Although The Flintstones was not, as is often claimed, the first prime-time animated series, it was the first to be produced exclusively for television (such earlier shows as Gerald McBoing Boing consisted largely of theatrical cartoons), the first foray into the nighttime hours by the cartoon firm of Hanna-Barbera, and the first of the studio's series aimed primarily at an adult audience -- at least at first. Clearly inspired by the live-action sitcom The Honeymooners, the weekly, half-hour The Flintstones was a spoof of contemporary suburban life set during the Stone Age.
Most of the episodes were set in the town of Bedrock, home of Fred Flintstone, who worked for Slate Construction Company operating a dinosaur-powered steam shovel. Fred lived in a comfy middle-class cave with his wife Wilma; his next door neighbor and best friend was Barney Rubble, whose wife Betty was Wilma's closest pal. Although the Flintstones and the Rubbles dwelt in prehistoric times, Fred and Barney regularly went bowling (with stone bowling balls) and could sometimes be found chowing down on bronto burgers and speculating at the dinosaur race track. Meanwhile, both Wilma and Betty held court over a houseful of such modern appliances as a sewing machine (with a pterodactyl beak as the needle), a vacuum cleaner (actually a baby elephant), and a garbage disposal (a snaggle-toothed pig). The Flintstones' house pet was a yapping dinosaur appropriately named Dino. The series' format permitted The Flintstones to offer a wide range of lampoons of current sociological developments and pop-culture fads and icons. Both Elvis Presley's Colonel Tom Parker and the Beatles' Brian Epstein were satirized (the latter as "Eppy Brianstone"); Wilma and Betty's favorite movie stars included Cary Granite and Stoney Gherkins; the "Jackie Kennelrock" look was the last word in high fashion; Fred and Barney worried that doomsday was approaching when they learned that slingshots had replaced bows and arrows as the military weapon of choice; and among the popular B.C.-era TV shows were "Hum Along With Herman" (a spoof of Sing Along With Mitch) and "Dripper" (Flipper). Debuting September 30, 1960, on ABC, The Flintstones was telecast in black-and-white during its first two seasons, though it was filmed in color from the outset. Midway through season three, Wilma gave birth to a baby daughter named Pebbles; the following year, the Rubbles adopted a foundling boy named Bamm Bamm, "the world's strongest baby." Other occasional cast members included Fred's bombastic boss Mr. Slate, Wilma's imperious mother Mrs. Slaghoople, Arnold the sarcastic newsboy (who delivered papers chiseled out on stone slates!), the creepy Gruesome Family, and the Great Gazoo, a futuristic spaceman who used Fred and Barney as "case studies" for humanity. The series' voice actors included Alan Reed as Fred Flintstone, Mel Blanc as Barney Rubble, Jean Vander Pyl as Wilma and Pebbles, Bea Benaderet and later Gerry Johnson as Betty Rubble, Don Messick as Arnold, John Stephenson as Mr. Slate, Verna Felton as Wilma's mom, and Harvey Korman as Gazoo. In addition, The Flinstones made extensive use of celebrity guest stars, usually caricatured and renamed to fit the Stone Age template. For example, Ann-Margret showed up as Ann-Margrock, while Tony Curtis emerged as Stoney Curtis. Remaining on ABC's nighttime schedule until September 2, 1966, The Flintstones ran for 166 episodes, a record for prime-time animation that would remain unbroken until The Simpsons in the 1990s. The series also yielded innumerable cartoon spinoffs bearing such titles as The Pebbles & Bamm-Bamm Show and Fred and Barney Meet the Shmoo -- not to mention a brace of live-action theatrical features, the first of which starred John Goodman as Fred, Rick Moranis as Barney, Elizabeth Perkins as Wilma, Rosie O'Donnell as Betty, and -- get a good grip on yourself -- Elizabeth Taylor as Wilma's mother! ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi