Top Cat

TV classics: Top Cat

USA 1961-62, one season, 30 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, ABC, color. Production Company: Hanna-Barbera. Voice Talents: Arnold Stang, Allen Jenkins, Maurice Gosfield, Leo DeLyon, Marvin Kaplan, John Stephenson

Plot summary: He’s the boss. He’s the VIP . He’s a championship. He’s the most tip top – Top Cat.

Top CatReview: In 1961, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera brought a cat to life who was one of a kind. Top Cat and his gang, Benny the Ball, Brain, Choo Choo, Fancy Pants, and Spook. Set in Manhattan, the animated show felt like a mixture of The Phil Silvers Show and The East End Kids, a series of B pictures from the 1940s. TC (as Top Cat was called by his friends) was the perfect con-man. He always knew how to get the best for himself and his fellow alley cats. Charlie Dibble was their harmless enemy, a local policeman whose wit was no praise for the NYPD.

Like most Hanna-Barbera productions, Top Cat was not only directed at children and their parents but also at a general audience who loves to laugh. Following into the footsteps of The Flintstones, the show used pop culture references and adult topics in a fantastic world that followed its own rules. Unlike its predecessor, however, Top Cat only got a chance to shine for one full season. Since its cancellation in 1962, the show has lived on in comic books and reruns around the world, especially in the United Kingdom where the program is most commonly known as Boss Cat. Today, TV’s coolest cat is available on DVD. A wonderful treat for animation fans and geeks, or anyone else who enjoys the style and humor of TV’s Golden Age.

Getting in the Mood

TV themes. Do you remember when they lasted longer than only a couple of seconds? When the sound of your favorite show put you in the mood for an episode of fun, suspense or tears? Did you know the lyrics by heart? Did you recite them or sing along? Do you still find yourself humming those songs while you cook, do laundry or are cleaning up? Do they still put you in a good mood like they used to? Bring back memories of characters once dear to you like friends or relatives?

Today, a lot of shows save up time by using trademark teasers rather than songs that last longer than a mere moment. Castle, Malibu Country, The Good Wife are some of my favorite examples. If you sneeze, you may miss the catchy intro. Sad news for anyone who suffers from hay fever or catches a cold. There are exceptions no doubt: Elementary Downton Abbey or Rizzoli & Isles. I enjoy all of these shows once in a while but the less new programs offer a catchy melody or song, the more I miss that positive trigger classic television used to lure me in. Granted, for the sake of commercials, screen time has been cut down over the years. While a Perry Mason episode still lasted an average of 50 minutes and Bewitched an entertaining 25, most shows only get 43 (or 21) minutes today. So while it was great to hum along to Family Affair or Hart to Hart in the past, it makes sense for Go On to save up time and use those theme song seconds for the storyline.

Although I know the reasons and appreciate a couple of contemporary programs for their beautiful tunes, I still miss those beautiful TV songs that used to stick with me all week. Bugs Bunny, The Mickey Mouse Club, The Flintstones. I Love Lucy, The Muppets, Bill Cosby, Growing Pains. Murder She Wrote, Family Ties, The Golden Girls. Love Boat. Cagney and LaceyScarecrow and Mrs. King. Even shows I didn’t like for anything but their catchy themes such as Family Matters or Full House. Do you still remember your favorite melodies?!

The Jetsons

TV classics: The Jetsons

USA 1962-63 and 1985-87, three seasons, 75 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, ABC and syndication, color. Produced by Hanna-Barbera. Voice talents: George O’Hanlon, Penny Singleton, Janet Waldo, Daws Butler, Mel Blanc, Don Messick and Jean Vander Pyl.

Plot summary: In the year 2062, the Jetson family lives a normal life in Orbit City with their house-robot Rosey and George’s best friend, Astro the dog.

The JetsonsReview: In 2062, life for the Jetsons is full of conveniences: the household is organized by computers and Rosey the Robot, an outdated housekeeper model whose homey attitude and cheeky remarks fit right in with her human family. George is the soft patriarch and Jane his dutiful wife who both love to push buttons to make their lives as easy as possible. Together, they are raising their two children, fifteen-year-old Judy and little Elroy who’s already six-and-a-half. The world they live in is Utopian and futuristic, their apartment elevated above the ground. In their everyday lives, the Jetson children attend school like children from all decades while father George works with his friend RUDI, a Referential Universal Digital Indexer (aka his work computer), whose personality is as human as Rosey’s or Astro’s. Jane Jetson is primarily a housewife whose favorite pastime is shopping as well as delighting her family with new gadgets and fashion. In 75 episodes, they were supported by many recurring characters including George Jetson’s boss Mr. Spacely and an alien called Orbitty.

Produced by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, The Jetsons were created in color as a Flintstone family in space. Referring to contemporary trends and styles of the early 60s, the show was targeting a grownup audience in its first 24 episodes, a strategy that was changed in the mid 80s when Hanna-Barbera relaunched the program for another two seasons with decent success. Using all the original characters, the sci-fi cartoon family conquered the hearts of many children between 1985 and 87, a hey day for re-imagining TV classics from Leave it to Beaver to Perry Mason.

For anyone who grew up loving Orbit City and the funny mishaps the Jetson family had with their everyday technology, the show is now available on DVD with only the third season not yet announced for release. If you’re like me, you’ll discover your inner child again by watching this lighthearted show from a bygone time when computers did not yet dictate so much of our daily routine. For those who can’t wait to get the complete boxsets, selected episodes are also available on Youtube, including my favorite Rosey the Robot (a character so fondly based on Hazel, another fantastic 60s show and a favorite of mine only recently presented on this blog by yours truly).

America in Primetime

In 2011, PBS presented America in Primetime, a documentary in four parts about the history of television. Focusing on the evolution of the Independent Woman, the Man of the House, the Misfit and Crusader, each episodes offered a look back at the beginning of mainstream television in the 1950s until today. Blessed with a great variety of popular interviewees, America in Primetime was an ambitious project with names such as Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Ron Howard, David Lynch and Shonda Rhimes attached to it. Unfortunately however, the series did not live up to its potential and rarely offered controversy about contemporary perception. For years, it’s been in vogue to bash the 50s and idealize the 1960 and 70s, for example, but from the announcement of this PBS production I had expected otherwise.

It’s always easy to look at a bygone era with modern eyes without looking underneath the surface. But no matter how much I am personally tickled by Lucille Ball, the 1950s had more to offer than just I Love Lucy, The Donna Reed Show and Leave it to Beaver. I was surprised, to say the least, when I didn’t hear a mention of Betty White and her already flourishing career and bewildered, like so often, when Mary Richards was called the first single working girl on television. Whatever happened to Connie Brooks and Della Street? After all, not every female character (despite their feminine appeal) was “just” a housewife, a job many (post-)feminists still seem to wrestle with.

Male characters of that era weren’t appraised more adequately either. I mean, Ralph Kramden may have been a prototype for characters like Fred Flintstone or Homer Simpson, but he was already a caricature back in his time and not just a regular guy. Jim Anderson from Father Knows Best, as another popular example, was also more flawed than critics often depict him today. His wholesome attitude and simple answers may have fostered the image of the omnipotent father, but only on the surface – he was wrong too often with his fatherly assessments to call him a picture perfect patriarch.

But America in Primetime doesn’t like to dig deeper and rather creates an odd summary of female liberation (and correlated emasculation of male role models) on TV. Murphy Brown, Sex and the City and Grey’s Anatomy serve as notable examples along with The Good Wife‘s Kalinda Sharma. Positive role models such as The Cosby Show‘s Clair Huxtable, Maggie Seaver from Growing Pains, Designing Women or The Golden Girls don’t even get a mention and I wonder if it’s their grace and domesticity or their love for men that interferes with the desired image of women who favor their careers over everything else.

All in all, America in Primetime – like other documentaries before – celebrates the evolution of television from the simple, archaic days of the 1950s to a supposed golden age of the 2000s (predominantly on pay TV). By celebrating the creation of broken and disturbed characters whose complexity supports the audience’s alleged desire for drama and realism, the program may appeal to anyone who enjoys shows like Nurse Jackie, The Sopranos, Mad Men or Breaking Bad. For anyone who prefers dignity, subtlety and moderation in storytelling, the documentary may draw the wrong conclusions about a bygone era and leave a taste of bias in your mouth. Personally, I was dissatisfied with the fragmented glimpse into TV history and the overwhelming number of present-day TV makers as a primary interview source. But with my fondness for vintage that may not come as a surprise.

The Flintstones

TV classics: The Flintstones

USA 1960-66, six seasons, 166 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, ABC, color. Cast: Alan Reed, Mel Blanc, Jean Vander Pyl, Bea Benaderet, Gerry Johnson, Don Messick, John Stephenson

Plot summary: Yabba dabba doo!

Review: Meet Fred and Wilma, last name Flintstone, a couple of modern Stone Age Honeymooners whose next-door neighbors are the Rubbles. Betty and Barney are best friends with Wilma and Fred and together, they live through everyday adventures in Bedrock, including household mishaps and dinosaur malfunctions. Although things get rocky from time to time and their friendship is tested on occasion, the Flintstones and Rubbles are like Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel – nothing can separate them for long. Two married couples in the beginning of the show, they grow even closer at the arrival of baby Pebbles and Bam-Bam soon after.

With their endless references to pop culture and contemporary topics, the show is now available on DVD and offers a great look back at small-town America of the 1960s. What was hilarious then is still amusing now – from dinosaur-operated cranes, over foot-powered cars to mammoth trunks as garden hoses. Show creators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera reinvented and redesigned modern-day amenities to translate the roaring 60s into a rocking Stone Age that appealed to children and their parents. Although declining in popularity after rejuvenating the plotlines with the inclusion of Pebbles and Bam-Bam, The Flintstones were the first animated show in TV history that lasted more than two seasons and has an ongoing impact on popular culture today.

Originally inspired by The Honeymooners, the show has stood the test of time with generations of families and is still a treat for anyone who enjoys imaginative storytelling and loves to chuckle about names like Gary Granite, Rock Hudstone or Perry Masonry.

Enjoy a sample episode here.