My post yesterday about Where’s Huddles? led to a discussion about exactly what constitutes a prime time animated series. The Flintstones is generally said to be the first animated series to air in prime time but it certainly wasn’t the first instance of a network showing animated fare. In 1956, for example, there was CBS Cartoon Theater, hosted by Dick Van Dyke, which presented a variety of Terrytoons theatrical shorts, featuring characters like Heckle and Jeckle, Gandy Goose and Dinky Duck. The half-hour series premiered on premiered on Wednesday, June 13th, running from 7:30-8PM. It was off the air in less than four months.
On Sunday, December 16th, 1956, CBS premiered The Gerald McBoing-Boing Show (also called The Boing-Boing Show. It aired from 5:30-6PM, however, which was outside of prime time, and was gone by April of 1957. Repeats were shown on Fridays from May 30th to October 3rd, 1958 and these broadcasts were aired during prime time from 7:30-8PM. Then, in September of 1960, came The Flintstones, which would ultimately run for six seasons. It was a sitcom in animated form, complete half-hour stories with a laugh track, and its success led to a brief burst of prime time animated series: Top Cat (ABC, 1961-1962), The Alvin Show (CBS, 1961-1962), The Bullwinkle Show (NBC, 1961-1962), Calvin and the Colonel (ABC, 1961-1962), The Jetsons (ABC, 1962-1963), Jonny Quest (ABC, 1964-1965) and The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo (NBC, 1964-1965), and others. The Flintstones wasn’t the only prime time animated series to debut in the fall of 1960; The Bugs Bunny Show premiered on Tuesday, October 11th, 1960 on ABC, running from 7:30-8PM on Tuesdays and ran until 1962.
Not all of these shows were, like The Flinstones, full-length animated series. Each episode of The Alvin Show, for example, included an Alvin and the Chipmunks segment, two musical segments and a Clyde Crashcup segment. The Bullwinkle Show featured Rocky & Bullwinkle segments as well as Dudley Do-Right segments, Peabody’s Improbable History segments and others, although not every episode had each segment. So do all of these programs count as prime time animated series? Or are some of them “cartoon shows,” for lack of a better term, in which multiple segments of various cartoons were aired?
When The Flintstones went off the air in 1966, it would be several years before another prime time animated series was given a shot. I personally don’t consider NBC’s The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which aired during the 1968-1969 season, to be a prime time animated series because it was a live-action/animated hybrid. The characters were live actors and the backgrounds were animated. Where’s Huddles? was an animated sitcom (very) similar to The Flintstones and it ran during the summer of 1970.
Wait Till Your Father Gets Home aired in prime time from 1972 to 1974, but it was syndicated so it doesn’t count as a network show, but it was another animated sitcom. Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. pointed out that The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show aired in prime time briefly during the summer of 1976 on CBS. If these were repeats of Saturday morning cartoons I’m not sure it counts either. And Barry I. Grauman brought up Jokebook, which premiered on Friday, April 23rd, 1982 on NBC and ran for just four weeks. Like CBS Cartoon Theater, it was a collection of cartoon shorts.
Defining a prime time animated series as a program that was basically an animated sitcom — I’m not aware of any animated dramas — would exclude shows like The Alvin Show and The Bullwinkle Show. Is there a good reason for making the definition so strict? Not really. Even if The Flintstones wasn’t exactly the first prime time animated series it was the first to prove popular with viewers.
What are your thoughts on defining a prime time animated series? Is there anyone who feels strongly about The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?