How Animated Shows Became a Standard in American Television

If someone asked what shows you watched the most as a kid, it’s likely the majority of your answers would be animated series. Animated TV series have been an important part of American childhoods since the ’60s and, now, it’s a part of our adulthood, too. The incredible thing is that animation hasn’t remained stagnant. New animation technology and evolving styles and storylines keep audiences hooked and eager for the next series.

Animated TV shows began drawing in young audiences in the 1960s. Fred Flintstone and his yabadabadoo! were quickly followed with The Jetsons and their robotic maid, Rosie. These two series are considered staples in the vintage library of animation, with Scooby-Doo joining them as the number one mystery series for kids in the 1970s.

The Jetsons only lasted one season with 24 episodes.

When networks realized just how popular animation was with their audience, more series and characters began appearing on Saturday mornings. But even that wasn’t enough. In the 1980s and 1990s, networks like Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and The Disney Channel began producing dozens of animated shows on weekdays.

Do you remember your favorite cartoons? You can probably start listing off five or six right now. For most millennials, it’s hard to forget the theme song of The Animaniacs or Rugrats. But even beyond Saturday morning cartoons with a bowl of Lucky Charms in your pajamas, animated TV shows have become an integral part of American pop culture.

Animated Characters Brought to Life

Los Angeles is one of the top ten most visited cities by foreign tourists in the U.S. Why?
Because entertainment and film are one of the defining characteristics of America.

But it isn’t just true for foreign visitors. Animation has sunk deep into our psyche as Americans.

Around 18 million people pass through Disneyland’s gates every year, and it’s not just because of Space Mountain or Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s because of animated characters. The same holds true for many other amusement parks across the country. From Mickey Mouse to Bugs Bunny, Bart Simpson to Batman, animated characters bring nostalgic wonder to every visitor, old and young.

Where would we be without The Simpsons?

In 2014, the BBC wrote about how The Simpsons have changed TV more than any other television show. It has been on Fox television for thirty years and celebrated its 713th episode last year. The cultural or political references in the show continue to appeal to audiences. Every episode seems relevant to the here and now while the nostalgia of past experiences continues to bring viewers back in.

And now, our on-demand culture means many of our favorite childhood shows are easily found online. With Disney+, we have access to every episode of Chip and Dale: Rescue Rangers or Duck Tales we could dream of. Oh, and by the way—Duck Tales is enjoying a resurgence with the new series. And it’s not the only one (hello, Pony Pals). These cartoons are so much a part of Americana, we can’t let them go.

Adults Still Want Animated Shows, Too.

With cosplay and merchandising at its peak with animated characters, some networks, FOX in particular, have kept up our desire for animated series with adult cartoons. Adult cartoons are “an essential vessel for pop culture references and our aging society.” We want the same hilarity and space to make fun of ourselves (and our politicians) that we had in shows like The Simpsons. Networks like FOX have their captive audiences figured out and are still producing shows like King of the Hill, Family Guy, and Futurama.

Based on the popularity of animated series, networks know they’re not just for kids. New animated series for adults combine high-brow and low-brow humor, drawing in audiences of all backgrounds. Streaming services are taking cartoons to a whole new level—creating their own original series, like Netflix’s hugely popular Bojack Horseman, which finished its sixth season in January 2020. Shows like Rick and Morty and Archer are available to stream (and binge!) on several sites (like Hulu and YouTube TV), a big step up from waiting week to week for a new episode of King of the Hill or Daria. It’s an element of American culture that is here to stay, and it will “continue to make history.”

Want to Make Your Own Animated Series?

Whether it’s old episodes of Gargoyles on Disney+ or the newest episode of The Simpsons, animated TV shows are here to stay. They’re staying relevant and, with online streaming, are becoming favorites for new generations. Popular animated TV shows will be around for a long time, cementing their role in American pop culture and an important part of our living room conversation for life.

Our Animation Program is a great place to start. See what it takes to write for a scripted animated series from writer/director, Michael Price.

We want to know, what are your favorite animated shows?