A nuclear family named the Jetsons—George, Jane, Judy, Elroy, Astro the dog, and Rosie the robot maid—lived in Orbit City in the year 2062 (according to press materials, though not stated on the show). Created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera (Hanna-Barbera), the show explored life in the Space Age, which was more embedded in the 1960s than the far-off future.
Ahead of its time, the show featured flying cars, moving walkways, smart homes, smart watches, talking robots, video conferencing—things that actually were invented in the 21st century. Twenty-four episodes aired on ABC in primetime from September 1962 to March 1963, but the show got canceled. However, it aired in syndication on Saturday mornings for two decades and was revived for an additional 51 episodes from 1985 to 1987.
The Jetsons’ final episode came in the form of a 1990 animated movie—with pop star Tiffany voicing Judy Jetson—which only grossed $20.3 million at the box office. The show’s lasting legacy stems from when people reference the future, they speak of it being “like The Jetsons,” in terms of architecture, technology, and livability. Here are 10 out-of-this-world facts about the iconic animated program.
1. THE JETSONS HAD A HIT THEME SONG.
Hoyt Curtin composed the catchy theme song, which first appeared on TeeVee Tunes’ compilation album Television’s Greatest Hits, Vol. I. In 1986, the song was re-recorded and released to radio stations. It was so popular it peaked at number nine on the Billboard charts, and an animated video featuring the Jetsons played on MTV. “Every time I hear that damn thing I’m amazed,” Curtin told the Los Angeles Times. Curtin composed music for practically all of Hanna-Barbera's cartoons.
Karyn Ulman, who was vice president of music at Taft Entertainment, which owned Hanna-Barbera, had a hunch the song would succeed. “Over the years jazz artists have played it live,” she said. “We’ve had requests from pop and New Wave bands to use The Jetsons. We’ve had so many requests from radio stations and individuals across the nation, we knew it was going to be a hit.”
2. OTHER ACTORS WERE ORIGINALLY HIRED TO VOICE GEORGE AND JANE JETSON.
Everybody knows George O’Hanlon and Penny Singleton as the voices of the married Jetsons, but in 1962 actors Morey Amsterdam and Pat Carroll (who later voiced Ursula in The Little Mermaid) were initially hired to voice the show’s leads. “We were cast as the Jetsons and then they pulled us,” Carroll said in an interview. “I don't know if we weren’t any good or what. Nobody ever told us. As far as I was concerned, that was inappropriate. I don’t care if it’s the biggest agency in the world or the biggest producer. When it’s wrong, it’s wrong, and if I have to spend the money to litigate, I will.”
Carroll kept her word, and she and Amsterdam sued Hanna-Barbera Productions for breach of contract. They sued for $12,000 apiece, saying their contracts stated they’d be paid $500 per episode for 24 of them, not just one. “I knew full well we wouldn’t win, but I wanted my voice to be heard that this was wrong. Even my agents lied. So, you know. There you are. You’re not going to win when you fight the big fellas, but at least you can put up a little yowling.”
She was most upset at the fact the producers weren’t transparent with her. “If somebody had had the guts to say, ‘Listen, you two stink and we’re going to let you go.’ If anybody had the guts to say that I would have said, ‘Fine.’ And no lawsuit.”
According to a June 1962 news article, though, the reason the two were let go was because of “too many sponsor conflicts, what with Morey being a regular on The Dick Van Dyke Show and Pat likewise on The Danny Thomas Show."
3. THE JETSONS WAS CANCELED BECAUSE OF “LACK OF COLOR.”
In 1962, less than three percent of American homes had a color TV set, but The Jetsons was broadcast in color—ABC’s first show to air that way. Smithsonian magazine theorized the color situation caused issues, and a 1962 New York Times article wrote that people who had access to ABC affiliates in New York, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, and Los Angeles were the only markets guaranteed to see the show broadcast in color, even if they had a color TV. For those watching on a black-and-white TV, they missed out on the vibrant world Hanna-Barbera had created. “The Jetsons’ future is bright; it’s shiny; and it’s in color,” wrote Smithsonian. But most people watching on Sunday nights obviously didn’t see it like that. The immersive world of The Jetsons looks far more flat and unengaging in black and white.”
4. LOS ANGELES’ GOOGIE ARCHITECTURE INFLUENCED THE JETSONS’ DESIGN.
Googie architecture rose to prominence in Southern California in the late 1940s and spread nationwide, but many Googie structures no longer remain. Smithsonian magazine surmised that because Hanna-Barbera Studios was located in Hollywood, the artists who worked on the show took inspiration from around town. Los Angeles International Airport’s (LAX) Theme Building was fashioned in Googie style, as were Norms Restaurants, Johnie’s Coffee Shop, a McDonald’s in Downey, California, and even the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign.
5. FLYING CARS AND SPACE TRAVEL ARE PROBABLY ON THE WAY.
The year 2062 will be here before we know it, and hopefully by then so will flying cars. The Jetsons operate a flying saucer-like car, but actual flying cars look much different. Terrafugia has made prototypes for cars that “Transformer” themselves into street-legal airplanes. In December 2015, the FAA approved the company’s request to test a small-scale model of a TF-X at altitudes below 400 feet and speeds below 100 miles per hour. Aero Mobil also manufactures cars that change into planes, and Moller’s Skycar 200 will be an “autonomous aircraft utilizing advanced onboard environment scanning and precise positioning system.” Of course, no prices are listed for any of these vehicles.
As for space travel, Sir Richard Branson of Virgin is working on Virgin Galactic suborbital space travel, which costs about $250,000 per person. So far, 580 people have put down deposits to travel into deep space. In a race to put rich people into space, Tesla founder Elon Musk founded SpaceX, to launch rockets into orbit and to someday help people live on other planets … maybe by 2062?
6. MOVING WALKWAYS EXISTED BEFORE THE JETSONS.
The characters on The Jetsons traverse moving walkways. Known as moveable pavement, inventor Alfred Speer patented it in 1871, though it wasn’t until 1958 that the first moving walkway appeared at an airport. Dallas’ Love Field was the first airport to install a moving walkway, which are now the norm in most airports.
7. IN THE 21ST CENTURY, SPACELY SPACE SPROCKETS WOULD BE WORTH OVER $1 BILLION.
In 2007, Forbes figured out what 25 fictional companies would be worth in today’s market. Spacely Space Sprockets, where George Jetson worked, ranked number 25 on their list. Factoring in inflation and algorithms, Forbes stated the sprocket manufacturing company would be worth about $1.3 billion. “[CEO] Cosmo Spacely’s coddled employees said to only work three-hour-a-day, three-day-a-week jobs, but workers must suffer his notoriously volatile temper and endure incessant termination threats,” reads the article.
8. THE JETSONS PREDICTED TANNING BEDS.
On the show, tanning beds exist, in three different settings: Miami, Honolulu, and Riviera. But in the ’60s, tanning beds hadn’t arrived in the U.S. yet. In 1978, Friedrich Wolff realized how nice tanned skin looked, so he founded the indoor tanning industry and became “the father of indoor tanning.” He brought his European equipment of lamps and a reflector system to the U.S., and now Americans have the luxury of looking orange.
9. A LIVE-ACTION VERSION IS IN THE WORKS (MAYBE).
Since 2001, a script for a live-action Jetsons movie has gone through several rewrites and directors. In 2003, Adam Shankman of Hairspray fame considered directing the movie, and Robert Rodriguez also flirted with the idea. In 2012, Van Robichaux and Evan Susser were attached to write the movie, but in 2015 the producers announced the live-action film would now be an animated one, and that writer Matt Lieberman would take over the script.
10. KANYE WEST WAS ALMOST THE “CREATIVE DIRECTOR” FOR THE JETSONS MOVIE.
During one of Kanye West’s sporadic Twitter rants, back in 2012, he tweeted: “I was just discussing becoming the creative director for the Jetson movie and someone on the call yelled out … you should do a Jetsons tour!”
Jetsons movie producer Donald De Line clarified West’s statement in a 2012 interview with Vulture. “The last two years I had various forms of communication from the studio that he had this real love and interest in The Jetsons as an artist,” De Line said. “My response was always through representatives, ‘Well, that’s great. We’ll let him know when we have a screenplay.’ I was thinking he was interested in it on a musical level, but apparently he’s deeply interested in art and architecture and wanted to be involved.”
He ended up having a 10-minute conference call with Warner Bros., De Line, and the film’s other producer, Denise Di Novi. “He’s not the creative director on the movie, but I loved his passion for The Jetsons,” Di Novi said. “He’s just a friend of the court.” She said that the call ended in a "If you come up with any ideas, let us know,' kind of way."