Would Anyone Watch A Cartoon In Prime Time? Ask Fred Flintstone 

By | September 25, 2017

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Wilma and Fred Flintstone. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)

When it premiered in September 1960, The Flintstones was the first animated prime-time TV series. With The Simpsons, Family Guy, South Park and others, we're all familiar with seeing cartoons in the evening, but those shows all owe Fred and Wilma Flintstone thanks for paving the way. Though it was unprecedented as the first animated prime-time sitcom, The Flintstones was also very familiar: ABC's caveman couples were quite obviously modeled on characters from a revered CBS show, The Honeymooners.

The cartoon about a modern stone-age family was one of many created by the team of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, and was almost called "The Flagstones."

Joseph Barbera pitched this show for 8 weeks, and at the last minute ABC decided to take a chance on the prehistoric animated sitcom. In its original configuration, Fred and Wilma had a son, which would have made for more family-oriented plotlines, but the creators decided to stick with a familiar premise of the two neighboring couples who were all best friends. It had worked well for Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph.

Jackie Gleason Considered Suing

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Fred, voiced by Alan Reed, had a Jackie Gleason-esque quality along with Mel Blanc’s voice work as Barney Rubble, which grew more similar to Art Carney’s Ed Norton character through the years.  

It's said that Gleason considered suing ABC over its blatant rip-off, and consulted lawyers who granted that he might win such a lawsuit but at a cost. By then, The Flintstones was a huge hit with kids and parents who watched the show together -- Gleason would be seen as "the guy who yanked Fred Flintstone off the air." He decided against suing.

The Flintstones was never a critical success -- its plots were predictable (here's the part where Fred yells "Wilma!") and the animation was clearly done on the cheap. But audiences watched -- and watched, and watched, and watched. The Flintstones went off the air in 1966, and has been in syndication for over 50 years. With the proliferation of cartoon-focused cable networks and streaming services, it's hard to imagine a time when The Flintstones will ever cease to be watched.