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:
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!