Saturday, October 4, 2008

50 Years of Yuks with Huck!

Just below this post, with great thanks to Mark Evanier, we noted the 50th Anniversary of THE HUCKLEBERRY HOUND SHOW, and linked to Mark’s thoughts on the subject.

His thoughts, as both an industry professional and lifelong fan of the H-B Hound, are, of course, are far better and more accurately expressed than mine. But, as a lifelong fan as well, I now treat (…or would that be “subject”) you to my own view of this truly groundbreaking animated television series, the times during which it was created, and the innovative men behind it.

From my APA/fanzine column The Issue At Hand # 80 March 25th, 2007 – it’s time for Huckleberry Hound

During the heyday of theatrical animation, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera created and produced the Tom and Jerry short cartoons for MGM Studios. As that career wound down, the pair found themselves among a small number of pioneers (…which included Rocky and his Friends and Crusader Rabbit producer Jay Ward) who would attempt to make their mark with original animated product created specifically for television.
The success, in the mid to late 1950s, of the Warner Bros., Max Fleischer, Walter Lantz, Famous Studios, and Terrytoons theatrical shorts on TV created a demand for such product… BUT that product had to be manufactured in considerably less time and with the merest fraction of the cost of its big screen predecessors.

It was at this that Hanna and Barbera excelled and, as a result, almost single handedly turned television animation into a viable industry. While no one would ever confuse them with their more lush theatrical counterparts, the earliest Hanna-Barbera cartoons, within the necessary constraints of limited animation, were well-made and always entertaining, and appealed to a broad audience of children and adults alike.

Though “H-B Enterprises” (…as the credit reads in some early cartoons) launched with Ruff and Reddy, an almost “movie-serial-like” series of animated adventures broken into short, episodic chapters complete with cliffhangers, the fledgling studio would literally make TV history with its second effort… Huckleberry Hound.

Undeservedly obscure today, in 1958, Huckleberry Hound was a tremendous success, and changed the way television would package and present animated product.

From the latter half of the 1950s, thru as late as the mid 1960s, cartoons on television – whether older theatrical shorts or those produced for TV – were generally presented or framed by a genial live host. Every region had its own Bozo the Clown. In New York, we had Captain Jack Mc Carthy (…whose TV stage name inspired a rather unpleasant early Billy Joel song), Officer Joe Bolton, Chuck Mc Cann, Sandy Becker, Sonny Fox, Beachcomber Bill Berry, and Zookeeper Milt Moss. Other local TV markets had such personalities of their own. The last vestige of this staple of TV past can be seen in the character of The Simpsons’ Krusty the Clown.

As unlikely as this seems today, perhaps the most radical change brought about by Huckleberry Hound was the elimination of such a host.
In sequences no longer seen to make way for additional commercial time, H-B’s jack-of-all-trades, southern blue-blooded hound presided over his own show, greeting the viewers with a “Hound dog howdy to y’all!” and introducing each segment or component part of the half hour program.

For instance, at the beginning of each show there would be a framing sequence in which, through Huck, we would be introduced to Pixie, Dixie, and Mr. Jinks and Yogi Bear – each being regular weekly features of the program. A similar sequence would close the show, and a brief interaction between Huck and the characters of each feature would directly precede the airing of that feature. Huck might share a brief gag with Yogi Bear, and then invite the audience to stay tuned for Yogi’s upcoming cartoon. Alas, only the cartoons themselves, and not these innovative bits, appear to exist today. Though some of them have surfaced in the 2005 Huckleberry Hound DVD collection!

Hanna-Barbera would repeat this format in its later Quick Draw Mc Graw and Yogi Bear shows, thus proving that the toons could “…do it for themselves”. Jay Ward’s Rocky and his Friends and later Bullwinkle Show would adopt this approach to some extent as well. And, in one of those great instances of things coming full circle, even ABC’s The Bugs Bunny Show, in 1960, would utilize new footage of Bugs introducing Daffy, Tweety, etc. to frame the classic Warner Bros. theatrical shorts which would comprise this series. That footage, last seen in truncated form during the 1980s, has, in a limited way, been “rescued” for the series of Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVD sets.
Airing in many markets, in the early evening timeslots of 6:30 or 7:00 PM, Huckleberry Hound captured a large adult audience and would soon bring about the belief that an animated series could be specifically produced for prime time viewing.

Again, Hanna-Barbera answered the call in 1960 by literally inventing the half hour animated comedy with The Flintstones. In 1964, they would also create the half hour animated adventure in Jonny Quest… though success in that genre was slower in coming, and would not become a mainstay of TV animation until many years later.

Today, as we enjoy such successful prime time animated series as The Simpsons, Family Guy, and King of the Hill, we must ask ourselves would these series exist if not for the pioneering success of The Flintstones? …And would The Flintstones have come about without the initial success and crossover appeal of Huckleberry Hound?

…I’d tend to think NOT, but I’m a big, biased fan of Huckleberry Hound, and always will be!

Next, we’ll look at Huck in the comic books! ‘Till then, y’all take care o’ yourself, y’ hear!

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