Struggling to regain its once enviable position in the industry, Hanna-Barbera was sold to Great American Broadcasting in 1987, and subsequently purchased by Turner Broadcasting in 1991 for $320 million.
- Company Origins in The 1950s
- Success in The 1960s
- Decline in The 1970s and 1980s
- Acquisition by Taft and Turner in The Late 1980s-90s
- Further Reading
From the beginning of their careers as animators at MGM studios in the 1940s, Joseph Barbera and William Hanna set out to unseat Walt Disney as the premiere producer of cartoons and children’s entertainment. In fact, the pair did manage to upstage Mickey Mouse with the creation of the cat and mouse cartoon characters, Tom and Jerry, in 1940. These short subject Tom and Jerry cartoons were to be nominated for 14 Academy Awards and would win seven Oscars, the first such achievement by a company other than Disney. Joe Barbera modeled Tom and Jerry cartoons on the chase scenes featured in the great silent films of Charles Chaplin and the Keystone Cops. The simple formula of Tom and Jerry was succeeded by greater animation challenges, such as the combination of live-action and animation pioneered by Hanna and Barbera in collaboration with dancer Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh in 1945 and again with swimming star Esther Williams in the 1952 MGM musical Dangerous When Wet. Despite the succes...
In 1959 Huckleberry Hound became the first animated television production to win an Emmy Award for children’s programming. According to Joseph Barbera, the Emmy represented something more to the animation team than had the seven Oscars won by Tom and Jerryin that Hanna and Barbera were now the producers of their works and collected the awards as pioneers in a new medium. Where Disney had turned up its nose at the budgets available in television, which permitted only $30 per foot of film rather than the $200 per foot to which movie animators were accustomed, Hanna-Barbera saw a niche where it could outflank Disney. In 1960 Hanna-Barbera launched the first half-hour cartoon show to air during primetime. The concept was to put an animated, half-hour situation comedy series in the same time slot normally occupied by live action shows. Popular sit-com writers were hired to draft the scripts in conjunction with writers, such as Barbera himself, who understood how to make cartoons work. Th...
By 1970 Hanna-Barbera stood virtually unchallenged in television cartoons. The company had secured the top three Saturday morning Nielsen ratings and controlled 80 percent of children’s television programming. Moreover, as an independent company, it was free to sell its shows to the highest bidding network. But this position was to erode for several reasons as the 1970s progressed. First, Hanna-Barbera was itself partly responsible for allowing cartoon quality to suffer. Limited animation began to look simply cheap to an increasingly sophisticated audience for cartoons. Moreover, competition also increased during the 1970s, with old theatrical cartoons finding a new home on Saturday mornings and with the attraction of imaginative techniques used by a new breed of animators who were more in touch with the young audience of the late 1970s. In the 1980s founders Hanna and Barbera, both now in their seventies, remained the driving force behind the company. By the end of the decade the c...
In 1987, the Great American Communications Group bought Hanna-Barbera, hiring 35 year-old David Kirschner as CEO and president of its new subsidiary. Great American president Carl Lindner took a great risk with Kirschner, who had little executive experience and had only produced two films, but after a decade in which it appeared that Hanna and Barbera had run out of ideas, youth seemed to be the remedy. Kirschner’s approach to Hanna-Barbera was to soft peddle any of its stock characters that he considered too dated, and hence unmarketable for licensing purposes, and to rejuvenate some of the older characters with new production values. In 1990 the company launched the animated feature Jetsons: The Movie, a project that had been under development before the Kirschner’s hiring and one that marked the last time Hanna and Barbera would work together as director and producer. Unfortunately, the film failed to gain a significant audience. And as a result of poor response to the marketing...
Barbera, Joseph, My Life in ’Toons, Atlanta: Turner Publishing Inc., 1994. Blow, Richard, “Little Shop of Horrors,” Business Month, November, 1990, pp. 50–56. “Faces Behind the Figures,” Forbes, May 1, 1971, p. 40. Goldman, Kevin, “Mammoth Marketers and Merchandisers are Leaving No Flintstones Unturned,” Wall Street Journal, February 22, 1994, p. B1. Gross, Amy, “Shaking up Hanna-Barbera,” Adweek’s Marketing Week, November, 26, 1990, p. 38. Haddad, Charles, “Hanna-Barbera Trying to Revive Creative Spark,” Atlanta Journal and Constitution, April 24, 1994, p. R1. Ono, Yumiko, “Focus on Japan,” Wall Street Journal, September 1, 1992, p. B1. Pearl, Daniel, “Turner to Start a Round-the-Clock Cartoon Network,” Wall Street Journal, February 19, 1992, p. B10. ——, “TNT Veteran Turns Talents to Cartoons,” Wall Street Journal, October 6, 1992, p. B1. —Donald C. McManus
In 1987, the Great American Communications Group bought Hanna-Barbera, hiring 35 year-old David Kirschner as CEO and president of its new subsidiary. Great American president Carl Lindner took a great risk with Kirschner, who had little executive experience and had only produced two films, but after a decade in which it appeared that Hanna and ...
Hanna-Barbera Superstars 10 was a series of 10 syndicated telefilms made from 1987 to 1988 in conjunction with Worldvision Enterprises, featuring some of the most popular Hanna-Barbera characters in feature-length adventures. All 10 films are available on DVD and VHS.
When I first got to Hanna-Barbera in 1992 the studio was nine years past it’s last big success and Ted Turner was on the verge of closing the place (producer David Kirschner [Pagemaster, Cats Don’t Dance] convinced Ted to keep the doors open, primarily to save production of his ultimately doomed features).
It should be noted that the cartoons were syndicated through a syndicator, Access Syndication. In 1992, Turner Entertainment, after buying Hanna-Barbera, started Cartoon Network. About this time, Turner began "dubbing" the cartoons, and removing the a.a.p. logo. Turner Entertainment was acquired by Time Warner in 1996.
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