Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Are The Flintstones Finished?

Do you remember The Flintstones? I do. I wonder how many others do. Sadly, I suspect The Flintstones have crossed over into the land of no return and are fading away to oblivion. I find that shocking actually.

When I was a kid, there were certain cartoons that everyone knew because they were constantly on television: Popeye, Tom & Jerry, Mighty Mouse, Scooby Doo, Looney Toons, Yogi, and The Flintstones. Of that group, The Flintstones seemed like the powerhouse. They were on every day, often on multiple channels at multiple times. And they ran with a sophisticated crowd that had survived the ages: Lucy, Star Trek, and their inspiration The Honeymooners. They seemed like a cultural icon.

In fact, if you had asked me to pick one of those properties to still be on television 1,000 years from now, I would have had little hesitation in picking The Flintstones.

But something has gone wrong.

I first noticed maybe ten years ago that despite a revival in cartoons, led mainly by aging Baby Boomers looking to relive their childhoods (hence the Boomerang network), The Flintstones had becomes surprisingly scarce. They weren’t in syndication anymore, or at least nowhere I could find them. They weren’t on in the afternoons. They weren’t even on the Cartoon Network.

As I understand it, they put The Flintstones on DVD around that time and yanked them from the air to try to sell them. The end result seems to have been that they proved the old adage of out of sight, out of mind. These days, you can’t find them hardly anywhere and I am hard-pressed to find any kids under the age of about 12 who really know them. Young kids had no idea who they were.

And it’s not like these kids only know new things. They know the classic Warner Brothers characters, they know Mickey Mouse even though he hasn’t acted in anything in decades, they know Scooby, they know Garfield, and they know Charlie Brown. In effect, they know the things that are marketed regularly or which still appear on television regularly.

Ultimately, I’m not sure if this is a shock or not. There is this perception that certain “old” things are part of the national consciousness because they obtained some level of quality that eluded others in their category, which level of quality means that they transcend generational changes. Thus, we believe that because the Looney Toons were of a higher order than Josey and the Pussy Cats, the Looney Toons have somehow earned a right to survive forever. But that doesn’t appear to be true. It seems more likely that what will give you longevity is giving the audience a constant refresher.

What do you think? Are some films and books so good they’re just part of our culture automatically or do they only stay in our culture so long as they get refreshed every so often?

42 comments:

Kit said...

"As I understand it, they put The Flintstones on DVD around that time and yanked them from the air to try to sell them."

Idiots.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, It I'm right, then that was definitely a mistake. Apparently, icon status requires constant refreshers. How are you Millennials with The Flintstones?

Gideon7 said...

It does not help that the Flintstones appears to be unavailable for streaming at Netflix or Hulu.

I wonder if there is a rights problem.

AndrewPrice said...

Gideon, That's a possibility too. What I had read some time ago was that they withdrew them to put them on DVD. That was the last time I really saw them on television. It's possible that there is a rights issue as well. In any event, I really don't see them these days and I think they are slowly getting lost to memory. I find that interesting because 20 years ago I would have said that was impossible

Rob S. Rice said...

The stereotypes are also an issue, perhaps, the death of a thousand cuts we saw the Warner Brothers Cartoons dying on Saturday morning television. Neither Wilma nor Betty worked, outside the home, that is, Fred was paternalistic, Barney subservient, images that perhaps frighten away the modern presenters.

I shall seek to amuse you all with an anecdote. During my years at the University of Pennsylvania, a rather loud group of students unseen in the darkness drew the angry attention of a fellow dorm resident, a student of Israeli origin. He shouted, 'Be quiet, you Water Buffaloes!' which is in fact a Hebrew mild rebuke, having something to do with Behemoth, Ba'hamut, etc. He found himself the target of a racism complaint due to the fact the noisy girls were African-American and a particularly benighted University administrator noted that 'Water buffaloes are dark-skinned creatures of African origin.' They are not, of course.

My own opinion on the matter was that the girls should have been even more upset, as the student, by calling them 'Water Buffaloes,' was obviously making a reference to the Flintstones' 'Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes,' and was therefore calling them the very worst possible epithet--Dead, White, European Males.

I tended to move stealthily at Penn.

AndrewPrice said...

Rob, I remember the incident! It made national news. Also, my sister was at Penn at the time. How very typical of people to see racism where none was intended.

You could be right that the Flintstones don't really fit the tastes of modern audiences and that is making them disappear. That's another possibility. I know that a lot of the shows I watched growing up couldn't be done today for that same reason. And others have changed to fit modern tastes. Scooby Doo has particularly gone through a tortured feminist history to get to where it is today.

Anthony said...

The Flintstones comes on Boomerang at least twice a day. My kids and I DVR a lot of shows on Cartoon Network (my daughters like Looney Toons and Tomb and Jerry, but don't share my appetite for old school Johnny Quest or Captain Planet, the funniest show ever) and we see the ending of Flintstones episodes (where Fred put out the cat/sabre tooth tiger, then the cat jumps in through the window and puts him out) all the time.

I think the fact that the Flintstones was once popular is much more hard to explain than the fact it isn't popular now. Honestly, after your 'How Cartoons are Judged' essay criticized modern cartoons for telling live action stories rather than going over the top, I'm kind of surprised you like The Flintstones. I'm 38 and back when I was a kid I thought The Flintstones was boring. Like The Jetsons, The Flintstones was a show whose exotic setting was just kind of a cover for boring plotlines and characters. 'Oh no! Tomorrow's the night of the big game, but Fred promises Wilma he'd go to the opera! Hilarious hijinks ensue, complete with laugh track!'.

On a related note, I believe that what killed The Flintstones was The Simpsons, which was an animated sitcom done right (its first several seasons anyway) which could go more crazy/cartoony than the Flintstones ever did (sorry Great Gazoo) did but also had stronger characters, better storylines, and a better supporting cast.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

As a millennial, I grew up watching The Flintstones reruns on (I assume) Nickelodeon, along with The Jetsons.

Don't grieve for them - grieve for the countless other Hanna-Barbara shows that kids today have never heard of.

(Even I had to look up Penelope Pitstop when they announced the DVD set, having never heard the title before, let alone others like Captain Caveman or the Hair Bear Bunch.)

P.S. It's possible that more people remember The Jetsons because of the future that it portrayed. A blog called Paleofuture which covers retrofuturism (the future as seen from the past) recently did an extensive tribute to the show for its 50th anniversary.

Kit said...

Andrew,

Same as Scott, I watched it a lot as kids. It, The Jetsons, and Scooby-Doo were all fans of us growing up.\

KRS said...

If it's not presented, it dies. Living memory is more controlling than written, or scripted, memory. I think from this perspective, a society is only as old as its eldest member. So, yeah, anything can drop off the face of the earth in the span of less than a generation.

But, if it was good once, it stays good, I believe. For example, when my girls were in early elementary, I bought a $5 DVD of a few "I Love Lucy Shows" and they were immediately enthralled. I wound up buying most of the seasons as gifts. A decade later, with their tastes shifted to egregious fare like "Baby Daddy" and "How I met your Mother," they still pop out Lucy from time to time.

I think anything good always will have the opportunity for resurrection.

tryanmax said...

In a world where Ralph Kramden's "Bang! Zoom!" is criticized in utter sincerity for making light of domestic violence, I don't think the Flintstones stand much of a chance.

Certainly, a refresher is useful to keep a thing in the public consciousness. That doesn't necessarily mean a thing can't be rediscovered after it has slipped away--provided it's good enough to capture the imagination a second time. I can't say whether The Flintstones are of that quality, but they could be. Despite all but disappearing from syndication, TV Guide just this year ranked The Flintstones right behind The Simpsons as the greatest TV cartoon of all time. But then, who still reads TV Guide?

Jason said...

Looking back, The Flintstones almost always had new product coming out, apart from the original series, in the form of specials or spin-off shows. Just four years after the original series ended, you had the “The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show.” That was followed by “The Flintstone Comedy Hour,” and so on. That probably did a lot to keep The Flintstones in the public consciousness. The 1980s-early 1990s seem to have been the peak, when you had the 1986-1987 series “The Flintstone Kids” (following the lead of the Muppet Babies) the 1987 special “The Jetsons Meet the Flintstones” and of course, Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment-produced live action 1994 film.

Then…the Flintstones just seemed to fade away.

The last new special to be created (aside from Flintstones on the Rocks in 2000) was A Flintstones Christmas Carol in 1994. Then, that was pretty much it. Perhaps the Flinstones-mania finally burned out. Also, Hanna-Barbera had been bought by Turner, and their operations were moving to the Turner-owned Cartoon Network, and in 1998 the Hanna Barbara lot pretty much closed out when Time Warner acquired Turner and its properties, HB included. And then of course, we can’t discount the rising popularity of Scooby-Doo. In the late 90s, you began to see a lot of new Scooby-Doo specials pop up on tv and video.

Re: The Flintstones being pulled from syndication. Actually, the syndicated market for old cartoon reruns is pretty much dead, and around 2000 was about when its death throes were taking place. It used to be from the 70s through the 80s you could find Looney Tunes, Yogi Bear (and his Hanna-Barbara pals like Huckleberry Hound, Top Cat, etc), Tom and Jerry, the Jetsons, and of course the Flintstones on your local UHF station. Today you’ll find Family Guy, The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Futurama, maybe South Park, but that’s about it. Any cartoon that’s “for kids” or for the family audience is pretty much gone.

Does The Flintstones still have a future? If a revival is done right, sure. I think its stock has fallen because more people see it as just an ordinary sitcom dressed up in prehistoric settings with the word “rock” being sprinkled about in place of ordinary words as an overused pun. But it has name recognition and it was proven to be a success in the past, and if there’s anything Hollywood knows how to do, it’s to pick previous glories dry and then some in the hopes of squeezing out some extra bucks. (We even ended up with a “Josie and the Pussycats” movie!)

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, Truthfully, I'm not a big fan of "The Flintstones." I watched them, but they were more like an institution than something I really looked forward to. They were iconic, like "Lucy" -- which I don't actually enjoy, but I respect.

That said, let me point out that they did keep a good deal of cartoon physics even though they were more realistic. Fred saw stars when he got hit on the head, he bounced off the ground after falls from great distances, he survived things that should have killed him. It wasn't as all out as something like "Looney Tunes," but it was still in the world of cartoons -- you knew you couldn't kill Fred no matter what you did to him.

"The Simpsons" definitely is the modern "Flintstones" and maybe they did steal some of the thunder. That's another possibility for their apparent decline in popularity. Although, most classics seem to be able to withstand remakes and copycats.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I do grieve for the other HB cartoons (and others) that have vanished. I'm happy that Boomerang shows some of them sometimes, but not enough. When I grew up, the variety was really high: the Flintstones, the Jetsons, Scooby, Jabberjaw, Josie and the Pussycats, Yogi and Friends, Underdog, Captain Caveman, Superfriends (and those twins), Spaceghost. And then a few years later you had Thundar the Barbarian, He-Man, Smurfs, Transformers, etc. Good times.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, Glad to hear it. :) I wonder what kids are watching today though? I hear a lot of things like "Dog With a Blog" which sounds like slit-my-wrists television to me.

AndrewPrice said...

KRS, I think that's true. It's interesting to see even in my own family how each generation only takes part of the things the prior generation liked to move forward unless they were exposed themselves. Thus, the lesson is that if you want to live forever, you need to keep putting yourself before people generation after generation.

I'm actually seeing a cultural shift right now where much of the 1940s and 1950s material that was already leaving when I was young is now gone and the 1960s material seems to be fading fast compared to its prominence even ten years ago. I suspect that once the Boomers are gone, our culture will probably only extend from the 1980s to the present.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I can't imagine very many people read TV Guide. I also wonder what criteria the people who made that choice are using. Are they simply talking cartoon history or is this a sampling from the public?

I think you're right that things can be rediscovered, but that's definitely a harder road than staying popular.

True that something like "The Flintstones" might not fit modern sensibilities anymore. That's always the other problem with things that want to stay in the culture.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

I suspect that once the Boomers are gone, our culture will probably only extend from the 1980s to the present.

Which doesn't say much about the future of things like film restoration. I shudder when I think about the shortsightedness of the film/TV/music industry and our ever-shortening attention spans.

Anonymous said...

Did you ever notice that Barney has no pupils? That always freaked me out. :)
GypsyTyger

AndrewPrice said...

Jason, Excellent comment and well said! I concur.

"The Flintstones" did keep themselves in the public eye for years, but that seems to have stopped. "Scooby Doo," by comparison, continues to pump out movies and attempts at new television shows. So maybe that is the lesson -- out of sight, out of mind. As an aside, the new Scooby movies are actually really good.

It is interesting that you don't see a lot of "for kids" shows on regular television anymore. They seem to be relegated to Nick, Disney and the Cartoon Network. And yeah, that seems to have pushed away a lot of well-know properties from the public eye. I would be really curious to see what modern kids are watching. The few things I've heard tend to be Disney or Nick shows that are live action but aimed at kids.

Agreed about a revival, that's always possible and Hollywood is big on that.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I think film restoration is a different animal than what the public watches.

AndrewPrice said...

GypsyTyger, I never noticed that! LOL!

tryanmax said...

I think Scott is treading into copyright territory. Duke Law has an interesting web page that discusses the implications of our incredibly long copyright terms: LINK

5minutes said...

A while back, I remember that Seth MacFarlane was going to try to restart the series, but apparently, it was put on haitus as he's busy with a zillion other things. MacFarlane, tho, I thought was an inspired choice. Like or hate Family Guy, he's got a great feel for the early H-B cartoons like the Flintstones and the Jetsons, and if his vulgarity and political commentary could be kept in check, I felt he could have done a really good job reinvigorating the series.

djskit said...

I was just noticing that the still sell and advertise "Flintstone Chewable" multi-vitims for kids. And I was thinking, these kids have no idea who they are. Their parents are in their 30's and never saw them 1st run. You know its over when you stop seeing those.

tryanmax said...

djskit, Fred and Barney still hock for Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles, last I checked.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

I realize film restoration is a different beast, which is why I mentioned our attention spans. In a world where kids consider the original Star Wars old-fashioned, what hope is there for countless pre-80s movies that might rot away in a vault without intervention by someone who cares?

AndrewPrice said...

5Minutes, It would be interesting. I wonder if he would manage to keep it for kids, or if his plan would have been to make it for adults?

AndrewPrice said...

djskit, Interesting, isn't it? If you reach icon status, then you can sell products without people actually seeing your original work.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, As an aside, I have recently acquired a box of Frankenberry and Booberry and I am less than thrilled. I know these were better 30 years ago when these things filled the aisles of grocery stores everywhere. At least Captain Crunch remains consistent.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That's the thing though, it's individuals who do these things, not society. If you asked society, they never would have bothered restoring half of what's been restored. But the people who make those decisions are the ones who have a particular love for those properties.

tryanmax said...

Andrew, indeed. They are really bland now, like they took out most of the sweet, sweet artificial flavoring. I think there are less marshmallows, too.

They also brought back Fruity Yummy Mummy as an orange flavored cereal, which was better than the rest, but I know that's not what it used to be. I think it was just mixed fruit before.

AndrewPrice said...

Agreed, they are super bland and there seems to be a lack of marshmallows too. Very sad. Right on Yummy Mummy: it's an orange cereal, but I don't remember it being that before. I thought that was always the "fruit" cereal (like Fruity Pebbles or Fruitloops). In addition, there's a wolfman cereal that I don't remember at all, and that's the fruit cereal.

AndrewPrice said...

From the Wikipedia:

In October 1971, the first two cereals in the line were introduced, Count Chocula (originally called "Dr. Count Chocula") and the strawberry-flavored Franken Berry. In February 1972, Franken Berry cereal included dye that turned some children's feces pink due to an inability to break down the heavily-dyed breakfast food, a symptom sometimes referred to as "Frankenberry Stool." Boo Berry, reputedly the first blueberry-flavored cereal, was released in 1973, and Fruit Brute the following year. Fruit Brute was discontinued by 1984 and replaced in 1987 by Fruity Yummy Mummy, which also had a short life as it was discontinued in 1993.

There are other cites which say they changed the formula dramatically for re-release.

Rustbelt said...

Just to get my two cents in before calling it a day...

I sympathize with Scott over the other HB cartoons that have been forgotten. Sure, the animation wasn't always top notch, and the characters could be flat. But...there's just something about the sense of adventure and fun that William Hanna and Joseph Barbara could put into them.
'The Flintstones' and 'The Jetsons' were OK, but I was always more into '80's action cartoons the most.
But, actually, I believe Fred Flintstone's last TV appearance occurred in 2002 on Adult Swim- in an episode of "Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law," in "The Dabba Don." Ever wonder how Fred Flintstone, a man who worked in construction, was able to keep Wilma in pearls?
This show, I should add, also featured cases including Race Bannon suing Dr. Quest for custody of Johnny and Hadji; Shaggy and Scooby busted for marijuana possession; Boo Boo being arrested on charges that he's really a terrorist known as the 'Una-booboo;' Secret Squirrel arrested for flashing; Grape Ape being accused of steroids in the Laff-a-Lympics; and so on.

So, the HB characters have had some life in the form of recent adult parodies. ("Space Ghost: Coast to Coast," "The Brak Show," "Sealab 2021," etc.) Hm, well, let me correct myself. Those parodies have already been pushed to the side by Adult Swim in favor of anything and everything MacFarlane-esque. Too bad. They were pretty good.

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, I haven't seen "Harvey Birdman." I found Adult Swim to be hit or miss and was too often miss, so I never really watched except for Futurama.

I too lament the slow death of HB cartoons. You're right, they were cheap and often poorly drawn, but they had life in them. :)

Anonymous said...

I was never into any of the flavored cereals after the novelty wore off,but every now and then Peanut Butter Captain Crunch hits the spot just as well as it did 40 years ago. It's the little things... :)
GypsyTyger

AndrewPrice said...

GypsyTyger, It really is. I don't eat cereal normally, but sometimes something like a Captain Crunch or a Lucky Charms or a Frosted Flakes just feels oh so right. :)

Commander Max said...

I found it fascinating the Flintstones were a prime time adult show(Honeymooner's in prehistoric times). Over time they were billed as a kids show, so does that mean one day the modern fare of cartoons will be become kids shows. Considering the content of those shows, the thought is scary.

AndrewPrice said...

Max, Actually, that's probably exactly what will happen if history is any judge. That is kind of scary, but I think we've all been around long enough to see how this stuff drifts down.

Outlaw13 said...

HB cartoons were something I watched while waiting for a really good show to come on, like the Bugs Bunny/ Road Runner Hour...before they edited the cartoons to death. Although I can say my ten year old self found something rather interesting in Josie and the Pussycats.

Old school Jonny Quest rocked, as still does.

Harvey Birdman Attorney at Law was hilarious...it helped pass the time while I was in Iraq.

AndrewPrice said...

Outlaw, I love Jonny Quest! What a great show. I wish they had made more episodes.

Yeah, Josie was uh... interesting.

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