8 Classic Cartoons That Made Their Bones in Primetime — Not Saturday Mornings

Before ‘The Simpsons’ reinvigorated adult cartoons, these show blazed the primetime trail
8 Classic Cartoons That Made Their Bones in Primetime — Not Saturday Mornings

Believe it or not, Matt Groening did not invent the primetime cartoon. While The Simpsons deserves credit for being the longest continuously-running animated sitcom ever and for leading the way for shows like Family Guy, Futurama, South Park and all of Adult Swim, when the show debuted on December 17, 1989, it was far from the first comedic cartoon to air in a weeknightly slot. 

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In the 1960s, there was a rash of primetime animated shows, primarily due to the Brontosaurus burger-sized success of The Flintstones. Unlike Saturday morning cartoons targeting children, these shows were directed at an adult or family audience. But just as these shows were born with The Flintstones, they also died with them when that series ended in 1966. For the next two decades, adult-oriented cartoons wouldn’t have much of an impact until The Simpsons came along. 

There were several of them in all, but these eight had the most significant cultural impact — presented in the order in which they debuted...

The Flintstones

Primetime Run: 1960 to 1966 on ABC

Broadcast History: Cartoons weren’t really regarded as “children’s entertainment” until the dawn of television. Shorts like Tom and Jerry and Looney Tunes were intended for a general audience and played before all kinds of films — even ones kids would have no interest in seeing. But along with TV came cartoons aimed at kids on Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons. 

After a few kid show successes, like Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound, the animation studio Hanna-Barbera wanted to get back into the business of making things adults could enjoy too. They developed The Flintstones, the first animated sitcom with full, half-hour stories, and convinced ABC to put the show on in primetime.

With a format largely reminiscent of The Honeymooners, The Flintstones was tremendously successful, with viewers quickly growing to love Fred, Wilma, Barney and Betty. It ran for six seasons, and while several adult cartoons attempted to follow suit, The Flintstones’ success would be unmatched until The Simpsons

The Bugs Bunny Show

Primetime Run: 1960 to 1962 on ABC 

Broadcast History: The Bugs Bunny Show was nothing more than recycled Looney Tunes theatrical shorts with new bits of Bugs serving as the host. As Looney Tunes was initially intended for a general audience, it seemed like a natural fit for primetime. But after two seasons, it was relegated to Saturday mornings, where it proceeded to indoctrinate eager children with all the hilariously violent imagery they could ever want.

Top Cat

Primetime Run: 1961 to 1962 on ABC

Broadcast History: With the ratings bonanza that was The Flintstones, ABC asked Hanna-Barbera for another animated sitcom, which led to Top Cat, a show about a huckster feline who lived in Manhattan and loved pulling schemes. Being based around a talking animal, Top Cat bore some resemblance to Hanna-Barbera’s children’s programming, though it featured sitcom-length plotlines as opposed to the six-minute kids’ formula. However, the blending of styles didn’t work, and Top Cat was put down after a lone season. 

The Jetsons

Primetime Run: 1962 to 1963 on ABC

Broadcast History: After having so much success in prehistory, Hanna-Barbera decided to take a whack at the complete opposite: the future. Although Top Cat had failed, ABC still wanted Hanna-Barbera to create another cartoon sitcom, and the studio proposed a companion series to The Flintstones set 100 years in the future. 

Unfortunately, The Jetsons failed to perform and was axed after a single 24-episode season. However, it would be revived in the 1980s as a kids’ cartoon with 51 new episodes produced to air along with the original run. This is when The Jetsons truly gained popularity and why there’s still an awareness of the show today (even if it never approached the vitamin-spawning success of The Flintstones).

The Alvin Show

Primetime Run: 1961 to 1962 on ABC

Broadcast History: Debuting just a week after The Jetsons, The Alvin Show was the first series based on Alvin and the Chipmunks. The novelty records featuring the trio had been a success with all ages since 1958, but the show was not and was canned after one season. 

The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo

Primetime Run: 1964 to 1965 on NBC

Broadcast History: Seeing what The Flintstones did for ABC, NBC tried to get in on the adult animation craze by giving an animated sitcom to Mr. Magoo, the nearsighted old man whose theatrical shorts had been a success in the 1950s. While the still-beloved Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol was created during this time, the floundering show only lasted a single season. 

Johnny Quest

Primetime Run: 1964 to 1965 on ABC

Broadcast History: ABC and Hanna-Barbera’s 1960s ventures in adult animation weren’t just confined to sitcoms, as they also trotted out Johnny Quest, a cartoon patterned after the adventure serials from the radio days. Though just one season was produced, it would gain a cult following in syndication. 

Wait Till Your Father Gets Home

Primetime Run: 1972 to 1974 in Syndication

Broadcast History: When The Flintstones ended in 1966, the networks’ interest in animated sitcoms died with it. However, Hanna-Barbera did find some success in the early 1970s with Wait Till Your Father Gets Home. Starring Tom Bosley — the dad from Happy DaysWait Till Your Father Gets Home was basically an animated take on All in the Family. Airing in syndication as opposed to network TV, it lasted three whole seasons, making it the only animated sitcom to make it more than one season between The Flintstones and The Simpsons.

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