The Globe and Mail recently ran this article by Grant Robertson on the success of the recently-launched Teletoon Retro, and in particular its unusual approach to finding advertisers and an audience for a cartoon channel. Normally, cartoon channels are aimed at children, with maybe a special late-night block for adults. In the U.S., both Cartoon Network and its spinoff Boomerang started with a mostly kid-oriented approach and aimed still younger as time went on. Teletoon Retro is a cartoon nostalgia channel aimed to a large extent at adults who grew up watching cartoons; it was launched, the article explained, when Teletoon execs noticed that Scooby-Doo reruns were getting a lot of adult viewers on their main channel. The advertising on the network is mostly targeted to grown-ups — I see that damned Jennifer Love Hewitt acne-cream commercial every time I watch Porky Pig or Merrie Melodies — and the article explains that future acquisitions for the network will be based in part on requests they’re getting from adults. The Smurfs is, of course, their number-one most-requested show.
As a cartoon channel, Teletoon Retro started with too few shows, and while they’ve added a few recently (including The Pink Panther and Woody Woodpecker, the ones with Walter Lantz trying to become an on-camera personality like Walt Disney), they still need to expand their lineup. Also, a cartoon channel in Canada suffers from the fact that many studios do not make the best prints available to Canadian channels; I’m thinking especially of the old Warner Brothers cartoons, where Cartoon Network had access to the full uncut prints (though a fat lot of good that does them) but Warners mostly prefers to send out the old edited-for-TV packages in Canada. But the basic principle behind the channel, to cater to a mix of kids who are encountering these shows for the first time and nostalgic adults who remember these shows from years gone by, has worked out quite well. Some of these shows are good, some are bad, but all of them are fondly remembered by people who watched them as children. Okay, maybe not the ’70s Tom and Jerry where they were friends and they couldn’t commit any actual violence. Nobody liked that.
I’m glad that the Teletoon people have actually tried to exploit the fact that adults love cartoons. Many networks are, and have always been, terrified that adults might watch. They sell cartoons exclusively to advertisers of kiddie products, and these advertisers naturally expect the shows to be watched almost exclusively by people who are interested in using those products. Networks, broadcast and cable, have actually tried to eliminate adult-friendly content from their cartoons because they were being watched by too many grown-ups without kids. They never seemed to consider the obvious solution: sell some ad space for those grown-up viewers. You’re never going to stop adults from watching cartoons; as Scooby-Doo proves, adults will watch and love cartoons even if they aren’t very good. Might as well accept that we like cartoons, and try to turn that to advantage.