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What'll 21st Century Be Like? 'The Jetsons'

Television * Space-age animated family got many things right, enough to merit a marathon on Cartoon Network.

December 25, 1999|SCOTT MOORE | WASHINGTON POST

Everything you need to know about the future can be learned from quarter-century-old episodes of "The Jetsons."

And come New Year's Eve, the 1962 visionaries of the future are going to party like it's 1999.

Cartoon Network gives Hanna-Barbera's animated series its due with a millennium celebration that stretches from 10 a.m. Thursday to midnight Friday.

Michael Lazzo, the cable network's senior vice president of programming and production, cites "The Jetsons" as one of the most referenced shows in television: "People tend to use 'The Jetsons' as society's technological milepost, and it's amazing how accurate the show was in predicting the different gadgets that have actually come into existence."

For those who have been on another planet, "The Jetsons" was the 21st century equivalent of "The Flintstones."

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Heading this middle-class family of the future was George, a well-meaning but occasionally bumbling Everyman (voiced by George O'Hanlon) who worked for a hot-headed boss at Spacely Space Age Sprockets. Jane, his wife, kept the Sky Pad together and dealt with the problems of teeny-bopper daughter Judy and their boy Elroy. Adding comedy were dog Astro--whose speech was dominated by Rs--and literal but efficient robot maid Rosie.

During its original 24-episode run on ABC's Sunday night lineup, "The Jetsons" was prophetic in its depictions of future life. (The 41 episodes made in 1984-85 and the 10 in 1987 can only be praised for their effect on sweetening the series' attractiveness for syndication and eventual run in perpetuity on Cartoon Network.)

It was much easier to draw moving sidewalks, video telephones, tanning machines, oxygen bars, wrist televisions, talking computers and online news and gambling sites than to invent them. But producer Joe Barbera said the gadgets used on the show were designed to solve everyday problems.

"We thought of ways to make our everyday lives easier and to create what we thought was a better lifestyle," Barbera said in a Cartoon Network interview.

The Jetsons' Sky Pad Apartments--housing 2,000 tenants and sporting a sky lawn--were based on remnants of the 1936 World's Fair in New York City.

"I saw round buildings kind of on a pedestal," Barbera said. "I decided to add hydraulics to the pedestal so you could lift the apartment above the smog of clouds into the fresh, clean air."

"The Jetsons" also had a few harbingers of doom: "buttonitis," a forebear of carpal tunnel syndrome, and "the Uniblab," an electronic surveillance system to monitor employees' work habits.

Of course, that was a three-hour workday. Whatever happened to that idea?

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