The television show is an extension of the 1963 film Flipper starring Chuck Connors and Luke Halpin as Porter and Sandy Ricks, and of its 1964 sequel, Flipper's New Adventure. For the second film the producers scripted that Mrs. Ricks had died, making Porter now a single parent, with Brian Kelly taking over the role as Porter Ricks but now as a trainee Park Ranger rather than a fisherman. In adapting the films to a television series, the producers gave Porter a second, younger son, Bud, portrayed by Tommy Norden, and the TV series sees him returning permanently to the Florida Keys as the Park Ranger of the Coral Key Marine Preserve. The producers also departed from the films in endowing Flipper with an unnatural degree of intelligence and an extraordinary understanding of human motives, behavior, and vocabulary.
The show was created, by way of the creation of the first film, by Jack Cowden and Ricou Browning, who had experience in underwater filming and underwater performance, notably as the monster in The Creature from the Black Lagoon. In Browning's second filmed portrayal of the Creature, Revenge of the Creature, a scene showcases one of the film's shooting locations, Marineland of Florida (depicted with a fictionalized name), presenting several stunts performed by "Flippy, the Educated Porpoise", in a form of product placement. Browning also wrote the book Flipper based on the ancient legend of Taras, a mythical founder of the Spartan City State of the same name (on the coast of Italy where modern day Taranto is located) who was rescued from shipwreck by a dolphin sent by Poseidon, which was picked up and adapted by famous producer Ivan Tors into the first Flipper movie.
Flipper was filmed in Miami at Greenwich Studios (at the time called Ivan Tors Studios) at 12100 Ivan Tors Boulevard in Miami, Florida, USA and at Key Biscayne, Florida. Nassau was an occasional location, especially for underwater footage. The show was produced in cooperation with the Miami Seaquarium, an aquarium also located on Key Biscayne in Miami.
Miami Seaquarium still presents the Flipper Show; a dolphin show in the lagoon that served as the film location for the show.
The Miami Seaquarium set where Flipper was filmed also served as the set of another Ivan Tors production, Gentle Ben; the house where the Ricks family lived was the same house used for the Wedloe family on Gentle Ben. Flipper was moved to Jimbo's Shrimp (also known as Jimbo's Place), located across from Miami Seaquarium, into the care and exercise of James "Jimbo" Luznar, Sr. Flipper lived in a pen in the cove behind Jimbo's Shrimp.
Flipper was portrayed at first by a female dolphin named Susie, though primarily by another female, Kathy, and occasionally by other females named Patty, Scotty and Squirt. Female dolphins were chosen because they are less aggressive than males and their skins (unlike the skins of male dolphins) are usually free from scars and other disfigurations acquired in altercations with other dolphins. The five dolphins performed all of Flipper's scenes except the famous tail walk, a trick they were unable to master completely. A male dolphin named Clown was brought in for scenes involving the tail walk. The famous "voice" of Flipper was actually the doctored song of a kookaburra.
The show's theme tune was credited to Henry Vars with lyrics by By Dunham. In France the melody was known as "La Romance de Paris" ("The Love Song of Paris"). The first five episodes of the second season featured a different version of the theme, with Frankie Randall singing new lyrics. After those episodes, the original style of the theme was brought back. The background music of the long underwater sequences was inspired by Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe.
Filming began in the early summer of 1964, and the first episode of Season 1 was broadcast on September 19, 1964, with the series ending with the 28th episode of Season 3 being broadcast on April 15, 1967; showing on NBC Saturday nights 7:30–8:00 pm, making 88 episodes in total. NBC continued broadcasts with repeats from season 3 until September 1967. One episode (episode 3 in Season 1 called "SOS Dolphin") was filmed earlier in 1964 as a pilot immediately after the filming of Flipper's New Adventure was completed. Brian Kelly appeared in all 88 episodes, Luke Halpin in 85 and Tommy Norden in 84 episodes. Later, reruns of the first two seasons aired January 1968 – June 1968, NBC, Sunday 6:30–7:00 pm and June 1968 – September 1968, NBC, Sunday 7:00–7:30 pm.
In its debut season in the 1964–65 United States network television schedule, Flipper was a considerable ratings success, rating in the Top 25 especially going up against the long-standing and popular The Jackie Gleason Show on CBS. Ratings declined only slightly in Season 2 1965–66 United States network television schedule buoyed by its proximity to NBC's popular new Saturday night shows I Dream of Jeannie and Get Smart. Ratings fell sharply in Season 3 against the strong rise in ratings for Gleason's show.Flipper. Flipper is a dolphin and the companion animal of the Ricks family. Flipper is an extraordinarily intelligent dolphin who helps enforce regulations in the Preserve, assists Porter Ricks with rescues at sea, and keeps a watchful eye on Sandy and Bud, who he has rescued or helped rescue from danger on numerous occasions. Flipper was portrayed by five different dolphins, the most commonly used ones were named "Kathy" and "Susie."
Pelican Pete. A pelican named Pete, depicted in the original movie as Sandy's pet before he met Flipper, had a recurring role on the show and appeared in several episodes.
Additional animal cast members. Other animals appearing on the show included a Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Spray (real name was Chobee from Okeechobee, Florida) (seen only in a few early episodes), a seal, a baby elephant, alligators, a female albino dolphin (whose baby Flipper fathered during her only appearance, in the "White Dolphin" episode); and another female dolphin, introduced at the end of the second season, dubbed "Lorelei" by the Ricks family. Lorelei became Flipper's "girlfriend".
Porter Ricks. Brian Kelly fills the show's moral center with his portrayal of Porter Ricks, a loving father, conscientious government employee, rugged outdoorsman, and all-around good guy. Porter is a widowed father with two sons, Sandy and Bud, and is employed as Chief Warden and Park Ranger at the fictional Coral Key Park and Marine Preserve in southern Florida. Kelly replaced Chuck Connors (the original Porter Ricks in the first movie Flipper) in the second movie Flipper's New Adventure although he was then only at Park Ranger training school. Reflecting on Porter being single, Brian Kelly told TV Guide (July 9, 1966): "I'm going to bring a couple of bikini girls on. I want some groovy-lookin' girls because a lot of fathers who see the show say, "Where are the chicks?". Porter's parenting style is firm yet fun as he involves his boys (particularly the older son Sandy) in his various exciting water borne tasks as Park Ranger all the while gladly allowing Flipper to befriend his sons and help with various crucial rescue efforts.
Sandy Ricks. Luke Halpin plays Porter's elder son Sandy. Sandy begins Season 1 as a 15-year-old outdoorsy athletic teenager sometimes given to boyish mishaps and poor choices (although usually more responsible than his impish younger brother Bud) and ends Season 3 as an 18-year-old old enough for adult responsibilities and duties. Sandy often accompanies his father on dangerous adventures and rescues at, and under the, sea. The character of Sandy is carried over from both the feature films (Halpin was the sole lead actor/character to appear in both movies AND the entire TV series), where he was the one who first met Flipper and became his special friend. Halpin became an expert diver and thus was able to perform the extensive water related scenes throughout the series largely without stunt doubles. Halpin's role as Sandy Ricks catapulted him to the rarefied atmosphere of teen super-stardom, a status bolstered by his frequent appearances in just cut-down blue jeans showing his tanned athletic swimmer's build, his trademark mop of blond hair and model-quality telegenic looks.
Bud Ricks. Redheaded, freckle-faced Tommy Norden portrayed Porter Ricks's younger son. Bud (a character created specifically for the TV series) begins Season 1 as an impish 10-year-old boy who has a difficult time staying out of trouble. Many episodes revolve around mistakes made by Bud, intentionally or unintentionally, and his need to be rescued from the consequences. Bud is gullible and easily swallows the tall tales Hap Gorman feeds him. Bud is at home on or near the sea and loves animals of all sorts. Flipper is his special companion and he ends Season 3 as a 13-year-old able to do more of the work that his older brother Sandy does.
Hap Gorman, Veteran film, radio, and television character actor Andy Devine appeared five times in the show's first season as an old salt and marine carpenter named Hap Gorman. Hap was something of a bungler who tried Porter's patience. Hap, in the traditional vein for Andy Devine, enjoyed spinning yarns and tall tales about bejeweled maharajahs, faraway kingdoms and exotic ports for the amusement of skeptical Sandy and gullible Bud.
Ulla Norstrand. Swedish-born actress Ulla Strömstedt appeared twelve times in the second season as Ulla Norstrand, an oceanographer whose work frequently took her to Coral Key Park and Marine Preserve. She was often instrumental in enforcing the park's regulations. One of her trademarks was her miniature yellow submarine she was often seen using in her oceanographic explorations, and which was sometimes pivotal in storylines. She was a potential love interest for Porter Ricks, although no serious relationship was ever shown to develop.
Warden Ed Dennis was portrayed by Miami actor Dan Chandler. The recurring role of a Coral Key Park game warden was created by writer Maria K. Little, who needed a sidekick to play off of Porter Ricks. Dennis performed such sidekick chores as helping find a kidnapped Flipper and saving Porter Ricks from murderous lobster-poachers. Chandler also appeared in the feature films Flipper and Flipper's New Adventure.
Sheriff, also Old Man Coleman, were two roles portrayed by actor Eric Applewhite appearing in five episodes across all three seasons of the TV Series. His older brother George Applewhite apprised the role of Sheriff in the original feature film Flipper.
Flipper was notable for the casting of a number of guest actors, a good number who went on to stardom in later years or who had already had a stellar acting career.
The series follows a Bottlenose Dolphin named Flipper who is the wild pet of Porter Ricks, a park warden, and his sons Sandy (15) and Bud (10). Flipper lives in a lagoon near the Ricks cottage at Coral Key Park and Marine Preserve. With the Ricks family, Flipper helps protect the park and preserve and its wild inhabitants. He is also instrumental in apprehending criminals and thugs in the park. Flipper is generally recognized by the characters in the show (and the theme song) as being a particularly intelligent and capable dolphin. Flipper is the special companion of the youngest member of the Ricks family, Bud, and several episodes feature Flipper rescuing Bud from dangerous situations. Flipper is able to somehow communicate through different chatter like tones, head nods and shakes and others attention seeking antics with Sandy and Bud and draw their (and Porter's) attention to danger or in the direction of people needing help. There are few women in the lives of the Ricks males but in the first season, Porter does have a date while Sandy falls for the girl operator of a floating zoo who appears in four episodes. A female oceanographer enters the series in the second season to add a feminine touch to the proceedings but little more than mild flirtations and fondness between her and Porter ensues. Promotional material for the third season announced a new girlfriend for Sandy, although she only appeared in one episode and he has an innocently flirtatious scene with another girl in a separate episode. The series is distinguished for its lush photography of subtropical Florida and its colorful underwater sequences.
The last first-run episode of Flipper aired April 15, 1967. In the conclusion of a two-part episode, the characters of Sandy and Bud are written out of the show (by that time both actors Luke Halpin and Tommy Norden had grown out of their roles), as it is detailed how each plans to leave Coral Key — Sandy has been accepted to the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut, and Bud will be attending a private school remedially in Massachusetts, as arranged by their Aunt Martha. At the same time, a new family (the Whitmans) moves to the area: a widowed mother (portrayed by Karen Steele) and her young son and daughter (portrayed by Stuart Getz and Chris Charney). The two new children are depicted as unfamiliar with maritime life, but they promptly befriend Flipper, and promise to be his new companions after Sandy and Bud leave. Plans were made for a fourth season; revolving around the Whitman children taking the role of Flipper's guardians/playmates and their mother becoming involved in a serious relationship with Porter. It would be assumed that Sandy and Bud would make a cameo visit in an episode or two. All this was for naught, however, as Ivan Tors chose not to continue to make a fourth season in this new format, so NBC cancelled it.
Flipper has seen periodic syndication since its NBC cancellation. The show has aired on cable's Family Channel, Nickelodeon, Animal Planet, Discovery Kids, in high-definition on satellite provider Voom's Family Room channel, and on digital subchannel Antenna TV. Most of the images of Flipper jumping against a skyline were not in the originally aired version, as the filming took place in an enclosed lagoon. They were filmed at the end of the series and added for syndication.
The rights to Flipper were later acquired by Turner Entertainment Co., with distribution rights being acquired by The Samuel Goldwyn Company, and in turn acquired by MGM Television (the company that originally produced the series). MGM owns full rights to the series; the series copyright is held by MGM's subsidiary Orion Pictures (whose own holdings include the Goldwyn library).
Flipper appears as a character in the Cartoon Network series The Annoying Orange.
As of November 2016, Flipper airs as one of a handful of classic TV series (alongside Ivan Tors' earlier series Sea Hunt) on the primarily movie-oriented digital subchannel This TV, and can be seen on subscription streaming media channel Hulu.
The series was broadcast in the early 1970s in the USSR and the show was well received by the Soviet people, both old and young alike.
Flipper merchandise generated for the juvenile market during the show's first run is now scarce and collectible. Flipper vintage collectibles include: lunch boxes, song books, comic books, coloring books, a Whitman novel, Big Little Books, souvenir spoons, Whitman frame tray puzzles, a board game, Viewmaster reels (based on the two-part episode "Dolphin Love"), a battery-operated "spouting dolphin" water toy, children's swim trunks with the Flipper logo, and a 1966 Bradley glow-in-the-dark watch. Dolphin Paradise is a Hangame app based on the Flipper television series.
Flipper received an incomplete VHS release during the 1990s under the title "Flipper-Original Series". MGM/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment released the first season on DVD on April 24, 2007. MGM has also issued Season 2 as an 8 disc set in June 2010. Amazon.com is currently selling the set exclusively, on a manufacture on demand basis. The DVD-R discs do not play on some older computer DVD drives. As of February 2017 the series is available on Blu-ray in Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong.
The Miami Seaquarium celebrated the 50th Anniversary of "Flipper" in late 2013 with Tommy Norden and Ricou Browning participating along with a series of commemorative events through 2014. A previous event celebrating the 40th anniversary of Flipper in 2004 was also held with Luke Halpin and Tommy Norden. Flipper was nominated for two TV Land awards: in 2004 for the TV Land Favorite Fauna Award and, in 2003, for the TV Land Favorite Pet-Human Relationship Award. Flipper appeared twice on TV Guide covers.
While the TV show itself was not controversial, several controversies have spun off of it. Ric O'Barry, the head trainer of the Flipper Dolphins (and also Luke Halpin's occasional stunt double), became a world-renowned animal activist after the death of the dolphin who portrayed Flipper most often. O'Barry stars in the Oscar award-winning documentary The Cove, which features dolphin capture and captivity. He also wrote of his time with the Flipper movies and TV series and subsequent animal rights activism in a book entitled Behind the Dolphin Smile.