The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show is the collective name for two separate American television animated series: Rocky and His Friends (1959 – 1961) and The Bullwinkle Show (1961 – 1964). Rocky & Bullwinkle enjoyed great popularity during the 1960s. Much of this success was a result of it being targeted towards both children and adults. The zany characters and absurd plots would draw in children, while the clever usage of puns and topical references appealed to the adult demographic. Furthermore, the strengths of the series helped it overcome the fact that it had choppy, limited animation; in fact, some critics described the series as a well-written radio program with pictures.
The idea for the series was created by Jay Ward and Alex Anderson, who had both previously collaborated on Crusader Rabbit, and was based upon the original property The Frostbite Falls Revue. This original show was about a group of forest animals running a TV station. The group included Rocket J. Squirrel, Oski Bear, Canadian Moose (Bullwinkle), Sylvester Fox, Blackstone Crow, and Floral Fauna. The show in this form was created by Jay Ward's partner Alex Anderson.
Ward wanted to produce the show in Los Angeles; however, Anderson, who lived in the San Francisco Bay area, did not want to relocate. As a result, Ward hired Bill Scott, who became the head writer and co-producer at Jay Ward Productions, and who wrote all of the Rocky and Bullwinkle features. Ward was also joined by writers Allan Burns (who later became head writer for MTM Enterprises) and Chris Hayward.
The series began with the pilot Rocky the Flying Squirrel. Production began in February 1958 with the hiring of voice actors June Foray, Paul Frees, Bill Scott, and William Conrad. Eight months later, General Mills 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 towards children. Subsequently, Ward hired most of the rest of the production staff, including writers and designers. However, no animators were hired, since Ward was able to convince friends of his at Dancer, Fitzgerald, & Sample — an advertising firm that had General Mills as a client — to buy an animation studio in Mexico called Gamma Productions S.A. de C.V. (formerly known as Val-Mar Animation.) This outsourcing of the animation for the series was considered financially attractive by General Mills, but caused numerous problems. Bill Scott, when interviewed by animation historian Jim Korkis in 1982, described some of the problems that arose in the production of the series:
We found out very quickly that we could not depend on the Mexico studio 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. Mustaches popped on and off Boris, Bullwinkle's antlers would change, colors would change, costumes would disappear. By the time we finally saw it, it was on the air.[
The show was broadcast for the first time in the fall of 1959 on the ABC television network under the name Rocky and His Friends. In 1961, the series was moved to NBC, where it was renamed The Bullwinkle Show. Subsequently, in 1964, the show returned to ABC, where it was canceled within a year. However, reruns of episodes were still continually aired on ABC until 1973, at which time the series went into syndication. In addition, 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.
The lead characters and heroes of the series were Rocket "Rocky" J. Squirrel, a flying squirrel, and his best friend Bullwinkle J. Moose, a dim-witted but good-natured moose. Both characters lived in the fictional town of Frostbite Falls, Minnesota, which was based on the real life city of International Falls, Minnesota. The scheming villains in most episodes were the fiendish, but inept, agents of the fictitious nation of Pottsylvania: Boris Badenov, a pun on Boris Godunov, and Natasha Fatale, a pun on femme fatale. Boris and Natasha were commanded by the sinister Mr. Big and Fearless Leader. Other characters included Gidney & Cloyd, little green men from the moon who were armed with scrooch guns; Captain Peter "Wrongway" Peachfuzz, the captain of the S.S. Guppy; and the inevitable onlookers, Edgar and Chauncy.