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Hanna and Barbera had created the Tom and Jerry cartoon series for MGM in 1940, and they formed Hanna-Barbera Productions in 1944 while working for the studio. After an award-winning stint in which they won eight Oscars, Hanna and Barbera left MGM when the studio closed its animation studio in 1955. They were the first animation studio to successfully produce animated cartoons especially for television; until then, cartoons on television consisted primarily of broadcasts of previously produced theatrical cartoons.
Many of Hanna-Barbera's original TV series were produced for prime-time broadcast, and they continued to produce prime-time TV cartoons up until the early 1970s. Such shows as Huckleberry Hound, Top Cat, Yogi Bear, Johnny Quest, The Jetsons, and especially The Flintstones were originally broadcast during prime-time hours, competing with live-action comedies, dramas, and quiz shows. The Flintstones in particular became a top-rated show (the birth of Pebbles Flintstone was the highest-rated episode in the show's history, mirroring the I Love Lucy birth episode). But the Hanna-Barbera studio especially captured the market for animated TV shows produced for after-school and Saturday mornings, grabbing the lion's share of TV cartoon production and holding it for over thirty years. During the 1970s in particular, the majority of TV cartoons were produced by Hanna-Barbera, with the only competition coming from Filmation and DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, plus occasional prime-time animated "specials" from Rankin-Bass, Chuck Jones, and Bill Melendez's Peanuts (Charlie Brown).
The Hanna-Barbera studio has been accused of contributing to the general decrease in quality of animation and TV cartoons during the 1960s through the 1980s. This probably has more to do with them being one of the first studios to do animated cartoons for television and having to deal with constrained budgets. They first practiced the technique of limited animation on the television serial "The Ruff & Reddy Show" as a way of reducing costs. A fifteen minute animation short for the beginning of a movie might have five times the budget of a single half-hour episode of a television cartoon, so a change was required. Unfortunately, quality suffered and the perception of cartoons as a "kids medium" didn't make it a priority for a big budget by television executives. The field of animation reached its low point in the mid-1970s, even as the audience for Saturday morning cartoons was at its peak. Most Hanna-Barbera shows had degenerated into endless variations of the same theme, and each successful formula (The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, Super Friends) was milked dry through repetition.
The state of the field of animation changed during the 1980s and 1990s, and for a while Hanna-Barbera fell behind as a new wave of animators and production studios introduced variety into the market for TV cartoons. In 1991, Hanna-Barbera was acquired by Turner Broadcasting, which in turn was acquired by Time Warner in 1996. By then, several of H-B's animators and writers had left the company to help resurrect Warner Brothers Animation (see, for example, Tiny Toon Adventures).
Time Warner eventually merged Hanna-Barbera with the Warner Brothers Animation facilities (though they operated as separate units, and continue to do so), and turned H-B's focus toward the Cartoon Network cable channel. A newer, fresher batch of cartoons were produced starting in 1995, leaving the old days of Yogi Bear behind (though older Hanna-Barbera cartoons are still rerun regularly in many markets and on Cartoon Network).
After Bill Hanna's death in 2001, it was decided to retire the Hanna-Barbera name, and the company now operates under the Cartoon Network Studios title. The H-B name is still used on legal documents and copyright notices, however.
Hanna-Barbera's productions include:
Hanna-Barbera produced a number of animated feature films for theatrical release, including Hey There, It's Yogi Bear (1964), The Man Called Flintstone (1966), and Jetsons: The Movie (1990).
Critics consider the best of the Hanna-Barbera feature films to be their movie adaptation of the book Charlotte's Web (1973).