I thought I’d look back at a cartoon I saw in reruns as a kid, but only lasted one season during its original Saturday morning run: the 1972 Hanna-Barbera series “The Roman Holidays.”
The series used the Flintstones’ “20th century family set in another time-era” shtick, only set in 63 AD, during the days of the Roman Empire and the reign of Nero. The family in this series was the Holiday family: father Augustus (“Gus” for short); mother Laurie; teenaged son Happius (“Happy” or “Hap” for short…get it?); and grade school aged Precocia (who lived up to her name by being, well, precocious). There was also the obligatory family pet, the Holidays’ pet lion Brutus, who only uttered Snagglepuss-like animal noises (“growl, growl, whim-perrrr!”). Also sometimes appearing was Hap’s girlfriend, Groovia.
The main adversary in the series consisted of the Holidays’ landlord, Mr. Evictus, the owner of the Venus de Milo Arms apartment building where the Holidays lived. Being temperamental, Evictus would often try to evict the Holiday family for various reasons (the kids making too much noise, trying to sell his building to developers, disliking their pet lion, etc.).
Like most TV families of the era, Gus was the sole breadwinner, with his job consisting of working in a marble quarry for the tyrannical Mr. Tycoonius, who’d threaten to fire Gus or transfer him to Egypt to build pyramids. (In reality, the pyramids had long been built by the time the Roman Empire came into existence around 27 BC.)
Similar to the Flintstones, part of the show’s humor rested in seeing 20th century culture and technology existing in an ancient Roman setting. Thus the Romans of this series had TVs, telephones, traffic signals, etc. Unlike the Flintstones’ technology, only part of it was animal- or human-powered (a giraffe as a window washer’s scaffolding, a bird as a sewing machine, foot-powered “buses,” etc.); the rest consisted of a mix of actual ancient Roman tech (chariots, scrolls, etc.) or modern-styled tech with an “ancient Rome” twist—TVs shaped like ancient Roman architecture, etc.
Modern cultural elements were similarly given an “ancient Rome” twist: Roman centurions as traffic cops; Gus having a pile of old chariot magazines (resembling car ones); football games held at the Coliseum between the “Vikings” and the “Trojans”; etc. Similar to the Flintstones’ “rock” puns and Jetsons’ “space” puns, the Holidays’ Rome had various “Roman” puns—fake Latin names such as consumer advocate “Naderius Ralphium” (Ralph Nader), actor “Stephano McQueenus” (Steve McQueen). Said puns even stretched to expressions such as “every Tom, Dick and Herod.” And, of course, the obligatory Roman numeral references, though being the early 70s, there weren’t any “call IX-I-I” puns as seen in some modern cartoons (Disney’s “Hercules”/an episode of “Histeria!”).
“The Roman Holidays” lasted just a year on NBC’s 1972-1973 Saturday morning lineup. Its competition:
CBS: “The New Scooby-Doo Movies.” The first of the multitude of Scooby-Doo spinoffs featuring the Great Dane meeting various celebrities, TV characters, and even Batman and Robin.
ABC: “The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie.” A series of one-hour specials about various characters, including the awful Filmation-animated “The Brady Kids.”
In 1973, the show was moved to an earlier timeslot, where it faced:
CBS: “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.” Sabrina Spellman’s first solo animated series.
ABC: “The Jackson 5ive.” The 70s animated series starring animated versions of the Jackson Five singers.
As for why “The Roman Holidays” only lasted a season, my guesses:
- Stiff competition on CBS and ABC. Viewers weren’t likely to flip off the second half of hour-long shows (especially ratings titan Scooby-Doo) to tune into a random cartoon. Even in an earlier timeslot, the Holidays likely weren’t a match for a popular Archie spinoff and the then-popular Jackson Five.
- “The Flintstones” and “Jetsons” were already Saturday morning staples by then, so maybe kids didn’t see a need for a third “20th century-style family in another time-era” series.
- The subject matter. “The Flintstones” and “The Jetsons” each had aspects that’d clearly appeal to kid viewers, namely dinosaurs and space travel/robots. However, ancient Rome isn’t exactly a setting most kids would get excited about (sword and sorcery-type elements aside), unless they’re really into history class at school.
“The Roman Holidays” complete run is available on a two-disc DVD release from the Warner Archive.
Here’s the opening credits for the series: