Written By: Bill Syken
The Nov 21, 1960 issue of LIFE heralded new beginnings, great and small. The cover of the issue showed John F. Kennedy—with wife Jackie, mother Rose and sister Eunice— fresh off his win in the 1960 presidential election, and the headline declared a “New Era in Government.”
Another story in that issue featured a family that would change the medium of television—the Flintstones. LIFE hailed their new show as “TV’s first Cartoon for Grownups.” The prime-time hit on ABC debuted on Sept. 30, 1960 and centered around the prehistoric lives of Fred and Wilma Flintstone and their friends Barney and Betty Rubble. LIFE described the show, set in the town of Bedrock, as a “a parody of modern togetherness” and added, “By poking fun at dozens of humorless comedies now on the air, The Flintstones gives a much needed boost to a generally dismal TV season.” Viewers agreed. The show ran for 166 episodes, through April 1966, and Fred’s cry of “Yabba Dabba Doo” became part of the American vernacular.
The creative minds behind the show were William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. The two had worked together as animators at MGM studios, where they had won seven Academy Awards for their Tom and Jerry shorts. In 1957 Hanna and Barbera left MGM to form their own company, and had their first hit with The Huckleberry Hound Show (which would produce an even more popular spinoff, The Yogi Bear Show. Hanna-Barbera also go on to produce such shows as The Jetsons and Scooby-Doo. Their mark on the world of animation was as gargantuan as any of the dinosaurs stomping around Bedrock.
In 1960, when The Flintstones was the hot new thing, LIFE photographer Allan Grant took a deep dive into the world of Hanna-Barbera. His pictures show Fred Flintstone and other company creations popping up in unlikely settings—at the boardroom, in the recording studio, floating in the pool at Hanna’s house. Some particularly interesting photos show the Hanna-Barbera artists at work in the days when animators relied on pen and ink rather than computers. In one photo a cartoonist makes an exaggerated face in the mirror to use as reference for drawing the same expression on Fred Flintstone.
The Flintstones may have been the first adult-friendly cartoon to air in prime time, but it certainly wasn’t the last. The mantle was picked up most notably by The Simpsons, which debuted in 1989 and continues its remarkable run today. (In a nod to the bond between the shows, in one episode Homer hilariously recreates the Flintstones’ opening sequence.. If The Flintstones succeeded because it featured the most interesting family on television, the same sentiment applies to The Simpsons—or Family Guy, South Park, BoJack Horseman and the other shows that carry on the legacy of adult animation that can be traced back to the town of Bedrock and the studios of Hanna-Barbera.