Cartoon Network is 30: Remember these sketchy details? - Hindustan Times

Cartoon Network is 30: Remember these sketchy details?

ByK Narayanan
Oct 01, 2022 01:28 AM IST

The American cable television channel, Cartoon Network launched on October 1, 1992. See how its round-the-clock animation programming shaped our world and still finds fans from across generations

An opera house, packed to the rafters. A spotlight shines on the stage as a dog in a tuxedo makes his entrance. In the pit, a wolf in a white wig taps his baton on the sheet-music holder in front of him and turns to the orchestra. The music begins. It’s Largo al Factotum from The Barber of Seville. The dog takes a deep breath and starts to sing, “Bugs Bunny! Elmer Fudd! Yogi Bear! Daffy Duck! Droopy Dog! Yosemite Sam! The cartoon network where anything can happen, anything, anything, the normal rules don’t apply!”

(Left to right) Shows like The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, The Magilla Gorilla Show, Top Cat, Dexter’s Laboratory, Courage the Cowardly Dog and Ed, Edd n Eddy weren’t path-breaking, but brought to screen a comforting sense of simplicity. PREMIUM
(Left to right) Shows like The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, The Magilla Gorilla Show, Top Cat, Dexter’s Laboratory, Courage the Cowardly Dog and Ed, Edd n Eddy weren’t path-breaking, but brought to screen a comforting sense of simplicity.

This was the opening of a Cartoon Network promotional video, one of several aired in the mid-1990s. The first-of-its-kind 24-hour animated cable channel was launched 30 years ago, on October 1, 1992.

I started watching Cartoon Network in 1996. I was 26 and had quit my first job, two years in. I had imagined myself an investment banker in the making, a future master of the universe. But I had no idea of what the working world was like, and it had come as a rude shock. I now had a vague notion that my future would involve computers and programming. For the next year, to the despair of my parents, I ate through my meagre savings, trying to learn programming at home, with the aid of a fat yellow book, James L Conger’s Windows API Bible.

And I watched Cartoon Network, a lot.

“Penelope Pitstop, Pepe Le Pew, Magilla Gorilla and Scooby Dooby Doo, Fred and Wilma and Barney and Betty and Dino the Dinosaur – Yabba Dabba Doo!” I knew every one of them.

There were the old Hanna-Barbera cartoons, starting with Tom and Jerry, which made William Hanna and Joseph Barbera synonymous with a certain kind of children’s animation (simple; clean lines; limited movement; spare backgrounds). They’d go on to replicate that simplicity with a stable of characters that included Huckleberry Hound, Peter Potamus, Touché Turtle, Quick Draw McGraw, Ricochet Rabbit and his sidekick Droop-a-Long Coyote.

There were the superheroes: Birdman and the Galaxy Trio: Vapor Man, Meteor Man and Gravity Girl; Dynomutt, Dog Wonder, Moby Dick and Mighty Mightor (a proto He-Man, with a magic club instead of a sword), and many others. There were also non-Hanna-Barbera heroes: the ThunderCats locked in battle with evil Mumm-Ra; The Centurions (designed by Jack Kirby, no less) fighting against Doc Terror; T-Bone and Razor of the Swat Kats (memorably renamed Bade Meow and Chote Meow in the dubbed Hindi version). The superheroes formed a programming block called Power Zone, and the pride of place went to Hanna-Barbera’s Space Ghost, a kind of galactic ranger.

Hanna-Barbera offerings made up most of the fare on Cartoon Network in its first five years. Some of these shows would go on to be long-runners: Scooby-Doo, the ever-hungry great Dane, and his gang of Shaggy, Velma, Fred and Daphne still appear in new animated shows; The Flintstones held the record for the longest-running animated TV show until The Simpsons claimed that title in 1997.

None of these shows was what one could call path-breaking. They were low-budget, limited; the storylines were variations on the same themes, tropes and gags. But I still devoured them, breaking away from my struggles with the differences between LPTSTR and LPCTSTR string types. Perhaps it was their very simplicity that I craved.

Then, in 1996, the channel introduced its own programming, under the Cartoon Cartoons banner. New shows, some based on minor characters that had made brief appearances before, included I Am Weasel; Cow and Chicken; Courage the Cowardly Dog; Ed, Edd n Eddy; and Dexter’s Laboratory. Johnny Bravo was one of the earliest examples of a memetic mutation; many of his catchphrases (“Woah, mama”) have become enduring memes. I still can’t think of cheese omelettes without thinking of the episode where the only words Dexter can say are “Omelette du fromage”.

These shows were better animated and had better-written, long-running arcs. As Cartoon Network became more confident with its original programming, there were shows such as Samurai Jack, Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Ben 10, with world-building, complex storylines and sharper animation.

My Cartoon Network addiction ended in 1998, but the channel remained appointment viewing well into the 2000s. I would wait for new episodes of shows such as Batman: The Animated Series; Justice League, still one of the best representations of DC’s stable of superheroes; and Dave Filoni’s Clone Wars show.

But these are the days of on-demand streaming, and if you can access Netflix or Amazon Prime or any of the others, you don’t really need a cartoon channel. Cartoon Network’s programming, for the large part, has returned to the simple: Tom and Jerry, Teen Titans Go!

I now listen to respectable podcasts on productivity and economics, and tell uplifting and untrue stories of life lessons on LinkedIn. But every now and then, I go back to YouTube to watch the opera-singing cartoon dog and his version of Cesare Sterbini’s Figaro song.

“Paw Paws and Popeye, Sylvester and Tweety, Dick Dastardly and Muttley, the Jetsons and Grimley, the cartoon network, the cartoon network, home of the top toon stars…”

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