ThunderCats on Cartoon Network
The re-broadcasting of ThunderCats on Cartoon Network in the late 90s was more than just a nostalgia trip for children who grew up in the 80s — it was a spark that started one of the most popular afternoon animation blocks of all time. That may seem a bit exaggerated, but the truth is, “Toonami” was one of Cartoon Network’s rare and successful attempts at renewing interest in older, classic cartoons from the 1980s and later evolved into an anime craze that took the United States by storm.
On March 17, 1997 Cartoon Network launched a weekday afternoon block that pretty much pushed the network into a whole new level of super hero action shows. The block would start everyday at 4PM and would include CGI segments of Moltar (Space Ghost fame), from his space station, controlling the programming being shown for the next two hours.
The animation block would be the center stage for ThunderCats, one of many popular cartoons from the 80s. The 4PM time slot was determined as important for the network for so many reasons — for one thing, 4PM was when kids came home from school to sit down in front of the television. In addition, every show that had taken that particular time slot eventually became successful. ThunderCats had the honor and privilege of not only being the first show to take the coveted 4PM slot, but it would also start a nostalgia fever, something that can still be seen today.
It was evident with the first run of ThunderCats, as well as the numerous returns to the block, the network was getting good, if not great ratings for the classic show. The addition of the show to “Toonami” was also seen as a test to see if the older, more expensive shows could still bring in the children. After the ThunderCats ended its first run on “Toonami,” other high profile shows claimed that time slot as well as the 5PM timeslot, including Sailor Moon, Tenchi, and of course, Dragonball Z.
It would be a lie to say that ThunderCats had little to do with the success “Toonami” has encountered since its initial broadcast. The block has evolved, from nostalgia to anime craze, and everything in between. Although “Toonami” now airs only on Saturday nights, it is still considered as a pivotal point in CN’s 10+ years on air.
Most people will remember “Toonami” for bringing the entire DragonBall Z series to the U.S., or for allowing the Sailor Moon series (in one form or another) to continue airing in the states. The block is definitely one of the reasons anime went mainstream in the United States, as well as around the world. To be fair, ThunderCats was animated by a Japanese animation studio, but had an American style of storytelling, so in a way, it probably started the anime craze even back in the 1980s.
However let’s not overlook what started the block and helped continue the success that the network has been able to maintain until today. ThunderCats not only showed that it could bring in ratings, but it helped Cartoon Network bring in other 80s cartoons such as Sailor Moon, Voltron, Robotech, Gundam and Ronin Warriors. However for me, as well as thousands of other 80s kids out there, “Toonami” and ThunderCats just brought a smile to our faces, helping relive our own childhood.
For all you “Toonami” buffs, we have some awesome downloads all relating to when the ThunderCats were still part of the animation block party! Check out the Commercial Bumpers section for more information.