Freakazoid. Invader Zim. Samurai Jack. Sym-Bionic Titan. Teen Titans. Young Justice. Wander Over Yonder. All were created by respected names in the animation industry. All brought something new to the table, standing out in their respective genres. All were dearly loved by their fans.
And all were cancelled before their time. All those fans were left without closure.
Why Does This Happen?
With rumors swirling that Cartoon Network's cult hit Regular Show is also on the chopping block, it seems as good a time as any to revisit this simple question: Why do all the good cartoons get cancelled so soon?
In the case of Freakazoid and Zim, we must face the cold, hard truth: As good as those shows might have been, as dedicated as their fan bases are, they just did not pick up enough viewing numbers when they aired.
Poor old Sym-Bionic Titan was a classic victim of poor scheduling, being jerked around to all the worst possible time slots before Cartoon Network finally dropped the axe.
But what about Young Justice, you may be asking, or Wander Over Yonder? Both of those series kept up decent ratings throughout their run. Why would the networks want to cancel them when they still reach a large audience?
Because they reached the wrong audience. Young Justice was watched largely by girls, and young adults. Wander was also popular with an older audience who were probably not that interested in buying toys.
Money, Money, Money
Our problem lies in the ingrained belief of many network executives that animation is still just for kids, that the majority of action-based animated series are made simply for the purpose of selling toys. If a series does not sell toys, and cannot be easily translated into merchandising dollars, it is quickly dismissed as a failure.
Young Justice was cancelled because its accompanying toy line sold poorly, with the network believing that the show's outside the desired age demographic and largely female audience offered little chance of those sales improving.
Wander Over Yonder, while funny and original, is sadly not very marketable. The concept is somewhat difficult to explain to those who have not seen the show. This, as well as attracting viewers outside of Disney's core demographic, likely contributed to its cancellation.
Embrace The Changing Face Of Cartoons
This could have been avoided if networks were more flexible in their views of what cartoons can be. They must learn to embrace any unexpected audiences that find their show, rather than shun them.
Maybe learn to tailor merchandise to whom they know is watching, rather than just to whom they want to watch. Many of the girls who watched Young Justice would probably love an Artemis, Miss Martian, or Wonder Girl toy. Wander Over Yonder fans would jump at the chance to own a set of Funko Pops.
Or even better, perhaps networks could learn to form an opinion on cartoons based on quality, or entertainment value, rather than their ability to sell merchandise.
We Are Headed For A Crisis In TV Animation; Great Talent Will Be Lost
If TV executives do not wake up and accept this new truth, we may face losing cartoons like Wander and Regular Show altogether. New shows may never reach the air due to a perceived lack of marketability. Worse, those who have new, original ideas may be too afraid to pitch them at all, for fear that the show will not be treated well, or will join the sad ranks of shows that were cancelled without a true ending, like Zim, Teen Titans, and Wander Over Yonder.
Sure, some of those creative types will find other ways to get their ideas out there (maybe getting them produced with backing from a Kickstarter campaign and posting their creations on YouTube, Facebook, or other social media sites), but the reality is, the chances of finding success this way are slim. For every Charlie The Unicorn or Annoying Orange, there are a thousand other videos that didn't take off. Too many potentially great cartoons will be lost in the crowd, all because some stuffy executives could not see beyond dollar signs.
Change Is Coming
Thankfully, change is coming, if slowly. Cartoons like Family Guy and Bob's Burgers, aimed at adults, continue to be popular. "Bronies," older male fans falling far outside My Little Pony's original core audience, have been openly embraced by the show's creators.
Samurai Jack is getting a revival, set to finally give fans closure on Jack's journey. Persistent rumors suggest that Young Justice may also find second life on Netflix. Fans have not yet given up on Wander Over Yonder, with several petitions and Tumblr accounts dedicated to earning the series a third season.
We, as fans of quality animation, can ensure that this progress continues. Buy the DVD sets of your cancelled favorites. Stream them on Netflix. Watch every rerun you come across. Remember, Family Guy was revived through DVD sales. Rugrats reruns rated so well that the series earned not not only a new season, but a theatrical film as well.
Keep watching your favorite cartoons, whether they are currently on air, or long since cancelled. Be open about the shows you like. Talk about them on social media. Suggest them to a friend looking for something new to watch.
Stand up and be counted, cartoon fans. Sooner or later, the networks will have to listen.
Check out all of the ways that animation has influenced Hollywood in the Movie Pilot original video below: