Cartoon Network hit the cable TV airwaves in the fall of 1991. As a child of the late 80â€™s and early 90â€™s, the thought of a 24-hour cartoon channel blew my mind and gave me tingly feelings I didnâ€™t then understand. In those days, if you wanted cartoons after the after-school stuff, your only option was Nickelodeon. But even then, they only had 3 â€œNicktoonsâ€, which they primarily aired only on the weekends, and Nickelodeon broadcasting came to a screeching halt at precisely 8pm to bring us the ever-dull â€œNick at Nightâ€ line-up of Mary Tyler Moore reruns. The concept of a â€œCartoon Networkâ€ was a fantasy come to life.
Initially, Cartoon Network was an outlet for Turner Broadcastings epic library of MGM, Warner Brothers and Hanna Barbara cartoons. Sure, it was all reruns; a â€œNick at Nightâ€ for kids, if you will. However, Iâ€™ll take the Flintstones over the Honeymooners any day. Gradually, new content started to trickle its way into the network. At first, we got the What a Cartoon Show, followed by the likes of the Moxy Show, Swat Kats, the Real Adventures of Johnny Quest and the catalyst for the current Adult Swim line-up, Space Ghost Coast to Coast. Along with new programming, Cartoon Network acquired libraries of various cartoons from the 70â€™s and 80â€™s most people had forgotten about (Centurions, G-Force), and even some titles from the early 90â€™s that were best left forgotten (James Bond Jr. is one show not worthy of any form of rerun). It seemed every year they were coming up with new innovations, such as their after-school action block, Toonami. Originally a 2-hour block hosted by Space Ghostâ€™s Moltar, and featuring Thundercats, Voltron, Action/Adventure Shorts (various Hanna Barbara classics like Birdman and the Galaxy Trio) and ending with the Real Adventures of Johnny Quest. Toonami, consisting almost entirely of reruns, blew the after-school line-ups of ABC, Fox, UPN, WB and Disney right out of the water. Mostly due to â€œhipâ€ marketing which made watching these lost classics the thing to do.
Yes sir, for a time, things were great. Then it all started to go downhill fast. Many people blame the massive surge in the popularity of anime as Cartoon Networkâ€™s first misstep. I personally have nothing against anime-itself (the fandom is a whole other story), as I appreciate good cartoons regardless of what country they come from. But the anime Cartoon Network was getting was either awful beyond words or edited so fiercely to meet Americaâ€™s then-standards for cartoons, the end-result was a total mess. Toonami, the block once dedicated to unearthing lost American action cartoon classics, became exclusively dedicated to anime of the severely edited variety. Toonami even extended its block by an hour so that it could fit in 3 episodes of Dragonball a day. Long-time fans began to feel alienated. It didnâ€™t help when Toonami was moved to Saturday nights and replaced by Miguzi, which seems to only show reruns of Totally Spies.
Genuinely good American cartoons would eventually be lost due to the scheduling slaves demanding â€œMore anime!â€ and replacing our shows with outsourced junk such as Duel Masters, Zatch Bell and Bobobo-bo-Bobobo. The 2002 revitalization of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe would be the first victim of the new fad; American cartoons not being considered â€œcoolâ€ anymore. However, the greatest casualty to the demand for more Japanese toy and collectable-card-game commercials, would be Bruce Timm, Paul Dini and Dwayne McDuffieâ€™s masterpiece of superhero animation, Justice League Unlimited. With gorgeous animation, masterful direction, engaging action, deep characterization, a decade of continuity and brilliant plotting, â€œJLUâ€ was a thing of beauty. However, marketing for the show was severely cut not only to make room for its replacement, Bobobo, but so Warner Bros. could begin a new DC Comics cartoon continuity in The Batman and the anime-impersonating Teen Titans.
While out-sourcing to dubbed Japanese animation has damaged the networkâ€™s credibility in the eyes of numerous cartoon fans (and sent them running to the networkâ€™s sister, Boomerang, which feels more like Cartoon Network from 10 years ago), one could say the final nail in the coffin would beâ€¦the lack of cartoons. Gradually, Cartoon Network has been airing live action movies (including Dumb & Dumber and Small Soldiers) and live action television shows (including Saved by the Bell during the Adult Swim block). Cartoon Networkâ€™s gradual sneaking away from American cartoons and toward the direction of imported anime and live action programming can best be compared to the downfall of MTV, as it gradually placed more emphasis on original programming and reality shows over â€œmusic televisionâ€. While MTV has created MTV-2, a network dedicated to the original networkâ€™s music video roots, Cartoon Network has established Boomerang, a network dedicated to the originalâ€™s classic cartoon roots.
This October will be Cartoon Networkâ€™s 15th anniversary, and it is rather alarming the shape â€œCartoonâ€ Network is in. In only five years the network has disintegrated into everything that made MTV a laughing stock among music fans. Even more recent innovations in the networkâ€™s programming (Adult Swim) have deteriorated at light-speed thanks to lazy programming (12oz Mouse, Tom goes to the Mayor). Perhaps by Cartoon Networkâ€™s 20th anniversary, they will resemble the television powerhouse dedicated to preserving iconic animation they once were. However, if theyâ€™re anything like MTV, things are only going to get worse.