The First Cartoon Made for Television

by Noell Wolfgram Evans

Generations have enjoyed the indescribable feeling of curling up with a bowl of cereal on a Saturday morning and watching the antics of multicolored characters. Cartoons are, in a way, our cultural fairytales and we owe the experience with which we share them to a real estate salesman.

Alex Anderson was the nephew of cartoon producer Paul Terry (Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle). Anderson was looking to break into the Animation business just as television was breaking into the culture. He looked at television and saw a perfect outlet for his ideas. Of course he turned to his Uncle for help but Paul Terry wasn’t interested (he felt television would hurt his reputation). Instead he encouraged Anderson to take his idea elsewhere.

Around this same time, Jay Ward was making a name for himself in the California real estate business. He was successful, but like many, he dreamed of showbiz. It was something his old college roommate Alex Anderson knew. And was counting on.

Anderson went to Ward and shared his desire to create original animated programming for television. Ward was ecstatic at getting a chance to get into entertainment and he agreed immediately to back the venture and so in 1948 they formed Television Arts Productions, Inc (T.A.P.). Anderson had some program ideas, Ward added to them and soon they had a demo reel containing three potential series: Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties, Hemhock Jones and Crusader Rabbit.

It was NBC who decided to take the gamble on this idea and ordered 130, 5-minute episodes of Crusader Rabbit. Each episode was to be a small part of a larger story. The hope was that this would keep an audience engaged and eventually hooked into the series. Each story played out over 15, 20 or 25 episodes and dealt with Crusader (voiced by Lucille Bliss) and Rags (voiced by Vern Louden) in adventures like helping tigers in India whose stripes were being stolen to make India Ink, fighting a leprechaun hating giant and helping Texas jackrabbits fight deportation to the North Pole. The stories were told with simple animation, charm, wit and quick timing.

After two years of development, sales and production Crusader Rabbit made television history on August 1, 1950 at 6pm on KNBH in Los Angeles when it became the first cartoon expressly made for television to be broadcast. The series was a fast and wide success. One that forced other producers and television stations to recognize animation as a viable programming option.

 

 

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