Prime time cartoon

A Prime time cartoon is the colloquial term for the animated television programming which is typically scheduled during prime time.

Before The Flintstones

While The Flintstones (originally running on ABC from September 30, 1960 – April 1, 1966) is generally considered the first cartoon to air in prime time, it was preceded by CBS Cartoon Theater, which aired reruns of Terrytoons theatrical shorts for three months in 1956, and was hosted by a young Dick Van Dyke. Following that series, The Gerald McBoing-Boing Show, a cartoon based on an Academy Award-winning animated short, ran for a few months on Friday nights on CBS from 1957 through to until 1958. But both shows were designed to showcase theatrical cartoon shorts.

Hanna-Barbera (1960-1973)

Many of Hanna-Barbera's original TV series were produced for prime time broadcast, and they continued to produce prime time TV cartoons up until the early 1970s. Such shows as The Huckleberry Hound Show and its spin-off, The Yogi Bear Show, Quick Draw McGraw, Top Cat, Jonny Quest, The Jetsons, and especially The Flintstones were originally broadcast during prime time hours, competing with live-action comedies, dramas, and quiz shows.

The first prime time animated series from Hanna-Barbera was the syndicated The Huckleberry Hound Show (1958) which usually aired in early evenings prior to prime time, though the studio hit its stride in 1960s when it scored with The Flintstones. This was the first half-hour "sitcom" cartoon, and like many of its successors it was originally aired during prime time when the whole family would be watching television. The Flintstones was the first of several prime-time animated series from Hanna-Barbera, which included the acclaimed Jonny Quest, generally thought of as Hanna-Barbera's best television work; however, prime time animation did not produce any other high-rated TV series, and Hanna-Barbera turned its efforts to the growing market for Saturday morning cartoons.

Top Cat

Top Cat was a Hanna-Barbera prime time American animated television series which ran from September 27, 1961 to April 18, 1962 for a run of 30 episodes on the ABC network on Wednesdays.

The Jetsons

The Jetsons aired on Sunday nights on ABC from September 23, 1962 to March 3, 1963. Like The Flintstones, it was a half-hour family sitcom projecting contemporary American culture and lifestyle into another time period.

The original series, comprising 24 episodes, was made between 1962 and 1963 and was re-run on Saturday morning for decades. Its continuing popularity led to further episodes being produced for syndication between 1985 and 1987. The series was extensively merchandised and followed by two made for-TV movies and two theatrical feature films.

Jonny Quest

Jonny Quest first aired on September 18, 1964 on the ABC network, and was an almost instant success, both critically and ratings-wise. It was canceled after one season, not because of poor ratings, but because each episode of the show went over budget. Notably more realistic and detailed than previous Hanna-Barbera prime time programs such as The Flintstones and The Jetsons, Jonny Quest required an attention to detail that ABC, a small network at the time, was unable to afford.

Where's Huddles?

Where's Huddles? was a summer replacement series on CBS, airing Wednesday nights in 1970. Only ten episodes were produced, and those were replayed Sunday afternoons in the summer of 1971.

Wait Till Your Father Gets Home

Wait Till Your Father Gets Home is an animated television series produced from 1972 to 1974 by Hanna-Barbera which aired in first-run syndication in the United States. The show had first appeared as a one-time segment called "Love and the Old-Fashioned Father" on Love, American Style.

Wait Till Your Father Gets Home aired during the "prime time access" period (usually 7:30 PM ET).

Other shows from other studios

Matty's Funnies With Beany & Cecil (Clampett)

Matty's Funnies With Beany & Cecil replaced Matty's Funday Funnies (a showcase of Paramount-Famous Studio theatrical cartoons) and starred cartoon versions of animator Bob Clampett's classic puppet TV stars. It ran six months on ABC then migrated to Saturday mornings.

The Alvin Show (Bagdasarian/Format Films)

The Alvin Show aired on CBS, and while not a ratings hit, it did attract a legion of children fans. After one season in prime time, it moved to Saturday mornings. It returned Saturday mornings on NBC in mid-season 1978-79 and was a catalyst for the Chipmunks reboot in the 80s.

The Bullwinkle Show (P.A.T.-Ward)

The Bullwinkle Show, airing Sundays on NBC, was a prime time expansion of Rocky and His Friends, which had aired on ABC previously. It would be replayed on Saturday mornings on NBC then ABC afterwards to 1973. It returned to NBC in 1981 and then in prime time on CBS for two weeks in 1990.

The Bugs Bunny Show (Warner Bros.)

The Bugs Bunny Show showcased classic Warner Bros. cartoons made from 1948 to 1958, using made-for-TV bridging sequences and aired on ABC in prime time starting in 1960. After two seasons, it migrated to Saturday mornings where it would be run continuously to 1999.

Calvin & The Colonel (Kayro)

Calvin & The Colonel was loosely based on radio's Amos & Andy, and aired one season on ABC in 1961.

Prime time specials (1960s-1980s)

The only inspired animated efforts on television during the period of the 1960s through the 1980s came from prime time animated TV specials. Because these one-shot cartoons were aired during prime-time hours (and thus had to appeal to adults as well as children), they had to obtain higher ratings than their Saturday and weekday counterparts. CBS in particular allowed a large number of animated TV specials to air on its network, and several of these have become cherished classics (now available on video). The Rankin-Bass studio produced a number of stop-motion specials geared towards popular holidays (including Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer); while Bill.Melendez's long-running series of Peanuts specials won numerous awards.

Before The Simpsons

In the 1980s, the producers Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez developed a new TV series based on the Peanuts specials. The result was the primetime animated miniseries called This is America, Charlie Brown and was aired from 1988 to 1989.

In 1987, a series of animated shorts debuted on Fox's The Tracey Ullman Show and aired until 1990.


The Simpsons

Only the advent of The Simpsons decades later brought cartoons back to American prime time network television with the kind of success The Flintstones enjoyed. The 1990s saw the beginnings of a new wave of animated series targeted primarily to adults, after a lack of such a focus for over a decade. In 1989, The Simpsons, based on a short animated cartoon segment of The Tracey Ullman Show, became the first prime time animated series since The Flintstones to capture a sizable viewing audience. And it was The Simpsons in 1997 that ultimately broke The Flintstones record as the longest-running prime time animated series.

It was the first major hit series for the fledgling Fox network, and it caused a minor sensation, entering popular culture and gaining wide acceptance. As of 2016, The Simpsons appears to show no signs of stopping, and has surpassed Gunsmoke as the longest-running fictional program in American television history. The Simpsons has become possibly the most successful work of animation ever made, and has also dominated the merchandise markets as well. As of 2016, the show has broadcast 596 episodes.

Capitol Critters, Family Dog and Fish Police

Family Dog, Capitol Critters and Fish Police were all prime time cartoons created by rival networks in the wake of the Fox network's success with The Simpsons, and all were critically drubbed and lasted less than a handful of episodes before cancellation.

The Critic

The Critic is an American animated series that was originally broadcast on ABC in 1994 (later on Fox in 1995). The show was created by Al Jean and Mike Reiss, who were the show runners on The Simpsons for two years. The show was produced by Gracie Films in association with Columbia Pictures Television, and was animated by Film Roman.

King of The Hill

King of The Hill was originally aired on January 12, 1997, on the Fox network and quickly became a hit. The show briefly outperformed The Simpsons in ratings during its second season. The show ran for 13 seasons with the final episode "To Sirloin With Love" airing on September 13, 2009. However, four episodes from the final season were left unaired until local TV stations provided closure by running the episodes between May 3 and May 6, 2010. Today, King of The Hill is the third-longest-running prime time animated series.

Stressed Eric

Main article: Stressed Eric

NBC bought the rights to air it shortly after its initial airing in the UK, but ceased broadcasting the show after just three episodes. This was despite changes being made to the cartoon: cutting 4 minutes from each episode due to the 8 minutes of commercial time required and giving Eric an American accent to make the story revolve more around an American living in England. The American version ran on NBC from August 12, 1998 to August 26, 1998.

The PJs

Main article: The PJs

40 episodes were aired during the show's three-year run (1999–2001), and 6 left-over episodes were produced by the WB. Each episode took over two months to produce, owing to the laborious claymation process. Originally broadcast on Fox, the show later moved to the The WB in 2000–2001. The last three episodes were not seen until 2003. Reruns previously aired on Trio, a cable television network.


Main article: Dilbert (TV series)

The first episode was broadcast on January 25, 1999, making it UPN's highest rated series premiere to that point of the network's history; it lasted two seasons on UPN before its cancellation. The first season centered on the creation of a new product, the "Gruntmaster 6000": episodes one through three involved the idea process, (The Name, The Prototype, and The Competition respectively); the fourth (Testing) involved having it survive a malevolent company tester named "Bob Bastard", and the fifth (Elbonian Trip) was about production in the famine-stricken fourth-world country of Elbonia. The product was finally tested by an incredibly stupid family in Squiddler's Patch, Texas, in the thirteenth and final episode of the season, "Infomercial", even though it had not been tested in a lab beforehand.

The second season featured seventeen episodes, bringing the total number of episodes to thirty. Unlike the first season, the episodes were not part of a larger story arc and had a different storyline for each of the episodes (with the exception of episodes 29 and 30, Pregnancy and The Delivery). Elbonia was revisited once more in Hunger, Dogbert still managed to scam people in Art, Dilbert was accused of mass murder in The Trial, and Wally gets his own disciples in episode 16, The Shroud of Wally.

Mission Hill

Mission Hill (formerly known as The Downtowners, although MTV's production of the similarly titled Downtown forced a name change) was an American animated television series that first aired on The WB in 1999. Although 13 episodes were produced, the show was cancelled after only six were aired. The show was put on hiatus by the WB Network after just two episodes due to poor ratings. It returned to the WB in the summer of 2000 but was cancelled after just four additional episodes. Nonetheless, the show went on to develop a cult following, thanks to repeated airings of all 13 episodes on Teletoon's "Teletoon Unleashed" block, TBS' "Too Funny To Sleep" block, and Cartoon Network's Adult Swim.


Family Guy

Main article: Family Guy

Family Guy originally aired in the United States on the Fox Broadcasting Company on January 31, 1999, after Super Bowl XXXIII.

This episode attracted 22 million viewers. The show premiered as a regular series in April and ran for six additional episodes until the season finale in mid-May. The second season began on September 23, 1999, and suffered competition from other shows. After only two episodes of the second season, Family Guy was taken off the network's permanent schedule and shown irregularly thereafter. The show returned in March 2000 to finish airing the second season, which contained 21 episodes. The third season contained 22 episodes and began its run on July 11, 2001.

During its second and third-season runs, Fox frequently moved the show around different days and time slots with little or no notice and consequently, the show's ratings suffered. When Family Guy was shown in the UK, and when the DVDs were subsequently released there (November 12, 2001), the first seven episodes of the second season were included with the first season, balancing them out with 14 episodes each.

There was a great deal of debate and rumor during the second and third seasons about whether Family Guy would be cancelled or renewed. Fox publicly announced that the show had been cancelled at the end of the second season. In an attempt to convince Fox to renew the show, dismayed fans created websites, signed petitions, and wrote letters; some even sent actual diapers and baby food to the network to save Stewie.

Revival efforts

The show's cancellation in the third season was decried by fans, who renewed efforts to convince Fox to resurrect the show. An online petition was launched, garnering over 10,000 signatures within a few weeks. The petition gained over 100,000 signatures total, but this along with mass e-mailing and letter writing to Fox executives and organized street protests failed to save Family Guy. Later efforts to get other networks, particularly UPN, to buy Family Guy also failed.

Return to television

In 2003, Family Guy gained its first syndicated run on Canada's Teletoon network, where it quickly gained massive popularity due to frequent airings. Several months later, reruns of the series finally found a permanent home at Cartoon Network's late-night Adult Swim block, where it continues to play as of 2010. According to a Cartoon Network press release,

FAMILY GUY ranks #1 in its time period on cable among Adults and Men 18–24, and occasionally beats both the Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in head-to-head competition among Men 18–34 and Men 18–24.


The series found further success on DVD, when it was finally released for the U.S. market (NTSC, Region 1) on April 15, 2003. Divided into two volumes, Family Guy sold 2.2 million DVD units in the first year,[2] reportedly surpassing every other TV-based DVD released in 2003, including Sex and the City and Friends compilations. The significant Cartoon Network ratings combined with DVD sales, led to widespread rumors that Fox was in talks to revive the series.

On November 19, 2003, the E! Entertainment Television channel and its website (see below) reported that Fox was negotiating with Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane to revive the show with 35 new episodes. In a February 27, 2004 interview with IGN, Seth MacFarlane confirmed that Family Guy would resume production.[3] MacFarlane provided even more information in a BBC interview.[4]

On March 26, 2004, Fox officially announced that it had committed to producing at least 22 more episodes of Family Guy for broadcast in early 2005. Adult Swim retained a window to run these episodes, starting on May 1, 2005. Seth MacFarlane was quoted as saying,

I'm just incredibly excited that we're back in business on Family Guy. Now all those crazy kids who've been hounding me to bring the show back can stop bothering me and move onto more serious matters—like saving Coupling.

The fourth-season premiere of Family Guy, titled "North by North Quahog", aired on Sunday, May 1, 2005, 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Fox, and poked fun at the show's former troubles by showing a 2002 flashback with Peter listing all of the Fox shows that would have to fail (and did) before Family Guy would be able to return. An important reason for the show's current success is the Sunday night time slot along with other Fox animated programs. Reruns of the fourth season began play during Adult Swim on June 9 of that year.


Main article: Futurama

When it came to deciding when the show would air, creators Matt Groening and David X. Cohen wanted Futurama to be shown at 8:30 Sunday nights, following The Simpsons. Fox disagreed, opting instead to show two episodes in the Sunday night lineup before moving the show to its regular time slot on Tuesday.[5] Beginning its second broadcast season Futurama was again placed in the 8:30 Sunday spot,[6] but by mid-season the show was moved again. This time, Futurama began airing in the 7 p.m. Sunday timeslot, its third position in under a year's time.[7] Due to the 7 p.m. Sunday timeslot the show was often preempted by sports and usually had a later than average season premiere. It also allowed the writers and animators to get ahead of the broadcast schedule so that episodes intended for one season were not aired until the following season. By the beginning of the fourth broadcast season all the episodes to be aired that season had already been completed and writers were working at least a year in advance.[8]


When Futurama debuted in the Fox Sunday night line-up at 8:30 p.m. between The Simpsons and The X-Files on March 28, 1999 it managed 19 million viewers, tying for 11th overall in that week's Nielsen ratings.[9] The following week, airing at the same time, Futurama drew 14.2 million viewers. The show was then moved to Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. Futurama's first episode airing on Tuesday drew 8.85 million viewers.[10] Though its ratings were well below The Simpsons, Futurama's first season rated higher than competing animated series: King of the Hill, Family Guy, Dilbert, South Park and The PJs.[11]

When Futurama was effectively cancelled in 2003 it had averaged 6.4 million viewers for the first half of its fourth broadcast season.[12]

Show status

Fox executives reportedly did not like the show and by the fourth season, Futurama was being aired erratically.[13] Its time slot was regularly pre-empted by sports events, making it difficult to predict when new episodes would air. Fox also had not aired several episodes that had been produced for Seasons 3 and 4. Although Futurama was never officially canceled, midway through the production of the fourth season, Fox decided to let it go out of production and told the writers and animators to look for new jobs.[14] Fox's decision to stop buying episodes of Futurama led Rough Draft Studios, the animation producers, to fire its animators.[15] Futurama was not included in Fox's fall 2003 lineup.[16]


In 2007, it was revealed that Futurama would be brought back, in the form of 4 straight to DVD movies, each of which would later be re edited into 4 episodes, for a total of 16, which would air on Comedy Central as the show's fifth season. 20th Century Fox announced that a sixth season of 26 half-hour episodes will premiere on Comedy Central on June 24, 2010. The series was on the air for one more season before its cancellation in 2013.

God, the Devil and Bob

Thirteen episodes were made but only four were broadcast in the United States on NBC, before the series was cancelled, due to a combination of low ratings and pressure from right-wing Christian groups.[17] The show however was well received in countries such as United Kingdom, Ireland and Brazil, where BBC Two, RTÉ and Fox respectively aired the entire series.

Baby Blues

The popular "family-friendly" comic strip Baby Blues was adapted into an adult-oriented sitcom on The WB in 2000. It took nearly five years for the show to be produced and did not go too well with some fans of the original strip, due to it being a (in the words of TV Tropes) "Simpsons clone" and that the new characters, particularly the Bittermans, get more screentime than the MacPhersons. The show was canceled by The WB in August 2000, only to have the remaining episodes aired on Adult Swim in early 2002. Also, there were 13 more episodes of Baby Blues produced, but Warner Bros. canceled plans to air them in September 2000. While it did suffer the same fate as Mission Hill and The Oblongs, the animated adaptation of Baby Blues is far from being as popular as those two shows, despite the popularity of the long-running comic strip.

Clerks: The Animated Series

Only two episodes were aired on ABC in 2000 before the series was cancelled.[18] Several factors contributed to the cancellation, including low ratings, the show's not fitting in with ABC's other programming, unsuccessful test-screening to older audiences, and ABC's decision to air the shows out of order. ABC aired the fourth episode first, as opposed to the intended first episode, and then aired the second episode despite the fact that the second episode is the 'flashback' episode, and derives much of its humor from the fact that it flashes back almost exclusively to the first, unaired episode. In fact, the second episode aired without the scene from "Flintstone's List", the fictional RST Video rental that spoofed Schindler's List.

NFL on Fox overrun

King of the Hill joined the ranks of other Fox series such as Futurama and Family Guy in its placement within a questionable time slot and has faced frequent preemptions from sporting events (mostly Fox NFL Sunday) featuring overtime play and post-game commentary. The series's tenth season was largely composed of episodes that did not get to air the previous season. The tenth season was also slated to be the last since the show passed the renewal deadline in September 2005,[19] but due to high ratings in the 10th season, the series was renewed [20] by Fox for an 11th season that began airing on January 28, 2007. Beginning this season, the show moved to the 8:30/7:30c time slot following The Simpsons.

Beginning in the 2007 NFL season, Fox NFL Sunday would have a pre-programmed hour of game overrun and postgame coverage, The O.T. Due to the nature of overtime in NFL football games, future preemptions of Fox's Sunday evening cartoon lineup should be minimized.

The Oblongs

Main article: The Oblongs

It premiered on April 1, 2001, on The WB, but it failed to find an audience. On May 20, 2001, The WB aired "Disfigured Debbie," the second episode produced, as the season finale, leaving five of the episodes unaired. A fan of the series who was writing an episode guide at TV Tome informed creator Angus Oblong of the show's cancellation and rallied fans of the series to petition and encourage the network to renew the show. Ultimately, the petition was unsuccessful. Later that same year, Canada's Teletoon network began airing the series. Quickly, a large fanbase began to bloom. In August 2002, the series found a home on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim evening program schedule, where it received high ratings due to many American fans discovering the series for the first time. When shown in Australia on free to air television in 2003, the show was pulled in the middle of the first episode (but was later shown in a late night/early morning timeslot). In 2005, the show began airing on TBS Superstation and was released on DVD. The series is still shown on the weekends during the Adult Swim timeslots.

Game Over

Main article: Game Over (TV series)

Game Over was heavily hyped by UPN before its debut. Some were skeptical of Game Over due to UPN's track record with their cartoons, but the show generally received positive press upon its airing.[21] Despite this, only six episodes were made, which aired on a variety of different days – the fourth and fifth episodes were broadcast on 2 April 2004, and the sixth episode ("Monkey Dearest") was not aired.

Father of the Pride

Main article: Father of the Pride

The show was almost cancelled long before its broadcast following the near-death of Roy Horn in October 2003; but after his condition improved, both Siegfried and Roy urged NBC to continue production of the show. The show was promoted heavily during NBC's coverage of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece and garnered above average ratings for the network, but the show received a negative response from TV critics who considered the show to be nothing more than a gimmick and a shill for other NBC and DreamWorks properties (two early episodes extensively featured The Today Show's Matt Lauer and another featured Donkey - voiced by Eddie Murphy - from the DreamWorks movie Shrek); some consider the show a mild version of the similar-styled show South Park.

The show's ratings began to decline, and by November 2004 it was pulled from NBC's sweeps line-up. In early December 2004, the CEO of Dreamworks announced that that show was cancelled, a few months after it was initially aired. A DVD version of the show has been made available, containing the original pilot, an alternate pilot (which draws heavily on the original), an un-aired episode, and one episode that was voice-recorded, but was not animated, and therefore remains at the storyboard stage. The show however continues to air, but outside the USA.


Bob's Burgers

Created by Loren Bouchard, Bob's Burgers originally aired on January 9, 2011 on the Fox network. The show was renewed for a second season consisting of 9 episodes that began airing on March 11, 2012. In May 2012, it was announced that the show had been renewed for a third season and is currently in its sixth, with seasons 7 and 8 confirmed to be in production.

Failed attempts

Allen Gregory and the TV adaptation of Napoleon Dynamite are failed attempts for prime time cartoons airing on FOX.


Created by Mark Hentemann, Bordertown debuted in January 2016 on FOX.


  1. Battaglio, Stephen (May 1–7, 2005). "The Second Life of Brian". TV Guide.
  2. Netherby, Jennifer (March 29, 2004). "DVD keeps Family alive". Video Business.
  3. Patrizio, Andy (2004-02-27). "The Family Guy To Return - Production begins for a 2005 return to TV.". Retrieved 2006-07-12.
  4. "Cult Television - Family Guy". Retrieved 2006-07-12.
  5. Duncan, Andrew (1999-09-24). "Matt Groening Interview with Radio Times". Radio Times. Archived from the original on 2000-08-24. Retrieved 2007-03-18.
  6. Villanueva, Annabelle (September–October 1999). "Fall TV Preview: Tricks and Treats". Cinescape. Archived from the original on 2000-09-29. Retrieved 2007-03-18.
  7. Winer, Adam (1999-12-09). "Futurama Shock". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on 2000-08-24. Retrieved 2007-03-18.
  8. "David X. Cohen boards the Planet Express to find meaning in Futurama". Sci Fi Weekly. December 17, 2001. Archived from the original on 2007-10-11. Retrieved 2007-06-18.
  9. Bauder, David (1999-04-01). "New animated show `Futurama' may be a score for Fox". The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved 2007-03-17.
  10. "Groening's Gripe". April 1999. Archived from the original on 2000-08-24. Retrieved 2007-03-17.
  11. Sterngold, James (1999-07-22). "Futurama: Bringing an Alien and a Robot to TV Life". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2000-08-24. Retrieved 2007-03-17.
  12. "Fox puts 'Futurama' order on hold". 2002-02-14. Retrieved 2007-03-17.
  13. "UPDATE UPDATED!! FUTURAMA Thing of the Past?? Or What??". Ain't It Cool News. February 12, 2002. Retrieved 2006-06-14.
  14. "Silver screen Simpsons, Futurama facing finish?". BBC News. January 19, 2002. Archived from the original on 2003-04-19. Retrieved 2006-06-14.
  15. "Fox Says 'No' to 'Futurama'". Zap2it. February 12, 2002. Retrieved 2006-06-14.
  16. "Remeber (sic) Me after my Death!". Can't Get Enough Futurama. May 15, 2003. Retrieved 2006-06-12. [sic]
  17. "God, The Devil & Bob" - The Complete Series
  19. King of the Hill - Tracking
  21. TELEVISION REVIEW; Video Game Heroes: Just Folks, New York Times, March 10, 2004.
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