Daily Variety Initiatives Note

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The following appeared in Daily Variety on March 25, 1996. The citation is Street, Rita (1996-03-25). H-B is showing its initiatives, literally. Daily Variety.

H-B is showing its initiatives, literally

Like many animation houses, Hanna-Barbera Cartoons has had its ups and downs over the years. Featuring a library of characters powerful enough to touch the lives of four generations, the company, founded in 1957 by veteran animators Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, has always been a major player in the animation world, and indeed, pioneered the production of Saturday morning TV cartoons in the '60s.

In terms of new product, however, Hanna-Barbera has experienced some lean years since then. But the '90s have seen H-B factor back into the production equation in a big way, using a two-pronged, character-driven strategy of returning some of its vintage properties in new formats and programs aimed at a new generation of viewers -- starting with this fall's "The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest," to be followed over the next two to three years by new versions of "The Jetsons" and "Scooby Doo"-- and the creation of a new group of characters through its unique "What a Cartoon" shorts program.

That strategy, combined with the broadcasting power of the Turner empire, which owns Hanna-Barbera, has made the studio busier than ever.

"We are a cartoon studio first and foremost, not a family studio or an animation studio," said H-B prexy Fred Seibert. "We have great competitors who pride themselves on being animation studios, and that's fine. For us, animation is only the technique by which we make cartoons."

However, when Seibert arrived in 1992, fresh from building MTV into a cable powerhouse, the studio was nowhere near the production mode in which it now finds itself. Having gone through several changes in ownership, H-B was in a state of flux and artists were exiting at a furious pace. In order to establish stability in both the business and creative departments, Seibert began a seven-year plan with a twofold mission: Give animators the creative freedom that had been missing since the industry's Golden Era to make new cartoons, and reintroduce characters of the past to the children of today.

In order to create new characters for the H-B library and entice artists back under his roof, Seibert and his team built the "What a Cartoon" program, a series of 45 shorts that air on the Turner networks, all of which are creator-driven by animators lured to the studio, rather than part of some specific executive mandate.

"Every great animator has told me that the one thing he or she pines for is work on a seven-minute cartoon," says Seibert. "It has been the basic building-block of our business -- the equivalent of the 2 1/2-minute pop song. And the greatest thing about it is that an animator can develop and oversee direction

and production of that film pretty much solo."

Seibert maintains that creating projects that emphasize freedom for animators also happens to be good for business. He determined that for the first time since the days when cartoons ran theatrically, there was money to be made in shorts. And, best of all, because of the company's marriage with sister Turner company the Cartoon Network, it now had a venue to air product new and old.

The network also became a convenient testing ground to see if any "What a Cartoon" projects had the legs to expand into full-blown cartoon series. Through various focus groups, including an 800 number and Cartoon Network's American Online bulletin board, Hanna-Barbera was able to determine that one particular short, animator Gennady Tartakovsky's "Dexter's Laboratory," had strong viewer support, and the company decided to break it out into its own series. "Dexter" will debut in April on all three Turner channels. A second short, "Cow and Chicken," also will be spun into a series in 1997, and the company expects others to follow suit in the future.

But fond memories remain the backbone of Seibert's seven-year equation. Most young and middle-age adults remember the H-B pantheon of characters. For example, Turner officials said recent demographic testing conducted by the company in 10 major cities showed that "The Flintstones" has a 98% to 100% awareness ratio. Tapping into this zeitgeist, Seibert began what would later be called "Turner-wide initiatives," a new program recognizing and reinventing top characters and top shows in new formats.

The first "initiative" out of the blocks is "The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest," which will appear as a new series on all Turner stations this fall. The company is currently in the midst of a yearlong promotion of the new "Quest."

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