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Top Cat

September 29, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the premiere of Hanna-Barbera’s second prime time animated TV show, Top Cat. The previous year, the animation studio created The Flintstones for ABC and by the end of the year the network was begging for another half hour animated  sit-com. If The Flintstones was a ripoff of  The Honeymooners, then Top Cat was a ripoff of The Phil Silvers Show.  Joe Barbera makes no secret of this in an AP article published soon after the project was announced in April, 1961. The article is also of interest because it was written when it seemed that Hanna-Barbera Studios could never lose. Alas, Top Cat only lasted a single season before it was canceled.

Huck Hound’s Masters Add ‘Top Cat’ To List
By BOB THOMAS
AP Movie-TV Writer

HOLLYWOOD(AP) – Here is the cast of one of next season’s most promising TV series:

Top Cat, Choo Choo, Brain, Benny the Ball, Spook and Fancy-Fancy.

Sound like a strange bunch of cats? They are. But they will be adding more gold to the already booming cartoon firm of Hanna-Barbera, now the world’s biggest.

The new series is titled after its star, “Top Cat,” and was snapped up in a hurry by ABC for showing in the prime time of Wednesday at 8:30.

As described by Joe Barbera: “Top Cat lives in an alley behind a bowling center and next to a policeman’s call box. The policeman is Officer Dibble who is always admonishing him about using the phone. We see Top Cat as a kind of Sergeant Bilko. He’s always dreaming up outlandish schemes for his fellow cats.”

The sale of the new series adds more strain to the bulging walls of the Hanna-Barbera studio, outgrown after six months of occupancy. “In TV you keep creating new shows, expecting your old ones to be dropped,” said Barbera. “Then we sell the new ones, but the old ones are renewed. So we have to keep expanding.”

It’s a nice kind of problem. But the team has conquered others in the past, including what to do when they were abruptly dropped from MGM’s cartoon studio. They turned to TV and sold a show called “Ruff and Ready.” They still had something to learn.

“We aimed the show at kids, and that was a mistake,” said Barbera. “We still haven’t gotten our money out of it after three years. For our next show, we took an adult approach.” After all, the kids are pretty hep nowadays. How many of them watched ‘I Love Lucy?’ They know what’s going on. So if you can hook their parents, you’ll get the kids, too.”

 

The next show was “Huckleberry Hound,” and it drew a wide and rabid audience. It was followed by “Quick Draw McGraw.” Yogi Bear got so popular in “Hound” that he spun off in a show of his own. And this season Hanna-Barbera leaped into the top nighttime ratings with “The Flintstones,” a domestic comedy set in prehistoric times.

“We wanted to do a cartoon with humans and we tried every kind of combinations,” said Barbera. “It was never funny until we put them in Stone Age clothes.”

For all their bright ideas, the firm’s operation couldn’t have succeeded without a different approach to animation.

“It’s something that goes back to the early days of cartoon,” Barbera said. “They used to be a caricature of human action. Then Disney began photographing live actors and copying the film to make the cartoon prince move like a real man. The result: Cartoons weren’t funny any more.

“We’ve gone back to the caricature of human action. It’s cheaper—you don’t have to draw so many pictures. And it’s funnier.”

 


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