Children's programming on TBS and TNT
In 1986, Ted Turner's cable-TV conglomerate acquired most of the pre-May 1986 MGM film and television library (which also included Gilligan's Island and its animated spin-offs, the U.S. rights to a majority of the RKO Radio Pictures library, and the a.a.p. catalog which includes the pre-1950 Warner Bros. film library, the Harman and Ising Merrie Melodies except Lady, Play Your Mandolin!, the pre-August 1948 color Warner Bros. cartoons, and the Fleischer Studios and Famous Studios Popeye cartoons released by Paramount Pictures). In 1988, its cable channel Turner Network Television was launched and had gained an audience with its film library. In 1991, it purchased animation studio Hanna-Barbera Productions and acquired its large library as well as most of the Ruby-Spears library.
Early programming included such Japanese animated shows as Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, Marine Boy, The Space Giants, and Speed Racer. By the mid-1970s, The Flintstones and many others were added to the schedule.
In the 1980s, WTBS focused heavily on movies, running two during the day, and all movies after 8 p.m. with the exception of sports events. Other times, WTBS continued to run mostly classic sitcoms, and vintage cartoons. In 1986, with Ted Turner's purchase of MGM, WTBS now had the rights to the entire MGM library as well (including certain acquisitions by MGM). This gave WTBS many theatrical cartoons like Tom and Jerry. WTBS began to run The Little Rascals, Tom & Jerry, Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies cartoons released prior to 8/1/1948, theatrical Popeye cartoons, and Three Stooges shorts under the banner Tom & Jerry and Friends between an hour and 90 minutes in the mornings and for an hour in the afternoons from 1986 to the mid-1990s.
In the early 1990s, shows like The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, The Jetsons, Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies, and others remained on the schedule. Original animated programming such as Captain Planet and the Planeteers, 2 Stupid Dogs, and SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron were added as well, as part of the Sunday Morning In Front Of The TV block.
In 1996, Turner was bought by Time Warner. Among the programming changes instituted after the merger was the addition of later Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies cartoons, released no earlier than August 1, 1948 (as previously mentioned); the change was promoted with the title of Super Looney Tunes. Also added were reruns of the WB Animation series Taz-Mania, which had recently ceased airing on the Fox Kids Network. At this point, TBS's children's programming was now under the banner of the Disaster Area.
Up until 1998, TNT would also show cartoons from the Turner library, such as The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, the DePatie-Freleng Pink Panther cartoons, Dexter's Laboratory, The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest, among many others on a block called TNT Toons. The Rudy and Gogo World Famous Cartoon Show was also a TNT original show featuring classic Warner Bros., MGM, and Popeye shorts, hosted by marionettes and a nanny goat. TNT also aired episodes of Garfield and Friends on a separate syndication contract.
The eventual discontinuation of TNT and TBS cartoon programming was planned in mid-1992 with the debut of Cartoon Network. The first challenge for Cartoon Network was to overcome its low penetration of existing cable systems. When launched in October 1992, the channel was only carried by 233 cable systems; however, the channel benefited from package deals. New subscribers to sister stations TNT and WTBS could also get access to Cartoon Network through the relatively new practice of retransmission consent, which allows cable stations to dictate the terms of carriage on cable systems. TBS and TNT, two of the most popular cable networks of the time, arranged for deals that encouraged cable outlets to carry Cartoon Network, a move that gave the network a greater amount of leverage over competitors such as Nickelodeon. The high ratings of Cartoon Network over the following couple of years led to more cable systems including it. By the end of 1996, Cartoon Network had become "the fifth most popular cable channel in the United States".
For the first several years of Cartoon Network's existence, TBS and TNT carried Cartoon Network's original programs as part of its lineup to cross-promote the new channel. Due to restrictions on children's advertising and educational programming mandates (an issue for WTBS, which was still a terrestrial station at the time, but not for TNT), as well as the greater establishment of Cartoon Network's distribution and the industry-wide move of better cartoons to cable, WTBS and TNT both dropped all their cartoons in the fall of 1998 and moved those exclusively to Cartoon Network. By the early 2000s, most of these cartoons were once again moved to Boomerang, a commercial-free digital cable channel, although a handful of TBS and TNT-era programs remain on Cartoon Network. TBS and TNT have both since specialized their programming: TNT to drama, and TBS to situation comedy; their carrying of other programs outside those genera is mostly limited to sporting events.
- Delugach, Al (March 4, 1986). "Way Cleared for Turner's MGM Deal". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 30, 2010.
- Hall, Jane (January 23, 1990). "Ted Turner's TNT Exploding Onto the Cable Scene". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 30, 2010.
- Lippman, John (October 30, 1991). "Turner Is Buying Hanna-Barbera Film Library". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 30, 2010.
- TBS Disaster Area Archived July 16, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Official Web site. Last updated 1999.
- Mittell (2004), p. 80