When Ted Turner bought Hanna-Barbera

Here's why the cartoon studio was such a hot commodity.

When Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer shuttered its in-house cartoon studio in 1957, animators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera took a gamble and bet on themselves. Newly axed from their studio head positions, Hanna and Barbera risked it all by opening their own cartoon studio. Their joint venture, H-B Enterprises, was one of the greatest American animating houses in history, producing countless iconic cartoon characters over several decades. As H-B Enterprises grew to be Hanna-Barbera, the studio put out hit after hit, such as The Huckleberry Hound Show, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, The Yogi Bear Show, Top Cat, Jonny Quest, Wacky Races, Scooby Doo, Where Are You!, and Smurfs, to name a few.

However, by the 1980s, the animation landscape had changed in many ways that were unfavorable to Hanna-Barbera. Studios like Filmation, Sunbow Entertainment, Marvel Productions, Rankin/Bass, DIC, and Saban Entertainment were able to crank out competition quickly and cheaply. Saturday morning was no longer HB's uncontested kingdom. Now, there were plenty of suitors to the throne, and a lot of them licensed pre-existing properties. Cartoons shifted from focusing on stories to focusing on commercialization; shows like Transformers and G.I. Joe served as advertisements for toys as much as showcases for unique characters with compelling arcs. As the influence of their empire shrank, so did Hanna and Barbera's control over the business they founded. Financial trouble followed as Hanna-Barbera was continuously acquired and sold off by various larger enterprises.

In 1991, Turner Broadcasting System outbid MCA and Hallmark Cards, Inc. to purchase Hanna-Barbera Studios and its library of content. Turner acquired Hanna-Barbera in an effort to stack the cards for his new Cartoon Network, the first television channel to air cartoons 24/7. Hanna-Barbera's back catalog of over 3,500 cartoon shorts was to be the primary focus of their new lineup, while still focusing on producing new cartoons to air on the network.

"We're trying to bring the funny farm back to Hanna-Barbera," executive producer Buzz Potamkin told the Arizona Republic in 1991. 

Turner's rapid expansion into children's programming saw them attempt to showcase the cartoons for a global audience. By the time of the acquisition, Cartoon Network was already available all across Europe and was on its way to Asia. Turner saw a path towards world domination, and knew the secret word was "Yabba-dabba-doo."

The lynchpin of the operation was Fred Seibert. Seibert's involvement was a coup for Turner; it was Fred Seibert who helped launch the incredibly successful "I want my MTV!" campaign before adding children's programming to his resume at Nickelodeon. Seibert, like Turner, knew that children's programming was the single fastest-growing sector in the entertainment market, and both moguls sought to capitalize. 

"We want visually driven humor that's universally understood," said Seibert. "Is a joke funny in French? That's the rub." 

Turner subverted expectations by keeping Hanna-Barbera's cartoon studio open, despite predictions that he'd gut the company to keep their library. Instead, the animation house was encouraged to seek new, innovative projects. The first of these, 2 Stupid Dogs and Swat Kats pre-empted a Hanna-Barbera feature-length live-action/cartoon movie starring Macaulay Culkin, titled The Pagemaster

"We're not out to find the next Fred Flintstone," said Larry Huber, another executive producer, "but the next great animators."

Watch The Flintstones on MeTV!

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WonderGeorge 12 months ago
Truly, this is a good thing - MeTV showing so much great animation from so many of the great studios, including Hanna-Barbera (Flintstones and Jetsons), but I'm just wishing and hoping that my Hanna-Barbera fave-rave will come to MeTV.

The animated series I elude to is, of course, the adventures of the all-girl rock band who wear "long tails and ears for hats"; that's right, Josie and the Pussycats!
JeffPaul76 12 months ago
It's too bad that MeTV put "The Wild, Wild, West" on Saturday mornings, instead of more cartoons. And I wish they would remove M*A*S*H permanently. I, along with many others, are SICK AND TIRED OF IT!!!! No MORE M*A*S*H!!
JeffPaul76 JeffPaul76 12 months ago
And it's too bad that Ted Turner is dead. Also, he was one of Jane Fonda's husbands, and she was one of his wives.
Bricat2001 JeffPaul76 12 months ago
i feel like they should remove the 3 stooges instead and put WWW on before svengoolie like they did a few years back
Hes still kicking. Just made the critical mistake of merging with Warner Brothers and losing his entire cable empire. Cable TV went downhill after he was forced out.
junk4papa57 JeffPaul76 12 months ago
WonderGeorge junk4papa57 11 months ago
Amen and Hallelujah, my friend - preach on!

FWIW, some of the people in the apartment building are tired of MeTV showing only the black-and-white episodes of "The Andy Griffith Show"; I say that if you're going to show TAGS, then show the ENTIRE series, not just the B&W episodes.
BrittReid 12 months ago
The best work of Hanna-Barbera was Jonny Quest in 1964.
Kramden62 BrittReid 11 months ago
For me, it was "Top Cat," which premiered in September 1961 (seven months before I was born). And my other all-time favorite is "Roman Holidays;" I was 10 when that debuted in September 1972.

Now I have *both* Hanna-Barbera favorites on DVD. (I also have the 1962 Colpix Records "Original TV Soundtracks" album of "Top Cat;" side 1 was "The Unscratchables," and side 2 had "Top Cat Falls in Love.")
Runeshaper 12 months ago
I remember The Pagemaster! It was FANTASTIC! Props to Ted Turner and of course, Hanna-Barbera (-:
cperrynaples 12 months ago
Today, WarnerDiscovery owns H-B, which they bought from Turner in the late '90's! Ironically, they also own the Tom & Jerry catalog as well! Many of these cartoons can be streamed on Max!
They took these off of Max and sold distribution rights to Tubi. Tubi is a free streaming service if you want to stream the cartoons right now..
Didn't know that! I have heard that shows like Westworld have been canceled and resold elsewhere!
Thanks for the heads-up, Charles - I'll be sure to look for this, and give it a try.
Ccook1956 12 months ago
One other correction: it's "Jonny Quest." No "h" in the name.

I would have loved to see Ruff & Reddy on home video. Didn't happen because the Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound DVDs tanked in sales. (That and music clearance issues.)
Andybandit 12 months ago
I didn't know Ted Turner bought Hanna-Barbera. I think once the 80's came. I didn't like the cartoons that were around. I would watch rerun of Looney Tunes, and Woody Woodpecker.
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justjeff 12 months ago
...and to think it all started for them with "Ruff 'n' Reddy"!
Bapa1 12 months ago
Don't forget Wally Gator, and the laurel & Hardy and Abbott & Costello cartoons.
cperrynaples 12 months ago
Fun Fact: Bud Abbott recorded the A&C toons! Lou Costello was dead already!
top_cat_james_1 12 months ago
"...H-B Enterprises, was one of the greatest American animating houses in history, producing countless iconic cartoon characters over nearly eight decades.

Um, no. 2001-1957=44 years. Not quite ready for their oak jubilee.
CharlesRocksClone 12 months ago
Like to see more H-B cartoons like Scooby Doo and Johnny Quest added to the Saturday and Sunday morning schedule along with The Flintstones and Jetsons. Just cutout an hour of Saved By The Bell.
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Mark Bricat2001 11 months ago
Yep, all those Filmation cartoons with the moral messages would probably be considered E/I...and that would also include Fat Albert!
Kramden62 Mark 11 months ago
But you can thank (sarcastically) NBC Universal for buying the Filmation catalogue and hoarding it.

The Filmation shows were last seen on Retro TV in 2016, then unceremoniously yanked once the NBC Universal deal went through. Now the only two animated shows Retro has on Saturday mornings are two De Patie-Freling shows from 1972, "The Houndcats" and "The Barkleys." But Retro keeps continuously running them because those two shows are presumably in the public domain. I stopped watching "Houndcats" and "Barkleys" once the pleasant memories of childhood began to fade and when I began to recite the dialogue verbatim.

But, I now have both "Houndcats" and "Barkleys" on DVD when I feel like watching them again.
Bricat2001 Kramden62 11 months ago
i bet that the filmation stuff is only on peacock now :P
Kramden62 Bricat2001 11 months ago
Haven't seen any Filmation shows on Peacock yet.
nemalki 12 months ago
Great article, but one clarification and correction you need to make:

It's SWAT KATS, not SWAT Kids.

And, of course, the animators that came out of Hanna-Barbera during the Turner years, including Genndy Tartakovsky, Craig McCracken, Butch Hartman, and Seth McFarlane, would become the future leaders of the animation industry for the next generation and beyond.
LoveMETV22 12 months ago
Guess we're fortunate to get a sampling of several Studio's libraries on MeTV, which is a good thing.
Mark LoveMETV22 11 months ago
I guess we are...now if they could swing deals with ViacomCBS for the Terrytoons cartoons and Universal for all the cartoons they acquired from DreamWorks/Classic Media (Bullwinkle, Underdog, various Filmation shows, etc.).
LoveMETV22 Mark 11 months ago
Your right Mark, It would be nice if they were able to acquire some of those other cartoon series. Perhaps run the current library weekdays (Bugs,Daffy, Etc....) and the others on the weekends
( Bullwinkle, Underdog, Etc....).
Bricat2001 Mark 11 months ago
i was thinking they could do a channel (similar to the older boomarang) where they just do cartoons 24/7
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