Friday, October 7, 2022

In 1962, having "Jet" in a name still felt futuristic

Andrew Gelman recently did a post on Saturday Morning cartoons of yesteryear, so you know there had to be something that would set off my inner-nerd. In this case:

It’s been often noted that The Jetsons have had an outsized influence on popular memory given that it was only on the air for one season (later forgettable reboots notwithstanding).

The Jetsons didn't just run for one season. It ran for decades. It was just that all those years consisted of the same 24 episodes over and over again, part of the Saturday morning lineup of all three networks. This was very much par for the course for Hanna-Barbera. You see the same thing with shows like Johnny Quest or Space Ghost. The studio was notorious for cost cutting and for squeezing every last drop out of a piece of intellectual property. Since the audience for Saturday morning cartoons was constantly cycling through, it made sense to just keep rerunning the same episodes of popular shows until the ratings started to fall.

When people talk about the Jetsons having one season, they are talking about its original prime time run. ABC in the 50s and 60s was more or less in the same position as Fox in the '90s, a perennial last place and a bit of a joke. This was partially due to the network's origin. It was carved off from NBC as the result of an antitrust action from the government against NBC. Like Fox, ABC tried a lot of out of the box programming including prime time animation. They had a moderate hit with The Flintstones which ran for a number of years. The Jetsons was an attempt to cash in on what they hoped would be a trend.(Jonny Quest also had its initial run in prime time on ABC.) By the late Sixties, no one in the target audience had any idea that any of these shows had ever been anything but Saturday morning cartoons.

In addition to being inspired by The Flintstones which was itself a rip-off of The Honeymooners, The Jetsons lifted most of their premise and many of their gags from the still well remembered at the time movie series Blondie, even going so far as to cast the same lead actress.

Lifting characters and premises from other people's intellectual property was a bit of a Hanna-Barbera specialty. Well it was common practice for cartoon Studios to toss in celebrity caricatures and other references / homages,( see Andrew Gelman's class Foghorn Leghorn) HB took things to an extreme, seldom producing anything that wasn't at least partially lifted from familiar pop culture. For example, Scooby-Doo was a mashup of the Bob Denver character from Dobie Gillis and the fake haunted house genre. (Shaggy is also class Foghorn Leghorn).

And speaking of Hanna-Barbera, did you ever notice how many of their early characters had collars and ties but no shirts (or pants for that matter)? Turns out it comes down to economics.

Unlike the Jetsons, the Banana Splits (another show mentioned by Andrew) pretty much vanished after its initial run, despite being, for HB, a relatively high budget show. (Even for eight-year-olds, some things don't age well.) The legendary Al Kooper contributed a song and check out the writing (but unfortunately not singing) credit on "Doin' the Banana Split."

To give you some idea how little value this Banana Splits IP has. This was the last attempt at a reboot.

On the other hand, a mash-up of Freaky Friday and Friday the 13th sounded like a terrible idea and that actually turned out pretty damned good.

Andrew harshly disparaged Liz Phair's cover of the Banana Splits theme. I thought it was the best track on the album (though I'm not going to defend the lyrics). You be the judge.


  1. +1 to the Liz Phair cover comment. I commented the same thing on Andrew’s blog. But then I love the fuzz, like Jesus and Mary Chain or more recently the Raveonettes.

    And thanks for the collar link.

    - Bob Carpenter

    P.S. I couldn’t get non-anon commentto work.

    1. Blogspot is getting worse. Sometimes I can't get the non-anon comments to work either.

  2. Only vaguely related, there were some number of "twist" take offs back in the day. (I assume that Chubby Checker was the first, but haven't looked it up.) As someone often thought to be a space cadet, my favorite is "Spaceman Twist". Although I have no idea why it's called that; it's just a generic uptempo bebop blues. Go figure.

    Also only vaguely related, I don't get it why anyone finds Disney even the slightest bit amusing, let alone why it's an enormous thing, especially over here in Japan, where pretty much all you see is Disney this and Disney that, it seems. So I was real pleased to see a young woman wearing a Betty Boop T-shirt the other day.