‘Rocky And Bullwinkle’…The Surprising Backstory!
Production began in February 1958 with the hiring of voice actors June Foray, Paul Frees, Bill Scott, and William Conrad. Ward hired most of the rest of the production staff, including writers and designers, BUT…no animators were hired!?! Why? Because Ward was able to convince some friends at Dancer, Fitzgerald, & Sample (an advertising agency that had General Mills as a client) to buy an animation studio in Mexico called Gamma Productions, originally known as Val-Mar Animation.
This outsourcing of the animation for the series was considered financially attractive by primary sponsor General Mills, but caused numerous problems. In a 1982 interview by animation historian Jim Korkis, Bill Scott described some of the problems that arose during production of the series: “We found out very quickly that we could not depend on Mexican studios to produce anything of quality. They were turning out the work very quickly and there were all kinds of mistakes and flaws and boo-boos. They would never check with us on details…mustaches popped on and off Boris, Bullwinkle’s antlers would change, colors would change and costumes would disappear. By the time we finally saw it, it was on the air.”
General Mills had signed a deal to sponsor the cartoon, under the condition that the show be run in a late-afternoon time slot, where it could be targeted toward children. The show was broadcast for the first time on November 19, 1959, on the ABC television network under the title Rocky and His Friends twice a week, on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, following American Bandstand at 5:30 p.m. ET, where it was the highest-rated daytime network program.
The show moved to the NBC network starting September 24, 1961, broadcast in color, and first appeared on Sundays at 7 p.m. ET, just before Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. Bullwinkle’s ratings suffered as a result of being aired opposite perennial favorite Lassie. A potential move to CBS caused NBC to reschedule the show to late Sunday afternoons (5:30 p.m. ET) and early Saturday afternoons in its final season. NBC canceled the show in the summer of 1964. It was shopped to ABC, but they were not interested. However, reruns of episodes were aired on ABC’s Sunday morning schedule at 11 a.m. ET until 1973, at which time the series went into syndication.
An abbreviated fifteen-minute version of the series ran in syndication in the 1960s under the title The Rocky Show. This version was sometimes shown in conjunction with The King and Odie, a fifteen-minute version of Total Television’s King Leonardo and His Short Subjects. The King and Odie was similar to Rocky and Bullwinkle in that it was sponsored by General Mills and animated by Gamma Productions. NBC later aired Bullwinkle Show reruns at 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday afternoons during the 1981-1982 television season.