You’re Not The Right Demo: Cartoon Network’s Struggles To Find A Hit
Oh I’m sorry were you watching that? Were you just starting to build connections with those characters? Getting a feel for this world or excited for the stories to come? While we appreciate your viewership, you are not really the audience we are targeting. You see we are looking for young boys and young boys only. No hard feelings.
Ok so maybe Cartoon Network didn’t exactly say that when they didn’t renew Young Justice last year, but that’s plenty much what they said to viewers. For the last few years, CN has been at the forefront of a number of high profile cancellations. Young Justice, barely able to finish its second session, along with Green Lantern The Animated series were the latest to get the plugged pulled by CN. While shows getting yacked from air quickly is standard for the television business, the revelations as to why many of these shows on CN have been getting canned so soon is disheartening and vexing for fans and creators alike. They were drawing the wrong demographics, bear with me, this could get a little frustrating.
Even though it appeared that CN was trying to kill Young Justice from the gate (constantly changing airing times, a sporadic schedule that at one point broke up sessions in weird spots s and other times saw the show air for two weeks then disappear for months) somehow still managed to garner a loyal following. Headed up by Brandon Vietti (The Batman) and Greg Weisman (Gargoyles), Young Justice was the story of a covert team of young heroes that worked directly under the Justice League. They did the jobs the League could not do publically. Young Justice had the biggest roster of heroes and villains of an animated show since Justice League Unlimited and an ambitious narrative, filled with numerous plot threads that lasted entire sessions. Not surprisingly, it was a hit with older viewers and pulled good numbers with females fans as well. Groups CN could care less about.
This past December on an episode of Kevin Smith’s Fatman on Batman podcast, Paul Dini explained that executives for superhero cartoons don’t care for female viewers. In short, they don’t factor them into merchandising plans and refuse to do so. Ironically, a show’s survival is not only based on viewership but licensing and merchandising deals – toy sales; however, for a long time and even still today, marketers believe toys and games only appeal to young boys and as a result, target them almost exclusively. Dini reveals that strong viewership, but sluggish toy sales are the ultimate factors into cancelling Young Justice and his show Tower Prep. This is a problem for many reasons. Besides leaving money on the table from all the different ways one could market a diverse demographic, you are essentially telling viewers to f-off. This isn’t a new. CN has been giving shows the boot based on toys sales for years now. Sym-Bionic Titan was one of the first (at least publicly) revealed to have been cancelled based on poor merchandise sales.
Sym-Bionic Titan was the creation of mastermind Genndy Tartakovsky. Yes, the same Tartakovsky behind Dexter’s Lab, Samurai Jack and the original Star Wars: Clone Wars miniseries. SBT was the story of three refuges, a Princess, her bodyguard and their robot, sent to Earth during a violent Coup d’état on their home planet. The show was inspired heavily from 80’s mecha anime, like Voltron and Macross, while also incorporating modern elements like tuner culture and music. Most episodes were a mix of the three protagonists, Llana, Lance and Octus, trying to blend into mundane Sherman Illinois while fighting off giant monsters sent from across the galaxy to kill them. With enduring characters, a well-developed premise, great action and an ever expanding world, it appeared Genndy had another hit (at least with viewers and critics.) But without a toy line attached to it, CN decided not to renew the show after one session. The end of SBT would also mean loss of Genddy, who would leave his long standing tenure at CN for Sony Pictures soon after. If Genndy – one of the pillars that created CN’s brand throughout the 90s and 2000s – could not get a show renewed for a second session, what hope does new animator with an ambitious ideas have?
Not much. The new Beware the Batman was recently pulled from the air mid-session, reminiscent of the Young Justice disappearance and if Dini is right, looks to be on its way out too. Meaning Beware The Batman will join Green Lantern and Thundercats, shows from some of the greatest minds of American animation, canned after one session.
The problem is bigger than CN. These last few years have been rough for fans of American animation. Dramatic shows with more linear narratives are getting dropped left and right, as networks double down on comedies. CN is the most oblivious (their entire DC Block was replace with Teen Titans GO!) but Disney has done the same. Tron Uprising was quietly put out to pasture. The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, which had become a goldmine of Marvel lore, was replaced by Avengers Assemble to better capitalized on Marvel’s The Avengers success. The Spectacular Spiderman (another Weisman joint) was replaced by The Ultimate Spiderman which relies on more slapstick comedy. Execs are going with that they know they can sell, isolating many in the process.
Breakout hits are important, but even Breaking Bad wasn’t a cultural phenomenon until well into its third season. The same can be said for Adventure Time and Regular Show, two wildly successful shows; ironically, successfully because of they appeal to wide demographics. Cancelling shows because they are drawing “the wrong audience” is foolishness.
This is a business and recouping the cost of production though merchandising is standard. However when a company neglects a segment of it audiences because it’s too lazy to figure out how to sell to them…there is only one group to blame and it’s not the show runners or the audience.