Interview: Mark Norman (Boomerang)

Boomerang is Turner Broadcasting System’s 24-hour cable/satellite network offering the best in classic animated entertainment. Drawing from the world’s largest library of more than 4,000 cartoons, Boomerang showcases Hanna-Barbera, MGM and Warner Bros. classic characters with stylized sensibility tailored to their standing in television’s pop culture. Recently, Toon Zone had chance to sit down with Mark Norman, the senior vice president and general manager at Cartoon Network’s sister channel, Boomerang.

CNF: The Fansite: When you decide to create a lineup with such a limited airtime, what kind of method do you use in picking the shows? Is it a lengthy discussion about the shows, or random selection?

Mark Norman: We have ongoing discussions and certainly put a lot of some thought into it, so it definitely isn’t just random. In the beginning, Boomerang used to be on a schedule that had big blocks of the same cartoon each day, but after doing some focus groups, we found that people like a more consistent and traditional schedule. So now what you see on Monday at 10:30 is the same show you’ll see on the rest of the week at 10:30, with the exceptions of Fridays, which are still reserved for our character marathons.

We like to have a mix of the marquee characters, such as Yogi and Scooby, but also like to showcase some of the lesser known properties. “Hanna Barbera’s Cartoon Corral” lets us do that. While the programming can be subjective, we strive to have a balance of the big and not so big stars.

CNF: Currently Boomerang is on an eight-hour schedule. Do you ever want to expand that to a full day’s worth of programming in the future?

MN: Possibly. We don’t have any specific dates or plans for expanding the schedule currently, but I suspect we will. It’s largely an operational question, and the idea is still being considered.

CNF: Are there any plans to air classic cartoon movies?

MN: Not currently. There is a question as to if we could establish a franchise with our current movie list. Most of the time, we integrate the movies into the month-long character dedications. For example, in October, when we dedicate it to Scooby Doo, we usually put the movies on the weekends in that month.

CNF: Each block of Boomerang is dedicated to a year’s worth of cartoons. Pop culture shows such as VH1’s I Love the 80’s are very popular. Do you plan on covering more recent years as well?

MN: Yes, as time passes, I’m sure we’re going to update the channel to eventually include more modern years. As you know, Hanna Barbera was making most of the cartoons in the 1960s and 1970s, but as the years went on, they became a less dominant source for animation. As we try to cover more modern years, the challenge is to finding enough programming from our own library and acquiring new shows to justify these updates.

Eventually we’d love Boomerang to be an all encompassing channel that has all the cartoons from an era, but budget restrictions make this difficult. We already have a huge library of animation from Hanna Barbera, Warner Bros., and MGM to work with.

CNF: Also, the flip side of the previous question. How far back does Boomerang air? Would it ever be in consideration to air Bosko and/or Buddy cartoons?

MN: In the past Cartoon Network has aired many of the old black and white cartoons. We found that while these cartoons are beloved by animation aficionados, they don’t gather enough interest by the general public. We have to make a compromise from catering to cartoon enthusiasts while still keeping parents and children, who may not be so educated or interested, entertained by our programming.

CNF: Despite your chronological format, have you ever considered doing more themed blocks, such as Boomeraction? Cartoon Network had “Mystery, Inc.” (mystery-driven cartoons), “70s Super Explosion” (niche 70s-era cartoons), “Toonapalooza” (music-oriented cartoons) blocks in the past. Would you ever consider bringing these types of programs to Boomerang?

MN: As for all the shows included in those blocks, I’m pretty sure we still air most, if not all, of them, just without the same packaging. Those franchises could always make a possible return to Boomerang, but so far there hasn’t been enough interest to pursue it. Boomerang began as a franchise on Cartoon Network because of interest in the subject. It later spawned Boomeraction, for all of the action cartoons. If there was enough interest in bringing these blocks back, it could happen.

CNF: Boomerang has added a few outside acquisitions to the lineup in recent years, such as G.I. Joe, Battle of the Planets, and several properties from Classic Media. Have you considered acquiring more shows outside of your library?

MN: Yes, we’ve considered a lot of shows. It all depends on a few things though: availability, interest, and budget. Some shows are just not available to us for broadcast. There are also limitations as to how much we can spend on new programming. Also, if there is enough public interest in a show, we’ll try to get it. As you mentioned, we’ve Recently acquired Rocky and Bullwinkle, Underdog, and Casper: The Friendly Ghost and are always on the lookout for more.

CNF: If Cartoon Network decides to turn Boomerang into a preschool-oriented network, what will become of the classic cartoons that call the network home, since Cartoon Network is currently limiting older programming on its lineup?

MN: All of that is still under discussion. Preschooler programming is obviously a business Cartoon Network would like to get into, but we won’t be making any quick or rash decisions in the process. Warner Bros., Cartoon Network, and Boomerang are evaluating all of our assets and working out details. Boomerang will only be a piece of the puzzle for our advances in this market.

CNF: Would anthology shows like Toon Heads, The Popeye Show, The Chuck Jones Show, The Bob Clampett Show, and The Tex Avery Show ever make an appearance on Boomerang?

MN: Most of the cartoons that aired within those shows are on Boomerang now. On Cartoon Network, the demographic range is different than it is for Boomerang. For example, Cartoon Network currently targets an audience anywhere from 6 to 35 years old, depending on the time of day. Boomerang, on the other hand, aims for either side of that demographic, with parents (usually 35 years old or older) and their children watching. We are simultaneously trying to please the adults and children. Much of what we air is deemed as safe programming for children and nostalgic for the grown ups. Although we like those shows, we found that the shows packaged by director usually don’t cater as much to our core audience’s interests.

CNF: Since you have the classic anime Battle of the Planets, do you plan to bring back any other classic Japanese anime, such as Astro Boy or Gigantor?

MN: We’d love to acquire more anime titles, but we have to weigh in things before we do. Boomerang is obviously leaning more on the comedy side, but we have blocks such as Boomeraction that allow us to show off great action shows. Some of the older anime titles are more complicated to acquire. Some titles are owned by more than a few companies, which makes airing certain shows difficult.

CNF: Will Boomerang get around to restoring more of the cartoons to their original format?

MN: We are currently airing the restored Huckleberry Hound open and close on Boomerang, and we recently found and aired a Huckleberry Hound bridge that features Huckleberry Hound playing baseball with Hokey Wolf, Pixie & Dixie, and Mr. Jinx. We are certainly interested in airing as many cartoons as possible with their original opens; it’s ultimately a question of tracking down that material and the expense involved with getting it ready for air.

As for restoring the cartoons themselves, I think there might be more of a need as hi-def television and DVDs become more and more popular. We always try to make the shows look as good as possible. Film restoration is an expensive process that takes a lot of time. We’re lucky in the fact that almost all of Hanna Barbera cartoons were preserved on film, which gives us the opportunity to do a reprint from the original negative. So eventually, I think we might approach that as a preservation project.

CNF: Boomerang isn’t carried on a lot of cable systems in this country, which is a shame because they carry networks dedicated to classic television and classic movies. In your own words, explain why cable operators should carry the network and how you would improve the network to get them to notice.

MN: Boomerang is a channel that airs content that is both classic and exclusive. It is a perfect complement to the Cartoon Network. In the late 90’s, when all of the cable companies came out with digital channels, much of their offerings were just reshuffled versions of the same thing. Boomerang is different. Currently about 80% of what we air isn’t on Cartoon Network. We’re definitely not a “CN 2” or can be compared to any other channel on television.

Also, Boomerang is one of the few actual family-oriented channels that brings people across a generational gap together. Parents can watch the channel and instantly recognize many of the shows, while children can tune in and enjoy the cartoons for the first time. It is a unique experience that is entertaining and brings people together.