TV is an experiment. It’s always changing. One of those really big experiments was taking place in the late 1980s and 1990s. For decades before that, there were three major broadcast networks. ABC, CBS, and NBC were essentially independent entities, not tied to content producers at all. In fact for most of their existence, networks were actually limited by the amount of content they could produce themselves. That’s how other TV studios thrived.
Things changed thanks to legislation in the 1980s that removed most of the limitations on content production. Eventually this would lead to all three of those networks being bought by major content producers (Disney, Viacom/Sony, and Comcast/Universal.) At the same time, three new networks were created owned by major studios.
Fox launched first, obviously a subsidiary of 20th Century Fox. UPN came next, as a subsidiary of Paramount Studios. The last to launch was the WB, owned by Warner Brothers. (Warner Brothers Studios is a subsidiary of Warner Media and owned by AT&T. Solid Signal is an AT&T Preferred Dealer. So take that, bloodsucking lawyers.)
With all these new networks came a huge need for new content. This meant it was a great time to experiment. One of those experiments, quite simply, had bologna in their slacks.
Here’s what I’m talking about.
Animaniacs ran from 1993 to 1998. It started on the Fox network but moved to the WB in 1995. It was part of a strategy to draw in not only children, but people under 25. See, at that time, marketers were still interested in “Generation X.” Generation X, if you’ve never heard the term, represent the relatively small number of folks born between 1965 and 1980. Today they’ve been largely forgotten as Baby Boomers and Millennials compete to be the most dominant force in the universe. Back in the 1990s they were still important to someone.
Generation X grew up with a love of the old Warner Brothers shorts that originally ran in front of movies in the 1940s and 1950s. During their childhood, local stations ran these cartoons over and over, instilling a love for sharp-looking animation and wisecracking characters. The Animaniacs looked to be the next generation.
Topical to the max
Animaniacs presented as a series of shorts with recurring characters. The Warner brothers (and Warner sister, Dot) were crazy creatures who got into trouble. Pinky and the Brain were laboratory mice with enhanced mental abilities that led them to want world domination. A whole cast including Mindy, the Goodfeathers, and others rounded out the stable.
While it was pitched as a kids’ show, Animaniacs included huge doses of topical humor, sly cynicism, and references to pop culture. It was instantly endearing to people much older than the elementary school crowd it meant to serve.
The show today
Watching Animaniacs (now streaming on Hulu) is like an overdose of 90s nostalgia. If you were too old or too young to appreciate it the first time, you’ll find the writing snappy and the ideas sharp. If you’re obsessed today with 90s nostalgia, take a few minutes away from obsessing over Ross and Rachel and dig deep into Animaniacs. It’s a completely different look at what we all thought was funny back then. It may not be timeless, but it’s a great way to spend an afternoon. If you have kids now (or grandkids), pretend it’s for them. They’ll like the bright colors and loud sounds and you’ll enjoy the non-stop witticisms. Everybody wins… those are the facts.