Modeled after the popular sitcom The Honeymooners but set in prehistoric times, The Flintstones was prime-time’s first successful animated series. Married couple Fred and Wilma Flintstone shared their home on Cobblestone Lane in the Stone Age town of Bedrock with their pet dinosaur Dino, and were best friends with next-door neighbors Barney and Betty Rubble, who played almost as prominent a role in the series as Fred and Wilma. Stories rarely involved less than all four of the main characters.
Early man may have sheltered in caves and used stone tools for hunting, but The Flintstones took the meaning of the Stone Age to a whole new level. Houses, furniture, wheels, bowls, newspapers and the like were all made of stone. The names of people and places reflected this theme, most incorporating a reference to “stone” or “rock.” Dinosaurs took the place of most modern-day machinery or appliances that require power to operate, being employed as vacuum cleaners, moving cranes, food disposal units, dusters, intercom go-betweens and phonograph needles among other things. A running gag used throughout the series had a dinosaur thus employed make a comment directly to the audience after performing a service, usually about the difficulty or underappreciated quality of its job.
Fred worked for the Bedrock Quarry & Gravel Company, under the watchful and uncompromising eye of his boss Mr. Slate. He and Barney spent much of their recreational time at the bowling alley, pool hall or watching the fights on TV. They were also proud members of the “Loyal Order of Water Buffalos,” a men-only club whose dress code required members to wear a large blue hat with buffalo horns attached. The Lodge’s main purpose seems to have been to allow its members an excuse to shirk their domestic responsibilities and get together with the guys.
Fred was good natured at heart, but that didn’t prevent his stubborn, short tempered and selfish side from revealing itself on a regular basis. But it was these very qualities that made Fred interesting, identifiable and ultimately endeared him to fans. The outlandish circumstances he landed in were in most episodes a direct result of the irresponsible actions or surreptitious schemes Fred conjured up to do something he knew full well his wife would disapprove of… if she found out. Being a good friend, Barney, who was much more responsible than Fred, could be coaxed into going along with his friend’s ideas, only to be dragged down with Fred when things inevitably backfired. Despite consistently landing in hot water with their wives, episodes usually ended on a feel-good note, with the two showing regret for their actions or listening to their conscience and ultimately doing what was right, reminding the girls why they loved their husbands. Only occasionally were the roles reversed, with Wilma and Betty landing themselves in trouble with their husbands.
The show reached a milestone in its third season when the Flintstones had a baby girl named Pebbles. This change marked a subtle shift in the storylines, when Fred’s misadventures began to stem more from unlucky happenstance or misunderstandings than from his irresponsible behavior. Early in season four the Rubbles were also blessed with a child: a toddler named Bamm-Bamm who was left on their doorstep with a note. The couple adopted the child and raised him as their own. The reasoning behind their son’s name became evident quite early; Bamm-Bamm was incredibly strong and liked to repeatedly slam his favorite club (or people, when they presented a finger) into the ground while yelling, “Bam, bam… bam, bam!” Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm became close companions from their very first meeting, and later dated as teenagers in the 1971 spin-off series The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show.
Another character who arrived late to the series (first appearing in season 6) but had a significant impact on the show’s direction was a small, green space man with futuristic powers called The Great Gazoo. Gazoo was exiled from his own time and forced to serve a prehistoric master until he proved he was reformed. He could only be seen by Fred and Barney (whom he ended up serving) as well as children and animals, and even when his intentions were good caused all sorts of trouble for his Stone Age masters, whom he referred to as “dum-dums.”
The Flintstones was originally broadcast Friday nights (switched to Thursday nights for the 4th and part of the 5th season) on ABC from September 1960 to September 1966. NBC then rebroadcast the series on Saturday mornings from January 1967 to September 1970. A large number of spin-off series made use of the popular characters in subsequent years. The first of the spin-off series was The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show (1971), followed by The Flintstone Comedy Hour (1972), The New Fred and Barney Show (1979), The Flintstones Comedy Show (1980), The Flintstone Kids (1986) and Cave Kids (1996). Not included in the list are a large number of shows that featured reruns of previous series presented under a different title and format.