Cartoon Network Studios is not dead, says Warner Bros- but his future is uncertain

Warner Bros. Animation and Cartoon Network Studios will be merged under one division, but brands will remain distinct.

On Wednesday, Warner Bros. TV Group laid off 82 employees across scripted, unscripted, and animation divisions. The company will leave 43 of the currently vacant positions empty. While the three Warner Bros. brands Animation (WBA), Cartoon Network Studios (CNS), and Hanna-Barbera Studios Europe will remain distinct, with the development and production teams of WBA and CNS being combined under one division.

According to Deadline, Warner Bros. has also backed away from its initial decision to close the Warner Bros. Television Workshop, which was designed to foster new talent and provide a channel that many in the animation industry have cited as invaluable in helping marginalized creators break into the highly competitive field. The workshop will move to Discovery’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion unit.

Cartoon Network Studios isn’t dead, says Warner Bros

These changes at Cartoon Network Studios come at a time when some of its cartoons are already becoming more difficult to watch and watch. The cuts also come on the heels of AT&T’s acquisition of Warner Media’s Discovery. HBO Max and Discovery Plus are set to become one streaming service in 2023. After the takeover in April, CEO David Zaslav, who previously ran Discovery, pledged to cut $3 billion from the company and took an aggressive approach to achieve that goal.

cartoon Network Studios

Zaslav fulfilled his promise, especially in the field of genre entertainment. In August, Discovery laid off 14% of HBO Max employees and canceled the Batgirl movie. Later that month, beloved cartoons were yanked from HBO Max, blinding the cartoonists. Dozens of episodes of Sesame Street have been pulled from the streaming platform, and other shows have been removed entirely — including fan favorite OK K.O.! – Let’s Be Heroes, as well as Infinity Train, which ran for four seasons and is no longer on Cartoon Network. (Thankfully, it can still be found on other streaming services.) Other shows like Summer Camp Island and Victor and Valentino still air on Cartoon Network, even if you can’t find them on the HBO streaming service.

According to Variety, “output will remain the same” after the consolidation of WNA and CNS — but the reaction from animation industry residents and scholars was not so optimistic. Cartoon Brew declared the studio “gone”, inspiring a Cartoon Network employee to reject it. Polygon spoke with a Warner Bros. representative who said that CNS is not going away and that it still has many projects in development. The real question is how this joint division will set its priorities, which more or less depends on what viewers watch and what the company deems profitable.

For the most part, going through the back catalog of each animation studio, the differences between the two have deepened over the years – a difference that many of us who grew up watching and obsessing over Cartoon Network’s various cartoon blocks could easily identify, even before the consolidation and layoffs. It’s hard to know how the two studios will come together, especially after these layoffs left so many talented employees out of a job.

Warner Bros. Animation (WBA) produced some real gems especially in the 1950s and 1960s, including Tom & Jerry, Wile E. Coyote, and the Road Runner, The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, and of course Looney Tunes. But over the years, WBA has worked its way into this familiar formula, more or less remaking and exaggerating its classic IPs and airing them on Cartoon Network. As a kid, I tuned in to watch versions of Scooby-Doo, Looney Tunes, and Tom & Jerry. As an adult, I can still watch these identical characters – and not just through reruns.

While the Warner Bros. imprint Animation acts as a symbol of the past, Cartoon Network Studios has produced significant and groundbreaking shows over time that have also stood the test of time. Yes, there are reboots, especially the incredibly popular Cartoon Network series from the late 90s and early 2000s, like the Powerpuff Girls and the numerous iterations of Ben 10.

But there are also storms and plenty of paradigm-shifting programming from shows that solidified an all-girl action team (the Powerpuff Girls, of course), to anime-inspired shows like Samurai Jack. And that’s not to mention Cartoon Network’s Toonami block, which introduced many children in the US to anime before it caught on with Western audiences – and which aired Pokémon for many years.

cartoon Network Studios

Cartoon Network Studios (CNS) was also one of the few major animation studios to spotlight queer characters—especially sapphic romances—in 2010, laying the groundwork for other animated shows. Adventure Time, which debuted in 2010 and ran for 10 seasons, was only recently able to pay off the “Bubble” romance that sparked between Princess Bubblegum and Marceline; the two met flirtatiously in 2011’s “Go With Me.” Princess Bubblegum later sleeps in Marceline’s shirt, and the show’s 2018 finale seals the deal with a kiss. 2013’s Steven Universe would become one of the most popular and influential queer cartoons of today, with a cast of non-binary Crystal Gems, numerous gay characters, and a wonderful wedding episode.

The steady trickle of LGBTQ+ animated television that can now be found across streaming services owes so much to these titans of Cartoon Network Studio. Velma from Warner Bros is a lesbian! This would have been unthinkable years ago, although Hayley Kiyoko (dubbed “Lesbian Jesus” by her fans) portrayed her in TV movies that aired in 2009 and 2010.

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Although Cartoon Network Studios (CNS) still exists after this consolidation, the layoffs still have very real consequences. According to The Daily Beast, a large number of HBO Max executives who were let go in August were people of color. Former employees of Warner Bros. speculated to The Daily Beast at the time that this was due to an ideological shift, with content aimed at a less diverse and more “Middle American” audience.

Now we’re seeing changes at the animation studio known for its progressive programming. How the WBA and Cartoon Network Studios (CNS) will work together is an open question — as is whether memorable, envelope-pushing cartoons will remain a priority at a conglomerate with a philosophy built around reality entertainment.

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