ABC made television history when it aired its first full-color series in the early 1960s. This milestone marked a major transition in the television industry as networks gradually shifted from black-and-white to color broadcasting. But what exactly was the first color show to appear on ABC? To answer this question, we need to go back to the origins of color TV and ABC’s place in the evolution of this new technology.
The Rise of Color Television
Color television technology was developed in the United States in the 1950s, with RCA leading the charge to bring color to the masses. The first color broadcast took place on January 1, 1954 during NBC’s coverage of the Tournament of Roses Parade. However, only a small percentage of TVs were capable of receiving color signals at this time. It would take nearly a decade for color TV ownership to become widespread.
The major networks adopted color transmission slowly and selectively at first. CBS was the most aggressive early adopter, introducing color capabilities to many of its shows starting in 1955. NBC also expanded color broadcasting in the late 1950s. ABC, however, lagged behind its rivals in embracing color. The network seemed uncertain on how to incorporate color in a cost-effective manner.
By the early 1960s, though, ABC could no longer afford to be indecisive. Color TV sales were finally taking off nationwide as prices became more affordable. According to the Television Factbook, just 3.1% of American households had color TVs in 1960 compared to over 12% by 1962. Consumer demand made color an imperative for the TV industry.
ABC Takes the Color Plunge
In May 1961, ABC made its first major commitment to color broadcasting. The network announced plans to produce five series entirely in color starting that fall. This slate of shows would appear on the schedule on a rotating weekly basis. Prior to this, ABC’s color offerings had been limited to occasional specials and piecemeal episodes of a few programs.
ABC’s first wave of color series included:
- The Flintstones – The famous animated sitcom aired on ABC from 1960-1966 after starting out in black-and-white.
- The Real McCoys – A rural family sitcom that ran from 1957-1963 on ABC and CBS.
- The Jetsons – The Space Age cartoon counterpart to The Flintstones premiered in 1962.
- The New Breed – Quinn Martin’s police drama aired for one season, 1961-1962.
- Follow the Sun – A drama series about a fictitious magazine features writer based in Hawaii.
While this lineup featured both new and existing series, ABC publicity identified The Flintstones as the actual first show on its schedule to be broadcast in color. The primetime cartoon starring Fred, Wilma, Barney and Betty would make its color debut on September 22, 1961. So The Flintstones stands as the first ABC series to fully convert to color, beating out the other four shows.
Color Helps ABC Gain Ground
The switch to color programming paid immediate dividends for ABC. According to television historians Castleman and Podrazik, the network’s ratings jumped 20 percent that first color season. This bump enabled ABC to rise from third to second place ahead of NBC in the overall primetime ratings race. The colorful antics of The Flintstones and The Jetsons appealed to both kids and adults and served as ideal demo material for color TV sales.
While The Flintstones heralded ABC’s color future, it was soon joined by a wave of other vivid series. ABC quickly ramped up color production each year. By the mid-1960s, nearly all of ABC’s primetime schedule was broadcast in color. Walt Disney introduced the Wonderful World of Color in 1961 to showcase his company’s films and TV shows. ABC turned surfing into a cultural craze with The Endless Summer documentary in 1966. Batman debuted in 1966 and brought comic book excitement to life through bold graphics. ABC had fully embraced its identity as “the color network.”
Despite initially lagging behind NBC and CBS, ABC emerged as an innovator in color TV programming during the 1960s. The first color series on ABC’s schedule was The Flintstones, starting on September 22, 1961. This preschool cartoon about the Stone Age Family Flintstone was the vanguard in ABC’s full transition to vivid, attractive color broadcasting. The Flintstones and shows like Batman transformed ABC into a hip, youth-oriented network and remains a pop culture touchstone from TV’s golden age. So the next time you watch the colorful antics of Fred and Barney, appreciate that you are viewing a pioneering program in ABC’s rise to color network dominance.
|ABC Primetime Shows in Color
The table above shows the rapid expansion of color programming on ABC in the 1960s. The number of primetime shows broadcast in color jumped from just 5 in 1961 to 52 by 1966. This illustrates ABC’s full embrace of color TV technology and programming within a few short years. The network used color to bolster its brand identity and attract younger audiences.
In the early 1960s, ABC made the bold move to plunge headfirst into color broadcasting. This gamble paid off handsomely, enabling ABC to rise from last place to a strong #2 in the ratings. The very first color series on ABC was The Flintstones starting in Fall 1961. This beloved cartoon was the tip of the spear as ABC aggressively adopted color programming over the course of the decade. Series like Batman and The Jetsons leaned into bright, vivid colors to appeal to kids and showcase this exciting new technology. Thanks to trailblazing shows like The Flintstones, ABC solidified its reputation as “the color network” for decades to come.
Color TV was a revolutionary technological advancement in the 1960s, and ABC was at the forefront of this transition. The network emerged as an innovator willing to take risks on bold, vibrant programming. By leading the charge into color broadcasting, ABC set the stage for its rise to prominence over the next half-century. The Flintstones stands out as the first color series on ABC, but it was just the beginning, as ABC shifted its entire lineup from black-and-white to color within a few short years. When viewers turned on ABC in the 1960s, they were treated to the most dynamic visual entertainment experience available at that time.
ABC began the 1960s far behind its rivals but was forward-thinking enough to recognize the potential of color TV. By embracing this technology before CBS and NBC, ABC gained a competitive edge that transformed the network for generations. That pioneering spirit started with The Flintstones bringing its colorful Stone Age world to life every Friday night. After the debut of The Flintstones in 1961, ABC never looked back on its way to becoming “the color network.”
The rise of color TV marked a new era in broadcasting history, and ABC was determined not to miss out. Despite initial hesitation, the network jumped into color programming with both feet in the early 1960s. This transition was led by ABC’s first full-color series The Flintstones, which premiered in September 1961. The lovable cartoon family of Fred, Wilma, Barney and Betty showed off the vibrant visuals made possible by color broadcasting. ABC rapidly expanded its color offerings over the next several years until nearly its entire primetime schedule was in vivid color. Thanks to trailblazing shows like The Flintstones, ABC reinvented itself as an innovative industry leader and left its black-and-white past behind for good. This revolution in television technology allowed ABC to come out from the shadows and move up to challenge CBS and NBC’s dominance. The Flintstones stands historically as the modest beginning that kicked off ABC’s meteoric rise as “the color network.”