Five years ago, in 2014, I wrote an article proclaiming we were in the midst of the Cartoon Network Renaissance. Regular Show and Adventure Time were in their prime, leading the pack of highly entertaining shows along with Steven Universe which had premiered just a year earlier. Toonami had also returned after a five year hiatus bringing back adult-oriented anime. That year, we also saw one of, if not the, best shows on Cartoon Network ever, Over the Garden Wall. It was a far cry from just five years before where Cartoon Network was going through its Dark Age, a time of low quality programs, saturated with live-action shows.
I haven’t given the topic much thought until about a few weeks ago when I saw a huge spike in traffic to my article. What gives? After a quick Google search I found my answer.
The Amazing World of Gumball was ending on June 24th, 2019 after eight years of producing chaotic, super-stylized and entertaining episodes.
And along with this I saw a host of articles proclaiming that the Cartoon Network Renaissance was ending.
And I read all of this and I had to wonder. Well…is it?
It’s very tempting to say yes to this. After all, when I wrote my first article in 2014, Cartoon Network was at a high. All these diverse shows were providing us with quality entertainment, yes, even Clarence and Uncle Grandpa to an extent (I didn’t care for them but I know they have its fans). And right with them was The Amazing World of Gumball.
But most of those shows are done. And the programs that exploded Cartoon Network back into the limelight and made it fantastic again, Regular Show and Adventure Time, ended in 2017 and 2018 respectively. Once Gumball ends, only Steven Universe and Teen Titans Go! remain from 2014.
I admit, I’m not excited about Cartoon Network as I once was. I look at their current line up and I shrug. When I’m at a hotel, We Bare Bears entertains me fine and OK K.O.! occasionally comes out with some cool stuff (I loved that Ghoul School episode!!) but that’s about it. I don’t find myself religiously watching a show like I do for Regular Show, Adventure Time, and Steven Universe. This is just my opinion.
But I was curious. Is the Cartoon Network Renaissance ending? And if so, how do we know?
To answer this question I looked at all of Cartoon Network’s original programs, both live action and animated, from 1999 to 2019. I used the show’s IMDB ratings (taken in June 2019) as hundreds of people have reviewed these shows making them a good approximate to real world opinions. I also strictly looked at the show’s premiere and finale date for their years as reruns make things too crazy keep track of (plus you’re losing an audience that may be a fan of the show). I also added DC shows that premiered on Cartoon Network as they served a huge part of Cartoon Network’s history (Teen Titans and Justice League, anyone?). I didn’t analyze every show (like Johnny Test) as we would get into complicated territory such as shows produced in other countries. In the end, 81 shows were used to analyze Cartoon Network’s quality from 1999-2019. The results can be seen in the graph below.
Two sets of analysis was used; one with the average of an entire year’s run and one that only used a year’s top three shows. There are some interesting things to talk about so let’s go through this point by point.
- There’s not a clear parallel between the two analyses. In both lines, we see a drop in program quality starting in 2004 but the Top Three eventually came back up and was inline with early-2000’s level of programs. However, the Whole Set never recovered to its early levels and stayed far below it with a few ups and downs. This is telling me that audiences found the overall quality of modern Cartoon Network shows to be inferior to the overall quality of shows from its heyday. However, the Top Three had modern programs that were on par, if not better, than shows from the early 2000s. That means people find these shows fun, enjoyable, and entertaining to watch despite Cartoon Network’s overall low quality.
- 2009 was one of Cartoon Network’s worst years. That huge drop for The Whole Set in 2009 is no fluke. This was the height of the super abysmal live action shows that CN was pumping out. Destroy Build Destroy has a 2 rating, The Othersiders a 3.5, Brainrush a 3.5, Bobb’e Says 9, and the worst one out of the whole set, Dude, What Would Happen, had 1.7! Three of these shows (Bobb’e, Brainrush, and Othersiders) only lived during 2009. Meanwhile, you have a lack of high quality shows that populate the network as Grim Adventures and Codename had just ended while Regular Show and Adventure Time wouldn’t premiere until the following 2010. This was not a good year for CN…
- 2019 is so far looking okay. Overall, June 2019 is below average compared to the other years (6.36 and 8.17 vs. 6.79 and 8.29, respectively). It’s rating for both overall quality and Top Three is only above four other years. It’s not awful but it’s certainly not great. The loss of Regular Show and Adventure Time have already hurt Cartoon Network’s quality.
As of this writing, the Amazing World of Gumball is at 8.2 making it second place of the 2019 as of June 2019, just behind Steven Universe at 8.3. If nothing else changes, 2020 will continue the downward trend that started in 2017. Thankfully, we may not have to worry about this as Cartoon Network might be getting a much deserved adrenaline shot.
Premiering this year is Mao Mao: Heroes of Pure Heart and Infinity Train. Both of these were well received for their pilots and both are already drawing eager fans ready to watch new and exciting shows. Of the two, I have my money on Infinity Train as its “anything goes” attitude harkens back to Adventure Time’s fun randomness. If they deliver the goods, we might see a renewed interest in Cartoon Network.
Which brings me back to the big question; is the Cartoon Network Renaissance answering? Let’s look at the graph one more time before I answer it.
If you were to divide Cartoon Network’s history into four periods it would be the Classic Age, the Golden Age, The Dark Age, and the Renaissance. Now, in my opinion, there’s not really a strict beginning or end to these eras as they flow into one and another. It’s very similar to real life as the Renaissance didn’t start with one year but gradually and over time. So strict years of when these ages start and end are debatable but it may go something like this.
The Classic Age started in 1992 featuring reruns of classic cartoons from Warner Brothers, Hannah-Barbera, and Pop Eye. However, original programming became more and more prevalent starting with CN’s first big hit, Dexter’s Laboratory, in 1996. Following Dexter’s premiere was Johnny Bravo, Cow and Chicken, I am Weasel, and The Powerpuff Girls in 1997 and 1998.
But the Golden Age, in my opinion, didn’t truly start until 1999 with the premiere of Ed, Edd n Eddy, Courage the Cowardly Dog, and Mike, Lu & Og along with the highly popular, weekly event, Cartoon Cartoon Fridays. Toonami was also going 100 mph with its acclaimed, action-oriented shows, introducing anime to million of North American kids including myself. Without Toonami, anime wouldn’t be anywhere near as popular in the U.S.
The Golden Age continued strongly until the early 2000s even when some of its original shows were canceled. Amazing DC shows began premiering on Cartoon Network like Justice League and Teen Titans. You also see other shows make their mark during this era such as Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, Kids Next Door, and Megas XLR. Genndy Tartarkovsky also created two of his most acclaimed series ever, Samurai Jack, and Star Wars: Clone Wars (not to be confused with the 3d incarnation of the series) during this time.
Still one of my favorite shows on Cartoon Network.
Unfortunately, all good things come to an end and so too did the Golden Age. Most of the original shows from the 90’s ended or were ending and the shows that replaced them were not as groundbreaking or as lovable. Additionally, Cartoon Cartoon Fridays finished with a whimper with live-action hosts replacing their cartoon counterparts before finally ending in 2007. Toonami had also seen its first cancelation in 2008 due to low ratings and some questionable choices.
Possibly the worst decision that Cartoon Network ever did was producing live actions shows on its network which confounds me. Why…would you ever…show live action shows…on a network dedicated to cartoons???? It makes no sense! And oooooh boy. They really dropped the ball here. Quite a few of their live action shows were just abysmal. Additionally, cartoons did not escape this curse as some were incredibly low quality like Problem Solverz with 1.9 and Secret Mountain Fort Awesome with 3.5.
As such, I put the Dark Age starting at 2006 when the average quality of the shows decreased to a point that Cartoon Network never fully recovered from. Megas XLR and Star Wars: Clone Wars were the last high quality shows in the Golden Age that kept CN afloat until they ended in 2005. The original Powerpuff Girls also ended in 2005 leaving just Ed, Edd n Eddy as the original Cartoon Cartoon Fridays cartoons standing.
Cartoon Network started recovering in 2010 when a series of new, high quality, shows were released that year. I’m talking about Regular Show, and Adventure Time, of course, but we also had Young Justice and Sym-Bionic Titan picking up the slack. Unfortunately, despite the uptick in average ratings in 2010, the early 2010’s were still on the low side. It wasn’t until 2014 that the overall ratings crept back up again and we saw a nice spread of diverse (and at least decent) shows. As such, from 2010 to 2018, I divided the Renaissance Era into an early and late period with 2014 serving as the halfway point as 2013 ended the last live action shows. Cartoon Network shook off the last of its awkward phase and went back to basics of what made the channel amazing.
Now, at this time, I place Renaissance ending in 2018 as that’s when Adventure Time ended. It’s only befitting that Adventure Time, which started in 2010 and kicked off the channel’s revival, also ends this time period. 2019’s quality, so far, has suggest that we are heading into a gradual decline in quality. Perhaps not as steep as we saw in the mid-2000’s, but a decline nonetheless. The Renaissance looks done.
But keep in mind, I’m looking at this from a very limited perspective. I did not look at the complete catalogue of Cartoon Network’s shows nor did I take into account Adult Swim and Toonami’s effect on the channel. And streaming is taking off in a big way so maybe we should start looking at streaming numbers that determine a show’s popularity. Not only that, we also have the online-only cartoons like Villainous that are becoming more and more popular. We’re scratching the surface of Cartoon Network’s quality and history.
And who’s to say the Renaissance is truly done? In five years time, I might be singing a different tune and place the ending at a different time. Maybe I would continue to extend it further and further into the future. After all Mao Mao premiered tonight and its receiving some glowing reviews! It also has a score of 8.5 right now on IMDB! That makes it the highest rated show of 2019 and puts it 6th out of 82 shows on my list! And Steven Universe is still kicking with its movie and additional season! Perhaps they will usher in…not another Golden Age…but a Silver Age?
Yeah, I like that. Silver Age. We look fondly on the past but things change, sometimes for the better. And as long as Cartoon Network does NOT bring back anymore live action shows, I’m looking forward to what else they may have in store for us.
What do you think? Do you agree with my thoughts? Looking forward to your comments!