The show is set in the Stone Age town of Bedrock. In this fantasy version of the past, dinosaurs and other long-extinct animals co-exist with cavemen, saber-toothed cats, and woolly mammoths. Like their mid-20th century counterparts, these cavemen listen to records, live in split-level homes, and eat at restaurants, yet their technology is made entirely from preindustrial materials and powered primarily through the use of animals. For example, the cars are made out of stone, wood, and animal skins, and powered by the passengers' feet.
Animation historian Christopher P. Lehman considers that the series draws its humor in part from creative uses of anachronisms. The main one is the placing of a "modern", 20th-century society in prehistory. This society takes inspiration from the suburban sprawl developed in the first two decades of the postwar period. This society has modern home appliances, but they work by employing animals. They have automobiles, but they hardly resemble the cars of the 20th century. These cars are large wooden structures and burn no fuel. They are powered by people who run while inside them. Finally, the stone houses of this society are cookie-cutter homes positioned into typical neighborhoods.
As a running gag, often the "prehistoric" analog to a modern machine uses an animal. For example, when a character takes photographs with an instant camera, inside the camera box, a bird carves the picture on a stone tablet with its beak. The animal powering such technology would frequently break the fourth wall, look directly into the camera at the audience and offer a mild complaint about his job. Other commonly seen gadgets in the series include a baby woolly mammoth used as a vacuum cleaner; an adult woolly mammoth acting as a shower by spraying water with its trunk; elevators raised and lowered by ropes around brontosauruses' necks; "automatic" windows powered by monkeys on the outside; birds acting as "car horns", sounded by the driver pulling on their tails or squeezing their bodies; an "electric" razor made from a clam shell, vibrating from a honey bee inside; a pelican as a washing machine, shown with a beakful of soapy water; and a woodpecker whose beak is used to play a gramophone record. In most cases, "The Man of a Thousand Voices", Mel Blanc, contributed the animals' gag lines, often lowering his voice one to two full octaves, far below the range he used to voice the character of Barney Rubble. In the case of the Flintstones' cuckoo clocks, which varied from mechanical toys to live birds announcing the time, when the hour approached 12:00, the bird inside the clock "cuckooing" usually just ran out of steam and gave up vocally, physically, or both.
The Stone Age setting allowed for gags and word plays involving rocks and minerals. For example, San Antonio becomes "Sand-and-Stony-o"; the country to the south of Bedrock's land is called "Mexirock" (Mexico). Travel to "Hollyrock", a parody of Hollywood, usually involves an "airplane" flight — the "plane", in this case, is often shown as a giant pterosaur, with the fuselage strapped to its back. Sun Valley becomes "Stone Valley" and is run by "Conrad Hailstone" (Conrad Hilton). The last names "Flintstone" and "Rubble", as well as other common Bedrock surnames such as "Shale" and "Quartz", are in line with these puns, as are the names of Bedrock's celebrities: "Gina Loadabricks" (Gina Lollobrigida), "Gary Granite" (Cary Grant), "Stony Curtis" (Tony Curtis), "Ed Sullivanstone/Sulleystone" (Ed Sullivan), "Rock Pile/Quarry/Hudstone" (Rock Hudson), "Wednesday Tuesday" (Tuesday Weld), "Ann-Margrock" (Ann-Margret), "Jimmy Darrock" (James Darren), "Alvin Brickrock" (Alfred Hitchcock), "Daisy Kilgranite" (Dorothy Kilgallen), "Perry Masonry/Masonite" (Perry Mason as played by Raymond Burr), "Mick Jadestone and The Rolling Boulders" (Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, called "Mick Jagged and the Stones" in live-action film The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas), "Eppy Brianstone" (Brian Epstein) and "The Beau Brummelstones" (The Beau Brummels). Once, while visiting one of Bedrock's houses of "Haute Couture" with Wilma, Betty even commented on the new "Jackie Kennerock (Jackie Kennedy) look". In some cases, the celebrity featured also provided the voice: "Samantha" and "Darrin" from Bewitched were voiced by Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York. Examples from the above list include Ann-Margret, Curtis, Darren, and the Beau Brummels. Other celebrities, such as "Ed Sulleystone" and "Alvin Brickrock", were rendered by impersonators. Some of Bedrock's sports heroes include: football player "Red Granite" (Red Grange), wrestler "Bronto Crushrock" (Bronko Nagurski), golfer "Arnold Palmrock" (Arnold Palmer), boxers "Floyd Patterstone" (Floyd Patterson) and "Sonny Listone" (Sonny Liston), and baseball players "Sandy Stoneaxe" (Sandy Koufax), "Lindy McShale" (Lindy McDaniel), "Roger Marble" (Roger Maris), and "Mickey Marble" or "Mickey Mantlepiece" (Mickey Mantle). Ace reporter "Daisy Kilgranite" (Dorothy Kilgallen) was a friend of Wilma. Monster names include "Count Rockula" (Count Dracula), Rockzilla (Godzilla) and "The Frankenstone Monster" (Frankenstein's monster).
Fred Flintstone physically resembles both the voice actor who played him, Alan Reed, and Jackie Gleason, whose series The Honeymooners was said to be an inspiration for The Flintstones. The voice of Barney Rubble was provided by voice actor Mel Blanc, though five episodes during the second season (the first, second, fifth, sixth, and ninth) employed Hanna-Barbera regular Daws Butler while Blanc was incapacitated by a near-fatal car accident. Blanc was able to return to the series much sooner than expected, by virtue of a temporary recording studio for the entire cast set up at Blanc's bedside. Blanc's portrayal of Barney had changed considerably after the accident. In the earliest episodes, Blanc had used a much higher pitch to the point of portraying Barney as a smart-aleck. After his recovery from the accident, Blanc used a deeper voice, quite similar to the voice of the Abominable Snowman he performed in other cartoons, and was shown as somewhat dopier than before.
Additional similarities with The Honeymooners included the fact that Reed based Fred's voice upon Gleason's interpretation of Ralph Kramden, while Blanc, after a season of using a nasal, high-pitched voice for Barney, eventually adopted a style of voice similar to that used by Art Carney in his portrayal of Ed Norton. The first time the Art Carney-like voice was used was for a few seconds in "The Prowler" (the third episode produced).
In a 1986 Playboy interview, Jackie Gleason said Alan Reed had done voice-overs for Gleason in his early movies, and Gleason considered suing Hanna-Barbera for copying The Honeymooners, but decided to let it pass. According to Henry Corden, a voice actor and a friend of Gleason's, "Jackie's lawyers told him he could probably have The Flintstones pulled right off the air. But they also told him, 'Do you want to be known as the guy who yanked Fred Flintstone off the air? The guy who took away a show so many kids love, and so many parents love, too?'"
Henry Corden took over the voice responsibilities of Fred after Reed's death in 1977 with A Flintstone Christmas. Corden had previously provided Fred's singing voice in The Man Called Flintstone and later on The Flintstones children's records. Since 2000, Jeff Bergman, James Arnold Taylor, and Scott Innes (performing Fred and Barney for Toshiba commercials) have performed the voice of Fred. Since Mel Blanc's death in 1989, Barney has been voiced by Jeff Bergman, Frank Welker, and Kevin Michael Richardson. Various additional character voices were created by Hal Smith, Allan Melvin, Janet Waldo, Daws Butler, and Howard Morris, among others.
The opening and closing credits theme during the first two seasons was called "Rise and Shine", a lively instrumental underscore accompanying Fred on his drive home from work. The tune resembled "The Bugs Bunny Overture (This Is It!)", the theme song of The Bugs Bunny Show, also airing on ABC at the time, and may have been the reason the theme was changed in the third season. Starting in season 3, episode 3 ("Barney the Invisible"), the opening and closing credits theme was the familiar vocal "Meet the Flintstones". This version was recorded with a 22-piece jazz band, and a five-voice singing group called the Skip Jacks. The melody is derived from part of the 'B' section of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 17 Movement 2, composed in 1801/02. The "Meet the Flintstones" opening was later added to the first two seasons for syndication. The musical underscores were credited to Hoyt Curtin for the show's first five seasons; Ted Nichols took over in 1965 for the final season.
The idea of The Flintstones started after Hanna-Barbera produced The Huckleberry Hound Show and The Quick Draw McGraw Show. Although these programs were successful, they did not have the same wide audience appeal as their previous theatrical cartoon series Tom and Jerry, which entertained both children and the adults who accompanied them. However, since children did not need their parents' supervision to watch television, Hanna-Barbera's output became labeled "kids only". Barbera and Hanna wanted to recapture the adult audience with an animated situation comedy.
Barbera and Hanna experimented with hillbillies (a hillbilly theme was later incorporated into two Flintstones episodes, "The Bedrock Hillbillies" and "The Hatrocks and the Gruesomes"), Romans (Hanna-Barbera eventually created The Roman Holidays), pilgrims, and Indians as the settings for the two families before deciding on the Stone Age. According to Barbera, they settled on that because "you could take anything that was current, and convert it to stone-age". Under the working title The Flagstones, the family originally consisted of Fred, Wilma, and their son, Fred, Jr. A brief demonstration film was also created to sell the idea of a "modern stone age family" to sponsors and the network.:3 Animator Kenneth Muse, who worked on the Tom and Jerry cartoons, also worked on the early seasons of The Flintstones.
The show imitated and spoofed The Honeymooners, although the early voice characterization for Barney was that of Lou Costello. William Hanna admitted that "At that time, The Honeymooners was the most popular show on the air, and for my bill, it was the funniest show on the air. The characters, I thought, were terrific. Now, that influenced greatly what we did with The Flintstones ... The Honeymooners was there, and we used that as a kind of basis for the concept." However, Joseph Barbera disavowed these claims in a separate interview, stating that, "I don't remember mentioning The Honeymooners when I sold the show. But if people want to compare The Flintstones to The Honeymooners, then great. It's a total compliment. The Honeymooners was one of the greatest shows ever written." Jackie Gleason, creator of The Honeymooners, considered suing Hanna-Barbera Productions, but decided that he did not want to be known as "the guy who yanked Fred Flintstone off the air". Another influence was noted during Hanna-Barbera's tenure at MGM, where they were in a friendly competition with fellow cartoon director Tex Avery. In 1955, Avery directed a cartoon entitled "The First Bad Man" (narrated by cowboy legend Tex Ritter). The cartoon concerned the rowdy antics of a bank robber in stone-age Dallas. Many of the visual jokes antedated by many years similar ones used by Hanna-Barbera in the Flintstones series. Many students of American animation point to this cartoon as a progenitive seed of the Flintstones.
The concept was also predated by the Stone Age Cartoons series of 12 animated cartoons released from January 1940 to September 1940 by Fleischer Studios. These cartoons show stone age people doing modern things with primitive means. One example is Granite Hotel including characters such as a newsboy, telephone operator, hotel clerk, and a spoof of Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.
Barbera explained that selling the show to a network and sponsors was not an easy task.
Here we were with a brand new thing that had never been done before, an animated prime-time television show. So we developed two storyboards; one was they had a helicopter of some kind and they went to the opera or whatever, and the other was Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble fighting over a swimming pool. So I go back to New York with a portfolio and two half-hour boards. And no-one would even believe that you'd dare to suggest a thing like that, I mean they looked at you and they'd think you're crazy. But slowly the word got out, and I used the presentation which took almost an hour and a half. I would go to the other two boards and tell them what they did, and do all the voices and the sounds and so-on, and I'd stagger back to the hotel and I'd collapse. The phone would ring like crazy, like one time I did Bristol-Myers, the whole company was there. When I got through I'd go back to the hotel the phone would ring and say "the president wasn't at that meeting, could you come back and do it for him." So I had many of those, one time I had two agencies, they'd fill the room I mean God about 40 people, and I did this whole show. I got to know where the laughs were, and where to hit it, nothing; dead, dead, dead. So one of the people at Screen Gems said "This is the worst, those guys...." he was so angry at them. What it was, was that there were two agencies there, and neither one was going to let the other one know they were enjoying it. But I pitched it for eight straight weeks and nobody bought it. So after sitting in New York just wearing out, you know really wearing out. Pitch, pitch, pitch, sometimes five a day. So finally on the very last day I pitched it to ABC, which was a young daring network willing to try new things, and bought the show in 15 minutes. Thank goodness, because this was the very last day and if they hadn't bought it, I would have taken everything down, put it in the archives and never pitched it again. Sometimes I wake up in a cold-sweat thinking this is how close you get to disaster.
When the series went into production, the working title The Flagstones was changed, possibly to avoid confusion with the Flagstons, characters in the comic strip Hi and Lois. After spending a brief period in development as The Gladstones (GLadstone being a Los Angeles telephone exchange at the time), Hanna-Barbera settled upon The Flintstones, and the idea of the Flintstones having a child from the start was discarded, with Fred and Wilma starting out as a childless couple. However, some early Flintstones merchandise, such as a 1961 Little Golden Book, included Fred Jr., before it was decided on his removal.
Despite the animation and fantasy setting, the series was initially aimed at adult audiences, which was reflected in the comedy writing, which, as noted, resembled the average primetime sitcoms of the era, with the usual family issues resolved with a laugh at the end of each episode, as well as the inclusion of a laugh track. Hanna and Barbera hired many writers from the world of live action, including two of Jackie Gleason's writers, Herbert Finn and Sydney Zelinka, as well as relative newcomer Joanna Lee while still using traditional animation story men such as Warren Foster and Michael Maltese.
The Flintstones premiered on September 30, 1960, at 8:30 pm, and quickly became a hit. It was the first American animated show to depict two people of the opposite sex (Fred and Wilma; Barney and Betty) sleeping together in one bed, although Fred and Wilma are sometimes depicted as sleeping in separate beds. For comparison, the first live-action depiction of this in American TV history was in television's first-ever sitcom: 1947's Mary Kay and Johnny.
During the third season, Hanna and Barbera decided that Fred and Wilma should have a baby. Originally, Hanna and Barbera intended for the Flintstone family to have a boy, the head of the marketing department convinced them to change it to a girl since "girl dolls sell a lot better than boy dolls". Although most Flintstones episodes were stand-alone storylines, Hanna-Barbera created a story arc surrounding the birth of Pebbles. Beginning with the episode "The Surprise", aired midway through the third season (January 25, 1963), in which Wilma reveals her pregnancy to Fred, the arc continued through the time leading up to Pebbles' birth in the episode "Dress Rehearsal" (February 22, 1963), and then continued with several episodes showing Fred and Wilma adjusting to the world of parenthood. Around this time, Winston pulled out their sponsorship and Welch's (grape juice and grape jellies) became the primary sponsor. The integrated commercials for Welch's products feature Pebbles asking for grape juice in her toddler dialect, and Fred explaining to Pebbles Welch's unique process for making the jelly, compared to the competition. Welch's also produced a line of grape jelly packaged in jars which were reusable as drinking glasses, with painted scenes featuring the Flintstones and characters from the show. In Australia, the Nine Network ran a "Name the Flintstones' baby" competition during the 'pregnancy' episodes – few Australian viewers were expected to have a U.S. connection giving them information about past Flintstone episodes.The first two seasons were co-sponsored by Winston cigarettes and the characters appeared in several black-and-white television commercials for Winston (dictated by the custom, at that time, that the star(s) of a TV series often "pitched" their sponsor's product in an "integrated commercial" at the end of the episode).
Another arc occurred in the fourth season, in which the Rubbles, depressed over being unable to have children of their own (making The Flintstones the first animated series in history to address the issue of infertility, though subtly), adopt Bamm-Bamm. The 100th episode made (but the 90th to air), "Little Bamm-Bamm Rubble" (October 3, 1963), established how Bamm-Bamm was adopted. Nine episodes were produced before it but aired afterwards, which explains why Bamm-Bamm was not seen again until episode 101, "Daddies Anonymous" (Bamm-Bamm was in a teaser on episode 98, "Kleptomaniac Pebbles"). Another story arc, occurring in the final season, centered on Fred and Barney's dealings with the Great Gazoo (voiced by Harvey Korman ).
After Pebbles' birth, the tone and writing became more juvenile and ratings from the adult demographic began to decline. The last original episode was broadcast on April 1, 1966. By the time of its cancellation, The Flintstones had become the first primetime animated series to last more than two seasons.[not in citation given (See discussion.)] This record was not surpassed by another primetime animated television series until the seventh season of The Simpsons in 1995/1996.
The first three seasons of The Flintstones aired Friday nights at 8:30 on ABC. Season four and part of season five aired Thursdays at 7:30. The rest of the series aired Fridays at 7:30.
In the U.S., syndicated reruns of the series were offered to local stations until 1997, when E/I regulations and changing tastes in the industry led to the show's move to cable television. From the time of Ted Turner's purchase of Hanna-Barbera in 1992 until around 1999, TBS, TNT, and Cartoon Network aired the program. In 2000, the program moved to Boomerang, where it aired until no later than 2016 (in its last years on the channel, it had been relegated to a graveyard slot).
The night after The Flintstones premiered, Variety called it "A pen and ink disaster", and as late as the 1980s, highbrow critics derided the show's limited animation and derivative plots. Despite the mixed critical reviews, The Flintstones has generally been considered a television classic and was rerun continuously for five decades after its end. In 1961, The Flintstones became the first animated series to be nominated for an Outstanding Comedy Series Primetime Emmy Award, but lost out to The Jack Benny Show. In January 2009, IGN named The Flintstones as the ninth-best in its "Top 100 Animated TV Shows".
Following the show's cancellation in 1966, a film based upon the series was created. The Man Called Flintstone was a musical spy caper that parodied James Bond and other secret agents. The movie was released to theaters on August 3, 1966, by Columbia Pictures. It was released on DVD in Canada in March 2005 and in United States in December 2008.
The show was revived in the early 1970s with Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm having grown into teenagers, and several different series and made-for-TV movies (broadcast mainly on Saturday mornings, with a few shown in prime time); including a series depicting Fred and Barney as police officers, another depicting the characters as children, and yet others featuring Fred and Barney encountering Marvel Comics superhero The Thing and Al Capp's comic strip character The Shmoo – have appeared over the years. The original show also was adapted into a live-action film in 1994, and a prequel, The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, which followed in 2000. Unlike its sister show The Jetsons (the two shows appeared in a made-for-TV crossover movie in 1987), the revival programs were not widely syndicated or rerun alongside the original series.
Two Flintstones-themed amusement parks exist in the United States: Bedrock City in Custer, South Dakota, and another in Valle, Arizona. Both have been in operation for decades. Bedrock City, also known as Flintstone Park, closed in August 2015.
Another existed until the 1990s at Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina. In Canada, Flintstone Park in Kelowna, British Columbia, opened in 1968 and closed in 1998; it was notable for the "Forty Foot Fred" statue of Fred Flintstone which was a well known Kelowna landmark. Another Flintstones park was located in Bridal Falls, British Columbia, which closed in 1990. Calaway Park outside Calgary, Canada, also opened with a Flintstones theme and many of the buildings today have a caveman-like design, though the park does not license the characters. The Australia's Wonderland and Canada's Wonderland theme parks, both featured Flintstones characters in their Hanna-Barbera-themed children's sections from 1985 up until the mid-1990s. Kings Island near Cincinnati, Ohio, had a Hanna-Barbera land, in which many Hanna-Barbera characters were featured, including the Flintstones, in the 1980s and early 1990s.
A stage production opened at Universal Studios Hollywood in 1994 (the year the live-action film was released), developed by Universal and Hanna-Barbera Productions. It opened at the Panasonic Theater replacing the Star Trek show. The story consists of Fred, Wilma, Barney, and Betty heading for "Hollyrock". The show ran until January 2, 1997.
Miles Laboratories (now part of Bayer Corporation) and their One-A-Day vitamin brand was the alternate sponsor of the original Flintstones series during its first two seasons, and in the late 1960s, Miles introduced Flintstones Chewable Vitamins, fruit-flavored multivitamin tablets for children in the shape of the Flintstones characters, which are currently being sold.
The Simpsons referenced The Flintstones in several episodes. In the episode "Homer's Night Out", Homer's local convenience store clerk, Apu, remarks "You look familiar, sir. Are you on the television or something?", to which Homer replies "Sorry, buddy, you've got me confused with Fred Flintstone." During the couch gag of the opening credits of the episode "Kamp Krusty", the Simpson family arrive home to find the Flintstone family already sitting on their couch. The same couch gag was reused in syndicated episodes of "The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show", when The Simpsons overtook The Flintstones as the longest-running animated series. In "Lady Bouvier's Lover", Homer's boss, Mr. Burns, appears at the family's house and says "Why, it's Fred Flintstone (referring to Homer) and his lovely wife, Wilma! (Marge) Oh, and this must be little Pebbles! (Maggie) Mind if I come in? I brought chocolates." Homer responds by saying "Yabba-dabba-doo!" The opening of "Marge vs. the Monorail" depicts Homer leaving work in a similar way to Fred Flintstone in the opening of The Flintstones, during which he sings his own version of the latter's opening theme.