By Kevin McCorry and Jon Cooke
The Warner Brothers cartoons have been shown on television for more than four decades! Their success on the small screen has confounded their creators, who only intended for them to be exhibited in theatres within a year of production.
While it is true that some of the cartoons have outdated themselves with reference to forgotten Hollywood celebrities, films, or early television series, most have a timeless quality that has appealed to the comedic and visual sensibilities of more than four generations of viewers.
There are very few people who do not know about The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour or The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show. Saturday morning did become synonymous with the animated cartoon, and it was the Saturday morning Warner Brothers cartoon series that largely established this connection between the sixth morning of the week and cartoon mayhem.
Before 1960 and the prime-time Bugs Bunny Show, the only Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies to appear on television were those of the black-and-white variety, produced before July, 1948. The "mature" era of the Warner Brothers cartoon characters was not represented on television until The Bugs Bunny Show, but thereafter, the post-1948 cartoon shorts have enjoyed constant exposure on the broadcast airwaves.
From 1960 to the late 1990s, the Warner Brothers cartoons were distributed for U.S. television in four packages. The primary package, consisting usually of the most popular post-1948 cartoon shorts, was allocated to one or some of the traditional three American television networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, for weekly, Saturday broadcast, hence The Road Runner Show, The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour, The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show, etc.. A secondary package of quite highly regarded post-1948 cartoons, often assembled into series of half-hour compilations (e.g. Merrie Melodies: Starring Bugs Bunny and Friends and That's Warner Bros.!), was syndicated, released for weekday transmission on individual television stations. The remainder of the post-1948 cartoons were randomly circulated to television stations to air in whatever order that those stations chose. Finally, the pre-1948 cartoon shorts, having been sold by Warner Brothers to Associated Artists Productions in the 1950s, were also syndicated and often shown with Universal's Woody Woodpecker cartoons and introduced by local television personalities, and in the 1980s, they were purchased by media mogul Ted Turner for broadcast on Turner's cable television stations, TNT, TBS, and Cartoon Network.
Before 1997, there was virtually no overlap in these four distribution packages. When a cartoon was available in one post-1948 package, it could not be included in another. However, the post-1948 packages were changed somewhat at two-to-four-year intervals, with cartoons being shuffled to appear in different capacities. The shuffling was minimal through the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, with the same package of cartoon shorts seen year after year after year on Saturday morning and only slight modification to the list of cartoons that were offered on the network (ABC, CBS, NBC) running the Saturday morning television show. However, in 1990, the selection of cartoons offered at that time on ABC was altered significantly, as were the cartoons in the other post-1948 packages, Merrie Melodies: Starring Bugs Bunny and Friends and Looney Tunes On Nickelodeon.
Until YTV's miraculous acquiring of 233 Warner Brothers cartoon shorts in 1997 for uncut broadcast, English-speaking Canadian viewers were dependent upon the U.S. distribution formula for episodes of the Saturday morning American network television series or for the weekday compilations like Merrie Melodies: Starring Bugs Bunny and Friends. As a result, for English-speaking Canadians without satellite television dishes to receive Looney Tunes On Nickelodeon, several Warner Brothers cartoons were not experienced on television in English, and because YTV did not show them, they may continue not to be experienced. "Boyhood Daze", "China Jones", "Wild About Hurry", "Hip- Hip- Hurry!", "Unnatural History", "Swallow the Leader", "Now Hear This", and others are virtually unknown to Canadian television viewers without access to Nickelodeon.
In 1997, a specialty cable television animated cartoon channel, Teletoon, began transmission across Canada, offering The Road Runner Show and, starting in 2002, The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show, though the former was in its 1970s incarnation only, with one episode quickly dropped from the rotation, and the latter was reassembled into 26 compilations of cartoons included in the 1989-90 and 1990-1 seasons. Both The Road Runner Show and Bugs Bunny & Tweety were exported to Teletoon Retro, which commenced broadcasting in 2007 as an adjunct to Teletoon, and were joined there by The Porky Pig Show, which consisted only of cartoon shorts, i.e. it having no opening or closing credits to The Porky Pig Show's 1964-7 incarnation.
South of the U.S./Canadian border, 1997 saw a Warner Brothers and Turner Entertainment merger that allowed for Warner Brothers' and Turner Entertainment's cartoon packages to intersect, and pre- and post-1948 cartoons aired together on television networks/stations owned by Warner Brothers and Ted Turner. Turner Entertainment's Cartoon Network then sought to acquire exclusive broadcast rights to all of the Warner Brothers animated cartoon canon, Nickelodeon and ABC obliged accordingly, and in 2000, Cartoon Network became the only broadcaster of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies in the United States.
As time passed, however, Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies showings on Cartoon Network became less and less frequent, in that Cartoon Network was interested more in promoting its own "in-house", current, original animated cartoon television programs. By mid-2004, classic Warner Brothers cartoons were reduced on Cartoon Network to a mere half-hour per week, at 7:30 A.M. Atlantic Time on Saturday mornings. The final Looney Tune and Merrie Melodie broadcast on Cartoon Network was on October 3, 2004. The Warner Brothers cartoon shorts were then moved to the Boomerang television channel, a somewhat obscure appendage of Cartoon Network, on which they ran until 2005.
Cartoon Network/Boomerang's rights to televise the Warner-Brothers-owned post-1948 Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoon package expired at the end of 2005, and no new broadcast agreement was reached between Cartoon Network and Warner Brothers for the post-1948 cartoons. The Ted-Turner-owned pre-1948 cartoons were shown for a few months, but even those are no longer being shown on Boomerang. Now, the pre-1948 cartoons only appear once in awhile as time filler on the Turner Classic Movies specialty cable television channel.
Below are articles and in most cases episode guides to nearly every television show to feature the Warner Brothers cartoons.