is a Cartoon Cartoon?
Written by Jeff Harris and Jonathan
In 1995, Cartoon Network launched an ambitious project.
It was considered ambitious because since its creation in 1992, Cartoon
Network had aired mostly shows and shorts from their library of classic
animation. Thanks to the guidance of studio president, Fred Seibert,
Hanna-Barbera had its greatest output period in years with shows like
"2 Stupid Dogs", "SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron"
and the ongoing work on "The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest",
which had been in pre-production for a number of years. Seibert
guided the project, known as “What a Cartoon!” (WaC). WaC was a
showcase of new characters in the tradition of Hanna-Barbera’s classic
shorts such as Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, and Yogi Bear.
When Cartoon Network began airing original programming, its first
breakthrough program was a revamped version Hanna-Barbera’s classic
action series Space Ghost. The series, redubbed Space Ghost Coast
to Coast, was a very untraditional talk show. It was only fitting
that the network’s first major star introduced the future generation
of Hanna-Barbera shorts.
Ghost introduced the very first “World Premiere Toon” in the spring
of 1995 with a simulcasted edition seen on TBS, TNT, and Cartoon Network
with Space Ghost interviewing Genndy Tartakofsky, Craig McCracken,
Eugene Mattos, Van Partible, and Pat Ventura, creators of these shorts.
This showed exaclty how big the project was, and proof that Cartoon
Network had a lot of confidence in it. The very first WPT was
Craig McCracken’s Powerpuff Girls in "Meat Fuzzy Lumpkins".
Every week after the premiere, Cartoon Network showcased a different
World Premiere Toon made by a different artist. Some of the shorts
included Hard Luck Duck (one of William Hanna’s final shorts), Dino
in: Stay Out (produced by Joseph Barbera), Johnny Bravo, Sledgehammer
O' Possum in: Out and About, The Powerpuff Girls in: Meat Fuzzy
Lumpkins, Dexter's Laboratory, Yuckie Duck in: Short
Orders, George and Junior in: Look Out Below (based on
creations by animation pioneer Tex Avery).
acclimation of World Premiere Cartoons, the network packaged the shorts
as a show titled “World Premiere Toons: The Next Generation” making
Johnny Bravo their host between commercials. This half hour show
included previously shown World Premiere Toons along with newer ones,
such as Cow and Chicken in: No Smoking, The Fat Cats in: Drip
Dry Drips, Shake and Flick in: Raw Deal in Rome, Phish and
Chip in: Short Fuse, The Fat Cats in: Drip Dry Drips, O
Ratz (the first WPT made outside of Hanna-Barbera, at Perrenial
Pictures), Mina and the Count: Interlude With a Vampire and
others. This same year, the Dexter’s Laboratory won an Emmy for
best animated short.
By 1996, the title of
“World Premier Cartoons: The Next Generation” was getting too banal.
The ‘old’ generation was gone, and they were not exactly
‘premiering’ in reruns. To make it more fitting, the title was
changed to the original project’s name, "What a Cartoon!".
Also occurring this year, Dexter’s Laboratory, the most popular
series according to a vote in 1995, became a weekly half-hour series
airing on TNT, TBS, and Cartoon Network before becoming a Cartoon
Network exclusive. A year later, two other shorts, Johnny Bravo
and Cow & Chicken, became series as well. 1997, The “What A
Cartoon!” show was renamed to “Cartoon Cartoons” which now
featured all of the previous World Premier Toon shorts, and newly
produced shorts that were airing during prime time hours. Following the
weekly premiers, several new series based off the original World Premier
Toons shorts were made into shows, such as "The Powerpuff
Girls", "Mike, Lu, and Og", and "Courage, the
Cowardly Dog" (the first and only WPT to be nominated for an
Oscar!). In 1998, the first Cartoon Cartoon not to be based on a
World Premiere Toon, "Ed, Edd, and Eddy", premiered, setting a
trend that continued with "I Am Weasel", "Sheep in the
Big City", and "Time Squad".
In 1999, Cartoon
Network had enough material to air a whole night of their Cartoon
Cartoons. That summer was the first night of “Cartoon Cartoon
Fridays”. As bumpers to a full night of original programming, Cartoon
Network set up many crazy situations, such as weather reports,
incorporating the Cartoon Cartoon characters. Later, the was block
hosted by different characters from the Cartoon Cartoons, with a
full three and a half hours of programs created by Cartoon Network. In
2000, the network added two new and popular features to ‘CCF’. First
was the “Premiere Premieres” of new Cartoon Cartoons shorts each
week, which added a little more variety into the block. It wasn't long
until Cartoon Network let the fans take over. In the summer of 2000,
there was a weekend long marathon called The Big Pick. It was a
fan's chance to pick which World Premiere Cartoon Cartoon short would
become a new series. Out of the three choices, "The Grim Adventures
of Billy and Mandy" won the popular vote. It combined with another
short the artist has made and is now known as "Grim and Evil",
which premiered in the summer of 2001, during The Big Pick II
weekend, in which the short "The KIds Next Door" won the
popular vote. The second addition to Cartoon Cartoon Fridays was Cartoon
Orbit, Cartoon Network’s online cartoon trading game. In order to get
more cartoons to trade with friends over the internet, you would need to
collect orbit codes which would only be shown during Cartoon Cartoon
Fridays, and, starting in the spring of 2001, Kids WB.
Cartoon Network's success as an animation industry leader grew, it
became apparent, they needed to step into the new century by having
their own studio. Throughout the 1990s, all of the network's original
programming, was produced in Hanna-Barbera's old facilities. On August
24, 2000, Cartoon Network stepped up to the level Disney, Warner Bros,
and UPA by opening its own studio, "Cartoon Network Studios"
in Burbank, California. Since 1992, Turner's purchase of Hanna-Barbera
and Cartoon Network made them essentially the same company. With the
birth of the studio, came the birth of a new Cartoon Network Studios
brand, now placed at the end of all future productions.
By 2002, Cartoon
Cartoon Fridays was one of the best showcases for original Cartoon
Network shows and shorts, as the night was kicked off by a vast
departure from the original formula, a pair of action series, which
did not have the Cartoon Cartoon moniker. The first series
is from the creator of Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack. The
second, is from Bruce Timm and Warner Bros. Animation, Justice League,
featuring the greatest heroes and villains of DC Comics including
Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and others. New episodes of "Grim
& Evil" and "Codename: The Kids Next Door", the two
winners of Cartoon Network's Big Pick Weekends, appeared too.
In 2003, Cartoon
Network made the biggest leap of faith for an all-animation channel.
Mixing cartoons from Turner's library of Warner Bros. cartoons and
Cartoon Cartoons, Friday nights had a make-over, by having their first
live-people hosts to a show. Tommy and Nzinga, the youthful, energetic
co-hosts of Cartoon Network's Fridays, hit the air in the fall of 2003.
With a odd mix of influences from Romper Room to Conan O'Brien,
the live segments are set as a series of bumpers between some of the
best cartoons on television. With programs such as "What's New Scooby Doo?" and "Teen
Titans" bringing in ratings, along with the network's original
series, the block has been a ratings success, hand over fist.
It is now almost four
years later and Cartoon Network's Fridays programming is still one of
Cartoon Network’s most popular blocks along with Toonami, an action
animation block, Adult Swim, an adult orientated animation block, and
Boomerang, a block and a entirely new network of classic Hanna-Barbera
animation. With this type of diversity, one can look at a show and
say the three words that started this renaissance at Cartoon Network.
What a cartoon!