A Response to Paul Dini’s Comments Regarding Network Execs’s Reason for Cancellation of Series
First off, I want to apologize if the title of this article misled you. As far as I’m concerned there is no Toy Story 4 coming out anytime soon. This article is regarding the commentary Paul Dini, creator of the live-action Cartoon Network series Tower Prep, made about the reason why his show, among others, was cancelled by networks like Cartoon Network. So, if you are still looking for Toy Story, you might want to stop here. If you have not seen any article regarding Paul Dini’s commentary, I suggest you read a few. Just Google “Cartoon Network” and “Paul Dini” and you will most likely find it. I’ll give you a few minutes…
To briefly summarize, Paul Dini claimed that the reason why his series Tower Prep, along with other Cartoon Network series Young Justice, Green Lantern, and possibly Beware the Batman were (or in Beware the Batman’s case, is going to be) cancelled is because they attracted the wrong demographics towards the series. Instead of young boys aged 8 through 13 watching, they had young adults and females watching. But if the series has good viewership, then the series should get a subsequent season, right? Wrong, according to Cartoon Network.
Why? Because the aforementioned demographics barely buy toys. Only young boys want toys. So, in other words, shows like Legends of Chima, NinjaGo, Ben 10: Omniverse, and Teen Titans Go! survive and move on without any kind of hindering hiatus because they are more targeted towards boys and therefore, will produce better toy sales. My reaction to this revelation was that of indifference and confirmation. Honestly, I had this figured out when Cartoon Network cancelled Sym-Bionic Titan. While sources claim that the toys sales were weak or something like that, others claim that it was because Cartoon Network wanted more Ben 10 (as if we haven’t had enough of him). The truth of the matter is that animated series with strong female protagonists or a female ensemble are less likely to survive than cartoons that have a mainly male ensemble. The sad thing is that it is not just Cartoon Network, but other networks as well. Nicktoons, Nickelodeon and even TELETOON. There are a few reasons why this is so wrong (for the record, I will be using Cartoon Network in my examples):
1) It indicates that Cartoon Network is short-sighted in its attempts. Instead of going for shows that are so popular among the audience that it could be their next big hit, they settle for less and go with series that have the best chance for renewal only for the sake of getting toy sales towards boys. This practice has also been lowering the bar for quality animated series (and just plain animation) recently. I know that Saturday morning cartoons have been built off this kind of system that toy sales indicates the longevity of a series, and that the networks have to find a way to fund further seasons and episodes of a series, but for cable networks, I feel that a little more consideration should be put into it. Honestly, if network execs were so concerned about the toy sales of an animated series, then they should become toy execs instead.
2) It indicates how sexist Cartoon Network can be. Directly, it seems to say that girls are too smart and complex and will not buy toys for animated series, so in order to appeal to that demographic, either make no show for them or make a show that features princesses or stereotypical “girly” stuff. Honestly, this is a horrible stereotype. The worst part about it is that, if it isn’t the “girly” stereotype, shows have to portray girls as tomboys in order to appeal to the boy demographic. Why? I guess because the “girly” girls are too complex to have in a cartoon series. If you put the work into making a show that appeals to the female demographic, you might find out that not all girls are interested in romance, soap operas, and princess stories. Some are interested in action-adventure; some are intrigued by mystery and crime; some are even interested in comedy (yeah, weird that girls want to laugh too). However, networks like Cartoon Network claim that it is impossible to appeal to girls because they don’t buy toys. That is ridiculous. All girls are not the same. Some girls will buy toys, others will not. But don’t let that stop you from appealing to them. Sell them other merchandise like apparel, DVDs, CDs, or posters. But don’t let that stereotype stop you from making programs geared toward them.
While the direct message is sexist towards girls, the indirect message is just as sexist towards boys. Think about it. While I may be putting too much thought into this, it seems to say that guys are simple enough to buy toys from any kind of show that uses goofy, low-bar humor rather than developed and complex plots. That’s why Cartoon Network is so busy advertising the likes of Ben 10: Omniverse and Legends of Chima instead of Beware the Batman or Green Lantern: The Animated Series. It seems like Cartoon Network is talking down to boys and believing that low comedy and goofiness is the only way to appease them. Plus, have you noticed that in series targeted towards young boys, the main male characters are often depicted as dumb, shallow, cowardly, and other negatively-defining traits? I find this derisive and offensive. I think I speak for all guys when I say that you cannot just put any kind of cartoon on television and believe that guys will jump right on it. Like girls, all guys are not the same. Every now and then, we enjoy series with complex plots and fully-developed characters, not watered-down versions of characters (ex. Teen Titans Go!) or characters that are irresponsible and reckless (ex. Ben 10: Omniverse).
The sad thing is that it especially shows how Cartoon Network handled Ben 10. Now, I didn’t watch too much of this series when I was growing up, but I knew that in the original series, Ben was a self-centered, arrogant, and simple boy. I didn’t like him that much then because it made him seem more annoying than heroic. However, when Ben 10: Alien Force came out, I noticed that Ben matured and grew more responsible at age 15. I respected this change because it reflects what all boys should do while growing up: mature into responsible and honorable men while still retaining a fun side. However, season three of the series saw Ben revert back into his 10-year-old self. I begged for the mature Ben to return, but all I got was a snobbish, arrogant jerk. I guess Cartoon Network thought that to sell more Ben 10 toys, they must dumb down the main character to an age of 10 years old, while he is 16 years old.
Cartoon Network’s action and comedy series pretty much have the same trend: dumb or simple main male characters going on surreal or goofy adventures. There might be a select few that miss this trend, but they usually end up cancelled afterwards. Guys are much more than simple and immature. We are complex, thoughtful, emotion-feeling individuals. Maybe I’m getting too much in my feelings, but it’s shameful that this is the image that Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and other networks are promoting or displaying for boys.
3) It worries me what this does to the next generation of series creators. Ponder this: writers and animators at DC Comics and Marvel Comics must have been elated to know that they had a block for themselves to showcase some of the comic franchises greatest heroes. They must have also been happy to hear such positive feedback from series like The Avengers: Earth Mightiest Heroes! and Green Lantern: The Animated Series. However, it must have been devastating to hear that not only have both of these shows been cancelled, but another has been put on hiatus, and the shorts are being cut down. Think of all the sad faces. Think of all the hard work that people put in creating these shows (I heard the creators of Beware the Batman constructed a utility belt to accurately depict it in the series). But most importantly, think of the creators who are probably afraid or nervous of letting their ideas for new series be put on the network. They might be nervous that the network will either cancel it or retool it to be simplified for guys. If I were one of the creators, I would keep my idea to myself rather than have it mutilated at the hands of the network executives. While this may not be an accurate depiction of what is going on at DC or Marvel, I feel that it is kind of close. And if it isn’t, just still ponder on all the wasted talent in favor of series like Ben 10: Omniverse, Teen Titans Go!, and Legends of Chima to live on. It is kind of sickening.
So, in a nutshell, my feelings are very negative towards this revelation. It’s sad that the network I grew up with, the network that I looked to entertain me when I was down, the network that introduced me to courageous and responsible heroes has now been diminished into nothing more that a sausage fest of simplified characters all for the pursuit of the almighty dollar. Now, it’s hard to find a series with complex plots, developed characters, and wonderful animation that is still in production, and, quite frankly, it’s going to be a lot harder to find these series with the possible removal of Beware the Batman, the abuse of Legend of Korra, and the upheaval of the Marvel Universe block. It worries me that next television season will present little to no animated series for older audiences to enjoy, or to teach younger viewers about the importance of growing up and acting responsibly (I know I am stressing maturity and responsibility to the max in this article, but hopefully this is the last reference to it).
So, here are the important questions:
Are these networks right in what they are doing? No. Audiences of all ages deserve animated series that speak to them in a mature manner. They also deserve animation that is quality and not too cartoon-y.
Will a change for the better come now that Paul Dini outed Cartoon Network? Probably not. Cartoon Network probably knows that people knew about their practice of doing this. Plus, Cartoon Network, and other networks, are finding moderate success in having some of these shows (although not all of these shows exemplify this success).
Will a change for the better occur someday? I believe so. Why? Networks like Cartoon Network cannot survive mainly on 100% of these series with low comedy and silliness. It needs some gravity and maturity to ground itself on. Otherwise, viewers will eventually get tired of the same old story of two or more simple male characters, maybe with a tomboy in tow, going on surreal and wacky adventures (honestly, count how many series have that formula on all the kid’s networks). And viewers will begin yearning for something much more sophisticated, or at least complex.
However, it is going to take time. So, until that time comes, continue to relish series like Green Lantern: The Animated Series and ThunderCats, and continue to view series like Legend of Korra and… whatever other serious animated series there are on television. Thank you for your time.