Happy New Year, everyone! Let’s start 2023 with a big ol’ hot take:
Yeah, yeah, I know. hear us out. We used to be like you. Years ago, whenever the subject of Cartoon Network daring to air live-action would come up, our usual reaction was….
There was a time when we regarded the very thought of CN airing live-action programming to be akin to painting a moustache on the Mona Lina, but over time we’ve either mellowed with age or have gotten even more insane, whatever you want to call it, but we’re not 100% opposed to the idea anymore.
“But guys…CARTOON Network!” I hear you say, and yes, I agree. Cartoon Network initially pledged to air “cartoons and nothing but cartoons, all day, every day, until the end of time”, I get it, but here’s the thing: animated shows are expensive and take time to produce; unless your parent company has a HUGE backlog of cartoons to fall back on, they’d need something to keep viewers occupied while the new animated shows are being made, and these days CN like most networks prefers to run their older cartoons online as opposed to on the main TV channel. The reason that Nickelodeon and Disney Channel rely so heavily on live-action kidcoms (aside from the obvious fact that they’re popular with kids) is because live-action shows are cheaper and take less time to produce: Disney Channel and Nick can whip out 2 or 3 episodes of Lizzie McGuire or Bunk’d or Henry Danger or Game Shakers in the time it takes to produce 1 episode of Phineas & Ferb or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. So there’s a practical reason to employ some live-action programming, even on animation channel.
Now it’s usually at this point that someone will inevitably point to Cartoon Network’s notorious flop programming block CN Real, which we covered here a while back in Keepin’ It Real…Real Bad!. CN Real was a turkey, no one’s denying that, but as Jason (Goldstar) mentioned in that article, the reason why the CN Real block failed wasn’t because they dared to air live-action, it was because they were airing the wrong kind of live-action. What’s the first word in this channel’s name?
There ya go.
If Cartoon Network were to ever start incorporating live-action shows and movies into their schedules, certain requirements need to be met. Live-action on CN could work, provided it’s the right kind of live-action. Reality shows? No. Those don’t gel with cartoon lovers, least of all kids; generally speaking, the only non-scripted shows that kids tend to dig are game shows. If a CN show isn’t going to be a cartoon, then it should at least be “toon adjacent”. Some examples of acceptable live-action for CN would be:
This kind of live-action could work, provided that the animation to live-action ratio stays at something like 70:30 or 60:40 in favor of the cartoons. It may or may not every happen, but if Cartoon Network is ever to open itself up to the possibility of live-action again, they should never forget their channel’s, name, history, theme and roots. If they really ever have to air live-action, it should be animated live-action.
4 thoughts on “Unpopular Opinions/That’s Warner Brothers!: Live-Action on Cartoon Network”
RIP Thuy Trang and Jason David Frank, BTW.
I also think any and all CN live-action shows should be “cartoony”, but I’m having it be more cartoon adjacent. I’m not exactly opposed to CN live-action in this manner, for mainly the reasons you mentioned- cost and production efficiency. A while back, I made up six live-action show ideas… three of which are unscripted, which you said kids and cartoon fans weren’t a fan of. Oh well. Hey, they do tie in heavily to cartoons.
Through My Eyes – Teen sitcom. Out of Jimmy’s Head meets Lizzie McGuire. A teenage girl needs glasses, but is prescribed a special “MAGIC” pair of glasses that lets her see cartoon characters, both preexisting (Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck) and made for the show (an crudely drawn animated version of the lead, who is the main “animated” character). Now she has to both face the hassles of both everyday life and keeping her gift a secret from those who wish to locate and steal her glasses (namely talentless corporate executives). Luckily, her new cartoon friends help her stay one step ahead- when they’re not driving her insane!
Game On – Action dramedy. Basically a live-action Code Lyoko- every week, a couple of teenagers have to go into a (CGI) virtual game world in order to stop the (CGI) monsters from leaking into the real world!
Animation Toonight – Late night talk show parody. An inverse Space Ghost Coast to Coast- instead of the animated Space Ghost interviewing real celebrities, it’s a live action host interviewing cartoon characters! (There are also interviews with real celebrities tied with current animated shows or movies, and both live action and animated skits,)
Ready, Set, Toon! – Game show. Nickelodeon’s Tooned In meets Double Dare- cartoon based trivia questions mixed with physical challenges and wacky obstacle courses based on scenes or setting from a famous or notable cartoon.
Cartoon Science – Mythbusters, but focusing specifically on scenes from animation. Example: What would really happen if you got hit on the head with an anvil? There are also little fun facts that bookend commercial breaks- for example, a coyote can actually run faster than a road runner!
Behind the Toons – A documentary series going behind the scenes on animated shows and movies. Think How It’s Made or Nickelodeon’s Standby Lights Camera Action, but for cartoons.
I’m also thinking that on the last week of every month, this new CN Real block would have a movie night. Essentially, play a live action movie that’s either based on a cartoon (Scooby-Doo 2002, The Flintstones, Ben 10 Race Against Time), part animated (Roger Rabbit, Space Jam, or even the Wimpy Kid movies), or ties into existing cartoons (either airing on CN or are really popular) or even comics (the Tim Burton Batman or Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies, or the MCU movies TBS has the rights to). Occasionally, we’d make an exception for movies that don’t necessarily tie into these, but are generally cartoony otherwise (The Mask is a great example, while the Home Alone movies would be good around the holidays). Once in a blue moon, we air a somewhat less-than-cartoony film aimed for the family (not talking Marley and Me or anything like that, I’m talking Wizard of Oz or the Star Wars movies).
And yes, this CN Real block would only air once a week (at least at first, and even if the shows do expand to weekdays, they will definitely NOT outnumber the legit cartoons). I’m thinking Wednesday nights. Closest exception is the monthly live-action movie occasionally being encored or otherwise aired on Sunday nights as part of a movie block (which is otherwise almost entirely animated).
6 PM: Ready, Set, Toon!
6:30 PM: Cartoon Science
7 PM: Through My Eyes
7:30 PM: Game On
8 PM (because CN should at least keep the 8 PM hour full time): Animation Toonight
8:30 PM: Behind the Toons
Those are all better ideas than the CNReal shows.
Yeah. I actually put some thought into them instead of just copying reality shows with no clue of how they would fit in to the brand.