So I thought I'd post about this here for lack of any other sort of blogging outlet that would make a lick of sense for it. Don't go thinking I'm going to update this thing regularly or anything now.
I occasionally write list articles for Topless Robot, a geek cult site run under the auspices of the Village Voice and edited by Rob Bricken. When I manage to complete a list, it tends to do fairly well. My latest topic was awful Hanna-Barbera cartoons, since (as a child with cable in the 80s) I grew up watching vast amounts of the company's output in rerun. I can't imagine any kid growing up now, or even anybody around now in their 20s, would have had a similar experience. I don't think any generation of kids will anytime soon.
In the 90s, cable networks became much less reliant on rerun material to fill out kidvid blocks and syndication slowly died out. Cable networks began to produce their own major hit cartoons, Cartoon Network with the first wave of Cartoon Cartoons and Nickelodeon with the Nicktoons block. In due course, The Disney Channel went to basic cable and joined in the high-quality original programming festival with Kim Possible. Now we've got a fourth kids' programming channel in the Hub, which is still heavy on the reruns but is already cranking out credible programs like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and Transformers Prime. Kids now can choose from a vast array of new cartoons to watch, made in a variety of styles and genres, and at a fairly high average level of quality. Kids today got Class of 3000 where my generation got Hammerman, to make the starkest comparison possible.
In this much more competitive environment, truly wretched cartoons tend not to survive their first airing, let alone linger in reruns for decades after their initial cancellation. Back in the 80s, though, a kid with cable could grow up on a diet of cartoons so bad that they make Johnny Test look like a paragon of competence and good taste. Due to Hanna-Barbera's sheer prolific output, it was easy to sell cable networks (especially once Turner bought HB) on filling up their kid slots with nothing but miscellaneous Hanna-Barbera reruns. Utter dreck like Galaxy Goof-Ups ended up perpetually rubbing shoulders with more worthy reruns like the original Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear shorts. Sometimes you'd have programs featuring the same characters shoved into the same time slots, so one day you might something fun like Yogi's Treasure Hunt and the next it's goddamn Yogi's Gang.
Anyway, many of the cartoons on the bad HB list are cartoons I grew up watching as a sort of captive audience, fascinated but repelled as I waited for something better to come on. Some I discovered while trying to watch basically anything HB was involved with as research. Going into this project, my idea for a cut-off level of "bad" was going to be Dastardly And Muttley In Their Flying Machines. My rationale for this was the cartoons being bad enough to actually get made fun of by other Hanna-Barbera cartoons. There's an episode of Yogi's Treasure Hunt where Dick Dastardly forces his funny animal foes to watch episodes of Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines, complete with his captives moaning and groaning about how boring and repetitive they were! Yogi's Treasure Hunt was by far the best of the HB crossover cartoons, in my childish opinion, so if it said this Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines thing sucked then it must be true.
So when adult me, which had a more thorough grasp of how cartoons end up good or bad, started digging into the HB back catalog to see how bad it got, I really expected that Dastrdly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines would end up somewhere on this list. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The HB back catalog is a deep rabbit hole that leads to an underground river of sewage. The sheer quantity of product the studio flushed out in the 60s, 70s, and 80s really was enough to rerun on cable for decades. There's no way for a studio cranking out that kind of quantity to maintain any sort of consistent quality.
Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines wasn't bad enough to make the cut. A lot of things I watched, sometimes the entire misbegotten run of them, were ultimately not bad enough to make the cut. In the comments for the article, people make calls for the inclusion of some shows that they feel I omitted. In many cases, I watched these shows, and trust me: they aren't that bad. Usually not very good, true, but there's a big difference between lame and merely awful. In particular, a lot of the sitcom-based shows and The Three Robonic Stooges actually aren't anything special if you force yourself to sit down and watch several episodes of them. The bizarre premises lead people to assume they simply must be bad cartoons, but mostly they're just average. In particular, the licensed cartoons were never allowed to look as bad as your Blast-Off Buzzards and CB Bearses.
There is one comment about should've-beens on the list that I have to admit has some merit, though. One person made a very credible argument for the HB Godzilla cartoon, which inflicted the dread Godzooky on the world. I really wanted to give the Godzilla cartoon a look for the list, but simply was not able to find any episodes of it. I never saw it in reruns, so I simply couldn't write about it with any sort of emotional honesty. Based on descriptions of this cartoon, I am inclined to think that it might just be bad enough to bump The Thing or Sky Commanders off the list. Of course, sight unseen, I would've said the same was probably true of the Mork & Mindy cartoon or the cartoon where Fonzie travels through time with his talking cat, and those both turned out to be pretty harmless.