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Saturday, June 02, 2012

Rocky and Bullwinkle's Backstory

Do you remember when your family first got hooked up to cable television?

Provided that you’re old enough to remember a time when the television dial only went up to channel 13, I imagine most of us remember when we finally got cable television hooked up.  In my case, it was shortly after my parents got their television and VCR combo for their 23rd wedding anniversary in August 1988.  One morning, I woke up, headed downstairs, and there were thirty additional channels to choose from.  It was absolutely incredible to a seven-year-old boy the number of choices there were. 

Of course, there were some channels that were generally useless.  Five of them were French language only (Canada is a bilingual country after all), and the Weather Channel can only be entertaining for all of five minutes.  Most of them were fantastic, and I’d say that most of the topics that I have brought up in this blog have been a direct result of watching cable television.

And my siblings and I all had our favourite networks.  My eldest sister was glued to A&E, while the middle sibling was into MuchMusic.

My favourite channel was this one.

YTV (or, Youth Television) actually debuted on September 1, 1988, which was maybe about a week before we got cable television.  As far back as I can remember, it was (and still is) on channel 16 in our listings, and when we first got cable, I was constantly watching it.  The network aired some wonderful Canadian kids programs, as well as popular American cartoons and live-action shows such as Garfield, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Nick Arcade.  Even their evening programming was suitable for families, as they aired British sitcoms, Australian dramas, and Canadian classics such as “The Edison Twins” or “You Can’t Do That On Television”.

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, YTV was one of the only channels that I watched.  But as I grew older, I tuned into YTV less and less.  Nowadays, I don’t even recognize the station anymore.  But those first few years of YTV are ones that I’ll always treasure.

I think one of the reasons why I enjoyed YTV in its early years the most was because it was a brand new network.  It was very much in an experimental phase the first few years, and I think by 1991, they had found a formula that worked.  Before, their programming was a collection of hodge-podge.  There was a lot of contemporary cartoons, but there were a lot of cartoon classics that aired as well.

And, for today’s blog topic, I thought we’d discuss one of the classic cartoons that I watched on YTV all those years ago.  Take a look below.

And now for something we hope you’ll really like...The Rocky & Bullwinkle blog entry!

Rocky &  Bullwinkle of course details the adventures of Rocket J. “Rocky” Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose.  Rocky was a flying squirrel, and Bullwinkle was good-natured, but a bit thick in the head.  They both lived in the fictional town of Frostbite Falls, Minnesota, and both of them lived relatively peaceful lives...well, aside from having to deal with the antagonistic Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale.

And just because the show was called “The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show” didn’t mean that Rocky and Bullwinkle were the only characters we saw in the program.  Much like “Bugs Bunny & Tweety” and “Tiny Toon Adventures”, the show also had a slew of guest characters appearing in their own segments.  In addition to the moose and the flying squirrel, we had Dudley Do-Right, Peabody & Sherman, and a segment known as “Fractured Fairy Tales”.  I’m sure that at some point, I’ll be dedicating a blog entry to each of these minor segments, because they are all interesting enough on their own.

For now, we’ll just focus on the moose and the squirrel, as well as some of the trivia that is associated with this program.

The show is one of the few cartoons out there that have aired on more than one network, and under more than one title.  When the show first debuted on November 19, 1959, it was on ABC under the title of “Rocky and His Friends”.  And, the show initially didn’t air on Saturday mornings.  It aired twice a week on Tuesday and Thursday after “American Bandstand”.  Believe it or not, the show was highly successful on ABC, and it was once ranked the highest rating daytime television program at the time.  It stayed on ABC until 1961, when it was moved to the NBC network on September 24 of that year.  It was a revolutionary move for two reasons.  One, it was moved to a Sunday night time slot (just before Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color), and secondly because it was the first time that the cartoon was broadcast in color television.  The name of the show changed as well, to simply “The Bullwinkle Show”.

While the show was huge on ABC, The Bullwinkle Show struggled in the ratings upon its move to NBC...mostly because of the fact that it often competed head to head with a show about another animal, “Lassie”.

The show was almost moved to CBS around 1963, but NBC still wanted to broadcast the program, and rescheduled it to Saturday and Sunday afternoons.  This move wasn’t enough to keep the show running, and it was cancelled in 1964.  However, the show itself continued on in syndication, and was once a regular fixture of ABC’s Saturday morning line-up during the 1981-1982 season.  Currently, the program can be seen on the Boomerang channel, and once aired on Nickelodeon during the 1990s.

And, of course, it aired on YTV for a brief period in the late 1980s and early 1990s as well.  J

That’s about all that I have to say about the broadcast history of the show.  Now, let’s talk a bit about how the show was produced.

The idea for Rocky & Bullwinkle was conceived in the mid-1950s by Jay Ward and Alex Anderson, who previously worked together on “Crusader Rabbit”.  The original concept of the show was to have a group of forest animals running a television studio.  Now, some aspects of the show carried over into the show which would become “Rocky & Bullwinkle”, such as the character of Rocky itself.  But there were some other characters that were created that didn’t make the final cut.  Amongst these creations were Oski Bear, Sylvester Fox, Floral Fauna, and Blackstone Crow.

Oh, and Bullwinkle was there as well, only his original name was going to be “Canadian Moose”.  And, given that Bullwinkle was designed to be a character that wasn’t very bright, I don’t know whether I should be insulted or not!  Regardless, Canadian Moose was changed to Bullwinkle after being inspired by the name of a Berkeley, California car dealership named “Bullwinkel Motors”.

The voice cast was hired in early 1958, and the cast of characters included Paul Frees, William Conrad, Bill Scott, and the legendary voice actress June Foray.  Shortly after, General Mills signed on to be the cartoon’s sponsor on the condition that the program air in a late afternoon time slot, in which their ads would most certainly be seen by their target audience.  Children.

All that was left to do was hire the production staff for the cartoon, and Jay Ward was responsible for hiring the writers and designers.  Curiously, no animators were hired, which was unusual, given that it was a cartoon show.  But there was a reason behind that.  Ward had convinced some friends on his from an advertising agency to buy an animation studio located in Mexico called Gamma Productions to do the animation for the show.  This decision had its pros and cons.  The move to outsource the work to Mexico was a financially economical solution for the sponsors of the program.  But Mexico wasn’t exactly known as being the animation capital of the world, and their work was filled with mistakes.  Certainly the animation cels were churned out quickly, but due to the lack of quality control, there were colour and design discrepancies, and the final result was choppy and inconsistent animation during the show’s entire run.

In spite of this though, the show’s writing saved the program, as the writing was quite witty and satirical in nature.  The show was marketed for children, but there was a lot of humour and inside jokes for adults to enjoy as well, and some critics actually called the show a well-written radio program with pictures!

So, let’s end this blog with a couple of Rocky & Bullwinkle episodes, courtesy of YouTube!

1 comment:

  1. I loved the Edison Twins. It actually ran on CBC for a long time in the afternoons before it hit YTV.

    Rocky and Bullwinkle is still my fave from being a kid. That and The Flintstones and The Jetsons stand out for me.