Judging by the nostalgia boom revolving around the cartoons and toys from our youth, one could be forgiven for thinking they’d time-traveled to an alternate reality version of the 1990s where nothing is quite as it seems. From GI Joe to Transformers to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or was it just Ninja Turtles?), the properties we grew up with are being stripmined, retrofitted and rebooted for a new era. One property that was a bit slower to get out of the throwback gate was Thundercats. After years of attempted film adaptations – both live and CG animated (thankfully aborted) – and being thoroughly outclassed by a Photoshop-filled fan film, Cartoon Network finally gave Lion-O and the ‘Cats new life in their animated series Thundercats last year. And sadly, the adventure is being cut short; they’ve pulled the plug.
The adventure-based series managed to get two seasons under its belt before the axe fell; The adventures of Lion-O and company was not on Cartoon Network’s list of returning shows in a recent press announcement. The show played closer in tone to Avatar: The Last Airbender than the campiness of the original, which was a point of contention for many diehard fans. Some decried it for its less-than-faithful look at the tale of the Thundercats, but many more praised it for bringing more complex storytelling, character development and morality tales to the genre. Seeing a teenage Lion-O being forced to deal with the loss of his kingdom and family, while also attempting to combat the ever-growing armies of Mumm-Ra by seeking out the Book of Omens, was an incredibly rich experience for the viewers who had been weaned on a steady diet of battles against a monster of the week to rescue Snarf from the clutches of Mumm-Ra’s ineffectual minions.
The question remains: if the show was so good, why is it being cancelled? What went wrong? Where were the droves of people who own t-shirts and belt buckles emblazoned with the iconic Thundercats symbol? Why didn’t the crossover audience from Avatar: The Last Airbender switch the channel to Cartoon Network? While Avatar was an undeniable success for Nickelodeon, the story of Aang becoming a massive hit came as a surprise for many people who didn’t see room in Nickelodeon’s stable for a more serious, adventure-based series. So, the question then becomes: has Cartoon Network’s demographic shifted?
One of the network’s biggest draws is its Adult Swim programming block, which brings in the coveted 18-34 stoned-on-your-couch-at-home demographic. All snarkiness aside, Adult Swim brings in surprisingly good numbers and has made the network a staple of late-night television. So, was Thundercats the victim of poor timeslotting? The show debuted with an hour-long episode on a Friday night at 8PM, then shifted to Friday nights at 8:30PM for subsequent episodes. Friday night can be something of a death sentence for television shows, as it’s traditionally a night where many go out, leaving their Nielsen boxes at home collecting dust. It could be argued that 8:30PM is too late for the after-school crowd and too early for the Adult Swim audience. In effect, Cartoon Network missed both the opportunity to hook younger viewers with a slick, Avatar-esque show that seems tailor-made for them and to cash in on the nostalgia factor of older viewers who are probably staring down a pint of beer at their local watering hole at 8:30PM on a Friday rather than sitting at home reliving the 1980s. Thundercats may very well have been stuck in television’s Bermuda Triangle, a time slot where many shows enter, but none ever leave. The shift to Saturday mornings may have come too late, especially for a serialized show where the new audience would not have yet caught up with the original episodes.
All of this leaves us with one final question: is there any hope to save the show? After Adult Swim’s April Fool’s Day prank, in which they revived the popular anime-centric programming block Toonami for a night, a #BringBackToonami campaign ignited the Twittersphere, giving Cartoon Network execs genuine pause for a moment and leading to the block’s revival on May 26th. Could we see a #BringBackSnarf in our future? A group of very attractive fans with that mission in mind have made a home on Tumblr. Save Thundercats features four young ladies in pseudo-cosplay of the team (including our own Chloe Dykstra as Lion-O) to bring awareness to the Thundercats’ plight. Organized by Marisha Ray, the Tumblr is trying to get people to sign this petition to get Warner Bros to reconsider and save programming she finds worthwhile. Will it be enough? Only time will tell, unless, of course, you have the Book of Omens.
What do you think went wrong and do you want to see the show return? Let us know in the comment section below.
Additional reporting by Dan Casey.