What is a Cartoon Cartoon?
Written by Jeff Harris and Jonathan Kavalos

World Premier Toons

      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.

Space 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).

After an 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.What a Cartoon!

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.

While 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!