The Late-Night Animation Experiment With 20 Years Of Success

Cartoon Network is known as the animation destination for kids and later built its reputation for featuring late night adult animated series on Adult Swim that started simply as a means for marketing. 

The beloved channel dedicated to kids’ programs Cartoon Network was founded in 1992 with great success for daytime programming but was lacking ratings for nighttime programs as most of their audience had early bed times. Despite having a majority audience of children, Cartoon Network came up with the idea to utilize the nighttime slots for their sizable adult audience and was one of the first to create adult animation featured on Adult Swim.
 
Some of the creative minds behind the concept of Adult Swim revealed the strange but true story of what seemed like a fluke resulted in much success over the last 20 years. According to the original team behind Adult Swim, it was a miracle that the concept program with a nearly nonexistent budget made it past the drawing board, let alone the growing popularity.
 
The initial Adult Swim programming line-up was limited with the first couple of low-budget animation series including “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” “Space Ghost Coast to Coast,” and “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” Adult Swim launched with only three programs and expanded to more shows that were one of the only networks dedicated to adult animation programs.


 The former executive vice president of Cartoon Network, MikaLazzo, later went on to become the creative director of Adult Swim as he was looking for a solution to a non-stop Hanna-Barbera rerun channel. Lazzo decided to recycle the animation from Hanna-Barbera’s 1960s “Space Ghost” cartoon into a program for adults and this was the inception of the concept for Adult Swim.
 
Lazzo went to the founding president of Cartoon Network,Betty Cohen, with a VHS tape of the first concept of “Space Ghost” that was rough around the edges (editing-wise) but Cohen immediately saw the potential.Cohen decided for the earliest funding, she allocated the money from the marketing budget, and in 1994 “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” was the first original series by Adult Swim.
 
With Cohen’s enthusiasm for the program, Lazzo went to Los Angeles to hire a reputable production house to make the pilot costing $100,000but when he saw the finished product, he hated it. Lazzo thought the animation production value was good, but he didn’t find it funny which defeated the purpose, so Cartoon Network brought it back to headquarters in Atlanta tore-edit the animated series with a budget of $25,000.
Michael Cahill was tasked with editing the animated series from an empty closet repurposed into an editing room. The first original Adult Swim series was a massive investment for Cartoon Network but provided a means to better advertising during nighttime slots.
 
One-third of the Cartoon Network audience at any given time consisted of adults that weren’t parents. This gave them the idea to try targeting adults and give them the means to sell late-night or overnight time periods for ads as no one wanted to advertise to kids after 10 p.m. which was an ongoing issue for the network.
 
Though Cartoon Network found a solution to an on going problem of filling nighttime ad slots, they were concerned they were crossing the line featuring programming for adults on a kid network. This is where the name came into play, the network work shopped names until landing on Adult Swim with the signature promotions featuring older adults at a swimming pool with a voice over by a lifeguard saying, “Sundays at 10, it’s all kids out of the pool for adult swim.”
 
This helped establish the programming switched from kids to adults and they started getting more nighttime advertisement deals. The foot age of the Adult Swim promo featured unattractive black and white shots of older people in a pool to have kids be disinterested if they were watching.
 

Following this simple experimental concept paid off with the results Cartoon Network desired by getting more advertisement deals for nighttime slots and has only grown in popularity over the years. Now Adult Swim is synonymous with adult animation featured on Cartoon Network for over 20years and counting. 

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