Mon, Oct 02, 2017 - Page 14 News List

The US’ Cartoon Network turns 25

OLD AND NEW:It began life by airing reruns of classic TV cartoon shows, but its original programming now predominates, while its viewership continues to grow

AFP, LOS ANGELES

Yesterday marked a quarter century since the Cartoon Network (CN) burst upon the pastel-colored landscape of US television animation, redefining the way kids’ entertainment was beamed into homes.

Launched when ratings for morning cartoons were dropping and The Simpsons was starting to dominate primetime, many thought Turner Broadcasting Systems Inc’s US$320 million purchase of the Hanna-Barbera library was lunacy.

However, Ted Turner, whose company already owned extensive back catalogues from MGM and Warner Brothers, believed there was a gap in the market for a round-the-clock, seven-day channel showing cartoons that young and old could enjoy.

His vision has been spectacularly vindicated, with CN growing from a modest start-up to one of cable TV’s most popular programmers, seen in about 100 million US homes and in more than 170 other countries.

“The thing that separates us is that we have artists driving the process here for everything,” chief content officer Rob Sorcher said on a recent tour of its headquarters in Burbank, California. “That is a fundamental difference from most other studios, because the artists are telling the stories through drawings. There aren’t scripts getting done in most cases, and then animators animating them.”

In its infancy, the network showed reruns of The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Scooby Doo Where Are You!, Tom and Jerry, Popeye and many other classics.

It went into original programming with The Moxy Show in December 1993, following up with Space Ghost Coast to Coast and, from 1997, Johnny Bravo, which raised eyebrows with its adult humor, but became iconic.

More recently the network has churned out numerous hits including Steven Universe, Star Wars: Clone War, Powerpuff Girls, Regular Show and Adventure Time.

Ben 10, its longest-running franchise, about a boy that can turn into aliens, has enjoyed widespread critical acclaim, winning three Emmys, with the associated merchandising estimated to have been worth almost US$5 billion.

Writer Steven Seagle, whose Man of Action Entertainment studio produces the show, said one of the challenges has been to crank up the pace for viewers who are getting increasingly quicker at devouring information in the smartphone age.

“When I was a kid, if I found out about something I liked, I’d have to go to a library which might take a day to get to. I’d have to find some book somewhere and read it,” he said. “Now if anything piques their fancy, they usually have a device, they find out about it immediately and they exhaust it. They’re through it completely by the end of the day and on to something else.”

Marking CN out from other animation studios, the network has a “shorts unit” in which artists are not expected to pitch their ideas, instead just making their seven-minute films and then showing the executives the result.

It is a process that has spawned nine full series — including big hits like We Bare Bears — and accounts for 80 percent of the company’s development of new projects.

We Bare Bears — about the adventures of three ursine brothers — is made by Annie Award-winning creator Daniel Chong, 38, whose credits include Pixar Animation Studios Inc’s Inside Out and Cars 2, and Walt Disney Co’s Bolt.

“It’s great to be part of the Pixar machine — but it is a machine. You’re taking a script and boarding it at the behest of the director,” Chong said. “I’m now in control of the product, every decision goes through me. We don’t have the budget of Pixar or the time, but I get to tell the stories that interest me.”

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