“The Flintstones” was already prehistoric by design when it premiered Sept. 30, 1960. Sixty years after its launch, primetime TV’s first animated series seems even older in some ways, surprisingly contemporary in others and still gets callbacks in today’s popular culture.
The classic TV gem (likely still in carbon form at the time), a takeoff of Jackie Gleason’s “The Honeymooners” and the longest-running primetime cartoon until overtaken by “The Simpsons,” follows Fred and Wilma Flintstone, a suburban Bedrock couple with mid-20th Century sensibilities living in 10,000 B.C.
For six seasons, Fred, who operated a Brontosaurus-powered steam shovel at Mr. Slate’s quarry, and neighbor Barney Rubble got into and out of rock-headed scrapes, as Wilma and Barney’s wife, Betty, both smarter than their husbands, rolled their eyes. Babies Pebbles Flintstone and Bamm-Bamm Rubble showed up later to this chronologically incorrect world of dinosaurs, mastodons and a mother lode of geological puns.
Fred, Pebbles, Wilma and Dino in “The Flintstones.” (Photo: HANNA-BARBERA)
More than a half-century since “The Flintstones” ended its original run on ABC, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Better Things” and “Young Sheldon” make references to Bedrock’s favorite family; Fred’s Yabba Dabba Doo remains a universally recognized exclamation; and various products still carry the Stone Age seal of approval.
So, Happy anniversary, Fred and friends! To celebrate 60 years of punny rock references (Fred played for Prinstone in a Poison Ivy League football game against Shale), here are six stone-cold cool things about “The Flintstones” (MeTV, weekdays, 6 EDT/PDT; streaming on HBO Max) :
Enjoy a theme song for the ages
“Flintstones, Meet the Flintstones/They’re a modern Stone Age family/From the town of Bedrock/They’re a page right out of history.” Come on. You know you’re humming along right now to the show’s brassy, classic theme.
The visual images are indelible, too: the quarry foreman pulling a bird air horn at the end of a shift, Fred sliding along a dinosaur’s tail to his foot-powered Flintmobile and Wilma, Pebbles, dinosaur dog Dino and the Rubbles joining him for a trip to the drive-in. During the closing credits, the family’s saber-toothed cat locks not-too-sharp Fred out of the house, leaving him banging on the door and yelling, “Wilma!”
“The Simpsons,” a superior series that has paid tribute to its predecessor, parodied the theme and visuals in one episode and The B-52s, performing as The BC-52s, covered the tune in the 1994 film, “The Flintstones.”
Perhaps surprisingly, the well-known theme didn’t debut until Season 3. During the first two years, the instrumental “Rise and Shine” opened the show, with the credits featuring sponsor Winston cigarettes, a truly obsolete image today.
Wilma masters a mammoth vacuum cleaner
And by mammoth, we mean woolly, not huge. If anthropomorphism is the application of human traits to animals or objects, “The Flintstones” variation might be called animal-thropomorphism, or critters as household appliances.
A short list includes Triceratops wheelbarrow; porcupine dish scraper; single-horned dinosaur potato peeler; tortoise ottoman; and octopus dishwasher. The put-upon laborers frequently tossed off sad-sack wisecracks: “What about my dishwater tentacles?” the octopus lamented.
Birds never got a break. They were used like mops, electric toothbrushes, can openers and record player needles. One feathered friend appeared worn down from dawn crowing duty: “I’ll be glad when real roosters develop. I’ll sleep in every morning.”
“The Flintstones” debuted in 1960 as a modern stone-age family in the town of Bedrock. The Hanna-Barbera cartoon spent six seasons on ABC with Fred and his family dealing with a dinosaur as a pet and a car driven by their own feet. (Photo: HANNA-BARBERA CARTOON INC.)
From Barney to Bugs Bunny: That’s not all, folks
Mel Blanc, who played Barney, is known as The Man of a Thousand Voices and is considered by some to be the greatest voice actor.
Blanc, who also voiced Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig, was joined by Alan Reed (Fred), Jean Vander Pyl (Wilma) and Bea Benaderet and Gerry Johnson (Betty). They were part of a golden age of behind-the-scenes voice actors that preceded today’s era of movie stars getting hired by studios that need recognizable names to promote animated films on network morning shows.
‘Flintstones’ guests are literal rock stars
“The Flintstones” offered a who’s who of ’60s Hollyrock royalty. Ann-Margret, fresh off “Bye Bye Birdie,” sang as musical alter ego Ann-Margrock and Tony Curtis appeared as movie star Stoney Curtis. Other boulder-faced names portrayed by the show’s voice cast include: Ed Sullystone (Ed Sullivan); Alvin Brickrock (Alfred Hitchcock); Gary Granite (Cary Grant); Rock Quarry (Rock Hudson); and Perry Masonry/Masonite (TV lawyer Perry Mason).
The show embraced crossovers, with Samantha Stephens (Elizabeth Montgomery) of “Bewitched,” another ABC family sitcom, moving into the neighborhood in one episode and Hanna-Barbera’s Yogi Bear making a cameo in another.
Fred Inc. gets into movies, vitamins, cereal
“The Flintstones” inspired two live-action films, 1994’s “The Flintstones” and prequel “The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas” (2000). It introduced John Cenastone (John Cena) in the 2015 animated film, “The Flintstones & WWE: Stone Age Smackdown,” and spawned numerous cartoon shows, too.
The success of the original series led to the launch of “The Jetsons,” another Hanna-Barbera cartoon set far in the future, in 1962. It lasted one season in primetime on ABC.
Rosie O’Donnell (Betty), left, Rick Moranis (Barney), John Goodman (Fred) and Elizabeth Perkins (Wilma) starred in 1994’s “The Flintstones.” (Photo: George Lange, Universal City Studios)
Children born decades after “The Flintstones” ended know the Flintstones and Rubbles as chewable vitamins, while others get their day started with a bowl of Fruity or Cocoa Pebbles. The Flintstones were featured in theme parks and roadside attractions, too.
Everything ancient is new again
The core “Flintstones” humor was anachronistic: suburban modernism in caveman clothing. Today, the 1960s milieu itself seems carbon-dated, but, in a curious way, elements of “The Flintstones” resonate, often by accident.
Fred’s foot-powered, steamroller-propelled Flintmobile would be classified as a zero-emission vehicle, perhaps a response to climate change, i.e., an impending Ice Age.
The drive-in movie, featured in the credits, is back in vogue in our socially distanced pandemic era.
With a vinyl revival, record players no longer seem obsolete, although today’s hipsters won’t find the model that features a bird’s beak needle and tortoise turntable.
Rick Moranis, who played Barney in the 1994 flick, is back on screen these days after a two-decade break.
Finally, blockheads like Fred and Barney never go out of style, which is not so good in real life but just fine in a cartoon.
Pioneering TV: ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ anniversary: 50 ways we still love the classic sitcom
‘Jeannie’ scoop: ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ 55th anniversary: Why Barbara Eden counted herself out for iconic role
Happy TV memories: ‘Girlfriends’ at 20: Stars including Tracee Ellis Ross remember the series
Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/entertainment/tv/2020/09/30/the-flintstones-became-primetime-tvs-first-animated-series-1960/3568618001/