Yesterday on Facebook, someone posted a YouTube video of one of what used to be a common part of television advertising. Actually two parts, since it was a cigarette advertisement, one of those ads which featured the regular cast of that particular program, plugging the sponsor of the week.
In this case, the sponsor was Winston cigarettes, and the show was The Flinstones, perhaps one of the best-known and best loved animated cartoon series in the history of TV. I know it was one of my all-time favorites. It was also the longest-running , at least until The Simpsons came along, lasting six seasons on ABC (and I was there for most of them).
One of the more, I don’t know, disturbing things about The Flintstones was one of its sponsors: Winston cigarettes.
For the first two seasons of its 1960-66 run, the weekly misadventures of Bedrock’s most famous citizens were partially brought to you by the filter cigarette which tasted good like a (click, click) cigarette should That sounds shocking today and it is; an ABC Nightline report on the tobacco industry’s marketing practices described big cancer as “brazen enough to advertise on a children’s cartoon,” followed by a clip of Fred lighting up Wilma’s smoke and singing the Winston jingle.
That wasn’t right, but the worst thing about the Flinstones and Rubbles lighting up on alternating Friday nights from 1960-62 was the indifference paid to the whole thing at the time. Frankly, with the lack of any kind of smoking gun evidence where ABC, the producers of The Flintstones, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (makers of Winston) or their ad agency showed some intention to sneak smokes to six-year-olds, some form of negligence might be a more relevant offense than contributing to the delinquency of a minor. if one were to approach this as a criminal investigation.
So why did this happen?
For one thing, which the poster pointed out, The Flinstones at least technically, wasn’t a children’s cartoon. It was intended for an older audience and ran outside what as then considered the so-called “family hour” (during its run 6:30-7:30 p.m. CST). One review of the year 1960 even described it as an “adult” cartoon (nothing x-rated mind you, just a story where more mature situations were involved).
Whatever concerns there might have been about youngsters watching weren’t evident, at least at the start. Miles Laboratories alternated with Wisnston as a Flintstones sponsor, with its main products hawked being Alka-Seltzer (helping Barney when he overate) and One-A-Day multiple vitamins, although ads for Chocks, then Miles Labs’ brand of children’s vitamins, popped up as that first season progressed.
In addition, since The Flintstones was an ABC series in the early 1960s, there were parts of the country where it wasn’t on at its scheduled time since it was picked up via tape delay. In the Quad Cities of Illinois and Lowa, for instance, it ran at 8 p.m. on Monday night that first season (borderline bedtime for some kids) on WOC-TV in Davenport.
Tobacco advertising was also much more ubiquitous then, and tobacco companies carried much more clout until the plug was pulled in 1971. Brown and Williiamson played a key role in the revival of Naked City as an hour-long series after it was dropped as a half-hour in 1959, for instance, while the ban on cigarette advertising itself was pushed back a day to so smokes could be plugged to the massive male audience watching New Year’s Day football bowl games.
And like that YouTube video, there were spots in just about every prime time show where the sponsor’s products were hawked by the stars of the show, including more than a few of the little sticks with tobacco inside. And those programs weren’t all post bedtime serious dramas.
Robert Young lit up a Kent at the beginning of Father Knows Best at one time and so did Dick Van Dyke on his show (one of the cast commercials on The Dick Van Dyke Show had Rob and Buddy stacking things on a Kent crush-proof box to test its strength). And most of the “adult” westerns (which were also serious dramas, but came up family friendly none the less) were sponsored by a brand of smokes or two.
And almost a decade before “What do you want? Good grammar or good taste?” became part of broadcast cigarette advertising’s swan song, The Beverly Hillbillies reminded viewers on alternating Wednesday nights that “Winston tastes good, like a cigarette oughta!”
In fact, stars of live-action series, be they cops, cowboys or comedians, also appeared in print cigarette advertising, lighting up their sponsor’s brand.
Finally, we have to consider , again, The Flintstones’ initial Friday night time slot and its history, namely the program it replaced. We heard “Yabba-dabba-dooo!” and watched Fred pound on his front door, bellowing for Wilma to let him in after being outsmarted by the house saber-t00th on Sept. 30, 1960, replacing The Man From Blackhawk, a half-hour western about a frontier insurance investigator.
Its sponsors? Miles Laboratories (One-A-Day and Alka Seltzer) and that’s right a certain brand of cigarettes. A year before Fred and Barney were ducking yard work to enjoy some Winstons, The Man From Blackhawk was playing that familiar jingle on an antique music box.
None of the other network animated series that were on either before or during the run of The Flintstones, at least to my knowledge or memory, had cigarette sponsorship.
Contributing to the delinquency or negligence?
I’m not a prosecuting attorney. Which charge would be more relevant, or serious?