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Joe Barbera Dies At 95

Amongst friends.
It's been a while since the studio that bore his name has borne his name. Though kids today know his characters, it's doubtful they know the man behind them in the way those of us who had real sugar-frosted Saturday mornings did.

So with the news of Joe Barbera passing (five years after his creative partner William Hanna) at age 95, let this be a moment to acknowledge how he changed the face of children's television. Or maybe it's better to say he helped carve the face of children's television.

I can remember a bunch of us hanging backstage at a junior theater show, complaining that Hanna-Barbera were ruining Tom and Jerry with that Great Grape Ape. We were young, thinking that MGM had sold out their cat and mouse, not realizing that Hanna and Barbera got their start directing Tom and Jerry theatrical cartoons. In fact, I later discovered, they had won an Oscar for their efforts.

After MGM shut down their animation division, the resourceful duo formed their own studio and pioneered the use of "limited" animation. The technique, in which characters often stood still while just their heads were animated to speak, saved a lot of money and fit television perfectly. It forced their cartoons to rely more on verbal characterization and wit. Starting with Ruff and Reddy, the duo spawned classic characters like Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound and perhaps the bane of my childhood (though I loved him), Quick Draw McGraw.

A good thirty years before The Simpsons, Hanna-Barbera broke into prime time with The Flintstones, the first season of which, at least, appealed directly to adults. The kids just picked up on it. That success never quite repeated. Though The Jetsons are still fairly well known today, there doesn't seem to be a huge demand for syndication of Where's Huddles? or Wait 'Til Your Father Gets Home.

A cameo with some of his favorites.
They also okayed the designs of artists like Doug Wildey and Alex Toth. Under the Hanna-Barbera banner, they produced Jonny Quest, Space Ghost and a host of other quasi-adventure shows that allow Adult Swim to exist today.

Theatrically, the studio had a surprisingly solid run, too, with The Man Called Flintstone, Hey There, It's Yogi Bear and the Generation X favorite Charlotte's Web.

In the nineties, the studio sold to Time-Warner, and a few years ago the conglomerate phased the name Hanna-Barbera out, preferring the brand name that most kids knew anyway: Cartoon Network. To see the best of Barbera's work, you have to go to the sister network, Boomerang.

So take a moment of silence for this man. Maybe mention it to your kids. Because if Joe Barbera hadn't taken a second glance at the great dane in a failing pilot called Who's Scared?, we wouldn't have Scooby Doo.

As for me, I'm going to exit, stage left.

Derek McCaw

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