Monday, September 26, 2011

What's in a name?: The Hanna-Barbera idea machine

Bear with me, gang, while I indulge in a little rant here.

Now, as we all know, a lot of Hanna-Barbera's earliest successes were derived from other sources, be it other television shows or movies. I thought I'd compose a little list.

The Flintstones: It's common knowledge, of course, that the first H-B icon of the 60's was inspired by a 50's icon, that being Jackie Gleason's Honeymooners. In turn, the travails of Fred & Wilma and their friends would become a template for future H-B domestic sitcoms, such as The Jetsons, and, much later, The Roman Holidays.

Top Cat: As I outlined when I reviewed this show, ol' TC was based on one Master Sgt. Ernest Bilko (Phil Silvers), so maybe it wasn't so much of a coincidence that Maurice Gosfeld, who played Private Doberman opposite Silvers, was part of the supporting cast.

Wacky Races: It's been said that this first H-B sports series was inspired by the movie, "The Great Race", which had an ensemble cast that included the likes of Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. In turn, the two Races spin-offs, The Perils of Penelope Pitstop & Dastardly & Muttley in Their Flying Machines, were based on films. Perils was a left-handed homage to the silent melodramas of the 20's, while Dastardly drew inspiration from "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines", I believe.

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?: The last H-B icon of the 60's got his name from a little scatting by Frank Sinatra in his song, "Strangers in the Night".

It's pretty much a given that Dynomutt, Dog Wonder and his human owner-partner, Blue Falcon, were a throwback to the campy, mid-60's live-action Batman, which was ironic in that by the time creators Joe Ruby & Ken Spears introduced Dyno in 1976, Batman was part of the H-B family, as he & the Super Friends had been licensed to the studio and the original series was in reruns at that point.

Sticking with the SF, most of us have known for years that the Wonder Twins, Zan & Jayna, were modeled after singers Donny & Marie Osmond, whose variety series was airing on ABC when The All-New Super Friends Hour bowed in 1977. According to Marc Tyler Nobleman's Noblemania blog, and sources quoted therein, supposedly, the Exorian sibs got their names from Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan and his wife, Jane. Now, it happens to be a coincidence that Tarzan, licensed to Filmation, was airing on CBS at that time, so you can draw your own conclusion. As for the Osmond connection, well, take the points off the Twins' ears, and Jayna's up-raised ponytail, and, well, what do you think?

Hanna-Barbera's 1974 rookie class included three more media-inspired entries.

Hong Kong Phooey, of course, cashed in on the growing popularity of martial arts movies. Devlin was inspired by real-life stuntman Evel Knievel. These Are The Days had to draw inspiration from CBS' The Waltons. Going back 2 years, you have to believe that Wait 'Til Your Father Gets Home, a syndicated offering, was derived from another CBS hit, All in the Family, but without the heavy emphasis on social commentary.

Now, I've discussed most of these series individually in the past, but I thought it'd be a good idea to look at the trend the studio created. Unfortunately, this kind of history lesson is lost on the current regime at Cartoon Network, which could stand a few lessons.


magicdog said...

It's true that HB (and other studios) took inspiration from other material. It's been happening since the times of the earliest playwrights. Even Shakespere did it.

What ultimately counts however is how that inspiration turns into something unique in its own right. HB definitely did that with the examples you stated.

CN could definitely improve in many areas, but I don't think they're entirely at fault. At least they seem to know what they're doing when it comes to superhero shows like "Justice League/JLU", "Batman The Brave & The Bold" and "Young Justice".

As for Zan & Jana, you are correct in that Donnie & Marie Osmond were an influence in their creation, but ultimately, they're a reboot of Space Ghost's sidekicks, Jan & Jace. Both were fraternal twins, were crimefighting teens, and had intelligent monkeys as pets!

hobbyfan said...

Man, I am so dying to see Space Ghost meet the rest of the Justice League. Now, there's an idea for Toon Zone's Story Board if there ever was one!

magicdog said...

Exempting the SG teaser from BTB&TB, I'm curious as to how you'd do that?

SG was supposedly set in the future (though it's never really been stated how far) so I guess time travel would have to be involved. Or would there be a race of humans living in space (amongst various aliens) the rest of Earth doesn't know about?

hobbyfan said...

Time travel is an option, yes, but as we know, WB/DC has established a future Justice League, so that's another possibility.

As for Jan & Jace and the Wonder Twins, the similarities you note are as far as it goes. Jan & Jace had no powers, save for the inviso-power that they had to activate on their belts, so I don't think Zan & Jayna were a reboot of the earlier duo.