The show was set in a town called Bedrock supposedly in the stone age era, but with a society and technology almost identical to that of the United States in the mid 20th century. The setting is in a fantasy world where dinosaurs, sabre-tooth tigers and other extinct animals (most of which were long gone by the time humans actually evolved) coexist with suburban humans, who use animals and pseudo stone-age technology to replicate actual modern technology. The characters ride around in automobiles made out of stone and animal skins. One source of the show's humor was the ways animals were used for technology; for example the characters would take photographs with a camera; then the inside of the camera box would be shown to contain a bird carving the picture on a stone tablet with its bill. In a running gag, the animals powering such technology would look at the audience, shrug, and say "It's a living."
The series directly drew from The Honeymooners for its main quartet of characters: the blustering Fred Flintstone and his wife Wilma Flintstone (née Slaghoople, though Pebble was also given on occasion) modeled after the Kramdens, and their friendly neighbors Barney Rubble and wife Betty Rubble (née Betty Jean McBricker). Later additions to the cast include the Flintstones' daughter Pebbles Flintstone and the Rubbles' abnormally strong adopted son Bamm Bamm Rubble. The Flintstones had a pet dinosaur named Dino, and the Rubbles had a kangaroo-like animal named Hoppy. Fred Flintstone worked at a quarry and his boss was Mr. Slate. The call-letters of the Bedrock radio station were BDRX.
In the show's closing credits, Fred tries to "put the cat out for the night" but winds up getting locked out and yelling for his wife to come open the door: "Wilma! Come on, Wilma, open this door! Willllll-ma!". Although the cat, Baby puss, was seen in the closing credits, it was rarely seen in any of the episodes.
Aside from the animation and fantasy setting, the show's scripts and format are typical of a situation comedy, with the usual family issues resolved with a laugh at the end of each episode. The show was revived in the 1970s with Pebbles and Bamm Bamm having grown to teenagers and was a feature non-animated film in the 1990s.
Only the advent of The Simpsons decades later brought cartoons back to American prime-time network television with the kind of success the Flintstones enjoyed.