In the 1950s and 1960s, the concept of primetime animated television was a relatively new phenomenon. However, there were several groundbreaking cartoons that originally aired during primetime hours, aiming not just for a young audience but also for adults.

Gerry Johnson, Alan Reed, Mel Blanc, and Jean Vander Pyl in The Flintstones (1960)

“The Flintstones” was a monumental cartoon in this context. Premiering on September 30, 1960, on ABC, it was the first animated television series to hold a primetime slot. Set in the fictional prehistoric town of Bedrock, the show followed the daily lives of the Flintstone family, providing social commentary and humor that resonated with both kids and adults. Because of its popularity, “The Flintstones” ran for six seasons and even inspired multiple spin-offs and films.

Daws Butler, George O’Hanlon, Penny Singleton, and Janet Waldo
in The Jetsons (1962)

Another primetime animated series was “The Jetsons,” which debuted on September 23, 1962. Also produced by Hanna-Barbera, the creators of “The Flintstones,” “The Jetsons” was a futuristic counterpart to its prehistoric predecessor. The show was set in a world of flying cars and high-tech homes, offering a vision of what the future could look like. While it wasn’t as successful as “The Flintstones,” the series has retained a cult following and influenced various aspects of popular culture.

Leo DeLyon, Maurice Gosfield, Allen Jenkins, Marvin Kaplan, Arnold Stang,
and John Stephenson in Top Cat (1961)

While not as mainstream, “Top Cat,” another Hanna-Barbera creation, was also aimed at a primetime audience. It premiered in 1961 and revolved around the antics of a group of alley cats led by the smooth-talking Top Cat. The show was a comedic take on city life and the relationships among the cats, their neighbors, and the local police.

“Rocky and Bullwinkle,” officially known as “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,” premiered in 1959 and initially ran during the late afternoon or early evening hours. It also appealed to a broad audience due to its smart writing and subversive humor. The show contained a mix of different segments, including the adventures of Rocky the flying squirrel and Bullwinkle the moose, along with segments like “Fractured Fairy Tales” and “Peabody’s Improbable History.” Its satire and wit were geared as much towards adults as they were towards children.

“Jonny Quest” debuted in 1964 as another attempt to create a primetime animated series. The show featured Jonny Quest, an intelligent and athletic young boy who went on extraordinary adventures. It was significant for its more serious tone and its attempt at creating a more realistic style of animation.

In summary, the late 1950s and 1960s saw the emergence of primetime animated TV shows, setting a precedent for future series like “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy.” These pioneering shows were a testament to the broad appeal and flexibility of animation as a medium for storytelling.