Saturday, June 9, 2007

In regards to Jon's piece about the current state of classic Looney Tunes on TV (or lack thereof at this point), I'll have to give the Cartoon Network some credit. They may have murdered Bugs and the gang brutally by completely removing them from the airwaves, but for a while they did a great job handling the cartoons. The unfortunate situation they're in now is the fault of a change in management and focus of the channel, and Cartoon Network now is not to be confused with the great channel it used to be.

As I understand it, the real blame rests with Warner Bros. itself. Though they own the Cartoon Network, the contract to air all the Looney Tunes on one channel cost money. The parent company apparently charged the child company to air the post-1948 material. Though the Looney Tunes got great ratings, they were not free to air as exclusive properties like CN's originals or the Hanna-Barbera library, owned lock stock and barrel by Turner.

To understand the madness of this, a more-than-brief history lesson is in order. Originally a Turner company before the infamous mid-1990'S merger series between Warner, Turner and AOL, Turner's Cartoon Network only had access to a fraction of the Warner Bros. Cartoon library. TNT, TBS and all other Turner networks ran them as well, and even had them "remastered" in 1995, from the secondhand prints they owned and with help from some digital color enhancement. In the 1950's, Warner Bros. sold all of its color cartoons made before 1948 to a television distributor called Associated Artists Productions (A.A.P.). In addition to all of the pre-1948 color shorts, they also got most of the 1930's black and white Merrie Melodies. This package was syndicated to various local channels for years. When Ted Turner began his cable TV reign in the 80's, the Turner company eventually bought out the A.A.P. collection, which also held the rights to many classic WB and MGM live-action feature films, the Fleischer/Paramount Popeye cartoons, and numerous live action shorts. Turner gobbled up everything. In addition to A.A.P., they also made deals with MGM itself for many live action classics and their entire cartoon library, and with Hanna-Barbera for most of its TV animation.

All through the 1980s and early 1990s, the pre-1948 and post-1948 Warner cartoon libraries remained segregated. Turner and Warner both syndicated their holdings to local channels, but for the most part, the two packages remained seperate.

In the 90's, Warner issued cartoons to ABC, Nickelodeon, Fox, the WB, and anyone else willing to pay. Turner's package remained on the Turner cable channels after the syndication demand died down. That all changed when Warner and Turner merged, allowing the two packages of cartoons to air together on television for the first time ever. The biggest coup on the Warner end of the deal was access to the pre-48 cartoons, and since they still had the original negatives to those shorts, they once again owned the rights to use them. The benefit to Turner was access to the post-48 library. The only catch was contracts between Warner and other TV channels. A large portion of the post-48 TV rights were scattered between ABC, Fox and Nickelodeon. Nickelodeon helped finance a computer-colorization of the Warner-owned black and white cartoons, (Exept Bosko and Buddy, for some unknown reason) and ABC had been a prime promoter for ages, and those two networks eventually became the only outlets for the cartoons other than Cartoon Network (and the WB, who shared a package of post-48s dropped by Fox until an evil executive named James Kellner cancelled all classic animation on the WB).

If this isn't confusing enough already, keep reading. Around 2000, contracts between WB, ABC and Nickelodeon expired. The rights were immediately given to the Cartoon Network. For the first time ever, the TV rights to every classic cartoon Warner Bros. ever produced were owned by one network. This lead to numerous marathons, shows and promotions. It also lead to censorship, which fans lashed out against, myself included. The briefly-banned Speedy Gonzales was eventually returned, and from 2003-2004, CN ran virtually every Warner short fit for TV, and then some. Then, something went wrong. WB's price went up, a movie based on the LT franchise was released, and Cartoon Network, faced with an increased bill due to the movie, said "screw you." Thus, marathons such as "June Bugs" were cancelled, airings of the cartoons were relegated to spinoff channel Boomerang, and as of now, no TV channel shows Looney Tunes at all.

But when CN aired them, they made these promos:

And so many more. It's sad that such a great idea wound up as such a disaster!


Martin said...

It such a great and excellent article about the TV's Looney Tunes Matthew. It's sad that a great proposition falling in a disaster because they made their potentials with the years.

Again articles like that, please!

Anonymous said...

Matthew, another factor you forgot to mention that Cartoon Network got new management around the same time as the BACK IN ACTION movie. All the people in charge who loved and cared for the classics were gone and saw no need to bother airing Looney Tunes.

John Pannozzi said...

It's Jamie Kellner, not James Kellner.

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