Happy 60th Birthday Hanna-Barbera: The Animation Studio That Started It All And Entertained Kids (And Adults) For Six Decades
Today, 60 years ago on 7th July 1957, the creators of Tom and Jerry – William Hanna and Joseph Barbera opened their very own animation studio. The new studio known as Hanna-Barbera (a combination of the founder’s surnames) was groundbreaking as it was one of the few animation studios that specifically made animated TV shows at the time, before Hanna-Barbera, most animation that aired on television were theatrical shorts. Hanna and Barbera were pioneers in the animation industry (and the media industry as a whole) and created cartoons that were both high-quality and affordable for television broadcasters. On 14th December 1957, Hanna-Barbera’s first ever production – The Ruff and Reddy Show aired on NBC in the United States, an animated show about two friends, a cat named Ruff and a dog named Reddy. It only took two months to get a studio running after the closure of the animation unit at Tom and Jerry’s animation studio – MGM and with the help of a director named George Sydney, a friend of Hanna and Barbera, they were able to reach a deal with Screen Gems (a part of Columbia Pictures), the deal laid a solid foundation for the new studio.
The Huckleberry Hound Show was the studio’s first big hit which premiered in 1958, Yogi Bear soon followed with his own show in 1961, also Top Cat debuted in 1961. The most important milestone (pun intended) for Hanna-Barbera was The Flintstones, based on the sitcom – The Honeymooners but in a stone age setting, the show was the studio’s biggest primetime hit and made Fred Flintstone and Hanna-Barbera a household name. Before Fox’s The Simpsons broke the record – The Flintstones was the longest running animated sitcom in the world, and aired between 1960 to 1966, quite an achievement considering this was still the early days of television animation. In 1962, came The Jetsons, which followed a similar formula to The Flintstones but this time in a futuristic setting.
In 1963, Hanna-Barbera Studios moved to their new state-of-the-art studios at 3400 Cahuenga Boulevard West in Hollywood, Los Angeles, after the studio’s opening, the science-fiction adventure show Jonny Quest and The Atom Ant/Secret Squirrel Show soon followed, along with Wacky Races (which has been rebooted by Warner Bros. Animation) and its spinoff series’ The Perils of Penelope Pitstop and Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines in the late 1960’s.
At the start of the 1970’s, Hanna-Barbera controlled 80% of the children’s programming in the United States, by this point it was the biggest animation company in the world, Disney may of ruled the theatrical animation business (and arguably still does), but Hanna-Barbera ruled children’s television, the very form of audiovisual media that kids were most exposed to in their own homes.
In 1970’s the studio was in full-production, with Josie and the Pussycats, Help!… It’s the Hair Bear Bunch!, Hong Kong Phooey, Captain Caveman being produced, but the most influential cartoon that was produced at Hanna-Barbera (and still being produced today with several re-versions and movies) is Scooby-Doo!, created by Joe Ruby and Ken Spears in 1969, the series remains to be one of Boomerang’s biggest hits (alongside Tom and Jerry). Scooby-Doo! centres on four teenagers and the eponymous talking Great Dane who go solving spooky supernatural mysteries.
In the 1980’s, the studio started to decline, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom though, aside the odd spinoff and prequel such as The Flintstone Kids and The New Scooby and Scrappy-Doo Show, there was one hit that stood out – The Smurfs, an animated show about small blue human-like creatures that live in a forest, the show’s concept wasn’t created by Hanna-Barbera but rather by the Belgian cartoonist Peyo (real name Pierre Culliford).
The studio changed ownership a few times, but it wasn’t until 1991 that will completely change the course of the studio’s history and it’s so important that if it didn’t happen I wouldn’t be writing this blog today – Turner Broadcasting System brought 50% of the studio (as well as the all important archive) with the Apollo Investment Fund, at the time, Turner already owned the MGM catalogue which includes Tom and Jerry and for the first time the studio’s IP’s and Tom and Jerry are united under one company. In 1994, Turner fully owned the studio.
Both, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera carried on at the studio as creative consultants. The studio hired new animators, most notably – Craig McCracken (The Powerpuff Girls), Donovan Cook (2 Stupid Dogs), Genndy Tartakovsky (Dexter’s Laboratory), David Feiss (Cow and Chicken), Seth MacFarlane (worked on multiple productions as well as his What A Cartoon! animated short – Larry and Steve which was the prototype for his later creation – Family Guy), Van Partible (creator of Johnny Bravo) and Butch Hartman (worked on several shows at Hanna-Barbera, later created The Fairly OddParents for Frederator and Nickelodeon).
Turner Broadcasting System hired Fred Seibert as the president of Hanna-Barbera and to oversee its What A Cartoon! animated short development programme, Seibert later founded Frederator Studios, the co-producer of Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time. During this time Cartoon Network Studios was only a brand name used by Hanna-Barbera.
People were originally sceptical of Ted Turner’s 24-hour news network CNN (Cable News Network) before it launched, but he proved the critics wrong, and he was about to prove them wrong yet again, Turner Broadcasting System Inc. or TBS for short decided to make use of its newly acquired catalogue of animated shows from Hanna-Barbera and MGM as well as new productions from the new studio, finally in the United States on 1st October 1992, the newest network from TBS – Cartoon Network launched, the world’s first ever 24-hour channel dedicated to nothing but cartoons. Cartoon Network quickly spread internationally with a focus on distribution as opposed to full-localisation, with the Latin American version launching in April 1993, the European launch in September 1993 from TBS’s base in London and the Asian feed launching in 1994.
Luckily, Cartoon Network already had a large library of cartoons to keep the channel going during its formative years while production on new shows such as Dexter’s Laboratory and Cow and Chicken were on-going. The 1996 merger between TBS and Time Warner was also important, especially as Cartoon Network now has full access to one of the biggest movie studios in Hollywood – Warner Bros. as well as content from Warner’s post-1948 animation library (Turner already owned the pre-1948 library). By 2001, Hanna-Barbera ceased to exist in its own right within the media conglomerate, with Warner Bros. Animation owning the Hanna-Barbera name and archive. Warner Bros. Animation is now responsible for modern remakes of its animated classics such as Be Cool, Scooby-Doo.
Sadly, William Hanna died in 2001, Joseph Barbera remained at Warner Bros. Animation as an executive producer and director until his death in 2006. William Hanna’s and Joseph Barbera’s studio and their legacy continues to this very day, the studio itself was renamed Cartoon Network Studios and continues to produce many of your favourite cartoons. There is so much to write about the history of Hanna-Barbera and Cartoon Network, so I’m leaving part two for the channel’s 25th Anniversary on 1st October this year. Hanna-Barbera has produced some of the most loved cartoon characters, its influence is still present today and it will carry on well into the future.