Cartoon Network - The original animation fans channel

TheMisterManGuy

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Currently, the WarnerMedia-owned cable channel, Cartoon Network is split between two distinct programming lineups. The main "Cartoon Network" block, which runs from 6am to 8pm and is geared towards kids 6-11. And "Adult Swim", a night-time network centered on adult animation and experimental live action shows and anime for college aged audiences. But in the channel's golden age, the target audiences weren't as segregated as they are now. In fact, in regards to programming that appealed to both kids, and adults, as well as hardcore animation fans, Cartoon Network was ahead of its time in that regard.

The 90s was a special time for TV animation. It was the period where the medium was moving away from the kid-centric toy commercials that dominated the decade prior, and more towards fresher, original programming that came from actual cartoonists and creators. Shows that appeal to not just kids, but also adults. In terms of cable, Nickelodeon was one of the first to get the ball rolling with its Nicktoons lineup, which included John K.'s groundbreaking Ren & Stimpy show, which pushed the content boundaries of children's programming to its limits. But Nickelodeon was still first and foremost, a kids network, with most of its programming being centered around and for kids. And of course, there was the triumphant return of Walt Disney Pictures with its new animated films like Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast with appealed to people of all ages.

With this renewed interest in animation, media mogul Ted Turner and his Turner Broadcasting System, used their acquired animation library, which included the rights to various Warner Bros., MGM, and Paramount Cartoons, as well as the newly acquired Hanna-Barbara Productions as the basis for a 24 hour all-animation channel. One that not only appealed to kids, but also fans of animation in general. Enter Cartoon Network, which in its pitch presentation to cable providers, highlighted its potential appeal, both to kids and adults.


When CN got started, it leaned heavily on Turner's aforementioned backlog of retro animation to appeal to animation fans. The channel would later compile this content into various compilation shows such as "Toon Heads", "The Bob Clampet Show", and "The Popeye Show" which showcased classic cartoons spliced with facts and insight into their creation in between, not really something a normal "Kids' Channel" would do. Once the network began developing original content, they aimed for a cross appeal strategy. Develop shows that could appeal to hardcore animation fans, as well as kids. The first was Space Ghost Coast to Coast, a low-budget "talk-show" using recycled footage from the obscure H-B superhero series with bizarre humor and offbeat guests, which laid the foundation for a risky experiment in 2001. Then came the "Cartoon Cartoons", headed by former Nick executive Linda Simensky, who developed the lineup to appeal to a broad audience, including in her own words "Adults and Teenage Girls" with shows such as Dexter's Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, Courage the Cowardly Dog, and Ed Edd n Eddy which entertained not only children, but also older fans of animation. The Toonami lineup, launched in 1997, helped kick-start mainstream popularity of "Shonen" and "Shojo" anime such as Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon for adolescent boys and girls. In addition to its programming, CN's broad audience focus was reflected in its advertising sales. In addition to the usual toy and cereal commercials for kids, Cartoon Network also regularly sold ads for adult products like Coffee and Soap as well
during prime-time and late night hours too.

By the end of the decade, over 1/3rd of Cartoon Network's viewership was over the age of 18. With this successful focus on attracting both kids and adults, Cartoon Network decided it was time for space that was dedicated to adult audiences. Up to that point, the channel had focused primarily on airing shows that appealed to both young and older viewers. But Adult Swim's launch in 2001 marked the first time Cartoon Network began catering exclusively to its adult audience. Originally a 3 hour weekly block on Sundays, it later expanded to Saturdays. Then to weeknights, then Fridays, until it was eventually re-classified as its own distinct network by Turner and gobbled up CN's entire primetime hours. As Adult Swim grew in both ratings and presence, CN proper's once broad audience focus began to narrow, as the channel transitioned from a channel for both kids and hardcore fans of cartoons, to a more generic kids network ala Nickelodeon. While there's nothing wrong with doubling down on an audience that's your largest, it did mean that Cartoon Network had to shed the the more unique image it had over Nickelodeon. CN was as much a channel for general cartoon fans as it was a channel for children, it was something the whole family could enjoy. And while they still put out decent shows, the unique universal appeal focus CN prided itself on is largely gone, with Adult Swim being the last remnant of the classic era.
 
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