(Re)Animations Extended Play: USA's Cartoon Express



USA Channel's Cartoon Express was a mammoth block of cartoon programming geared towards a variety of shows and is partially responsible for my exposure to many of my favorites cartoons as a kid. To be perfectly honest, if it wasn't for Cartoon Express I may not have become the Strange Kid I am today.

Spanning almost a decade and a half (1980-1996), Cartoon Express was initially conceived as daytime filler for the relatively new station and primarily consisted of re-runs from the vast library of Hanna-Barbera 'toons such as Scooby-Doo, Jabberjaw, Pacman, The Flinstones and even lesser known fare like Shirt Tales (to name only a few). It was also the first major network animation block (though arguments could be made for ABC's Schoolhouse Rock! in the early 70s), predating Cartoon Network and even Nickelodeon in providing a structured schedule of animated entertainment.



Of course, once the station realized what they had and who their core audience was they began to air more action-oriented shows like The Real Ghostbusters, G.I. Joe and Transformers (this is where my viewing relationship with the Express first began). They also began to brand the Express with a more literal, cohesive look that including a cast of anthropomorphic characters including an express train, watches, musical dogs & cats, a station manager and Hudson the Polar Bear (see above), a conductor who acted as the host.

Another treat were the special "mini-toons" that would run between spots at times most memorably Monster Bash which featured an ensemble of goofy ghosts, creeps and monsters and In a Minute (see below), a 60 second profile of cool kids around the globe that had done something either record-breaking or insanely noteworthy.



Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective I suppose), Turner Broadcasting would end up acquiring all of the Hanna-Barbera properties in the early 90s (supposedly in preparation of their own Cartoon Network programming) which prompted USA to not only create new shows to fill the void but change their strategy bit and turn Cartoon Express into an early morning broadcast. While their original shows (Problem Child, see below) failed to capture an audience, USA did manage to find success with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Regardless, this would mark the ultimate decline of Cartoon Express as the 90s continued to see shows come and go (both the good and the bad) in rapid-fire succession. I can still remember getting excited every morning during my middle school years knowing that the Superfriends would be there to greet me and my bowl of Captain Crunch cereal every weekday morning.



Even at the end when the Express was set aside for the USA Action Extreme Team (Battletoads, Street Sharks, WildC.A.T.s, EXOsquad), I remained a loyal fan of the block. Granted this narrowed the market a bit in terms of audience since all the shows were now action-packed and "extreme," but it did grant me the opportunity to see shows like Mighty Max, Savage Dragon and Gargoyles. Alas, even the Extreme Team wasn't strong enough to hold up the cracking foundations and in 1996 USA Network's entire animated programming was exorcised from existence. Cartoon Express may be gone, but it will surely never be forgotten... at least by this strange kid and hopefully by none of you as well.

What was your favorite cartoon series from the Cartoon Express lineup? Drop a line in the comments section and share your memories of this legendary animation station.





6 comments:

  1. ladracul said...:

    I liked "Clue Club" (That leader looked a little like Mike Brady, IMO, and had the proto Kelly Bundy), "Jem" and "Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels". (Which should've been made into a live-action movie by now...)

  1. Strange Kid said...:

    I don't recall the "Clue Club" but "Jem" and "Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels" were definitely an interesting bunch, though I prefer the more old school Captain Caveman myself. What was "Clue Club" about?

  1. Paxton said...:

    Oh man, I've had a Cartoon Express article in my "Drafts" folder for at least 2 years.

    Clue Club was a Scooby Doo ripoff, but it was kind of fun. Other Cartoon Express favs of mine include The Roman Holidays, Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch and Space Stars which included the Herculoids and Teen Force.

  1. Strange Kid said...:

    @Paxton: I just wish that I could have found more info about it, like that awesome sketch of Hudson. I'm sure if someone dug a little deeper there's plenty of cool "trivia." That would make for an awesome book, too.

  1. ladracul said...:

    Oh, almost forgot, the counter-culture classic "Help! It's the Hair Bear Bunch!". Think about it, hippie bears (One with an afro) that ride around on an invisible motorcycle...tell me someone wasn't smoking something....

  1. Strange Kid said...:

    @LaDracul: Haha, The Hair Bear Bunch! Now you're talking. Hanna-Barbera had a butt-load of far out creations in their library, didn't they?

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