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Adult Swim - The network that breaks the rules

Jubenhimer

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Every night at 8:00 PM in the US. Cartoon Network, the WarnerMedia subsidiary known for family-friendly animated series, says good night to the children they've been entertaining since 6:00 AM. All the characters say their final good byes for the night, and the channel Clark Kent-style, takes off its child-friendly costume, and dons the identity of a completely different network. One that's rowdier, stranger, appeals to college students, and for nearly two decades, has broken just about every unwritten rule in network television, creating a brand that to this day, maintains a completely distinct identity, not just from CN, but from every other network on cable television.



Adult Swim will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year. The after-hours programing service from CN has had a long and strange history that began in the very early days of the channel, by one man. In 1994, Mike Lazzo, at the time, Cartoon Network's head of programing, had grown restless that the now 2 year old cable channel still didn't have the budget to produce its own weekly original programing. The network at the time, had exclusively relied on the animated archives owned by its then-parent company, Turner Broadcasting System, including the Hanna Barbara library, as well as all the Looney Tunes, MGM, and Paramount animated shorts that Turner had acquired throughout the years. The channel had produced some compilation showcases that contained factoids about cartoons such as Toon Heads, but at the end of the day, it was still just another way to air old shit.

Desperate to do something new, Lazzo was approached by the big boss man himself, Ted Turner, to produce a low-cost, animated series that could appeal to adults. Lazzo pitched the CN's leaders the idea of plucking a has-been character from the Hanna Barbara catalog, and splicing old animation into a new backdrop, with newly recorded dialogue and scenarios. It wasn't much, but it was at least a break from all the Scooby-Doo and Jabberjaw reruns that he was forced to air at the time. After being given the greenlight, Lazzo and his colleague, Keith Crofford, got to work developing an animated talk show with a unique sense of humor. Since Cartoon Network had recently aired a marathon of the show, Lazzo decided to use Space Ghost as its star. Because of its low-budget, Lazzo and Keith decided to make "papper dolls glued to popsicle sticks" (description of its cheap, recycled animation style) and continuity errors from the original series as part of the joke. Space Ghost Coast to Coast premiered on Cartoon Network on April 15th 1994.


At the time, Cartoon Network had already gained a following not just among kids, but also parents and adult animation fans thanks to the channel's extensive coverage of classic cartoons. But Space Ghost CtC, with its unique, abstract writing style and out-of-nowhere jokes helped CN build an audience in late-night with a crowd of hipper, younger adults who wanted something different from the corporate late-night hosts that dominated broadcast television. That's what distinguished Space Ghost from other talk shows specifically. While other late-night comedians glorify and worship the celebrities they hosted, Space Ghost routinely mocked, insulted, and often flat out ignored his guests, instead opting to focus on his own ego and bizarre misadventures, which gave the show a rebellious style and attitude that wasn't found anywhere else on television.

Cartoon Network would continue to gain success among adult viewers, with over 1/3rd of its audience being 18+ by the end of 2000, thanks to the likes of Space Ghost, classic cartoons, and its line of creator-driven "Cartoon Cartoons" such as The Powerpuff Girls and Courage the Cowardly Dog. With this success among adult viewers, Lazzo pitched the heads of the network the ambitious plan of finally developing original series geared exclusively towards their adult viewers. Up to this point, the channel had taken the Pixar approach, by focusing on shows that appealed to kids and adults equally, but Lazzo and then-CN president Betty Cohen recognized with Space Ghost, that there was also huge potential in shows that specifically catered to adults.

Assembling an arsenal of four more shows being produced at Williams Street (the studio behind Space Ghost and CN's afternoon block, Toonami), along with a few acquired series, Lazzo and his team put together a 3 1/2 bi-weekly programing block running Sundays and Thursdays. As this lineup would be for adults primarily, they borrowed a term from public swimming pools that barred minors from entering during specific hours, fitting for the adult-only programing that would become known as, Adult Swim.


Cartoon Network launched AS on September 2nd, 2001, and the first show to air was a lost episode of UPN's short-lived comedy, Home Movies, which CN had nabbed after UPN dropped it due to poor ratings. That night was also home to the U.S. premiere of Cowboy Bebop, an anime series that was considered too violent for daytime Toonami block, and shows like Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Sealab 2021 shared the same odd-ball spirit as Space Ghost (which returned for new episodes). Adult Swim was an instant hit, boosting CN's already strong ratings with adults to new heights. Over the next year, AS would expand in new ways, a new Saturday version of the block, debuted in February, which focused on anime series, some of which previously aired on Toonami. Meanwhile the Sunday block, would gain new shows, mainly from CN's corporate sibling, The WB, as well as all 3 seasons of Fox's cult-hit Futurama.


In May of 2003, Adult Swim was given a massive visual makeover. Ditching the "all kids out of the pool" aesthetic that inspired its name, the block adopted a minimalist black-and-white look with the bracket logo that spoke directly to viewers in a sarcastic, and charismatic way through simple text. Around that same time, Cartoon Network nabbed another former Fox series, Family Guy, which had been fighting for survival after its first season due to inconsistent scheduling from Fox. Adult Swim's airing of Family Guy single handedly rescued the series, and made Adult Swim a force to be reckoned with in television. By this point, Adult Swim had also grown in coverage, airing nearly every weeknight instead of the weekends it previously occupied. The block also provided a home to the anime that were too violent to air on Toonami such as Blue Gender and FLCL.

Adult Swim began running till 6:00 AM beginning in 2004, while also returning to Saturdays right after Toonami. It was also around this time that AS began to... distance itself from the network that created it. References to Cartoon Network were gradually downplayed and removed in its bumpers and marketing more and more as the year progressed. Equally, Cartoon Network also began to acknowledge Adult Swim's existence on the channel less and less as well. Adult Swim began to resemble more of a network-within-a-network as its popularity grew. This culminated in March of 2005, when Turner and the Nielsen ratings group began classifying Adult Swim as its own, standalone network. For the purposes of ratings, marketing, and management, Cartoon Network and Adult Swim are currently classified as separate entities by WarnerMedia, operating as essentially two distinct silos of the same channel. Adult Swim by this point, had also begun hiring its own programing and development staff separate from Cartoon Network's, which started leading to critically acclaimed hits like The Boondocks, Venture Bros., Robot Chicken, and more.

Adult Swim, now free from its previous distinction as a mere "programing block", started crafting an identity and ruleset completely unique from any cable channel on television, while also further scrubbing away any mention of Cartoon Network in its presentation (and vice versa). Crafting shows with bizarre logic and humor, giving creators unprecedented freedom, and even allowing its shows to take upwards of 3 year hiatuses if it meant a quality product. These are all things that are unheard of for other tv networks. Adult Swim trudged along for the next few years, hosting popular anime such as Bleach, while also creating cult-hits like Tim and Eric, and Xavier Renegade Angel. But the network's programing had largely been met with a niche audience. The Boondocks, and reruns of Family Guy helped carried the network in the mainstream conscious, but its original series were always seen more as novelties aimed at people up too late at night and too high to question what they're watching. Adult Swim had infamously gained the reputation as being the "Stoner's channel" with its nonsense programing and sarcastic attitude.


That all changed in 2013, when Adult Swim premiered a creation of Community's Dan Harmon, and Animation vet Justin Roiland, Rick and Morty. A Back to the Future-esque parody of sci-fi tropes, Rick and Morty became Adult Swim's most popular original series in years, giving the network something new to compliment the aging Aqua Teen, and Boondocks. Around that same time, Adult Swim adopted Toonami as its new Saturday night anime showcase after Cartoon Network cancelled it in 2008 due to declining ratings.

While its had its share of ups and downs, and disappointments (such as its treatment of anime for a few years), Adult Swim still remains one of the most unique and creative entities in television. Even as the TV industry migrates to an all-streaming format, Adult Swim has still managed to maintain much of its unique identity throughout its years.
 
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Outlier

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Adult Swim was always a good time, back in my teens and early 20s, before I stopped watching all TV.

Some real gold was present, there. :)
 
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Adult Swim was always a good time, back in my teens and early 20s, before I stopped watching all TV.

Some real gold was present, there. :)
AS usually were very forward thinking and way ahead of their time with their ideas. I wonder what they could have accomplished if only they were given the freedom to make their own streaming service, instead of a flash based website.
 
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Reality Czar

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I was in college in 2000 so Adult Swim was definitely a constant in my life. Space Ghost was the gateway drug!
 

Kev Kev

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I miss falling asleep to adult swim and waking up during one of those random bumpers where something weird was happening and I didn’t know if I was still dreaming or not.
 

StormCell

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Well that was interesting.

Never knew they tried or actually split off Adult Swim into a separate network. I personally don't get the difference, but if what they wanted was a totally separate entity that doesn't answer to Cartoon Network, then I guess that makes sense. For some reason, I've always had it in my mind that Cartoon network didn't necessarily appreciate Adult Swim as much as they should...
 

Jubenhimer

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Well that was interesting.

Never knew they tried or actually split off Adult Swim into a separate network. I personally don't get the difference, but if what they wanted was a totally separate entity that doesn't answer to Cartoon Network, then I guess that makes sense. For some reason, I've always had it in my mind that Cartoon network didn't necessarily appreciate Adult Swim as much as they should...
Adult Swim is still part of The CN group within WarnerMedia. But it functions autonomously as a standalone network, particularly for ratings and marketing purposes. The reason for that split was because Adult Swim's demographics are very different from Cartoon Network's, especially since CN around that time became more focused on being a kids network as opposed to an animation channel aimed at kids and adults. Advertisers wanted a clear distinction between the kids block, and the adult block, and Turner simply granted that request.
 
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belmarduk

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Adult Swim is the ONLY reason I had cable as long as I did. I really wish you could get it a la carte.
 

*Nightwing

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I really wish I was as much of a stoner back then as I am now to truly appreciate adult swim beginnings. Watching Home Movies baked ..... so good I’m gonna say fuck it and toke up and watch it now. Thanks for the thread OP!!

Edit: holy shit I just membered bout Mission Hill... we’re can I stream that?
 
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Used to be gopd, now for a long time it's been 60% fox shows like Family Guy and American Dad, reruns of bobs burgers, and anime takes over weekends post midnight which is not when kids are watching anime like old toonami. Oh, and I guess rick and morty is on there.

I don't even know how bad it is now since they cancelled all the good shows years ago, and not because of ratings but because the executives were asses that just didn't want those shows like Aqua teen etc
 

YCoCg

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Still not over the death of The Venture Bros. Also no mention of Harvey Birdman yet??
 

StormCell

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Adult Swim is still part of The CN group within WarnerMedia. But it functions autonomously as a standalone network, particularly for ratings and marketing purposes. The reason for that split was because Adult Swim's demographics are very different from Cartoon Network's, especially since CN around that time became more focused on being a kids network as opposed to an animation channel aimed at kids and adults. Advertisers wanted a clear distinction between the kids block, and the adult block, and Turner simply granted that request.
Fox and Fox Kids.

Didn't seem that difficult back in the day. :)
 

Jubenhimer

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Fox and Fox Kids.

Didn't seem that difficult back in the day. :)
Even Fox and Fox Kids were technically considered separate entities by News Corp. the official name was the "Fox Kids Network". I made a thread about Fox Kids before, but for most of its life, it was actually run by a completely separate division of Fox, Fox Family Worldwide, and was often referred to in PR as its own thing.

I think a better example would be Disney's One Saturday Morning on ABC, something much closer to a traditional programing block than these weird grey-area hybrids like Fox Kids or Adult Swim.
 
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Amazing history and legacy but the current AS just shows entry level Shounen anime. Only exciting prospect from it right now is the Uzumaki OVA.


Loved this promo back in the day. Jason Demarco knows his shit but is a hipster cunt with a bad attitude.