Networks In The United States – Part 5

To wrap up this segment – I’ll cover the rest of the networks that air, or used to air, cartoons and live action kids shows in the US. Mind you I’m doing this to the best of my knowledge as I don’t live there, so if I have made any errors don’t hesitate to leave a comment.

MTV – Known more for their music videos than cartoons, although these days that wouldn’t even be true in relating to the music videos, the network has produced and aired many popular and cult classic teen/adult oriented shows. This first started in 1991 with the premiere of Liquid Television, an animation showcase of creator-driven short cartoons. The show served as a launching point for several high-profile cartoons like Beavis And Butt-head and Æon Flux. In the years to follow they would produce many more shows, many gaining a cult following long after their cancellation such as Downtown, underGRADS, and Daria. They don’t seem to be doing much these days with animation; as far as I know they haven’t produced anything new for at least five years.

UPN – Don’t know much about this network, only for the fact it had the exact same life span as The WB at 11 years, and would end up shutting down in 2006 and merging with it to form The CW Television Network. When the station launched they aired cartoons on weekends in a lineup known as UPN Kids – some affiliates airing the block on Sundays instead of Saturdays. It mostly aired old anime like Dragon Ball Z and Samurai Pizza Cats. In 1999 the network made a deal with Disney to air select programming from Disney’s One Saturday Morning block; the new lineup would be called Disney’s One Too. Many station affiliates were already airing the syndicated Disney Afternoon block to begin with, and with the new block Disney’s cartoons were no longer syndicated but aired on UPN stations – some markets running it on weekday mornings, others weekday afternoons. After eight years of airing animated shows, the network dropped out in airing children’s programming in September 2003 when their contract with Disney came to an end.

USA Network – Had a popular animation block called USA Cartoon Express which ran from 1982 to 1996. It has the honor of being the first structured animation block on cable television, predating Nickelodeon’s animation blocks by half a decade and Cartoon Network by more than a decade. Its initial setup was comprised mostly of reruns from the Hanna-Barbera library, but by the end of the 80’s a more diverse lineup of cartoons aired in the block including The Real Ghostbusters, G.I. Joe, and Alvin & The Chipmunks. Turner Broadcasting purchased Hanna-Barbera and launched Cartoon Network in 1992, thus taking a chunk of Cartoon Express programming with it. In 1994 the block was moved from weekday afternoons to weekday mornings, in addition to its Sunday morning lineup, and revamped the entire look of the block. The block even launched original shows – the first two Cartoon Express series The Itsy-Bitsy Spider and Problem Child didn’t catch on with viewers. The network briefly acquired the broadcast rights to Terrytoons shorts and DC Comics related cartoons. Eventually the block was revamped into a weekday morning “all-action” block named USA Action Extreme Team with programs like Mighty Max, Sailor Moon, and Gargoyles. By the summer of 1996, USA Network ended all animation blocks on all its outlets after a 14 year run.

ABC Family – This network came to be after Fox Family was sold to ABC in 2001. Even though I never got the channel, I do remember promos for Fox Family Channel, and while I’d like to expand more on the network there isn’t much info about it. All I know is that it premiered sometime in the 90’s and aired much of what Fox Kids was airing at the time in an assigned children’s programming block. The network would also come to air many older shows and Saturday morning “classics” like Bobby’s World, Camp Candy, and Dennis The Menace, meanwhile ushering in various Canadian produced shows like Braceface and Mega Babies. ABC Family’s Jetix block made its debut on the network in 2002 airing anime such as Medabots, Beyblade, and Digimon: Digital Monsters. The block ran until August 2006 when it was switched to air on Toon Disney, leaving the network without an animation block they have yet to replace.

More information about these networks can be found on Wikipedia. If there is one trend that is evident after compiling this post – its that these major networks with small blocks dedicated to children’s programming all eventually fell victim to cable networks that were solely dedicated to children’s programming all the time (with the exception of MTV). Therefore with losing an audience who would rather watch Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network, these networks lose interest in hosting a block with cartoons as they don’t see it profitable, and they eventually fade away – much like the classic Saturday morning blocks of my time. It goes back to what I mentioned at the end of this post, and that only networks that air cartoons 24/7 are the places to really find your animation fix these days – as major networks have abandoned their small blocks of animation because no one is paying attention to them anymore. As with the case of MTV – adult animation has always been a hard market to be really successful in, and I think perhaps they just gave up on making anymore animated shows as most of them only lasted one season.

In pertaining to the three previous children’s networks I covered (Nick, Disney and CN), there is another trend I’ve come to realize – is that they all more or less share the same progression as they age. They have an early stage where the network develops its identity with viewers, and during this time they will import shows from various other networks and countries. They will eventually enter a golden age where the network is very popular with viewers, and during this time original productions commence. Of course you can only appreciate a golden age once many years have been put behind it and you finally realize it was a golden age, but back then it was just the network improving on itself. These networks (moreover the older ones) seem to have a good first ten years, but then they reach a point of jumping the shark. They improved so much, did so many things, released so many great shows – and suddenly the winning formula is lost due to the changes of time and shifts in viewership to a new generation of audience. They begin to falter, over and over again, lose their status as the network they were once known for, and worst of all start to get compared to how they used to be years ago. During this time these networks will make sister/spin-off channels because they have such a large catalogue of programming they can’t fit it all on their current network, therefore many older shows see the light of day again – this being more of a treat to older viewers. It’s not enough though, and the network just isn’t putting out the same greatness it once was. Was it the audience? Or the changes in animation itself that cause some networks to miss the mark with almost every new show they put out? Has every story from every point of view been told? Is nothing truly new anymore? From what I’ve examined in the lifespan of a children’s network, and how most of them aren’t what they used to be, I think it’s time we got a new animation station so the process of a fresh and new network that airs great cartoons can once again be celebrated.

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