The Flintstones was a Jurassic-sized risk
In our current geologic period, The Flintstones is rightly upheld as one of the most important animated series of all time. Its place in history has long been cemented. It was, after all, the first animated series to be nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series. The show spun off an additional seven animated programs, two live-action feature films and featured as a themed land in the Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi theme park. Clearly, The Flintstones had a wide-ranging influence that is still felt today.
But that status as a cartoon institution hasn't forever been the case for The Flintstones. As hard to believe as this may be, the show wasn't always a sure thing. There was a time when The Flintstones seemed like a massive gamble (no, we don't mean at the slot machines in Viva Rock Vegas). It may seem like ancient history, but that modern stone-age family was a real risk for Hanna-Barbera productions in the not-too-distant past.
By 1960, the team of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera was already wildly successful. The madcap misadventures of their Tom & Jerry cartoons earned the pair a total of seven Academy Awards in the decade between 1943 and 1953. When producer Fred Quimby retired as head of MGM animation studios, Hanna and Barbera fit the opening naturally until the studio was closed in mid-1957. Undeterred, the duo founded H-B Enterprises, continuing their string of successes with Ruff & Reddy and The Huckleberry Hound Show.
However, it wasn't until H-B Enterprises re-incorporated as Hanna Barbera Productions that the team would see its biggest wins to date. In 1960, Joe Barbera flew to New York to pitch a half-hour animated family sitcom. Typically, when a studio readies a new show for network sale, the studio produces a first episode or "pilot." Because of the inherent costs of producing such a pilot, and the potential for that pilot to flop, Barbera was instead armed with only a few sketches and an uncanny ability to act out the traits and personalities of the show's characters.
That show became The Flintstones, but only after the careful consideration of network executives at ABC-TV. A 1960 article in The State described the decision as involving "many people and organizations, not only the network but the sponsors and their advertising agencies for whom such a move means a gamble of hundreds of thousands of dollars."
ABC took a risk and aired the program in an enviable evening broadcasting. But what about the show made it ready for primetime? The key was a careful counterbalancing of cost and quality. Barbera explained it this way: "You have to know when to cut and when not to cut. It's that simple. Some people think they can save money and still come up with something good by taking cutouts and moving them around like a fixed background. Limited animation like that is a mistake.
So, despite the risk, did Hanna-Barbera produce a show that stood the test of time? Yes, they Yabba-Dabba-did.