the warner bros. animation archive
august, 2002


the web's first editorial magazine dedicated to warner bros. animation

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When did the Warner siblings jump the shark?
A look at the life of Animaniacs
by Jamie Weinman


Animaniacs was a co-production of Warner Bros. Animation and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. Most of the staff was the same as on WB Animation’s earlier shows; Tiny Toons producers Tom Ruegger and Sherri Stoner were two of the three producers of Animaniacs, the third being Rich Arons,one of WB Animation’s best directors. The Fox Network ordered 65 episodes of the new series, slating it for the daily time slot formerly occupied by Tiny Toons – a risky venture, considering that Animaniacs, unlike Tiny Toons, featured characters who were all-new rather than based on classic cartoon stars.
The risk paid off, however. Animaniacs premiered on the Fox network on September 13, 1993, and soon became the second-most popular kids’ series on American television, after Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Even more than Tiny Toons, Animaniacs called into question the label of “kids’ show”; its deftly timed slapstick and abundant pop-culture jokes appealed to viewers of all ages, and a number of news stories were written about its sizeable college-age and adult fan followings.

But after the 65th episode had aired in the spring of 1994, fans discovered, to their dismay, that Fox had ordered no more episodes. The problem, as it turned out, had to do with Warner Bros’ decision to start its own network. With Animaniacs being treated on Fox as distinctly secondary to the the blockbuster Power Rangers, it was decided to remove the show to the new WB Network, where it would at last be the centerpiece of a kids’ TV block.

Knowing that they were going to lose the show, Fox let it go into reruns for a year (except for four episodes hastily assembled from material that didn’t make it into the first season), and in September of 1995, new episodes of Animaniacs premiered on the WB Network.

The 13 new episodes were produced by Peter Hastings and Rusty Mills, who (along with Ruegger) were also the producers of the WB’s new Animaniacs spinoff, Pinky and the Brain. Unfortunately, while Animaniacs was successful on the WB, it wasn’t successful in quite the way that the
network expected. The show’s adult appeal, which had been an asset on Fox, became a liability for the WB, which had sold its new cartoon lineup as being perfect for very small children, and was hard-pressed to explain to advertisers why the very small children didn’t seem to be watching in great numbers. The first sign of the network’s dissatisfaction with Animaniacs came in the spring of 1996, when an order for 18 new episodes was suddenly reduced to only 8. Peter Hastings left WB Animation soon after, and no new writer-producer was appointed to replace him on Animaniacs. With most of the unit’s attention focused on Pinky and the Brain, Animaniacs made it through two more short seasons, using a lot of leftover scripts and storyboards. Finally, the WB cancelled it; a direct-to-video movie, Wakko’s Wish, was relased not long after, but it was a disappointing film that failed to capture the verbal or visual wit of the series.

Since then, Animaniacs has not gotten much respect in reruns; no good time slots, no DVDs. But the show is not completely forgotten, and I hope future columns will help to show why it deserves to be remembered. So until next time…goodbye, nurse!