Bringing Action Back, Part 3: Some Possible Solutions
As you can guess by the title, this is a follow-up to “Bringing Action Back”.
By now we all know the situation: action cartoons are in a bad way right now. The recent 2-month hiatus of Beware the Batman (which has already been covered by Jason in “Beware the Backlash”) is just the latest blow to action toons. We’ve already been over why action cartoons are having such a tough time presently, but the question remains: what can be done to restore action cartoons to their former glory, aside from securing them a toy line? Here are some possible solutions:
1. Simplify the designs. One of the chief reasons that action cartoons take such a hard hit when they fail is because they’re more expensive to produce than comedy cartoons. Yeah, it’s great how so many action cartoons are drawn and animated in such amazing detail, from the more complex character designs to the intricate cityscapes, but let’s face it, that jazz costs a lot of money. One way to help make action cartoons gain profits is to make them cheaper to produce, and one way that can be done by avoiding realistic character designs. The less detailed and more cartoony the designs, the cheaper and easier the show is to animate. Every action cartoon doesn’t have to look like Princess Mononoke. No, I’m not suggesting that action cartoons should be reduced to fighting stick figures, but the less detailed the characters and designs are, the less expensive they are to produce. Shows such as Samurai Jack have proven that you can make a decent action toon with sparse, stylized designs and without having to draw and animate every wrinkle and pore on the faces and every drop of dew on every blade of grass.
“We’re just gonna paint a happy sun, and some happy grass, and some happy robot ninjas beating up a giant mutant scorpion…”
2. The networks that run action cartoons should promote and support them. On one of the message boards that I’m on, a fellow poster implied that actions should expand its’ viewer base towards a broader audience (in other words, adults) to keep the shows going. We’ve already gone over why most networks aren’t going to start gearing their action toons towards adults in parts 1 and 2, so no need to repeat that. Action cartoons don’t necessarily need to be marketed towards adults in order to secure them loyal viewers, all that really needs to happen is for their network to support them. Let’s use the recent Beware the Batman debacle as an example: it got next to zero promotion by Cartoon Network, and the few ads it did air began airing about a week before the show’s debut with no follow-up advertising afterward and were only shown during the hour when DC Nation was on. Really, when was the last time you saw an ad for a DC Nation show outside of the DC Nation block? Teen Titans GO! doesn’t count, because it gets to air its’ premiere episodes on a different night than the block and it gets encores throughout the week. Any good advertiser knows that you have to make the public want your product; how are kids going to want to see a show when the network it runs on barely talks about it?
Why doesn’t CN promote the DC Nation shows? Run ads for them, give them at least 1 encore, ensure that they get to premiere alongside other premiere shows, since kids are more prone to stick around to watch a show when there are other new episodes airing before and after them to check out. If CN promoted their DC action toons half as much as the promotional blitzes they gave TTGO!, Uncle Grandpa and Steven Universe, then maybe the DC Nation shows wouldn’t be in the pickle they’re in right now. Say what you will about Disney, but they at least promote their shows, even the action cartoons, and given them plenty of encores.
“Hey, Warner Bros. We own Marvel, and our superhero movies make money and don’t suck. So take a wild guess what YOU can suck! Ha-Ha!”
Don’t get cocky; you’re latest Marvel action cartoon offerings haven’t been that great, and last I heard, you were moving Marvel Universe to 8 AM on Sunday mornings, not a good sign. Moving on…
3. Make action cartoons more accessible to a mass audience, not just hardcore action fans. Another reason action toons are having such a tough time right now is because many of them follow extensive and ongoing story arcs, which not only forces a newbie just coming in to them to play catch-up in order to keep from getting lost in the overall plot with but also shortens their lifespan in reruns, since only the most devoted fans are willing to revisit an arc once it’s over. Perhaps making more stand-alone stories is the way to go, since that way the episodes can be rerun in any given order without viewers feeling lost. I think that action cartoons should try to have more self contained stories rather than having so many season long story arcs, as self contained stories have greater replay value because the episodes don’t have to be shown in any particular order and ongoing sagas tend to not do well in reruns. Networks aren’t going to run these shows in a straight, linear, coherent order after their initial airings anyway. Back in the ancient 1980’s, plenty of the action cartoons from that era such as He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe and even the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did mostly stand-alone episodes, save for the occasional 2 or 3-parter. There’s no reason today’s action toons can’t do the same.
4. Schedule them at a time when people will actually be around to see them. Going back to Beware the Batman for a moment (geez, people are talking more about BtB now then when it was on the air), one reason that show failed to find an audience was because there weren’t any other premiere shows running alongside of it; Ben 10: Omniverse was already in reruns by the time BtB debuted, and the Teen Titans GO! episodes which air on DC Nation are just encores of the eps which premiere on Monday nights. It doesn’t take a genius to see that a single new first-run show isn’t going to get as many viewers when it’s sandwiched between 2 reruns, especially when the network running said show does next to squat to remind its’ viewer that the bloody show is even on. One reason the Hub’s Puppy/Pony/Pet combo works so well is because those shows usually air their premiere episodes at more or less the same time; a kid is more wont to stick around where there’s a good hour or 2 of premiere goodness in store for them. Which brings me to a point raised by Jason during a recent conversation, which I’ll quote here:
Why don’t cable/satellite channels run action cartoons on weekday afternoons anymore? Toonami in it’s hey day did well in the ratings on weekday afternoons for years. Miguzi (which was like a scaled down Toonami geared toward a slightly younger audience) wasn’t as successful as Toonami was, but the block at least did well enough to stay on for a couple of years. That formula worked once, why can’t it work again?
Yeah, how about it, CN? Really what else are you doing during that time? More encores? That joke of a block you laughingly call Cartoon Planet? Why not try running action toons on weekday afternoons to early evenings again? It couldn’t hurt to try.
5. Give the viewers some original ideas, characters and concepts. Yes, I understand that action cartoons are a risky and costly investment, and as such most networks prefer to play it safe with known properties, but that may be part of the problem. People might be getting sick of nonstop reboots of Batman, Spider-Man, the Transformers and the Avengers. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to give them heroes, villains, premises and settings which they haven’t already seen 100 times already. I know you’d risk losing money on a new action idea if it tanks, but you’re losing money on the established properties right now, so what more harm could experimentation do?
-As always, we’re not saying that these ideas are guaranteed to work, but they’re at least ideas. They’re better than just continuing to let action toons languish, I think. It wouldn’t kill The Powers That Be to give 1 or 2 of these suggestions a try at least. After all, you can’t hope to succeed if you don’t dare to fail.