As hard as it may be to believe, there was a time when there no cable channels devoted to cartoons, and no such thing as “Saturday morning cartoons.” If you wanted to see cartoons, you watched the local afternoon shows for kids where some costumed host would intro them in between routines. If you were lucky, the TV station (especially a small one) wouldn’t have a host and simply run a half-hour block of old cartoons, either every weekday or some time early on a weekend.
Cartoons have always been part of TV. Before World War Two, at least one New York station aired some of Van Beuren’s Aesop Fables. As television expanded, especially after the freeze on new TV licenses was lifted in 1952, more and more stations needed programming, and time could easily be filled with old films that were of no use to movie studios. Syndicators brokered deals for the films—in some cases whatever a studio owned before a certain date—and soon found cartoons were incredibly popular with kids. Popularity equals ratings, ratings equal sales, and sales equal profits.
By 1956, the bulk of theatrical cartoons made in the U.S. before 1948 had found homes in TV syndication, though Disney cleverly hung tight onto its animated shorts to use in its own programming. The obvious solution was made-for-TV cartoons but the results to date had been pretty cheap looking and couldn’t compare with the theatricals.
Here’s Variety summing up the situation as it stood as of the publication date of July 31, 1957. It included a helpful chart to reveal the origin of the cartoons being broadcast. Primrose Productions simply bought European cartoons for broadcast in the U.S. And Here Comes Pokey has nothing to do with Gumby’s horsie. It was a radio series put together by Phil Nasser; I’ve found a Feb. 4, 1957 copyright date. It would appear Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising worked out a deal to bring his characters to the screen, though I’ve seen no evidence a cartoon was ever made.
CARTONS OF CARTOONS FOR TV
3,298 MAKING VIDEO ROUNDS
There are, by the best count of the moment, 3,298 fully-animated cartoons being sold to television stations across the country. In most cases, their impact on the audience has been terrific, usually downing the opposition wherever they have played on a regular basis. But the impact on advertisers is not always commensurate: There is a dearth of tv sponsors who are interested primarily in attracting juvenile lookers-in, yet, at the same time, out of necessity, any cartoon distributors have been able to point to a reasonable quotient of adults, to appeal to adult sponsors.
Exactly 1,533 cartoons have reached tv distributors in the past 24 months, 550 of those animations will break into the market between now and September of this year. Those include 130 from George Bagnall, somewhere in the vicinity of 175 from Metro, 104 from Onyx Pictures, 52 from Screen Gems (cartoons made for CBS-TV’s "Captain Kangaroo" and being prepped now for syndication), and 92 from Sterling Television. Sterling, incidentally, is expected to add another 50 or so new cartoons in the next couple of months.
Few Specifically For TV
Most every one of the cartoons that tv can lay its hands on these days was made first for theatrical release, and there is no strong indication that matters will change in the foreseeable future; market conditions, it has been said, don't encourage fully-animated cartoons made specifically for video. However, there are 466 of the over 3,000 cartoons around which were made for television, George Bagnall's distribution company having the biggest lot, the durable "Crusader Rabbits" and the new "Here Comes Pokey," for 325. Then there are the 52 "Adventures of Pow Wow," the Screen Gems pix mentioned before as "Captain Kangaroo" network material, which were made for tv, plus 89 "Cartoon Classics" from Sterling. The 104 untitled cartoons owned by Sam Lake's Onyx Pictures might in a way qualify as tv productions, since the European-made pix will have had their first U.S. appearance on tv.
There are 14 different distributors in the tv field with cartoons. The largest, in terms of numbers and the forerunner of the present-day cartoon "revolution," is Associated Artists, which, particularly behind the "Popeye" theatricals, has amassed a strong rating record.
National Telefilm Associates has 475 and Guild Films 370, most of which, in both instances, were released for tv in 1954 or 1955.
George Bagnall has 325. Screen Gems has a mixture of new and veteran cartoon product, for a total of 386 pieces. Sterling has 159, new and rerun, Onyx 104, Metro 175 and CBS Film 156. The smallest number known to be held by a single distributor is 11, that being out of the Governor TV camp. Others are Commonwealth with 400, Cinema-Vue with 150, RKO and Goodman with 13 each.
Until "Popeye" and "Looney Tunes," cartoons were invariably used as filler for established kidvid, both locally and on network. Trade recollections are clear about how well the material did pre-"Popeye." WATV, Newark, for instance, the first station in New York and one of the first in the country to use cartoons, brought an otherwise weak lineup right up to the top of the seven-station afternoon heap on the basis of "Junior Frolics," which showcased animations. This kind of filler stuff brought a good, steady rating and since there was a limited number of juve-slanted programs two and three years ago, a hefty number of sponsors.
While many of the cartoons for video are as old as the Fred Sayles show on WATV, a wide contention nevertheless is that the kid audience is unlike the adult market, in that product for the juve has recurring, periodic strength. Three or four years, perhaps a little more, the cartoon material that has played again and again in a short span of time and theoretically worn itself out for the moppet mart has in time a new market to play for. So far the theory hasn't proved out in syndicated sales, but if it does in time it will help alleviate the relative shortage of animated-material for tv.
About a month ago, Associated Artists, distributor of "Popeye," released the findings of a research study indicative to some degree of the whole cartoon field. Company disclosed a "bonus" adult audience of at least 20% in ARB surveys for cartoon shows. Cartoons for years previously had been popular with the grownups in theatres, so, argued AAP, why shouldn't they be via tv?
AAP went on to say that when cartoons were slotted favorably competition and time-wise, they attracted as much as a 30 and 40% adult share and even "an exceptionally fine" 50% adult audience. An example was a recent 7:30-9 p. m, cartoon "carnival" on WFIL-TV, Philadelphia, when the 50-50 audience was achieved, and this against the Ed Sullivan-Steve Allen competition, and Jack Benny-"Circus Boy."
Nearly every tv market in the United States has its cartoons, sometimes through the networks (as with CBS' "Kangaroo"), but usually via the syndication route, with the product as often as not integrated into a favorable local kid format. It's hard finding a local rating for the integrated cartoon, but the "Popeyes," "Looney Tunes," "Terrytoons," which are so frequently slotted in tailor-made local tv formats provide a representative sampling of the strength of cartoon product recently released to video.
AAP, on the basis of a 29-market ARB average, reports that "Popeye" pulled a 16.3 against an average competition of 8.9. That's for all markets studied by ARB since December, 1956. "Popeye" kept pace with ABC's afternoon strip by Walt Disney, "Mickey Mouse Club," beating it as often as it lost, but in either event the margin of difference in ratings was minute. ("Popeye" is currently sold to 71 stations.)
A 19-market average for AAP's Warner Bros. cartoons, a package including the "Looney Tunes" ("Bugs Bunny," etc.), was 14.0 against a collective competitive average of 10.6. (The Warner animations are inked on 53 outlets.)
CBS Film reported a series of "success stories," from among the 47 station deals it has made since starting sales. Again with the ARB's, distrib shows that "Terrytoons" on WOR-TV, New York, jacked the anchorage's returns 68% over last year, when Gene Autry and Roy Rogers features were shown. Packages, too, runs neck-and-neck with "MMC," instances being Buffalo and Providence.
Two names conspicuous by their absence are Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. At the time this story was published, their company, H-B Enterprises, was roughly three weeks old. Little did anyone realise that they would soon find the key to mass production of TV cartoons and change an entire industry.