Yabba-dabba-doo! The animated classics of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera are hotter than ever. The Cartoon Network is unveiling today its spinoff cable channel, Boomerang, which features the adventures of such Hanna-Barbera characters as the Jetsons, Jonny Quest, Tom and Jerry, Yogi Bear and his pal Boo Boo, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw and Baba Looey, Top Cat, Magilla Gorilla, Pixie & Dixie and Josie & the Pussycats.
Earlier in the week, Hanna and Barbera donated more than 51 cartoon segments to the Museum of Television & Radio, work the public can see in the near future. And next month marks the release of “The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas,” the second live-action feature based on Hanna-Barbera’s first prime-time animated series, “The Flintstones.” Both men have cameos in the film.
Hanna and Barbera’s first collaboration as a team at MGM was six decades ago with “Puss Gets the Boot,” which introduced the world to the cat-and-mouse duo Tom and Jerry. Over the years, the team received 12 Academy Award nominations for Tom and Jerry cartoons, winning seven for best animated short subjects. After MGM eliminated its animation department in 1957, Hanna-Barbera opened its doors as one of the first independent animation studios to produce series TV. The studio’s first production was “Ruff and Ready,” followed by “The Huckleberry Hound Show” in 1958. The team has won eight Emmys for its TV work.
Barbera, who turned 89 last week, sat down in his expansive Sherman Oaks office to talk about Boomerang, the donation to the museum and his beloved cartoon characters.
Question: Aren’t you thrilled that Hanna-Barbera cartoons are getting their own cable station, Boomerang?
Answer: It’s a hell of an idea. For instance, one little incident. I stop into a place to get new prescription glasses and the owner sees my name. He said, “Are you Barbera of Hanna-Barbera? I used to spend two hours a day looking at your stuff. I still love the stuff and my kids are spending their time watching it.” I said with Boomerang you’ll be able to enjoy them all the time. I get that all the time [from fans]. They say, “I was raised on this stuff.” They know the characters. They know them all.
Q: Well, I remember the first time I saw “The Flintstones” on TV.
A: [The networks] kept asking me to do a prime-time show. We used to do five five-minute Tom and Jerry cartoons a year and this meant we were going to do a half-hour a week. We actually had about 11 shows going on at the time [“The Flintstones”] premiered. I used to take the cast across the street to give them pasta at the Naples Restaurant. It was on Sunset Boulevard near the Columbia Studios.
We had such a great cast of people, such wonderful voices. To me the voices make the show, especially the story. The story is what [counts]. People look at the stuff that they did 35 years ago. Tom and Jerry was 60 years ago. They are still looking at them for a very simple reason, I think, the stories are good. They can stand another look. Some of this stuff you don’t want to see again.
Q: The characters also had to be memorable.
A: People know the characters and they imitate them a lot. I keep getting people saying to me, “You’re smarter than the average bear.” Boo Boo was Yogi’s conscience. He was always saying, “The ranger isn’t going to like that, Yogi.”
Q: Have you ever called a halt to a cartoon series if it didn’t live up to your expectations?
A: Well, I stopped “The Flintstones” before it got on the air. We had recorded five of them. I knew it wasn’t right. I could feel it. Then I made a decision to go back and redo the five. I already had Mel Blanc [as Barney] and Alan Reed as Fred. When Alan Reed recorded alone I wasn’t impressed at all, but I went back and I brought the two of them in [the recording studio] and once they started playing off of each other [the characters worked].
Q: Have you seen the new Flintstones movie, “Viva Rock Vegas,” which comes in late April?
A: The man who is Fred Flintstone . . .
Q: Mark Addy?
A: Excellento. Who is the English actress who plays the part of Wilma’s mother?
Q: Joan Collins.
A: She was good, too. I personally think it’s much better than the first one.
Q: Can you talk about the Hanna-Barbera programs that were donated to the Museum of TV & Radio this past week?
A: Have you ever been there? You can sit in a booth and bring up any cartoon. Let’s say it’s incredible. You have material from 60 years ago and you can look at them today.
Q: Did you and William Hanna have any idea that television would become such a gold mine for animation?
A: To begin with, you have to realize that two guys who worked for 20 years on “Tom and Jerry” and had won every award including seven Oscars could not understand why the phone rang and a voice said, “Close the studio.”
There was no warning. It was just close the studio. We were the best in the business and what were we going to do now? Sell hamburgers?
Television was the only name of the game and there was no money [in it]. When we walked in [to networks] talking deals, they would say, “Get out of here, we can’t afford you.” Animation was so expensive. So we finally ended up with a deal to do “Ruff and Ready” with $2,700 to do five minutes and the third [cartoon] would be $2,800 and the fifth would be $5,000. There was no money, so we had to create some way of doing these so we came up with limited animation, which means if you know the business you can do every trick of the trade. Cameras which create shakes and move in and out, gave [the cartoons] movement. We used every trick in the book.
* Boomerang is currently available here only on EchoStar and DirecTV. The network will have a sneak preview from noon-4 p.m. today on the Cartoon Network.