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The Incredible Disappearing Animation Channel


In
1992, millionaire media mogul Ted Turner decided to put his massive
animation library to use and he created a revolutionary new cartoon
network. He imaginatively titled it Cartoon Network, and later ran off
to one of his four ranches in Montana to retire. The cable channel
would be dedicated to showing animation 24/7. Over the years, a tiny experiment
grew into a moderately successful outlet for original and acquired
animation. This, along with Nickelodeon’s successful and growing stable
of Nicktoons had turned cable television into the most important outlet
for animation in the country by the dawn of the new millennium. During
the late 90’s and beyond, more companies were jumping on Ted’s train of thought
and creating animation stations of their own, from Nickelodeon’s
Nicktoons TV to Disney’s Toon Disney. These channels often went global,
bringing localized versions of themselves to new frontiers. Some
countries decided to make their own cartoon networks, such as Canada’s
Teletoon and Asia’s Animax. Bringing the situation to newer
absurdities, broadcasters began to create newer niche networks out of
the already existing animation niche, like classics-only Boomerang or
the now-defunct but self-explanatory Anime Network. So where are these
networks now? Most of them still exist, but in name only. With the
exception of Boomerang and handful of smaller stations, live-action has
been aggressively encroaching on animation on networks that claim to be
dedicated to it. How did cartoon networks become an endangered species?

As
with most examples of network “gentrification”, it all began slowly. In
2005, Cartoon Network began to show live-action movies here or there,
regardless of their relation to animation. At the time, the higher-ups
gave the excuse that these movies were “cartoony in spirit” or “had
animated special effects”, suddenly making it acceptable to show
anything on Cartoon Network as long as someone could tangentially
relate it to animation. Cartoon Network’s raunchier late-night cousin
Adult Swim similarly dropped all pretenses of being animation-only in
2007, when they greenlighted several live-action original series. To
this day, Adult Swim airs and produces much more live-action than its
daytime counterpart. Despite several attempts to popularize live-action
on CN (including several original movies and a failed sitcom), the
offensive came in full force in the summer of 2009, with six reality shows, in contrast to the whopping zero original cartoons that
premiered that year. Despite the best efforts of the Turner hype
machine, pretty much every attempt to put live-action on a cartoon
network has failed, but that certainly hasn’t stopped them.


And it’s not the usual suspect that’s at blame here. Toon Disney began to show Power Rangers and The Suite Life of Zack and Cody before Disney simply retired the brand altogether. Nicktoons shows various Nickelodeon shows and is set to get Power Rangers this fall. Even other countries are not immune, with international
versions of these networks picking up live-action series of their own.
Some channels have fallen prey without the influence of an American
mother station, like Animax in South America, which now runs That 70’s Show and Clueless nightly. Why is this practice becoming so prevalent today? It’s not
like animation is suddenly unprofitable. Some of these stations haven’t
even found great success with their experiments but keep pushing
anyway, like Cartoon Network, who presumably thinks that “this time
things will be different”.

There
are a lot of little answers that factor into this. Part of it is the
top men in charge. Just as an auto mechanic should not be running a
bakery, a person (for example, Stuart Snyder at Cartoon Network) with
expertise working at World Wrestling Entertainment should not be
running a television channel about animation. Companies often pick
“star executives” based more on track records rather than actual
experience. The problem is that instead of adapting to a new
environment, the exec simply runs the job like he would run his old
one. Another part is corporate policy. Viacom, master of corporate
synergy, has been doing this for years with Nickelodeon’s sister
network Nicktoons. Nickelodeon shows like Big Time Rush and The Troop have found homes on Nicktoons simply because of this practice. (Nickelodeon has yet to return the favor.) In some cases, the fans
haven’t been too helpful either, considering this practice is okay in a
lot of circles given it’s live-action they like. Case in point: Power Rangers‘ move to Nicktoons. Cartoon Network not picking the series up was considered a “missed opportunity”.

But
the major underlying cause for all of this is the way television is
being run today in general. Cable television has begun to categorize
networks by demographics instead of niches, and it shows. Most
“changed” niche networks have become that way because of attempts to
capture so-and-so demographic. MTV is no longer Music Television, it’s
a network for “hip and edgy” teens. Syfy is no longer science fiction,
it’s television for geeks. And Cartoon Network and its ilk are no
longer animation channels. They have been classified by the television
industry as generic kids networks and treated as such.

While
it’s disheartening to see live-action on networks dedicated to
animation, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. There are
ways to include live-action on a television network without losing the
network’s original vision or integrity. For example, live-action based
on or about animated properties like Who Framed Roger Rabbit or Alvin in the Chipmunks could be fair game to show. There’s also the possibility of actual
programming on the animation industry. One example that would fit
classics station Boomerang like a glove would be a series of
documentaries on animation and its history. Whether or not channels are
willing to respect their own format is up to them.

Unfortunately,
this mentality will never change if the industry never changes. The
current focus on strict sets of demographics and nothing else is
threatening diversity on television as a whole and turning cable into a
mass of gray goo where you can catch repeats of shows like Law and Order on every other network and dozens of carbon copies of popular shows
because “men ages 18-34 like this” or “girls ages 7-15 like that”. Even Nielsen themselves say not to take up too much stock in that type of thinking.

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