Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Resurrecting the Classics (or: How to make older series relevant to a new generation)(Hint: It ain't easy)

An enterprising soul on ToonZone started a thread the other day inquiring about why WB couldn't develop a new series for one of Hanna-Barbera's oldest franchises, The Flintstones. It got me thinking.

The last anyone knew, writer-producer Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy, American Dad, "Ted") was developing a Flintstones revival for Fox, due this year, but the latest word is that project is on the ol' backburner, since MacFarlane has a lot on his plate these days (supposedly, there's a sequel to "Ted" on the way). He's admitted what most of us already knew, that Family Guy was inspired by The Flintstones, and, given how television shows are produced today, aims not for the funny bone, but somewhere lower on the viewer's body, if you get my drift. There were fears that MacFarlane might ruin the Flintstones by making it a Family Guy clone. Couple that with Cartoon Network and their shabby treatment of Mitch Watson's take on Scooby-Doo, which concluded last month, and the network's questionable decision making in general, and, well, maybe it wasn't the right time for The Flintstones to return.

In truth, if MacFarlane couldn't take on the project and give it his 100% attention or commitment, given he has 2 other series active at the present time, then why not let someone else take a swing at it? No one really knows for sure. All any creator has to do with the Flintstones, really, is retain the classic format. However, there is a glaring issue, which I admit I didn't bring up when I read the thread.

What to do with Pebbles & Bamm-Bamm???

As we've documented here in the past, the kids haven't been treated very well. Hanna-Barbera let them grow up, get married, and start a family. However, nowadays, save for a quick cameo in season 1 of Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated (blink, and you miss), whenever the kids appear in ads for Post's Pebbles line of cereals, they've reverted back to toddlers. Apparently, the advertising maroons who work for Kraft, Post's parent company, seem to think Pebbles & Bamm-Bamm are more marketable as preschoolers instead of teens or adults. You don't see Fred, Wilma, et al, shilling for Flintstones vitamins, now made by Bayer, anymore, but the product is still out there. Any ads would again have Pebbles & Bamm-Bamm as toddlers. The rationale seems to be this. The Flintstones is far and away more accessible in reruns of its original 1960-6 series than later incarnations and spinoffs, thanks again to Cartoon Network and their brainless decision to lock most H-B series into the vaults and ignore them. They'll only run Pebbles & Bamm-Bamm on Boomerang when they see fit. Ditto the specials.

So, how do you get around this problem? That's easy. You pick up where H-B left off, and make the new series a generational sitcom, focusing on both Pebbles & Bamm-Bamm as well as their parents, and an anthology format, where they can alternate the focus as needed, would be perfect for the project. Fox & WB don't want to make the same mistake CBS made with a Brady Bunch revival in 1990 and do a 1 hour dramedy. The Bradys crashed and burned because network suits thought viewers would gravitate back if the show aired on the same night and time as the original series did. They thought wrong. Seth MacFarlane is a Flintstones fan, and if he understands that he can't remold it in the raunchy image of his own shows, then he needs to address the issue with Pebbles & Bamm-Bamm before he can move forward. We'll see if that does happen.

Now, let's consider another argument, and that is how to pitch the next Scooby-Doo series, and, trust me, there will be one, as long as they keep churning out DTV movies and make mad beaucoup bucks.

One idea I have, and I hinted at it earlier in reviewing an old episode, is reviving the 1972-4 New Scooby-Doo Movies, but not under that title. A hour long cartoon isn't feasible anymore unless it's done right. Scooby can be put together with celebrities again. The producers of Batman: The Brave & The Bold paid homage by bringing in Scooby and the gang, plus special guest "Weird" Al Yankovic, for a guest shot. All that proves is that, in the right hands, the format can still work. There are fans who were turned off by Mystery Incorporated's serialized format, which CN crapped on by airing season 2 in weekday chunks last summer and last month because the current administration all of a sudden ain't digging action-adventure toons. A full-length team-up with "Weird" Al? I'd say that's doable. Original MTV VJ Martha Quinn guest-starred on Mystery Incorporated, and writer-producer Mitch Watson posited her as the owner of a record store, just for the sake of a pop culture tie-in, which, like a lot of his ideas, seemed like a good idea that came from throwing darts on a velcro dartboard. I wish I could see this episode On Demand, but noooooo!

However, if a Movies revival is a go, and it could be if next year's DTV crossover with the WWE is a huge hit, maybe Martha returns in a more familiar millieu, asking Scooby and co. for help. I'd dig.

Outside of that, the next series would have to be as far away from Mystery Incorporated as possible. By that, I mean it can't be too dark and gritty. That turned off some folks, as the serialized format took away the comedy that defined the franchise. The "fake monster of the week" gimmick is way past stale, and needs to be expunged in favor of a more serious whodunit format, which they experimented with in 2002's What's New Scooby-Doo series. I'd go for the whodunits in a heartbeat.

Lastly, someone asked about a Jetsons revival. Since rumors of a live-action movie seem to have landed in the waste bin, the one problem with reviving the series is trying to figure out how far into the future to set it, in correlation with the original 1962 series, which hit its 50th anniversary last year, and got no love from CN (what a shock). Since it partially is derivative of Flintstones in that George has a crabby boss and is on the opposite side of the time scale, I doubt we'll see it happen unless the Flintstones revival gets off the ground first. Speaking of movies that didn't happen, that includes a live-action Jonny Quest which had Zac Efron ("High School Musical") in the title role. That alone killed the project. Efron was too old for the role, and now it seems as though the rumor was one protracted April Fool joke that started a little too late for April 1.

On ToonZone, I tossed a few ideas around a few years back for some revivals. Some sensible, others a little more far-fetched. A few folks pitched in with their ideas. Now, it's time to revisit those ideas, and I'll have something down the line.


magicdog said...

I posted in that TZ forum that part of the reason I think McFarlane backed off the project was due to negative feedback when it was announced. People consider The Flintstones an institution and are worried that McFarlane's penchant for toilet humor could spoil it. The same goes for The Jetsons since it was the 60s vesion of "the future", and trying to revive the series in the 80s didn't work - at least not for me.

The Pebbles & Bamm Bam issue is a valid one. They were kept as babies for the run of the original series and that worked for the time. Like Tabitha, they were aged for their 70s incarnation, and that had mixed results (good idea to have them grow up and into new adventures with their peers, with the parents pushed to the background, rather bad to have them in baldly rewritten escapades that would have been rejected for the old show). It got to the point no one was sure what to do with them. I liked that they were allowed to grow up and get married (something Hanna & Barbera admitted they'd set up all along), but it's still the old series people often go back to. If you age them again (say as tweens or teens) you can get more story fodder than keeping them as babies. That means storylines in school, dealing with family, etc.
As long as it's true to the spirit of the characters and premise (and stays clean but well written) I'd give it a shot.

SDMI was a great show and I'm satisfied with the 52 episode run. I do agree it should have been treated better but it's all under the bridge. Like any other reboot, I'd want the newest show to be true to the spirit of the characters. I'd like either a supernatural themed show (people in masks are BORING!) in which the gang have more at stake (not unlike SDMI), or perhaps moving into a non supernatural direction (CSI lite) in which the gang (perhaps as adults) are solving mysteries in a more conventional manner but using their individual skills. I can see Velma working in a CSI lab (as an intern maybe), Fred and Daph could be working in either the media or law, Shaggy & Scooby could still be on the fringes somewhere but still very useful.

hobbyfan said...

Archie Comics tried a CSI type by rebooting Archie's Weird Mysteries without the Weird in the books only after the TV show was cancelled. It didn't get very far, but that does provide a template for doing the same with Scooby. I'd get Fred & Daph back working in television, but this time with Shaggy working with them (and Scooby on the fringes, ready when needed). I'd bring back Scrappy and resolve his backstory to address all the internet haters to whom the 2002 movie was unofficially dedicated.

Unfortunately, CN seems to be very happy doing what they do best to us older fans, and that's screw things up to play to the net.

Jennifer Schillig said...

I wouldn't mind a live-action Jonny Quest, but DEFINITELY not with Zac Efron. Give it a good screenwriter, with the sort of retro-futuristic look the series had, and it might work well. Especially if it had the most charming element of the series--the bond between the mix-and-match Quest family. (What a nice message to give kids watching--that you don't necessarily have to be related by blood to be a family.)

hobbyfan said...

Jen: If they still want to do a Jonny Quest movie, and it would seem that WB doesn't right now, the best move would be for Jonny to remain a pre-teen, as he was in the original cartoons (1964, 1985). The trick is finding a young actor to essay the part, even an unknown.