Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Toon In: In The Beginning, Part One

While children’s television is possibly not as educational as it could be, it was a wasteland in the 1950’s. Advertisers at the time were trying to figure out how to use television to their advantage, but on the road to figuring out what might work, they had to make a few assumptions about their audience, many of which were eventually proven wrong. The biggest mistake they made was assuming that since kids have no money it was not worth targeting them with advertisements. Thus children’s television was seen as an afterthought.

“Hey kids, I’ll be in your nightmares tonight!”

Children’s programming was cheap and dreadful. Most channels considered it to be more of a service to harried mothers who needed to distract their children for a few hours while they prepared supper. Thus it was seen as an afterthought, hosted by terrifying clowns and filled with cartoons, purchased on the cheap from movie studios desperate to make cash in a world where their biggest competition was free each night.

Since most movie studios had not yet learned the hidden value in their back catalogs, many of them were selling anything not nailed down for quick cash. Even Warner Bros. had little respect for its animated catalog. (Jack Warner once famously derided his own studio’s animated product by saying the only thing he knew was that his company produced Mickey Mouse cartoons, which was obviously not true.) Warner Bros. sold off its entire catalog of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies for a relative pittance, only getting them back in the 1990’s after it purchased Ted Turner’s Company.

While children’s television was littered with cheap programming, there were a few people who saw that it could be much more than it was. That’s a story for next week. Toon In next time!