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Kids' WB! - The Longest Running Saturday Morning network

Jubenhimer

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Nov 11, 2018
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Before, I've talked about The WB, Warner Bros.' ill-faded broadcasting venture that defined itself by targeting a youth demographic. Despite its initial success, declining ratings, problems with management, and mediocre programing towards the end of its life, resulted in the network being shut down, merging CBS' equally doomed UPN, to form The CW, which is still on the air today.

What I didn't talk about much in that thread, was The WB's Children's Programing Division. It was not only one of the biggest names in the then-slowly dying field of the Saturday Morning Cartoon. It was not only one of the last remaining networks on broadcast television to offer Kids shows on weekdays in the face of Cable contemporaries. But it even outlasted the network that launched it. Kids' WB!



Kids' WB! was established by The WB from the network's inception in 1995, to offer children's programing to WB affiliates for when the main network was offline outside its regular primetime hours. Very similar to how FOX handled its children's programing with what by that point, was known as Fox Kids Network. It would air 2 blocks of weekday programing on Monday through Friday (1 hour during the morning, and 2 hours in the afternoon), followed by a standard Saturday Morning Block running from 8am to Noon. Jean McCurrdy, who was the head of Warner Bros' TV Animation Department, and helped develop hits like Batman: TAS and Animaniacs, was put in charge of the new Children's venture. Kids' WB! wouldn't officially debut until months after The WB's January launch on September 9th, 1995

To help get its children's service off the ground, The WB took back some popular Warner Bros. Animation series that had been airing on Fox Kids throughout most of the 90s. These included Animaniacs, and Tiny Toon Adventures. The one WB Cartoon missing from initial lineup however, was Batman, which contractually, was still tied up with Fox until 1997. Joining the Fox holdovers were a few new original shows.

Freakazoid from Steven Spielberg, would go on to become a massive cult classic thanks to its sharp, meta humor, and oddball randomness. Unfortunately, it was attracting an audience outside Kids' WB!'s target, and thus was promptly cancelled after just two seasons. Something that would become sort of a trend at the network.


Pinky and The Brain, a spin-off of Animaniacs which follows the titular lab mice duo as they plan every night to take over the world, with many of these plans ending in failure.


The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries, a new series staring the classic Looney Tunes characters, Sylvester, Tweety, and Granny, as they travel the world solving various mysteries and crimes.


Finally, there was Earthworm Jim, the only show in the network's initial lineup not produced by Warner Bros. It was instead an adaptation of the popular SNES and Sega Genesis game produced by Universal Animation.


All that, plus reruns of classic Looney Tunes shorts helped round out the Kids' WB!'s launch lineup, which needless to say, launched with less than favorable results, largely because The WB itself didn't do all that well in its first couple years. For most of 1996, the network did little more than just chug along. But there was one show in the Fall that gave it a bit of a boost. Superman: The Animated series. Serving as the Counterpart to Batman: The Animated Series. Superman: TAS would borrow many of the same elements from that show, telling the adventures of the Man of Steel as he fights for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Like Batman, Superman TAS was critically acclaimed, giving a much needed modernization to DC's definitive mascot. However other shows, like Road Rovers and Waynehead would be met with less fanfare.

1997 was when things started to pick up, not just for Kids' WB!, but also The WB in general. While the parent network began to define itself as a defining destination for Teenage audiences, Kids' WB! started venturing outside the Warner Bros. domain more to air shows from other studios, such as Channel Umptee 3, and Men in Black: The Series, both from Sony Pictures Television. The former was added purely to comply with the FCC's E/I mandates, while the latter was obviously based on the hit film, Men in Black, and surprisingly, was one of the network's longest lasting shows. But 1997 was important, because Fox Kids' broadcast rights to Batman TAS had finally lapsed, allowing The Dark Knight to return home, to where he belongs. Not just in the OG series, but also being packaged together with Superman TAS for a while. This was also the year parent company Time Warner acquired Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting System, which not only allowed Warner Bros. to regain the rights to the Looney Tunes shorts that were owned by Turner, but also gave them access to Cartoon Network. A channel that was gaining ground fast, not just with Kids, but also surprisingly, with adults. Over 1/3rd of Cartoon Network's viewers at the time, were 18+, allowing shows such as Freakazoid to enjoy a second lease of life thanks to a broader demographic.

The first sign of problems for Kids' WB! came in 1998, when one day out of nowhere, Both Animaniacs and Pinky & The Brain were suddenly cancelled. The reason stated was that these two shows weren't really doing all that well with kids, despite the impressive adult fanbase they enjoyed. P&B would be replaced by Pinky, Elmyra and The Brain, which integrated Elmyra into the main cast as a result of network mandates, which was admitted in the show's opening theme.


It only lasted one season. Despite that, it was business as usual for Kids' WB! Batman and Superman continued to rope in viewers, and some new shows like Hysteria helped fill the E/I quota.

By 1999 Jean McCurrdy resigned from her position as head of Kids' WB!, to concentrate more on her work at WB Animation. Donna Freedman was given responsibility for the network. That same year, Kids' WB! would begin airing a show that not only became its signature series, but also helped popularize the strange new medium of Japanese animation. Any clues?... Pika?


After bombing in first run syndication, Kids' WB! picked up 4Kids Entertainment's English adaptation of the Pokemon Anime seires, based on the hit Game Boy game which released the year prior. It was a massive hit, and Kids' WB! quickly ordered additional episodes, allowing 4Kids to continue production on the series. Pokemon's massive success practically overshadowed most of the other shows for the 1999-2000 season including Detention, a show about a group of 12 year old 6th graders trying to stay out of Detention, and Batman Beyond, which despite some initial controversy, managed to be well received thanks to its darker tone and unique stories.

Pokemon carried Kids' WB! for most of 2000, and by that point, it was already the highest rated Saturday Morning/Weekday Block on broadcast television, dethroning Fox Kids who by that point, was now co-owned by Power Rangers creator Hiam Saban, as a subsidiary of Fox Family Worldwide, the entity that controlled much of Fox's family entertainment. By June, Kids WB! was airing yet another anime, one that a point of controversy among the anime community. Cardcaptors.


An English adaptation of Cardcaptor Sakura by the Canadian studio, Nelvana. The controversy stemmed from the hacked-up, retooling done to the show. Motivated by the success of Pokemon, Kids' WB! mandated many changes to the show in order to attract a Male audience. Such as chopping out the first 8 episodes, re-ordering episodes and scenes, even dropping many others, removing romantic elements, and even downplaying the role of the main character Sakura, to focus more on the Male lead. The network only aired 39 of the total 70 episodes of the series. And the heavily edited version produced for it is often regarded as one of the worst hack-job dubs done in anime. Especially since Nevlana dubbed all 70 episodes of the show, which aired in other territories, namely Canada.

The Fall season that year was a bit beefier than prior years. Including a new DC show, Static Shock. 2 new Sony Pictures shows, Jackie Chan Adventures, and Max Steel, the former of which would become another long-running hit for the network. X-Men Evolution, the first new X-Men series since the original 1993 series. And Generation O, also from Sony, which was meant to headline a new "Fraturday" block which aired premiere episodes on Friday afternoons, as opposed to Saturday Mornings.

2001 was a major year for The WB/Kids' WB!. Until this point, both networks got their direction from the Warner Bros. Television Group. But WB either didn't have the resources, or interest to oversee something as complex as a Television network, on top of being the main producer of its programing. In order to free up those resources, and to promote better synergy with Time Warner's Cable division, The WB was consolidated into Turner Broadcasting System in January, which led to the network's founder Jamie Kellner being named Turner CEO, and now meant that Kids' WB! was forced to play nice with Cartoon Network. One of the first moves that resulted from this merger was Kids' WB!'s adaptation, of a popular Cartoon Network brand, Toonami.


Toonami was CN's flagship afternoon lineup, and was instrumental in popularizing Japanese anime in North America. It was really successful, especially among the niche-within-a-niche demographic of males aged 9 to 14. Kids' WB! hoped to use Toonami to reach that slightly older audience, even airing some of Toonami's shows like Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon. It was Toonami in name only though, as none of the block's trademark attitude or edge translated to its broadcast counterpart. It even aired shows that weren't action or anime related such as Detention. It was discontinued in 2002. For the Fall season that year, Kids WB! leveraged its new slightly broader target demo of Kids 2-14 with its first and only Live Action Show. RL Stein's The Nightmare Room. A spiritual successor to the Fox Kids Goosebumps series of the 90s. It was cancelled after just 13 episodes. But the other show that debuted that year was another 4Kids anime adaptation, one that provided the perfect compliment to the rapidly aging Pokemon, and was the other signature show for the network. Yu-Gi-Oh!


With its creepy monsters, older protagonists, and more complex storylines, Yu-Gi-Oh! was an instant hit, and even attracted a slightly broader demographic than that of the comparatively simple Pokemon. Other shows debuting that season were The Zeta Project, a spin-off of Batman Beyond, and another Sony Pictures series, Phantom Investigators, which was created by Stephen Hollman, who previously made Life with Loopy. It was canned after just 13 episodes. By now you're noticing a pattern with Kids' WB! Unless it was a big hit with young boys, the network would cancel the show after only a season, which screwed over many shows who's potential was cut short.

2002 was an interesting year though, as it signaled to Kids' WB! that maybe they should add more variety to the lineup. So the new shows that season were all mostly comedies, and less-serious fare. Mucha Lucha, one of the first cartoons created in flash. Ozzy and Drix, a spin-off of the failed movie, Osmossis Jones, and What's New Scooby Doo?! the first new Scooby Doo series in over 10 years. At this point, Kids WB! was now the only broadcast service airing children's shows both Satuday Mornings, and Weekday Afternoons. The Big 3 had long since only aired shows on Saturdays, Fox sold off its family division to Disney, and fed the leftover Saturday block to 4Kids, and UPN didn't really even air children's programing. In an era of Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and Disney Channel. It's impressive that Kids' WB! was able to last this long.

2003 would see oversight of the The WB redirected back to Warner Bros. Television, as Jamie Kellner had left Time Warner by this point, and Time Warner worked to undo its disasterous merger with AOL. As for Kids' WB!, the network trudged along in 2003. Yu-Gi-Oh! was still breaking records, and new shows such as Xaiolin Showdown and Teen Titans (The latter of which was shared with Cartoon Network) helped carry the network for another year. 2004 was the start of the beginning of the end for Kids' WB! Ratings were steadily declining, and many of its shows were either on their way out, or waning in popularity. The shows introduced that season were nothing special. The Batman, a watered down, poor-man's version of Batman TAS, and Da Boom Crew, which only aired for 4 episodes before being cancelled. In 2005, Besty McGrowen took over Kids' WB!, and attempted to position the network away from Anime and DC shows, and more towards original productions. Coconut Fred's Fruit Salad Island, a blatant rip-off of SpongeBob SquarePants. Loonatics Unleashed, a superhero themed Looney Tunes spin-off absolutely nobody asked for. And perhaps the most infamous show that year, Johnny Test. A decent show in its first season, but lasted way longer than it should have and rapidly declined from its 2nd season onwards. That same year, Kids' WB! finally discontinued its Weekday block in December, due to declining ratings, and uproar from WB affiliates. The WB would take over that Time Slot, airing Sitcom reruns from its primetime lineup.

As The WB was preparing to combine with UPN to create The CW, Kids' WB!, now reduced to the Saturday Block, was integrated into the newly merged network, with Betsy still running things. The shift to The CW also resulted in a reduced budget for Kids' WB!, which meant the network now had to outsource most of its future shows to external companies, largely from Canada. Despite this, 2006 saw a good number of new shows, including Tom & Jerry Tales, Leigon of Superheroes, Shaggy & Scooby Doo Get a Clue, and Monster Allergy. But this time, Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! were off the block for good. By 2007, it was clear Kids' WB! was running on fumes. The vast majority of the new shows that season were all Canadian outsourced productions. The one exception was The Spectacular Spider-Man, from Sony Pictures. In 2008, The CW finally threw in the towel, and retired the Kids' WB! name. The 5 hour block was sold to 4Kids, who was preparing to jump ship from Fox due to contract disputes, and relaunched it as The CW4Kids, which lasted until 2012 in favor of Saban's short lived Vortexx.

Kids' WB! is a fascinating piece of Television history. It's had its ups and downs. But its shocking that it was able to last up to the very end of the 2000s, when Saturday Morning Cartoons were a thing of the past. For all the issues the block suffered from, it gave kids some of the most memorable shows of Satuday Mornings, and was a last remaining survivor of a pre-cable era.
 

Omeggos

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Jan 12, 2018
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Kids wb had pokemon, but i was more of a fox box kids for MiB:TS, ghostbusters, digimon and godzilla the series
 
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Cutty Flam

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Dec 3, 2019
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Nostalgia galore. Seeing those Dratini brought back memories. Pokémon for life crew
 

Kagey K

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Dec 18, 2013
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Tiny Toons, Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain and Batman TAS will forever be the best set of cartoons ever created.

Steven Spielberg’s gift to animation was better then his contributions to cinema (IMO)

Even now my son and I joke.

What are we going to do today Pinky?

Same thing we do every day, stay home and try to save the world.

 
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bitbydeath

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Nov 25, 2015
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In Australia we had CheezTV which played all those shows + more.



It’s not around anymore tho.
 
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Tesseract

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Dec 7, 2008
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usually had this stuff going in the background while studying computer ninja shit

great input to grow up with, smart and funny