Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Beginning of the End For WBA

Another anniversary that is occurring this year -- this fall, to be exact -- which will not be celebrated by anyone is the 10th anniversary of the 1998-99 TV season on the WB network, and the beginning of the end for the WB TV animation unit that had started less than a decade earlier.

I've gone into this before, but in brief: in 1995, the WB network co-opted most of the WB TV cartoons for itself, taking them off the Fox network where they were more at home. By 1996, there was frustration at the overly-wide demographic appeal of shows like Animaniacs, Freakazoid! and Superman; by appealing to all ages, they made it harder for advertisers to target the very young kids they wanted to sell toys to, and the WB actually had to return some of the advertisers' money because of the failure to pull in the tiny tots. So Jamie Kellner, head of the WB, eventually laid down a rule that shows for kids should be about kids.

And around the same time, 1996, the FCC announced that networks were required to carry several hours of "educational" programming -- not just kids' programming but shows that were meant to teach something. This ruling was an underrated factor in helping to kill off the new sophistication and intelligence that some (I said, some) animated programs had displayed in the '90s, and should be a warning to all about what happens when the government sets incredibly vague and confusing rules about what we should watch. So the WB had to find a spot on its Saturday morning lineup for an educational show -- they tried Mark Evanier's "Channel Umptee-3" first, but quickly canceled it -- and Tom Ruegger pitched the idea of filling the spot an Animaniacs-style comedy series that would teach children about history.

And finally, the failure of Batman and Robin meant that there was much less interest at Warner Brothers, and among children, in the big superhero franchises; the network brought the Batman cartoon to the network in 1997 but lost interest once it was clear that there wouldn't be any more Batman live-action movies for a while.

With the long lead time for animation, the changes were not fully implemented until fall of 1998, but the results were unmistakable: the most high-profile new shows were Batman Beyond, a younger-skewing version of Batman; Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain, a younger-skewing network-mandated re-tool, and Histeria!, which was essentially Animaniacs for younger children and with an FCC-approved educational bent.

Of these new shows, Batman Beyond was obviously the best and the worst was not Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain (which had its funny moments and was actually quite well-liked by some of the artists who worked on it) but Histeria! The show was well-intentioned, I think; the WB didn't want Animaniacs or Tiny Toons type shows any more and the producers saw a way to sneak that kind of humor back onto the network using the FCC guidelines as an excuse. The producers even followed the Animaniacs pattern by hiring a bunch of talented Groundlings comics to join the writing staff, among them Brian Palermo and Alex Borstein. But the show just wasn't funny. By comparison with the historical sketches on Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain the similar stuff on Histeria! didn't work at all, even when the jokes were all right. And this was due to a fundamentally flawed decision, to give the show a sketch-comedy feel by having a cast of characters who would play different roles in every skit. Since the characters had no real personalities of their own (well, there was the "Loud Kiddington" kid whose only feature was that he yelled a lot), there was no fun in seeing them get involved in historical situations. And the need to be historically accurate probably limited the extent to which the show could be funny, although the Canadian show History Bites took the same concept around the same time and made it work.

The other problem with the show is that it looked ugly, and I mean really, really ugly. This was a time when Warners was apparently experimenting with using less complicated designs than they'd been using on their previous comedy shows; there were so many details on The Brain or Wakko Warner that the animators could never draw them the same way twice, and the idea, I think, was to do simplified designs that would allow the storyboards and layouts to be more accurately reproduced overseas. But the Histeria! characters all had hideous bug eyes, weird bumps on their faces and scary-looking chins; I think it was a little based on Bruce Timm's angular style but it mostly looked bad. And the "Big Fat Baby" character, a design apparently based on a child's drawing, was really a pain to look at. Ruegger gave the producer-director spot on the show to Bob Doucette, who had also produced his last flop show, Road Rovers, and Jon McClenahan, who directed a few episodes, recalled that "Bob was a very talented layout artist but not much of an animation director."

The upshot was that Histeria! consisted almost entirely of the following: ugly characters trying to explain a historical event or person by analogizing it to something from pop-culture. I mean that was every sketch in every episode. If Animaniacs and Tiny Toons were unjustly accused of relying entirely on pop-culture references instead of humor, the accusation was right when it came to Histeria! Case in point (and this just happened to be the first clip I could find):



The things the show had going for it were few: some of the voice actors (though too many roles were played by Tom Ruegger's sons), some of the music (it was the last show Richard Stone worked on before his untimely death), a few song contributions by Randy Rogel and a few bits guest-written by Paul Rugg (who'd left WB by that time). Other than that, the show just didn't work, and it had no clear audience: the pop-culture refs made it unappealing to little kids, the educational stuff (and the general unfunniness) made it unappealing to older viewers, and looking at the show was no fun for almost anyone. It didn't have the popularity or prestige of the Spielberg productions and didn't pull in the WB's desired demographic, so the show was cut short before it had completed its original order of 65 episodes, and that was pretty much the end of the comedy unit of WB animation.

I should note that there are Histeria! fans -- the comments on YouTube seem pretty favorable -- but I don't agree with them. (Others will ask how I could like Animaniacs and dislike Histeria!, and all I can say is I find the former funny and the latter not so much.)

37 comments:

Mike said...

Don't have many thoughts on Histeria (I believe I saw it only once or twice; for some reason, I recall it airing weekday mornings where I lived), but I remember being woefully disappointed with Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain. What made it particularly disappointing was that PATB was just getting better the longer it was on the air, and the 97-98 season was quite enjoyable.

But then, I was a college freshman at that time, and thus well beyond the demographic Kids' WB was shooting for. In fact, after reading this blog entry, I guess you could say I was part of the problem.

Anyway, I had heard a rumor at the time that the retool came about after fans clamored for new episodes of Tiny Toons. Anyone know if there's any truth to that rumor?

Thad said...

With the exception of Tiny Toons when I was a kid, I've never liked the WBA cartoons. Reasons...

* Loud, obnoxious voices. The business is full of this school of voice acting. There's no such thing as a natural pause anymore, as you may lose the audience if there's a break in the dialogue and they may change the channel. Somebody tear out Charlie Adler's larynx... please?

* Making this issue even worse, nobody shuts up.

* Bad color styling. Bright and garish. Every Tiny Toons character seems to represent a color of the rainbow.

* Awful writing. (Took four reasons to get to this!) It's all hackneyed stereotyping of Tex Avery with blatant pop culture references.

* The music is all Stalling clich├ęs, reused again and again. Richard Stone was not a good composer.

So in all, good riddance to bad rubbish.

Mattieshoe said...

thad is obviously a John K worshipper

Thad said...

Ouch. Me feelin's is hurt.

moopot said...

No, you see, thad isn't a John K. worshipper based on that post, because thad has seen episodes of the shows he's talking about, he's not just assuming things based on other shows he's seen.

Also, I agree with you about Pinky elmyra and the brain. It was pretty funny, at least in parts. Underpants head! Genius.

Histeria was awful. That kid who yelled was so annoying that I used to actually scream at the television whenever he spoke, so that i couldn't hear him. My mother suggested just not watching the show, but the idea of not watching a cartoon that's on tv when you're ten and don't have Foxtel is patently ridiculous.

Jorge Garrido said...

I love love love LOVE Hyteria, I was obsessed with it as a kid and learned so much from that that it's ridiculous. I thought it was infinitely superior to Animaniacs or Tiny Toons.

I don't think a more entertaining educational show (or is it a more educational entertainment show?) has ever been produced.

But I do remember the show's lame Carl Stalling imitation music. They used to do this segment where Loud Kiddington would simulate some historic event (an eruption, for example) The show would instruct children to turn up the TV set while the narrator whispered the instructions, until Loud Kiddington yelled "BOOM!" The problem was those idiots put the Stallingesque music on during the "quiet" part which would piss me off all over the place and get me in trouble.

Anonymous said...

"Channel Umptee 3" was flaming garbage. Neither a generous budget, Norman Lear's cred nor full looking animation could save it.

Thad said...

Moopot-
To clarify, I was mostly criticizing Tiny Toons in my post. All of the other WBA shows I've seen are mostly the same, only worse.

Last summer, I suffered the indignity of my 12 year-old cousin coming over to our house with his Animaniacs DVDs. Anyone who claims that show is not eye and ear rape can seriously kiss my ass.

Mike said...

Well, as long as I know where I stand....

Mattieshoe said...

You want Eye and ear rape? here you go.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kEuQJvabYY&feature=related

Jaime J. Weinman said...

Last summer, I suffered the indignity of my 12 year-old cousin coming over to our house with his Animaniacs DVDs. Anyone who claims that show is not eye and ear rape can seriously kiss my ass.

How about this: Animaniacs great and funny eye and ear rape, the best and funniest eye and ear rape of its time.

Ha-ha! I defended it and I avoided the consequences! I have won!

Seriously, though, this is what binds together animation buffs of all stripes, from John K to Thad to Chuck Jones. I think I'll never be a true animation buff until I learn to stop loving Animaniacs. :)

Thad said...

Jaime, what you wrote was wittier than all of the WBA shows put together. Good job!

Just one thing to offer in WBA's defense though, most of the TTA and even A! episodes were not badly drawn or animated (at least from what I remember). Except for those TTAs by, who was it, Kennedy?---whoever it was that inked everything with a charcoal pencil.

Maybe I'll get TTA when it comes out on DVD as a booby-prize gift from my wiseass dad.

Mattieshoe said...

I don't think it was his direct intention to be "witty"

I'm curios:

Just what are you comparing Animaniacs too when you criticize it? I don't mind you Criticizing TTA or Histeria, But Animaniacs was different. you may have just seen a bad skit.


And also, Akom was even worse then Kennedy, and they animated WBA for ten years.

Thad said...

I'm comparing it to the cartoons I do like. And I'm not getting into a back-and-forth over Animaniacs. I saw enough episodes to judge by (that is, if about 3 discs from one of those season sets is enough to judge by). It's just typical, to borrow from Mike Barrier, "cynical TV junk."

Tor Y. Harbin said...

"Histeria"...loved the voice cast, but was greatly annoyed by the characters. Not the worst that I've seen, but nothing I'm in any great hurry to want to see again.

Anyone who claims that ["Animaniacs"] is not eye and ear rape can seriously kiss my ass.

I'll put on my Chapstick.

Anonymous said...

why does anyone read this stuff? I'd like to know. Of course, my first question is, who is Jaime J. Weinman and what sort of life must he lead that he has all this time in his day to write reviews of programs that were made ten years ago. Does he have some sort of credentials that make his opinion worthwhile or meaningful? And doesn't he have better things to do with his day? Or shouldn't he have better things to do? Does he take pleasure in ripping into other people's work? It would seem so. Has Jaime himself ever made anything that makes him an expert in this area? I'm just not clear why Jaime's opinion is one worth reading, unless one is searching for a dose of bitchiness, which is eveident in this review.

Thad said...

...Said the prickfuck who is too ashamed of his grammar to use his real name.

Jaime J. Weinman said...

why does anyone read this stuff? I'd like to know.

Me too, but the first question is, why do you read it?

Does he have some sort of credentials that make his opinion worthwhile or meaningful?

What credentials do you need?

Does he take pleasure in ripping into other people's work?

The only way people will stop ripping into other people's work is if they stop praising other people's work. You can't say good things unless you can also point to stuff that doesn't work as well and compare and contrast the good with the bad.

Would you really be happier if everybody online stopped saying nice things about the stuff they like? Because that's the only way you're going to stop these same uncredentialed folk from saying negative things.

Has Jaime himself ever made anything that makes him an expert in this area?

Lemme get this straight: television shows are made to be watched by the people who don't make them, but the people who don't make them -- the intended audience -- are not qualified to talk about them.

I totally see the logic.

Thad said...

Jaime, that anonymous retard didn't warrant a well-thought out reply.

Especially when the subject is Hysteria.

Slowjack said...

Anon, the reason people read this stuff is that they DO find his opinions worthwhile and meaningful.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised that the one calling himself Thad is actually capable of reading. He sounds like Jaime's sweat licker.

Thad said...

Yeah, if I were someone who is spiteful over trash talking of Hysteria, I'd want to remain anonymous too.

Anonymous said...

yes, "Thad," I'm the anonymous commentor whom you call a "prickfuck," "a retard" and "spiteful." Just keep licking all your boy toys. And give your parents a break -- move out of their cellar.

Jaime J. Weinman said...

I'm surprised that the one calling himself Thad is actually capable of reading. He sounds like Jaime's sweat licker.

Seriously, fellow, I'm not important enough to have sweat lickers.

The point is, do you have something to add? It's great if you can say something in defence of Histeria and I'd like to hear it. But the problem with your "what have you created" and "what credentials do you have to express an opinion" approach is that it's the most unoriginal approach imaginable. If you can't come up with a better argument than the old "if you can't come up with something better you shouldn't be criticizing" thing, then it's a little odd for you to be putting down other people's creativity.

Thad said...

You forgot to add "asshole" to that list, asshole.

Anonymous said...

Not putting down your creativity here, Jaime. Being a critic of the work of others isn't "creative" and requires no creativity. Criticism such as your is simply subjective opinion. It has no genuine connection to objective truth. And stringing words together does not constitute "creativity." Jaime, I suggest that you direct your post-article "commentary critiques" to readers of your blog who call other readers "prickfuck" and "retard" and other unsavory names -- comments that take your blog into the gutter of ignorance where such readers dwell -- than spend time critiquing those who question why your opinion on anything should matter. Just because you watch TV doesn't automatically make you a TV critic worth reading. As for "Thad," whether he is your sweat-licker or personal toe-jam groomer or a total stranger to you, I can tell by his communication skills that he is one of the lonely people of the planet, so in a gesture of generosity, I offer him my pity.

A friend mentioned this blog to me, I read it for the first time, and now I leave you, Jaime and Thad, in your self-"created" puddle of words, having learned nothing from either of you, and just become a little more appalled at the lowly level of discourse that you try to pass off as criticism and commentary. Someday, may you both find something worthwhile and meaningful to do with your lives.

Some Guy said...

Hey, anonymous, if Jaime's blog isn't worth reading, why is it so damn popular? It would seem you're the one too stupid to see the appeal.

Jaime makes great, sometimes prescient observations about TV, movies, music and pop culture and is VERY knowledgable. Even John K said he liked Jaime's animator analysis and Michael Barrier praised this blog, as well. The blog is both informational AND critical, the best combination there is.

In short: go duck a sick.

Jaime J. Weinman said...

Being a critic of the work of others isn't "creative" and requires no creativity.

I dunno. Creativity is about evoking emotion in the viewer/reader. And I certainly evoked anger -- obsessive, Hulk-smash kind of anger -- from you.

Criticism such as your is simply subjective opinion. It has no genuine connection to objective truth.

No, but the point of criticism is to describe the work, allowing other people to use the description as a point of reference to agree or disagree.

I described a show. And I said whether I thought it was good or bad. Now you get to tell me why my description is inaccurate or my opinions are wrong, but you haven't done so. You just appear to be mad that anyone has expressed negative opinions online, even though positive opinions wouldn't exist without negative opinions to contrast them with.

than spend time critiquing those who question why your opinion on anything should matter.

You're the only one who seems obsessed with whether my opinion matters. Most people just read each other's opinion for fun including the fun of disagreeing. What kind of life must you lead if disagreeing with people's opinions makes you so very angry?


A friend mentioned this blog to me, I read it for the first time, and now I leave you, Jaime and Thad, in your self-"created" puddle of words, having learned nothing from either of you, and just become a little more appalled at the lowly level of discourse that you try to pass off as criticism and commentary. Someday, may you both find something worthwhile and meaningful to do with your lives.


So, to review, you're angry because people express opinions without having official credentials.

I don't mind that you hate this blog but I don't understand the anger.

Some Guy said...

Oh, but I still hate Tiny Toons and Animaniacs!

Mattieshoe said...

Just curious: How can Animaniacs possibly be the MOST hated show in animation history?

I can see people disliking it, even bashing it, but what I can't see is why Animaniacs is more of a target to Animation purists then say, He-man.

Maybe it's because it's productionwent against the core principals that John K set for good cartoons, yet it still managed to become great and be able to have a solid defense against haters.

there is no arguing that My little Pony is an atrocity to animation. But the mere fact that we are able to argue sensibly about whether Animaniacs was terrible or not shows it is not nearly terrible enough to be hated as such.


I am in sole agreement with John K on most of his opinions. the one spot he has on his record of mine is his unsupported assumption that Animaniacs was not only terrible, but WORSE THEN TINY TOONS.
Which,(as anyone who has seen these shows will say) JUST ISN'T TRUE

Jaime J. Weinman said...

I can see people disliking it, even bashing it, but what I can't see is why Animaniacs is more of a target to Animation purists then say, He-man.

Well, it's sort of like the reason I rag on Family Guy more than on other cartoons with worse animation and writing. When something is made on the cheap, you cut it more slack than a big-studio prime-time show.

Animaniacs cost a lot more money to make than He-Man and had bigger names involved (specifically, Steven Spielberg). It asks to be judged by higher standards. I think it's fine by those standards, others disagree, but the standards just happen to be different from those of a lower-budget cartoon.

Thad said...

I call anyone an asshole or prickfuck or retard who comes to a comments thread only to offer the "WHY DONT U MAKE U'RE OWN SHOW, U SUCK AND SO DOES YOUR BLOG" argument.

Did you even read my previous comments? I don't agree with Jaime on any of the shows. I call them eye-rape. I'm defending him in regards to your attack on him, poor white-trash anonymous.

I don't know why this asshole thinks "Thad" is a moniker or pseudonym I coined myself. It's on my birth certificate, driver's license, and tax returns.

John Pannozzi said...

"Bad color styling. Bright and garish. Every Tiny Toons character seems to represent a color of the rainbow."

Fair enough, but I thought the colors of the Animaniacs were more tasteful.

"Seriously, though, this is what binds together animation buffs of all stripes, from John K to Thad to Chuck Jones. I think I'll never be a true animation buff until I learn to stop loving Animaniacs. :)"

Well, Jerry Back likes Animaniacs and Tiny Toons, if that's any consolation.

Thad: I think you watch some of the Animaniacs episodes written by Tom Minton (esp. the ones he wrote about the Warners' past). Those might be up your alley.

And to Jaime: Have you ever seen the recent Duck Dodgers series? I think, for better or for worse, it is the closet Warners has come this decade to capturing the spirit of Tiny Toons and Animaniacs. Just my 2 cents.

Also to Jaime: Don't be so sure a lot of animators liked Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain. From http://www.thexbridge.com/kell99.html
"The addition of Tiny Toons' most annoying character was Kellner's idea to bring in the female audience to this show, insulting women, animators, voice artists, and executive producer Spielberg in the process."

And finally, my thoughts on the topic that started this mini-debate here, Histeria. I think Jaime nailed evrything wrong with Histeria. I do like Histeria, but frankkly the characters had very little personality, and there weren't really any storylines or plots. Interesting the biggest Histeria is a guy on DeviantaArt and a few others site who goes by the username "Nintendo Maximus" (his youtube account name is "FroggoFan64", and his real name is Kacy Shelley) and he didn't even watch Histeria until it started appearing on AOL TV (a.k.a. IN2TV) and now Histeria is his favorite WB Animation show. (BTW, his previous favorite was Mucha Lucha).

Mattieshoe said...

Jaime, I was wondering if you could link me to a page that lists at least the first 65 episodes of Animaniacs in production order.

I've always been very curious about that.

seconteen said...

I personally like Histeria. That's my personal taste though. We all have a right to that. I don't believe in talking nasty about its fandom, though. You should at least respect our opinions. ;)

Froggo's my fav character btw. He's adorable. ^_^

Kacy said...

If anything, I'd say the real beginning of the end for WBA was when they made "What's New Scooby-Doo?" in 2002. Like we honestly need another Scooby-Doo cartoon! And if you honestly think "Histeria!"'s characters look hideous (news flash: they don't), you should take a good look at "Science Court" from Disney's One Saturday Morning; I can't look at THAT show's art style without losing my appetite.
If you ask me, "Histeria!" was a much better choice for Kids' WB! to run than the E/I programming they ran in the 1997 season - reruns of "Captain Planet". "Histeria!" is definitely better than "Captain Planet".

Mattieshoe said...

Histeria Really only has about 4 or 5 real "Fans"

does that qualify it as a "Cult Classic?"