Adapting the Addamses: Hanna-Barbera & TV Formats

Curator's Note

Television formats are easily reproducible frameworks for shows which have been predominantly discussed in relation to official exchanges on the global market, with particular emphasis on the Idol and Big Brother franchises. More recent scholarship has begun examining the official exchange of scripted series, especially Ugly Betty and Homeland. Work remains to be done on this long and complicated history of unofficial format exchange. I gesture toward this much-needed area of scholarship with a brief consideration of the convoluted mixture of genres and influences in Hanna-Barbera’s failed adaptation of The Addams Family in 1973.

Hanna-Barbera in the 1970s was producing more television animation than most other studios, and many of its properties were running on competing stations in the booming Saturday morning time slots which the networks primarily aimed at children. They had grown exponentially from an upstart in the 1960s, taking full advantage of television’s insatiable need for content. The studio had also successfully adopted TV formats as a mode of production, allowing them to produce differentiated content in a short amount of time while controlling overhead costs. The method of limited animation employed by Hanna-Barbera at this time privileged quick and easy replication and differentiation in production.

The Addams Family is the oddest series produced by Hanna-Barbera in this era. Instead of utilizing the sitcom format of the live-action series from 1964, they produced a show that plays like a low-rent Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? The family takes to the road in a RV shaped like their famous Gothic mansion and becomes entangled in various problems in different cities, many of which involve Gomez attempting to solve some minor mystery. What is most bizarre about this change to me is that for once Hanna-Barbera had gone through the trouble of actually obtaining the rights to a property rather than just ripping it off. Then, instead of taking advantage of the ready-made format of the sitcom from a decade earlier, they essentially remade one of their own successful shows with different characters. This convoluted method of adaptation points to a potentially more thorough understanding of how formats have functioned historically within television production. The usefulness of format theory in examining certain modes of production in a more localized context can be highlighted in case studies such as this, which take the discussion of formats outside of the international arena.

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