The Death Of Adult Cartoons

“TRON Uprising,” “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” “Young Justice” and “Green Lantern: The Animated Series.” One thing all of these…

Michael Allred


Tron Uprising

“TRON Uprising,” “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” “Young Justice” and “Green Lantern: The Animated Series.” One thing all of these shows have in common (besides the fact that they’re animated) is that they’ve all been cancelled within the past few months. All have had varying degrees of success though none could be counted as abject failures. It should be pointed out that the ending of “The Clone Wars” seems to be more a decision on the part of LucasFilm than Cartoon Network so that all the company’s focus can be on the upcoming “Star Wars: Episode 7” but there is still an undercurrent of overlooking quality animated television programs that appeal to adults that seems to be showing up more and more.

One could argue that the four shows listed thus far have a nostalgia factor involved (the properties themselves or the characters they’re based on are frankly decades older than the target audience of children that Cartoon Network and Disney XD have been shooting for) but isn’t that why Hollywood keeps churning out remakes, sequels and prequels? Studios hedging their bets on franchises people are most familiar with rather than branching out with new IP? When Disney greenlit “TRON Uprising,” which age group did they truly think would be most interested; 8-12 year olds or those that fall into the generation that actually grew up with the original 1982 live action film? If your show doesn’t grab your intended audience but rather an all together unintended one, is that a failure of the show or the network executives that put it into production in the first place? There is certainly enough fault to spread around but certainly not on the creators of the show itself who produced a quality program that did indeed find a loyal audience but unfortunately not the audience it expected.

Sometimes the reasons a network cancels a show are even more infuriating than advertising executives targeting the wrong audience. Sometimes it all boils down to toy sales. Regardless of how good the writing is, how exciting the action sequences are, how loyal the show’s creators are to the fanbase, if a corporation doesn’t see added revenue for a cartoon come from toy sales then to them, it’s not worth the time or effort. Imagine if there was little demand for Kenner’s “Star Wars” action figures after “Episode IV” hit theaters in the late 70s and therefore 20th Century FOX decided not to make “The Empire Strikes Back” because of it. Take a moment and imagine pop culture today if that call was made. Granted, you can’t necessarily compare “Green Lantern: The Animated Series” to “Star Wars” and be taken seriously right now but who knew in 1977 what was going to spring forth from George Lucas?


Frankly there’s no telling what kind of impact “GL: TAS” COULD have had if Cartoon Network had let it continue to grow. Despite the fact that Cartoon Network put little effort into promoting the show and seemingly did everything it could to lose viewers (changing it’s time slot from an adult friendly prime time position to a far more competitive showing on Saturday mornings, to yanking it from the schedule unannounced for months on end) the viewers were still there, certainly in large enough numbers to warrant a second season and yet, according to Bruce Timm, a legend in the animation business specifically DC, the show was cancelled because of the lack of toy sales. This problem goes back to the live action feature film of “Green Lantern” a few years ago and how poorly those movie tie-in toys sold thereby scaring off stores from stocking anything related to the animated series. In fact, very few toys were even produced for the animated series in the first place so their “failure” was something competely unrelated to the show or it’s own merchandise but rather on products made for a movie from an entirely different medium.

Timm did acknowledge that the show’s costs were expensive due to it’s all CGI approach but if the (non-existant) toys couldn’t keep it afloat then perhaps a better job of promoting the series, altering it’s target demo and returning it to a night time slot could have boosted it’s ratings therefore allowing them to charge more for advertising but perhaps that’s too logical an approach to fixing the problem. This of course goes back to the root of the problem, a lack of quality animated programming for adults. Seemingly most executives think “cartoons are for kids” and therefore there must be a toy line to go hand-in-hand with it, if the toys don’t sell then there isn’t a market for it despite the ratings and it’s just not worth their time. When you bring up “Young Justice” it gets even more comical as it’s one of the network’s highest rated shows. Why was that cancelled? I’ll give you three guesses but you’ll only need one.

Hollywood likes to act surprised when certain films that don’t appeal to a young male audience breaks out from the pack. Movies like “The Vow,” “The Help” or anything with Tyler Perry in drag for example. There are segments of the population eager to have something speak to them for a change, a story that doesn’t involve space robots or mindless explosions (or mindless robots and space explosions) and in this 21st century of countless entertainment options, sometimes all you need to do is find a niche that serves those customers well and they’ll keep coming back for more. “Green Lantern: The Animated Series” was doing just that AND getting progressively better as each episode aired. If a corporation wanted “brand awareness” and expanding that character further into pop culture, they were accomplishing just that but you have to dance with the date you brought to the prom and not dump her the first time she steps on your foot.

Adults want quality animated programming and the fact that “Green Lantern: The Animated Series” as well as “Young Justice” could also be enjoyed by kids was merely icing on the cake. DC’s stable of characters and Cartoon Network’s schedule could allow for two blocks of “DC Nation.” One obviously is the block they are preparing to air (child friendly versions of Batman and Teen Titans) for Saturday mornings and one during prime time….one for adults to enjoy. “Green Lantern” and “Young Justice” have earned their right to stick around, if even for only one more season each to further prove that you had a winner on your hands. Reach the target demo for your toy buying profits AND expand your reach into adult viewership, isn’t that how you grow your business? Perhaps the bigger question is, will corporate entertainment ever escape the mind-set that cartoons are for kids only? Sadly (and obviously) they have not reached that point yet and the adult demo will continue to be teased with great shows only to see them cancelled well before their time… just as we were falling in love with them and maybe remembering what it was like to be a kid again.