The Tale Of The Mismanaged Cartoon Catalogue

Cartoon Network in the U.S. surprised many viewers (pleasantly) by airing a New Year’s marathon of Looney Tunes — not Baby Looney Tunes, not Loonatics, but the actual cartoons that had not been on that network for years. I don’t know if this is a one-time-only thing or a test to see whether they might bring the old cartoons back in a regular slot, but it’s a reminder of how these cartoons have virtually disappeared from TV; they’re so rare nowadays that finding them on the Cartoon Network is actually a thrill. Even if CN still uses prints with some very weird cuts — apparently they’re still showing “Drip-Along Daffy” with Porky’s final line censored. Because guns are OK, but horse-poop jokes are not.

All this (not the CN censorship, I mean; the absence of LT on TV) is at least partly due to some poor catalogue-management strategies by Warner Brothers. Of course, classic cartoons aren’t likely to be seen as often on TV as they once were; there are no more Saturday Morning Cartoon blocks, and few late-afternoon kids’ blocks that need cheap animated programming, so that eliminates two of the spots where we grew up watching these things. But while Warner Brothers has spent plenty of time figuring out how to keep the merchandising of the classic characters going, they never seemed to put equal time and effort into figuring out how to get these films seen by a new generation of kids (which, in turn, would help the merchandising). In the late ’90s they made a serious miscalculation by counting on Cartoon Network to be the primary outlet for Looney Tunes on TV; putting all their eggs in that basket, they guaranteed that when Cartoon Network moved away from showing old cartoons (and, in some slots, from showing cartoons at all), they’d be left without a place to get these cartoons seen.

But even when stations want to show the cartoons, Warners doesn’t seem particularly good at supplying them. Here in Canada, Teletoon Retro has several Looney Tunes blocks, but most of them consist of the old Saturday-morning packages (Bugs Bunny & Tweety, Road Runner Show), and I’ve heard that this is because the Warner Brothers distributor either can’t or won’t replace those packages with the same cartoons in uncut, higher-quality prints. (Teletoon Retro only received uncut prints for “The Porky Pig Show” and that’s just because the ’60s “Porky Pig Show” elements probably don’t exist any more.) The company has spent millions of dollars creating restored prints of their cartoons from the original negatives, and hundreds of those prints have been made available on DVD, but none of them have been made available for TV so far. And even though the Warner/Turner merger in the late ’90s re-united all the WB cartoons under a single ownership banner — WB stupidly sold off its pre-1948 films in the mid-’50s, so the pre-1948 and post-1948 Looney Tunes were separately owned and shown in separate packages for decades — they still haven’t come up with a way to make them all available as a package; only the post-1948 cartoons are available to most stations, still.

And as I’ve mentioned many times, Warner Brothers apparently still does not realize the value of YouTube to the Looney Tunes brand; they keep pulling cartoons off the site, even though it’s YouTube where younger viewers are introduced to the classics and get to see the uncut, pristine prints that are not available to television. In other words, it’s only YouTube that makes up for their own problems with packaging and distributing their valuable cartoon library. But they don’t seem to get it.