The confirmation that Teletoon and Turner Broadcasting will be launching a new Canadian version of Cartoon Network and Adult Swim before the end of 2012 may seem to be too little too late for those who had desired the channel in its prime years, but tell that to the countless internet denizens ruminating about its launch. Even websites that have been on unexplained, extended hiatuses for months are getting in on the action.
My views on television have shifted considerably over the years. These days I’m firmly in the Bohemian camp of cord-cutters, going to any extent possible to boast about local, public, and internet-based media as an alternative to the dastardly cable and satellite television providers. Despite this, I can’t deny the significance of Cartoon Network’s long-awaited introduction in Canada. After all, I am the one who brazenly decorated his website with sensationalist banners decrying the station’s effective “ban” in this country back in my more ravenous years when pre-emptively jeopardizing potential career paths wasn’t as much of a concern.
Having the CN name slapped on what is almost certainly Teletoon’s “Kapow!” television license likely won’t change very much on a practical level, but much like the frenzy that surrounded TMN/Movie Central rebranding one of their stations as “HBO Canada” a few years back, you can’t underestimate the influence that branding has. As with Nickelodeon Canada, it is not going to be the exact same channel as in the US, but instead will simply be the new primary home for CN and Adult Swim original programming, most of which has vanished from Canadian airwaves over the last year. It may seem a bit ridiculous to make a big deal over any kind of specialty channel launching when our already over-saturated cable and satellite services will likely reach total demise before the end of the decade. But whenever that finally happens, you can be sure that CN Canada will be one of the few premium digital stations left standing amid the fiery ruins of television Ragnarök.
One of the biggest factors fuelling northern demand for CN has been mixed feelings over Teletoon, which remains something of an oddity as far as Canadian specialty broadcasters go. As most of its contemporary stations transform into nothing more than 1:1 clones of their American counterparts, Teletoon has been steadfast in maintaining its own unique identity. After all, animation is a medium and not a genre, so it makes sense that the station would conform to the tone and sensibilities set by its own productions. In some ways it has been admirable that they’ve been able to fend off an American brand that has infiltrated every major television market in the world over the past fifteen years for so long; in other ways, it is stubborn and frustrating given that high quality programming from other countries doesn’t tend to fit into their mould and tends to get sidelined. Adventure Time and Regular Show (both set to air on CN Canada) may be AWOL, but it’s still been for the better with their daytime programming, which has established its own voice through original shows that have become sought after by many US viewers, ironically enough. It’s definitely been for the worse with their late night programming, which has always been a disappointment to some degree, even when it’s not being compared to the revolutionary juggernaut that is Adult Swim.
As much of a unique entity as daytime Cartoon Network is, Adult Swim is truly a phenomenon that cannot be replicated. Although it was conceived simply as a block for adult-oriented animation, it has grown into a full-blown transgressive response to ordinary western television programming. Series’ tend to be short, have low episode counts, run on shoe-string budgets, and are woven together by interstitial bumpers which create a snarky dialogue with the audience. It is a triumph of the creative freedom given to people like Mike Lazzo and Kim Manning to operate things the way they see fit, and its very nature is directly linked to the individuals who developed it and continue to run it to this day. Nothing like Adult Swim exists anywhere else in the world, and the idea that a micromanaged station like Teletoon could create even an adequate facsimile on their own network is absurd, no matter how hard they’ve tried. It will be interesting to see if things change now that the actual brand is being adapted.
I’ve often been fascinated and puzzled by the mentality that drives Canadian audiences to American branding, even when the content is exactly the same. So much, in fact, that I wrote a thesis on it. It seems that the tapestry created by things like scheduling, presentation, station bugs, bumpers, and even commercials are just as valuable to many people as the actual content itself, and in almost all cases the American presentation will be the most desirable. The fact that this mentality can be so widely observed has always frustrated me to a degree, but in the case of Adult Swim I have to completely abide with it. It is one of the most definitive examples of television programming being inextricably linked to its original context that you will find anywhere. While it’s great in that it gives Adult Swim a unique, subversive identity, it has also been virtually impossible for it to gain a true foothold anywhere outside of the States. In an age where even US stations like TV Land can’t seem to stop themselves from begging Betty White to headline their own half-baked properties in order to get a piece of that sweet, sweet international distribution pie, exportation has never worked for Adult Swim programming. In fact, the entire block seems to work in total opposition to any kind of regional licensing.
The UK version of TCM2 recently launched their own version of Adult Swim, which is attempt number three to get the brand off the ground over there. Four, if you count CNX. It is almost certainly doomed to the same fate as its predecessors. Hard as many may try to imitate the original presentation, most of the programming simply just doesn’t work out of context. Perfect Hair Forever has little value if you hadn’t witnessed the pilot being debuted as a joke in place of the hotly anticipated Squidbillies. The episode of Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job in which Tommy Wiseau, director of The Room, mock directs an episode doesn’t have its full impact unless you witness the network’s actual airing of his magnum opus the following April Fool’s Day. I can’t even begin to articulate how experimental programming like Off The Air works on Adult Swim, let alone why it can’t work anywhere else. For the most part, Adult Swim programming has seen little success internationally. There have been some exceptions like Robot Chicken and The Venture Bros. which have found audiences in Canada, but even then Teletoon has yet to debut the fourth season of the latter. The fact that Adult Swim seems to be stingy about making episodes available and sending the correct tapes to other broadcasters doesn’t help, either. (Judging by how the broadcast played out, Teletoon apparently didn’t receive episode 2 of Frisky Dingo until well into the show’s second run.)
So that brings us to the biggest question: will a fully-branded Canadian version of Adult Swim actually work? After AS programs have crashed, burned, and utterly baffled viewers as they’ve been scattered across Teletoon, Comedy Network, and G4, will they finally hold their own once they’ve been thrown into the same stew pot? It’s nice to think so, but it may still not be enough. A full simulcast of the US service seems to be the only real solution, given how difficult their formula is to mimic, but that’s a bit of an unreasonable expectation. I’m sure there are many people at Teletoon who are more than capable of producing cards and bumpers of equal quality to those seen on the US station, but whether or not they’d be able to establish a voice and underlying theme for the station that could be considered an appropriate adaptation of the original is a bit more questionable. Given the company’s micromanaging nature, I have my doubts that a Canadian version of Adult Swim can become fully realized. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for the best in that department, but it seems unavoidable that we’ll wind up with a service that seems hollow compared to its US counterpart.
And what will become of Adult Swim Video? Teletoon has made only minimal efforts to stream programming online. In this age of geoblocking and carving up the internet into regions, would some kind of Canadian advertising deal that would simply allow us to access the US service be too much to ask? If the content between the two stations is the same, surely the American Adult Swim Video service will have an olive branch they’d be willing to extend over to Canadian audiences. Unfortunately, that’s probably not how it works at all, and Turner would much rather make money off of selling the digital rights for each program off to Teletoon, never to be utilized, than actually generate advertising revenue from Canadian traffic. Too bad.
Whether or not the new station will carry anime is another big elephant in the room. Frankly, I don’t really care whether or not they go out of their way to acquire or air any new shows coming out of Japan. Since Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood was sucked into the television purgatory that is Superchannel, there really isn’t much new content to get riled up about. In the States, AS has pretty much reverted to airing one new series a year, and that’s really more than enough for them. I can only think of about three or four anime series’ from the past two years that would even be worth the effort of getting on North American television, not counting titles that would just be blatantly easy sells like Highschool of the Dead. I do hope that tried and tested Adult Swim staples like The Big O (which has never aired here) and Cowboy Bebop (which probably deserves a second chance) turn up on the network at some point. After all, they are as intrinsic to the brand as many of their original productions. What would be really great, though, is if FLCL and Neon Genesis Evangelion are finally given a chance to grace Canadian airwaves. Canada still appears to be the only English-speaking country in the world where the Evangelion series has not aired on television, and that seriously needs to be rectified.
I’m sure absolutely everything I’ve said has been extensively pondered over by the relevant parties. After all, launching Cartoon Network in Canada is no small deal, and I don’t expect that the fine details are going to be taken lightly. There is much to be skeptical about, but with Canadian television providers suffocating themselves with an overabundance of useless channels and programming tiers that absolutely nobody wants or needs, maybe this could be one last hurrah for old media in this country. Imagine that: people who love cartoons getting the last laugh.