Fifty years ago this past Sunday, the Jetson family made its debut on American television. Hanna-Barbera’s space age counterpart to The Flintstones, the show lasted only 24 episodes, and yet has remained culturally ubiquitous for the past five decades. It was revived in the mid-1980s for several seasons, and later adapted for a film. Called the “single most important piece of 20th century futurism” by critic and writer Matt Novak, the program was not only about futuristic technology, it also employed some revolutionary technology of its own: it was first show ever to be broadcast in color on ABC.
Janet Waldo played Judy Jetson on the original show in the 60s. She talks about the future, as depicted in the television show, and how much of that has come true — from microwave ovens to video phones to moving sidewalks. "I think audiences are just a teeny bit disappointed that they haven't gotten their flying cars yet."
As Matt Novak says, "I've been studying past visions of the future long enough to never make a prediction." What is most interesting about the Jetsons' future to Novak is not how much technological change the show predicted, but how little social change it did. "The Jetsons' future was just projecting the 1962 family into the future," Novak says. Regardless of the futuristic setting, the Jetsons remained the perfect picture of an early Cold War American family.
Indeed, Novak wonders how different things would be today "if the Jetsons had represented all of these different social futures." In his view, the impact this one show had on the expectations of an entire generation cannot be overstated.