If Cohen's remarks appear to be giving her cynics a Tex Avery-sized kick in the pants, forgive her. If you ran the #1 cable network in the country, even for only a short period of time, you'd probably want to give your detractors an equal shot in the shorts.
Of course, when Cartoon Network started, the cynics did have some call to question Cohen's sanity. True, the net launched in 1992 with one of the largest libraries of animated shorts known to mankind (rivaled only by Disney, from what we understand), but you can't live on Bugs Bunny and Scooby-Doo reruns forever.
That's probably a darn strong reason for the launch of the entire Cartoon Cartoon (originally World Premier Toons) series. Not only did it introduce new animation into the programming schedule, it eventually started to create hit shows, among them Dexter's Laboratory, Powerpuff Girls, Johnny Bravo and Cow & Chicken...and that was just from the first series of Cartoon Cartoons in 1995.
Now Cohen has announced that her cable channel is committing a whopping $500 million--that's one-half billion dollars--to what she calls 'original programming;' i.e. new shows that will come out of Cartoon Net's facilities in both Burbank, California or elsewhere, and will be slated for prime time airing.
'The first original series that was actually created for Cartoon Network was Dexter's Laboratory,' Cohen recalls. 'We really struck gold with it.
'So when the creator of Dexter's Lab, Genndy Tartakovsky, came to us last year and with a new project he had in mind, we became extremely excited...So excited we skipped the pilot stage and have gone immediately into production. We feel that strongly about the show. It's our first new series of the year. It's called Samurai Jack. It will be our twelfth original production when it debuts this August.'
Based on a clip Tartakovsky showed, Samurai Jack is a big departure from the creator Dexter's and producer of Powerpuff Girls. The humor has been played down to focus on the action. Tartakovsky has come up with a radically different animation style.
'There are no black lines around the characters,' he says. 'This allows us to help integrate the background into the story. The background is going to be an integral part of the show. We might spend anywhere from the first first two or more minutes of an episode just establishing an environment before we introduce any characters or get into the story.
'The story itself is basically a fish out of water. It's about this
medieval samurai who's been transported into the future; this weird world with robots, aliens and he has to find a way back. He also makes it his mission to heal all the wrongs committed by this evil wizard named Apu.
'Production is going really well,' Tartakovsky admits. 'We're already on production on fifteen different half-hours of our 26-episode commitment, and they're all coming out pretty good. I'm really happy with what we're doing on it. After 52 half-hours of Dexter and 52 half-hours of Powerpuff , I felt it was time to move on and kind of push myself.'
If that isn't enough, Tartakovsky just completed work on 13 additional new episodes of Dexter's Laboratory, and will be working with partner-in-crime and college roommate Craig McCracken on the Powerpuff Girls movie, due in 2002. He's also doing a special contribution to DC Comics 25th issue of the Dexter's Laboratory comic.
Samurai Jack isn't the only new program this year. Time Squad, from the Emmy Award-winning director Dave Wasson, is due shortly.
Set in the year 100,000,000, the series is based on the misadventures of Officer Buck Tuddrussel, his loyal but disgruntled robot the Larry 3000 and the young orphan Otto. These time travellers go through history trying to correct such things as Albert Einstein ending up a used car salesmen.
'The only problem is they don't know history at all,' says Wasson.
More Advance Looks
An advance peek at Time Squad bared a similarity to the old Roger Ramjet series of the 1960's. It had that similar disregard for anything sacred. Suffice it to say Wasson appears to have a lot of fun disregarding just about anything we hold as sacred.
'This is strictly a kids show. It's all for fun,' says Wasson. 'Do I have a strong interest in history? The answer is NO!.'
Next up in the original programming department is the winner of last year's Cartoon Cartoon competition, Grim and Evil.
'We had a special weekend last year where all our viewers got to pick their favorite original Cartoon Cartoon short (of the year 2000-ED),' says Cohen. 'By an overwhelming two to one margin, our audience chose a short called 'The Adventures of Bill and Mandy,' by the animator Maxwell Adams.
'So now, Adams and his team have developed a whole half-hour series called Grim & Evil. It's going to be made of two different cartoons. The first will be the continuing adventures of Bill, Mandy and the Grim Reaper. As those of you who have seen the original pilot know, Grim's new master is this not-very-smart boy named Billy and a very smart and utterly fearless girl named Mandy. The Reaper has to be their guide on all manner of other-worldly adventures.
'The cartoon in between the two Bill and Mandy's is a totally wild new show called 'Evil Con Carne,'' adds Cohen. 'It's about the adventures of a disembodied brain of a super-rich, super-villain that's been transplanted into the body of an unsuspecting grizzly bear.'
Cohen also announced Cartoon Network will be doing another Cartoon Cartoon series with a viewership vote this year. Everyone's curious to see if a new Grim & Evil will arise out of that mass.
Of course, another key reason for the Net's success has been its Toonami block. This is hot considered 'original' programming as it consists of shows acquired either overseas or from other American or Canadian studios.
The core of Toonami, as any animation head knows, is the Dragonball Z series. 'To build on that success we will be airing 96 new episodes of Dragonball Z, which is the highest rated show on basic cable right now at 5:00 p.m. We're also acquiring a number of new episodes on our other high-performing japanese anime series, Gundam for this fall.'
Fundamentally, this means that the network now has the rights to all 300-plus episodes of DBZ. This will include airing the as-yet unseen domestically 'King Kai,' 'Tenkaichi-Budokai' and 'Majin Buu' sagas. If that isn't enough, an informed source who works on acquiring japanese programming for Cartoon Network added she is now working on acquiring the original Dragonball series. Plans are also underway for the follow-up to Dragonball Z, Dragonball GT. No time frame has been set for these acquisitions, but don't be surprised if there are some announcements
regarding this later this year.
If the three Dragonball series isn't enough, it appears we should see as many as four additional sagas from the big mecha Gundam cycle. Sources point at the following big mecha subseries: Mobile Suit Gundam, 0083, Gundam 8's and at least one more. But the acquisitions don't stop there.
The big acquisition though is Justice League. As is well known, it will be produced and directed by Batman/Superman creator Bruce Timm. Cohen was pleased to display the first character sketches from Timm, which included the Man of Steel and Dark Knight (of course) sporting pretty much their standard uniforms. Accompanying them were the Flash, Wonder Woman,
Hawkgirl, Martian Manhunter, Aquaman (with both his hands) and a black Green Lantern. On the Lantern, we are assuming it's John Stewart, even though it should be noted that Cohen didn't know for sure and both Warner Bros. Animation and DC Comics refused comment.
'We will start with 26 all-original half-hours of Justice League,' says Cohen, 'and we already know it will be real popular with our fans, especially the 9-14 year olds who love to watch our Toonami block.
'As for when it will debut, I really don't want to say. I know Timm is putting a lot of time and effort into the production of this series and I told him I'd rather he do it right than not do it at all. If it takes him until late into November to get the series done, I'm not worried. We aren't under the same pressure to produce new series at certain times like the broadcast networks. That means we can debut Justice League any time it's truly ready.'
'We know from our experience of airing Super Friends for years on Cartoon Network here in the U.S. and around the world, that Justice League will have a vast, built in audience hungry for an exciting new look at these classic characters.'
As reported last column, Toonami will also air 13 all-new episodes of the Reboot series. Don't also be surprised if another enhanced TV experience ala Toonami's The Intruder is also in the works.
'Our ratings up 10% all over since the same time last year, 21% in prime time,' Cohen boasts. 'We are currently in 70 million homes, and growing.'
And from the way things are going, it looks like Cartoon Network is going to be growing for some time now.