Undoubtedly, we’ve all heard or read by now that neither Green Lantern: The Animated Series nor Young Justice were announced among returning series on Cartoon Network’s 2013 Upfront. This has lead many fans to believe that both shows are done. Cartoon Network is already getting a lot of heat from some of it’s viewers for giving most of it’s action cartoons the red-headed stepchild treatment; under promoting it’s action series. Canceling most of them prematurely, etc, and this latest news has only added fuel to the fire. Is there any way for action cartoon to start getting some love from cable/satellite kids channels again?
I say the answer to that is yes, although in order to achieve this, it may be necessary for the producers of said action to rethink their strategy/approach somewhat. Here at Twinsanity, we feel that one reason why action cartoons have been getting the short end of the stick as of late is because so many of them are done in a continuing story/saga fashion. I can hear the arguments in favor this technique now: “Continuing stories, sagas, and story arcs are cooler. They give more depth to the characters. It’s more mature storytelling and blah, blah, blah…” Well, that may be true, but the downside of that is that sagas/serials don’t have a very high replay value. Serial cartoons tend to not do well in reruns, which is one reason why comedy cartoons are often looked upon as the favorite children of cable/satellite channels because most comedy cartoon episodes are each a self contained story, so they can be rerun in any order or no particular order and new viewers tuning in for the 1st time can watch any episode without being lost and then having to catch up. Most people don’t want to revisit a saga once it’s finished. They might want to look at some highlights from the past season, but that’s about it. And channels can’t just run random episodes of a serial cartoon because the entire arc’s story line has to be shown in order or else the whole continuity is lost.
Another important issue is finance.. Let’s face it, quality costs mazoolah, and shows like Young Justice and Green Lantern: The Animated Series aren’t cheap to produce. The sad truth is that the shows’ niche audiences and low toy sales don’t justify the cost of producing them. Half of an animated shows’ success comes from merchandising, but unfortunately, kids just aren’t buying the GL and YJ toys. I suppose that it could be argued that CN and the other networks could (or should) be running action shows at night and aiming them at teens and young adults instead, but the problem with this suggestion is a) CN already tried running action premieres at night twice and both times the blocks failed to generate ratings from kid viewers who favored the comedy premieres on Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel, and b) except for hardcore comic book fans, adults aren’t buying action figures and toy play sets based on the shows. The success of Green Lantern: TAS relied heavily on the live action movie being successful, and since the GL movie bombed, there just wasn’t a huge incentive for many fans to tune in to the animated series. Likewise how the Kids’ WB Legion of Super Heroes animated series’ lifespan was cut in half due to Superman Returns, which opened the summer before LoS’s premiere, under performed at the box office.
In regards to serial fashion being “more mature storytelling”, the irony here is that Nickelodeon’s and Cartoon Network’s prime audience demographic is immature, as in kids. Sure, there are the hardcore comic book fans and the cool secular people who’ll tune in, but the networks don’t want to attract just them. They want to kids to watch because kids buy toys, and a show that’s watched largely by kids means that the networks can sell a bunch of over priced plastic toys based on the characters.
So perhaps it may be time for more action cartoon to go back to having stand alone plots and stories. It is possible to tell a decent action story without having a continuing saga or serial story running along. Shows like Batman: TAS, Superman: TAS and Justice League Unlimited have all done so. Sure, there was the occasional 2-parter, but usually nothing more than that
Now, I realize that my opinions aren’t the least biased, as I’m admittedly more of a comedy person than an action. Plus, I tend to get bored with a plot that that takes more than 2 parts to resolve. I admit it; I have a 22 minute attention span. But it just might be possible for action to regain some the attention that was once paid to them by network executives if they were to make thing somewhat less complicated for themselves.