The Flintstones was the most expensive half hour show on television when it debuted
The Flintstones has become such a cultural institution that it's easy to forget its humble TV beginnings. Yes, it was coming from the two men who directed Tom and Jerry shorts for MGM and had since created their own company producing memorable characters like Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear, but a primetime cartoon aimed at adults was something new.
Factor in the cost. At a whopping $65,000 per episode, the bet ABC took on The Flintstones was downright risky. Of course, Fred, Wilma, and the rest were a hit and the show only grew more successful with the introduction of Bamm-Bamm and Pebbles in later seasons.
William Hanna and Joseph Barbera's "Stone Age" creation premiered at a time when most sitcoms cost $30,000 per episode to make. Even 30-minute shows with big-name guest stars like the anthology series General Electric Theater only cost around $50,000.
But celebrity fees weren't the cause of The Flinstones' extremely high budget — time was.
As the saying goes, "time is money" and nowhere is that more apparent than when producing a television show. A typical sitcom in the late 1950s and early '60s took about three weeks to shoot and edit. The average Flintstones episode took seven months.
The show was in development for a year before the final look was even decided on. "We were a year casting this show, only instead of interviewing live people we interviewed drawings," Barbera joked to The Pittsburgh Press in 1960.
The most obvious reason why The Flintstones took so long to produce is that each frame was hand-drawn. Even with 150 artists working on the characters, the backgrounds, the inking and the painting, it still took a while to complete the 12,000 frames needed for each episode.
Every drawing needed to be photographed in sequence and then, once the film was developed, could be cut into the final product.
Barbera described his company's process for completing every Flintstones episode to the New York Daily News. "There are 14 separate stages to putting on a Flintstones show. First, of course, comes the writing of the story."
After writing comes voice recording, timing, drawing, painting, editing, and much more. Put it all together, then add seven months and 65 grand, and you have a full episode of The Flintstones. Adjusted for inflation, the show's weekly budget would be over half a million dollars in today's money!