Saturday, December 23, 2006

REMEMBERING JOE BARBERA

It's Saturday and what better day of the week to remember animation legend Joe Barbera who died earlier this week at the ripe old age of 95.

You know, Saturday morning used to be the day of the week to watch cartoons. The Hanna-Barbera studio dominated Saturday morning television for years and years, with shows like Yogi Bear, the Jetsons, Scooby-Doo, Wacky Races, Hong Kong Phooey and so many others. In fact, the last time I checked Scooby-Doo was still on, haunting Saturday mornings for the Kids WB (on CW)! That show was the biggest TV hit that studio ever produced, it ran for the longest time and it's still on the air.

Of course, in prime time they had The Flintstones which also ran forever. Before television, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera directed the Tom and Jerry series for MGM which won several Academy Awards. In fact they probably would have kept on directing Tom and Jerry forever had MGM not closed their unit down! That forced Hanna and Barbera to open their own studio and they became rich. Anyway, here's a Toronto Sun tribute to Barbera.

His role at this studio went beyond merely directing the cartoons; Barbera was usually the point man when it came to pitching ideas to the networks and getting shows on the air. It was Barbera who had to sit down with the advertisers and get them to buy these shows. It was him who had to deal with biggies in the TV business like Fred Silverman and Michael Eisner when they were in charge of Saturday morning. In fact Eisner made a steal of a deal with Barbera by swiping Scooby-Doo away from CBS to ABC. So Barbera did all these deals and created a lot of characters while Hanna stuck to running the animation most of the time.

Of course, the Sun article just had to mention that it was the Hanna-Barbera studio that created Peter Puck. They had to include a "Canadian" angle. You know, there are all sorts of obscure cartoon characters that studio created. This studio put out so many characters that you lost count! There was Atom Ant, the Herculoids, Space Ghost, and Birdman! Birdman was one of the many "superhero" characters developed during the late-60s "action" era of Saturday morning TV. It was violent, rock-em-sock-em stuff and all these shows were ushered out by the 1970s to make room for Bugs Bunny, Archie, the Pink Panther and these other non-violent characters. All these PTA groups banded together to get rid of all this violence on TV. Birdman himself actually went into hiding and we never saw him again.

Birdman eventually was brought back to become Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law. If you want to see all the great Hanna-Barbera characters come back to life with subversive cameo appearances, that is the show to watch. Bizarre stuff. Space Ghost also came back to host a talk show, or something.

Another bunch of characters you may not necessarily associate with Hanna-Barbera were the Smurfs. Personally, I hated this show. This was the show that permanently turned me right off Saturday morning cartoons. Anyway Barbera was responsible for this piece of junk, which Fred Silverman bought for NBC in one of his last acts before being fired. And it turned into the biggest hit ever for NBC on Saturday mornings! I have no idea why-- the show was junk! I guess kids put up with lots of junk.

Personally, I preferred the stuff the studio put out in the 1960s, cool stuff like the Flintstones, the Jetsons and Jonny Quest. Anyway, the Hanna-Barbera studio ended up part of the Ted Turner empire and ultimately were absorbed by Warner Brothers. It's really ironic given that Hanna and Barbera were mortal foes of the WB cartoon studio back in the 1950s, winning those Academy Awards for Tom and Jerry while Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner were getting beat--- though they did win an Oscar occasionally. (Another irony is that Chuck Jones, who made his name directing Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner, directed Tom and Jerry for MGM after Hanna and Barbera left!) Also, during the 1960s, the classic HB cartoons like the Flintstones were distributed by Columbia Pictures! So it's really funny that this studio ended up under the same roof as the Looney Tunes.

With the passing of Bill Hanna, the original Hanna-Barbera studio was fully absorbed into Warner Brothers Animation. They now call the place Cartoon Network Studios, but as far as I can tell that unit is just Hanna-Barbera without Hanna or Barbera. The Cartoon Network itself owes most of its programming to Hanna-Barbera to begin with, including much of the newer stuff including Johnny Bravo and so on. This tribute says it all: without Joe Barbera there is no Cartoon Network. I agree.

Anyway I thought I would provide a couple of Hanna-Barbera links in tribute. One is Saturday Morning Forever, which links to a lot of broadband clips featuring cool episodes of Hong Kong Phooey, Jonny Quest and other Hanna-Barbera shows. And here is a link to the Hanna-Barbera official site with more good stuff and links to lots of videos.

And finally, the famous YouTube video of Fred and Barney hawking Winston cigarettes! Fun stuff. I just couldn't resist, and neither could a few other blogs this week.

That's it for now.

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