Defining a Prime Time Animated Series

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 known as The Boing-Boing Show). It aired from 5:30-6PM, however, which was outside of prime time, and was gone by April 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 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?

6 Replies to “Defining a Prime Time Animated Series”

  1. There is also ‘Charlie Brown’, which has run as a “floating” series of half-hour episodes (numbering roughly 50) that have been a mainstay on CBS and ABC since 1965, usually as a plug-in for their sitcom blocks around holidays and Sweep periods.

  2. There was yet another prime-time cartoon series- a second weekly edition of “MATTY’S FUNDAY FUNNIES”, the Sunday afternoon ABC cartoon show {5-5:30pm(et)} featuring “Harveytoons” [Paramount’s 1950-’59 theatrical cartoons, under a new owner/distributor], tied togther by “Matty Mattel” & “Sisterbelle” in new “transition” segments; Mattel was successful enough selling its toy inventory in the first season (1959-’60) to sponsor a prime-time version on Friday nights in the fall of 1960 [7:30-8pm]. In the fall of ’61, the original Sunday edition was discontinued, and the Friday night show moved to early Saturday evenings at 7pm; that, in turn, was replaced by a new “MATTY’S FUNNIES WITH BEANY AND CECIL” in January 1962. After Mattel dropped their sponsorship by June, it became “BEANY AND CECIL”, until it was cancelled at the end of the season. Repeats turned up on the network’s Saturday morning schedule in the fall of ’63, then to Sundays in early ’65, finally going into syndication in the fall of ’65, as “THE ALVIN SHOW” did at the same time (after appearing on CBS’ Satuday morning lineup when it left prime-time in 1962).

    “THE BUGS BUNNY SHOW” (1960-62) featured new animated segments linking “classic” Warner Bros. cartoons [post-1948 through ’59], in an ongoing storyline each week {i.e. Friz Freleng’s “Rocky” and “Mugsy” forcibly take over the show; Bugs gives us a “behind-the-scenes” look at the animation process, et. al.}.

    There was a “Peanuts” mini-series of eight half-hour episodes on CBS during the 1988-’89 season: “THIS IS AMERICA, CHARLIE BROWN”, an attempt to integrate Charlie Brown and the gang with “historical events”. The first four episodes were presented on Fridays at 8pm(et) from October 21 through November 11th; the original idea was to “sprinkle” the series throughout the season, but the 1988 Writer’s Guild strike forced the networks to fill their schedules with “alternate programming”…and CBS decided to delay the second season return of “BEAUTY AND THE BEAST” by present the first four episodes of “CHARLIE BROWN” instead. The remaining four were presented monthly from February through May of 1989. Then after the unexpected success of Fox’s ‘THE SIMPSONS” in early 1990, CBS decided to schedule their own prime-time cartoon {shades of 1961!} by repeating all eight episodes on a weekly basis that summer…it cost them nothing, and it did nothing for them as far as ratings were concerned.

    They tried again in 1991 with “TOON NIGHT”, a brief weekly anthology of various animated specials they’d already intended to be “specials” (including two syndicated episodes of “THE BULLWINKLE SHOW”)….then the network finally aired an original prime-time cartoon in 1992, Hanna-Barbera’s “FISH POLICE” (based on a cult comic book of the same name); that lasted THREE EPISODES. After their unsuccessful attempt at another first-run animated half-hour, “FAMILY DOG”, in 1993, CBS never presented another weekly prime-time cartoon series again.

  3. Barry I. Grauman Says:
    July 13th, 2010 at 7:31PM
    After their unsuccessful attempt at another first-run animated half-hour, “FAMILY DOG”, in 1993, CBS never presented another weekly prime-time cartoon series again.

    CBS did present three episodes of ‘Creature Comforts’ in the 2007 summer season of before pulling it (I think it was an eight-episode pick-up).

  4. I don’t feel strong enough about The New Adventures of Huck Finn to the point where I’d be banging my shoe on the table, but I’d consider it an animated cartoon series. The fact that three of the principals are live-action actors, to my way of thinking, doesn’t detract from the fact that Hanna-Barbera clearly intended the show to be another milestone in the prime-time cartoon derby. The live-action stuff was mostly a novelty that was influenced by the success of their Jack and the Beanstalk special with Gene Kelly.

    Keep in mind, however, that if somebody disagrees with me…it doesn’t really matter in the long run. As I stated earlier, purists would probably argue that it’s not a true animated show and I certainly don’t intend to infer that they’re wrong and I’m right or I’m wrong and they’re right. I just think the discussion is fun.

  5. At the time that CBS aired ‘Fish Police’, Marvel Comics reprinted the first six issues of the original black-and-white series in color to coincide with the show!


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