Taking the cartoon out of Cartoon Network

What has Cartoon Network got against cartoons? And why is it going into reality TV programming? Ron despairs...

Cartoon Network

It started out innocently enough, as most things do. In order to cater to its demographic of 20-30ish stoners, Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming block caved to peer pressure and picked up Saved By The Bell. Zack, Slater, and the gang have a large, and disturbing, following. This was only the tip of the iceberg.

Lately, Cartoon Network is trying its damnedest to take the cartoons off the network. The catalyst for this change is, of course, increasing ratings and thus, increasing revenue. If they can save a little money in the process, so much the better.

I’ll admit, I’ve been one of the people who ignored this because they were showing things I liked. For example, one of my Cultelevision programs, Darkplace, has an occasional home on Cartoon Network. They’ve also added some other class British programs, like Look Around You and The Mighty Boosh, to the grown-up cartoon block that I watch religiously. Darkplace is brilliant, so there’s nothing to complain about there, but what started out as a limited experiment has become a full-blown trend.

It’s not just imported Britcoms or culty favorites like Pee-wee’s Playhouse (which has enough puppetry and cartooning in it to pass acceptably for falling within the vein of non-live-action programming for my tastes). The channel sees itself as in direct competition with the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. They’ve strayed quite far from their original idea of a station dedicated to showing cartoons and have put forth an aggressive slate of new shows, most of which is horrifying live action programming.

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If it were good scripted shows, I wouldn’t mind so much. But it’s not. It’s crap like Tim And Eric Awesome Show Great Job, which is like The Sarah Silverman Show but worse because it manages to cram more unsuccessful jokes, awful musical numbers, and randomly stupid skits in 15 minutes than that show packs in half an hour. At least Sarah Silverman’s worthless show has an attempted plot; Tim And Eric is just random crap mashed together to form a disgusting, unentertaining television version of SPAM without the nutritional (or comedy) content.

Even worse than Tim And Eric is the upcoming slate of (what else?) reality television coming to Cartoon Network. Hell, I’m not even going to call it Cartoon Network anymore. It’s going to be called CN, because that’s what the new network name is obviously going to be once they abandon the conceit of cartoons for cartoon lovers and embrace their destiny as just another children’s network clone. Let’s take a look at their upcoming 2009 programming slate:

The Othersiders – This show is basically Ghost Hunters for teenagers. Ghost Hunters, as you might remember, was the first flirtation Sci-Fi had with a format change before going over to the dark side.

Survive ThisSurvivor for kids. Survivor is directly responsible for the end of network television as we know it, because it was the first real hit reality TV program on a real station. A staggering 18 seasons later, they’re still milking the cash cow.

Destroy Build Destroy – I liked this show better when it was called Junkyard Wars and it was on TLC. Coincidentally, Junkyard Wars was one of the first programs TLC picked up when it changed from being The Learning Channel, devoted to educational programming, to a network full of home improvement shows and Jon And Kate Plus Eight, which is one of the worst programs in television history as it exploits a henpecked man and his ungrateful bitch of a wife as they exploit their 8 children (a set of twins and a set of quintuplets) for TV exposure and lots of free stuff.

Head Rush – A game show where kids answer questions while riding on roller coasters. Basically like Cash Cab but with vomit. Yawn.

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Bobb’e Says – A ‘viral video’ show starring a former MTV and Disney personality named Bobb’e J. Thompson. This is yet another viral video show taking advantage of video clips available on the Internet. Newsflash: I have the Internet all throughout my house. If I wanted to watch the video clip of the sneezing baby panda for the 357th time, I can do that pretty easily. I don’t need someone to point out clips to me; that’s what YouTube is for. This obsession with viral videos should have been over five years ago. This is like if I launched a new show where I take a radio serial and turn it into a visible stage play using this magical new invention called the television! It’s been done to death, I’m sick and tired of it, find something new to beat into the ground. Maybe something involving Twitter.

Dude, What Would Happen – This is Mythbusters for kids, essentially. A kid asks some dumb-assed question, like “What would happen if you turned a station dedicated to cartoons into a station as boring as every other crap network?” and experts answer it via wacky experiments. I guess this would be the first experiment in stupidity.

I understand that there are a lot of hours to fill in the day, and I know that there’s nothing cheaper to produce than a nice video clip show where you don’t have to pay to use the clips or a reality TV show. Turner also has a gigantic movie library, so the urge to fill Sunday night with a film from the library (recently they showed Spy Kids 3-D in the Sunday movie block) is understandable, but you can’t plug in a CARTOON movie there? That’s too much to ask?

At the very least, stop screwing around with the one block of programming I watch nightly on the network. Please? No more live action shows. I can suffer through what’s on there now, but Snake ‘N’ Bacon, which I saw for the first time last night, was the worst thing that’s been on AS since Delocated. The network let Futurama leave rather than spend a little money and bring back the highest rated show on the network. Replacing one of the best animated programs in TV history with garbage like Saul Of The Mole Men is just embarrassing.

Everyone wants to improve ratings. However, do you think the best way to do that is to become a carbon copy of your competition? I know, you guys at Turner can do something crazy to get attention. Maybe you can show some integrity, stick to the vision your network was launched with, and actually produce/buy good cartoons that people want to watch! I know it’s shocking and it goes against everything every other successful network head does, but maybe… just maybe… it’ll work.

Programming list

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US correspondent Ron Hogan is just crazy enough to believe that an all-cartoon TV network can be successful. That means you might have to show cartoons, but that’s the price you pay for success! Find more by Ron at his blog, Subtle Bluntness, and daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.