On Animation Channels and Decision-Making Pt. 1: Cartoon Network

Hey everyone! This is the beginning of a 3 to 4(?) part mini-series where the discussion will be about some of the impactful decisions major animation networks in the United States have made over the past decade in regards to shows. The opinions expressed in this regard are completely my own- but I watched the networks and did some research all the same.

 

The other day, I talked about my thoughts on the 2010’s in animation from a viewing perspective: that is to say from a wide lens-sort of viewpoint about some of the better things I’ve observed, and on the whole my view of the decade is fairly positive at this point in time. It’s unlikely to change too much in part because we’re now on the back 9 of the decade and the opinion was formed with the majority of the years already in the bank, but there was another side to that discussion that intrigued me enough to write about: Network decision making.

To preface this discussion, I’m going to talk about the main 3 US networks known for animation: Cartoon Network (which includes sister block Adult Swim in this conversation), Nickelodeon, and Disney X.D., where all of the House of Mouse’s animated series have migrated to, away from their traditional home on Disney Channel (which has devolved into fairly awful sitcoms, but I digress.) I’ll also throw Fox a bone here too, as it’s noted for its mainstream adult fare, which while commonplace, is not particularly impressive. This is more of a detailed breakdown of decision-making by these networks and provides a sort of context for the decade as well. For the first part, I’ll be taking a look at:

Cartoon Network

At the dawn of the new decade, Cartoon Network made the fortuitous decision to green-light both Adventure Time and Regular Show. That decision alone ensured the beginnings of a resurgence for a network that had seemingly lost its way in the waning years of the 2000’s. Having two anchor shows was a boon, but what about some of the network’s other decisions in the meantime?

-From the 2000’s, the network carried over Star Wars: The Clone Wars:

While I haven’t talked about this show in depth with a review yet, it would be amiss to not give credit that keeping this show under contract from Lucasfilm in the final years prior to the Disney acquisition was wise. In all likelihood the final Star Wars show to be broadcast on a Disney rival, the show continued to improve and grow in complexity…too bad the time slot didn’t. The show finished season 5 on the network in 2013 before airing its final salvo on Netflix.

-The ballad of Genndy Tartakovsky: A promising failure and an unexpected return

Tartakovsky, the well-known Russian animator behind yesteryear hit Dexter’s Laboratory and the first crack at the Clone Wars era in Star Wars, came back in 2010 with an innovative, darker new show- Sym-Bionic Titan. In what is one of the more underrated tragedies of animation, the show was canned the next year after only one season that was very, very good…because toy sales… or lack thereof. (More on that issue later.) However, it was not the last of Tartakovsky this decade: He returned to direct the long-awaited but totally unexpected 5th and final season of Samurai Jack, some 13 years after its initial stoppage.

-Toys, toys and toys…fun to play with, terrible strategy to choose shows

While a whole review column is going to be devoted to what is an utterly asinine policy, Cartoon Network executives’ biggest mistake- or rather, lack of foresight, is that it’s perfectly fine to have a show succeed outside a target demographic. What happened to Young Justice is a perfect example, where it gained a diverse following but got the axe because…wait for it…it wasn’t big enough in that holy grail target demo of 7-13 year old boys, and therefore, not selling enough toys to them. What? (Fortunately, the tragedy of Young Justice does not end like Sym-Bionic Titan; the long-awaited Season 3 is being developed for Netflix.) Quality of show almost unanimously carries to financial success without being forced; look at any of the decade’s shows that hit it big, including some of Cartoon Network’s own, from Adventure Time to Steven Universe.

-Death of a bad idea: Live action shows

When your network literally has cartoon in the name, being anything aside from a specialty network in animation is a really dumb idea. And part and parcel of the wayward late 2000’s was a foray into poorly conceived, poorly written and “never should have happened in the first place!” live action shows. Incredibly enough, the network tried airing them as recently as early 2013; to everyone’s relief there’s nothing in the works (and hasn’t been) for almost 4 years now.

– Everyone’s “favorite show”…TTG

Well, it’s not a formal review/rant, and I’m also going to get there, but…a major issue for the network, even as they emerged into this new era of animation, is the absolute lovefest the higher-ups at Cartoon Network seem to have with this awful, awful production. It is shoved into every spare timeslot (including ones that really should go to other shows), promoted endlessly despite universal scorn, and somehow has survived nearly 4 years and 5 seasons. And yet…nobody I’ve heard seems to like it, except apparently “some kids,” which is hardly a ringing endorsement. It’s an insult to the original Teen Titans series which is fantastic, focuses far too hard on very low humor (to the point where’s it’s not even funny, if it was to begin with), and reportedly was the de facto replacement on the network for Young Justice. I’ll leave it at that.

-Different directions for social messages

I’m going to keep this bland, but more recent efforts like the popular Steven Universe have tried some very different messages unfamiliar to Cartoon Network shows even 5 or 10 years ago. For me, they are hardly the main focus, but they do exist; whatever the prominence of said social ideas is stays up to the viewers to decide. I think that’s clear enough.

-Some big successes, some failures

Like all their competitors, there has been shortcomings and triumphs. Adventure Time, Regular Show, and more recently Steven Universe have been big hits, and even on a smaller scale, something like The Amazing World of Gumball apparently found a niche; conversely you have TTG, Uncle Grandpa, and some others that range in terms of financial success, but not so much critical success, which I’ve elected to focus on here.

 

-The return of Toonami

Adult Swim made arguably the best decision in their history to revive the beloved anime block. Like the old days, (at the time of this writing), tune in on a Saturday night into Sunday morning- and there’s a mix of old favorites and new dubs.


 

Obviously this isn’t every last aspect of Cartoon Network’s (or Adult Swim’s, for that  matter) decision making over the past 6+ years, but some key points that I thought were worth noting. It’s a nice addendum for context with the original thought piece (https://anibproductions.wordpress.com/2017/02/17/the-2010s-in-animation-what-i-think-so-far/) that inspired this writing, and I’ll have more of this mini-series coming out!


Like what you see? Are you a big fan of Cartoon Network? Chime in on the comments!

 

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Author: anibproductions

I am the founder and writer of AniB Productions, currently a fledgling blog with a focus on animated shows from both the East and the West. Love Buffalo sports, good political discussion, and an interesting conversation wherever I go.

4 thoughts on “On Animation Channels and Decision-Making Pt. 1: Cartoon Network”

  1. I think a lot of the decisions that Cartoon Network (and by extension Time Warner) only make sense if you consider that Cartoon Network doesn’t actually make shows for it’s Television audience, but for advertisers and merchandise companies. After all, most TV networks don’t make their money directly from their audience, they make it by selling ad-space on their channel and licensing. If companies (for whatever reason) are far more willing to buy ad-time during TTG then Young Justice, or any other show for that matter, then you better believe that Cartoon Network will put it on at all times of the day.

    Mind you, I don’t know if this is actually the case or something else, but if it’s one thing I’ve learned about Media business (and especially TV) is that there is a whole lot of “cold calculus” that doesn’t give a shit how well written, ground-breaking, or even sometimes how popular your show is.

    That aside it is genuinely amazing how long Cartoon Network has stayed true to its origins. There are channels that have been around not even as long as CN that are now completely unrecognizable from what they were (if not outright rebranded), so seeing Cartoon Network still be Cartoon Network in 2017 (minor hiccups aside) is pretty amazing, especially when it’s main theme is, and lets be honest, a rather niche medium with limited appeal. I mean, neither Disney (any of their channels), nor Nickelodeon (again, any of their channels) have ever been pure animation for very long, so to see CN ultimately stick it out is really amazing.

    To talk more specific, I’m actually not as high on the return of Toonami as you are. I mean sure, I loved Toonami when I was younger and even today I would genuine say it was one of the best blocks of television ever created, but I can’t say that I was ever clamoring for it to return, mostly because I do genuinely think it’s the product of bygone era. In this day and age with streaming and unlimited on demand television I just don’t think people are going to sit through a dedicated block of programming. Then again, I did not expect the revived Toonami to last more then a couple of years, so i could be completely off base on that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Terrific insights. I have a good idea how the television industry works as well (because to write about animation, I learned/ taught myself quite a bit about the industry as well) and I know that cold, hard cash cows are priority #1. More often then not, they also happen to be good, but TTG was purely a cash grab that continues to line the network’s pockets. I don’t think there’s anything wrong stating that quality of show really should merit even more consideration than it does now, but I know the reality of the industry (even if I think it’s unfortunate.) Now… animation might be “a niche medium with limited appeal,” but I personally see the potential for a much wider audience, which is one of my inspirations for writing about the stuff. Its capacity for storytelling, worldbuilding and character development can be second to none in the best shows; most people need to be disabused of the notion that it’s purely a “child’s medium” first in order for that change to take place. Finally… Toonami’s return was as much symbolic as it was practical. It more or less carries the torch as “the anime time” in the US; everyone’s childhood probably had a lot to do with that!

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      1. Yeah, I didn’t mean to try to invalidate you criticism of TTG, because it’s certainly well deserved. I just feel that it’s important to understand why decisions are made and why things happen, which I’m sure you’ll agree with. And it’s especially true when comes to a TV channel which thanks to how they typically earn their are in a better position to ignore their audience more then most other media outlets.

        That’s partially why I think that streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, and etc, are going to become the places for high quality TV length animation in the future. Hell, we are already seeing signs of it now.

        Even then it will take some time before people readily accept animation as a real serious medium. Beyond the common stereotypes, there are still just too many people who can not/ will not suspend their disbelief fully for an animated series and still demand “real” looking actors and locations. Still, I think we are in a better position now as a medium to capture a wider audience then we have been in a long time.

        As for Toonami, I guess it does kind of work as a prestige/ good-will block for the audience (particularly older ones), though I’m still skeptical as to how long it will last. That being said, Toonami is probably worth its own article of discussion since I don’t I have ever an entire block of program become as sucessful and beloved as Toonami, save perhaps the Disney Afternoon (and that’s kind of a stretch honestly).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Absolutely agree about all your points. A good friend and I often have the discussion about the future of animation lying with Netflix and online content providers; this has been an ongoing trend which I expect to continue (especially as network shows themselves are so readily accessible via official and unofficial sources.) I’ll probably write about it at some point because that topic itself is inherently interesting and critical. I also agree about animation’s perception. Long term, I’m planning to grow from just this blog and be instrumental in changing people’s minds and hearts about what the medium can do. But it’s a day by day process. Finally… Toonami is indeed worth an article. It’s maybe not the cultural phenomenon it was back in its prime, but it might be the most influential animation block of programming in the history of television, particularly when it comes to the introduction of anime to the Western audience.

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