Prime Time Animation
On today’s show we discuss Primetime Animation! You may recognize some of these adult targeted cartoons but did you know that one hold a Guinness book of world’s record title? Our own, sketch comedians Imran and Phil are back live on the drawing boards.
At the top of the hour we mentioned Primetime Animation
The Flintstones was the first, and the longest running, animated situation comedy shown in prime-time television. Premiering on ABC on 30 September 1960, it gained high ratings in its first season, establishing animation as a viable prime time format. Produced by Hanna-Barbera (Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera), The Flintstones was patterned after Jackie Gleason’s The Honeymooners. Originally designed as a program for the entire family.
The Jetson’s as a Live Action Film?
In case you were too young to have known about “The Jetsons”, it was a Hanna-Barbera cartoon series from the early-’60s which took place in the future when everybody thought we would live in buildings high above the sky and would drive flying cars — AKA what everyone considered 2001 was going to be. (We have computers in our hands now that we can make phones calls with, so maybe they got something right.) The Jetsons are also a family, with father George, mother Jane, daughter Judy, and son Elroy. Warner Bros. has decided to bring back “The Jetsons” for the new generation that Hanna-Barbera thought would be living in this future, in the form of an animated feature film.
If this sounds oddly familiar to you, it would be because Warner Bros. had spoke about transforming this film into a live-action feature way back in the far off past of 2012. Somewhere along the lines, WB decided that live-action wasn’t the right market and decided to bring The Jetsons back to their animated roots. The switch could be because WB has realized that cartoons are where it’s at. I mean, I won’t lie, I marathon “Adventure Time” and everything I can find for free on the YouTube channel Cartoon Hangover, like “Bravest Warriors” and “Bee and Puppycat” (trust me, just check them out). Even Seth Rogen is taking his stab at a cartoon feature film with the adult-oriented film Sausage Party, due out in June 2016.
WB has commissioned screenwriter Matt Lieberman to write it, while he is also writing the Short Circuit reboot, he sounds like the man for the job.
From Bedrock to Springfield
As anyone who has ever animated will tell you: cartoons are not merely kid’s stuff. The process of animating is tedious beyond tedium. We take it for granted now that animated features frequently play in major theaters, but Disney was the laughing stock of Hollywood during the three years that his production company spent developing Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs. After the film came out, and it was Disney who enjoyed the last laugh.
But when it came to animating for television, production companies couldn’t take three years to get a project going. Television demanded a different production model, one that favored expedience, and placed more emphasis on the writing and repartee between characters than it did on the sleekness of the animation itself.
One of the true pioneers of limited animation television programming was producer Jay Ward. Ward, and animator Alex Anderson, pioneered methods of “limited animation.” To briefly explain what this means: traditional animation (such as the classic Disney shorts) would be animated at 24 frames a second. In some instances, this would mean that a second of footage was comprised of 24 unique images. With limited animation, there are about half as many drawings, and there are several other technical shortcuts employed. For example, letting the dialogue drives the narrative. One of the first limited animation programs that Jay Ward sold was called Crusader Rabbit, and it aired on various NBC affiliates from 1948 to 1951. The show was crucial in establishing the foundation of TV animation
Rocky & Bullwinkle
- Ward and Anderson broke new ground with the program The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, which aired from 1959 to 1961 on ABC, and 1961 to 1964 on NBC. Writer Bill Scott was recruited to assist with scripts, and the program became a smash success. The program was structured like a variety TV show, with disparate narratives strung together with animated interstitials such as “Fractured Fairy Tales” segments which parodied Grimm fairy tales, or the Mr. Peabody segments, which featured a precocious pooch who traveled through time and rewrote history. The dialogue was sharply written, and, unlike Crusader Rabbit, the program has aged quite well. Although it was aimed primarily at a young audience, topical jokes and allusions made the show appealing to adults.
- The real trendsetter, however, was the first prime-time animated program aimed at kids and adults: The Flintstones, which ran from 1960 to 1966 on ABC. The program was the brainchild of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, who essentially took the central characters from the classic sitcom The Honeymooners, and placed them in prehistoric times. The show is remembered for its primitive answers to (what were at the time) contemporary technologies, with small critters or dinosaurs typically serving as everyday appliances. They were, as the title song says, a “modern stone-age family.” For all its cutesy characteristics, the show didn’t shy away from heavier themes. One episode dealt with infertility issues (Betty Rubble is distressed that she can’t conceive, and the Rubbles ultimately adopt Bam-Bam)
- The Simpsons family, of course, started out as an animated segment on the “The Tracey Ullman Show.” The popularity of the animated segments soon eclipsed the popularity of the rest of the show, and the series premiere was the “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” Christmas special which first aired in 1989. It seemed like an advantageous premiere date, in that there were precedents set for prime-time animated programs broadcast during the holiday seasons
- And now with the show entering into its 26th season, just shortly after an FXX 12 Day marathon underway (so popular that Directv offered subscribers a free trial during the marathon), The Simpsons is now just part of a market that has become, in recent years, over-saturated with shows that lack nuance, and favor over-the-top crudeness in their site gags. Some producers have managed to follow suit of The Simpsons, including the phenomenally talented Mike Judge, and the talented team of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, while others have been critical of Seth MacFarlane for a reliance on tired formulas and conceptually under-cooked narratives.
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