few times Wally decides to stay in the zoo, trouble still comes to him, like when a stork accidentally delivers a baby gorilla to him which he’s forced to take care of.
For Wally Gator, Daws Butler once again draws from his impersonation talents, using a voice emulating comedian Ed Wynn. As per the usual pairing of Butler and Messick, Don Messick voices Mr. Twiddle.
Touché Turtle & Dum Dum
Touché Turtle, despite his unintimidating appearance, is a swashbuckling hero in 17th century France (an alternate 17th century with modern technology), who, proclaiming his catchphrase “Touché away!”, makes it his mission in life to save anyone in distress. He is aided by his friend, a large friendly dog named Dum Dum, and together they fight dragons, outlaws, and even robots.
Touché Turtle is voiced by voice actor Bill Thompson, who is most well-known for his work in Disney films like Smee in Peter Pan and the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. Dum Dum is Alan Reed, the voice of Fred Flintstone.
Like with the early appearances of Snagglepuss and Yakky Doodle in episodes of the Quick Draw McGraw Show, Touché Turtle introduces a rabbit named Ricochet in the episode “Rapid Rabbit”. Ricochet Rabbit would later go on to star in his own series of shorts in the Magilla Gorilla Show.
Lippy the Lion & Hardy Har Har
The last segment of the trio follows the adventures of a lion and a hyena, the former bursting with optimism, and the later, in a rather ironic twist, outright pessimistic. In each episode, Lippy comes up with a new get-rich-quick scheme and drags Hardy in, often resulting in Hardy taking the bulk of the (usually physical) punishment when the scheme inevitably backfires.
Lippy is voiced by Daws Butler, while Hardy Har Har is voiced by Mel Blanc, the latter doing the same voice he did as a postman on the Burns & Allen radio program.
These three segments, whether together or apart, were rather popular for the local children’s shows they played during. New York’s WPIX actually ended up doing both, creating an entire local program called “Cartoon Zoo”, where a zookeeper (played by Milt Moss, who would gain some minor fame in the early 70’s for reciting the infamous phrase “I can’t believe I ate that whole thing” in an Alka-Seltzer commercial) showed cartoons while conversing with life-size cutouts of Wally Gator, Touché Turtle, and Lippy the Lion stuck in cages.
The Hanna-Barbera New Cartoon Series ultimately ran for only one season, generating 52 episodes for each of the segments which were spread across nearly a year. Following the ends of both this and The Jetsons, things were rather quiet for Hanna-Barbera; The fall 1963 season, where at least one new Hanna-Barbera series had premiered every year since 1957, didn't bring with it a new offering. But this was not a sign of decline in the studio, far from it, as Hanna-Barbera would soon debut one of their most ambitious productions that would also herald the direction the studio would go throughout the remainder of the 1960’s.