Once again, "Loonatics" is in the news. The first time around was essentially a meet and greet for the Looney Tunes of the future in preparation for their television debut on KidsWB this fall. But the public reaction was not what Warner Brothers had expected. Fans expressed their dislike for the upcoming show in blogs, message boards, and petitions. The media picked up one the story and "Loonatics" was back in the headlines in a less favorable light. And Warner Brothers had a surprising response.
"Loonatics" is Warner Brothers' latest revamp of the classic Looney Tunes characters. Set in a distant future, the show features the superhero descendants of the toons we know today battling evil. The articles featured a set of sleek, angular character designs for the stars of "Loonatics". A teaser trailer that showed up online introduced the scions of Daffy, Wile E. Coyote, Road Runner, Lola Bunny, the Tasmanian Devil, and Bugs as Duck, Slick, Roadster, Lexi, Spaz, and Ace Bunny, respectively. (Ace was originally "Buzz Bunny", but the name was changed due to copyright concerns.)
Warner Brothers probably hoped that introducing "Loonatics" to the media would help to get audiences interested in the show. What actually happened was quite the opposite. Even knowing that these were new characters, fans of the original cartoons were not happy about "Loonatics". Opinions of the newer, more extreme toons ranged from "too dark and scary" to "anime knockoff that has nothing to do with Looney Tunes".
Among the critics of these previews of "Loonatics" was eleven year old Thomas Adams of Tulsa, Oklahoma. His response to the show was not unique. His petition could easily have gone unnoticed. But when saveourlooneytunes.com came online, it gave a lot of disgruntled fans a much needed outlet. Roughly 25,000 people signed the petition in about a month. When CNN did a story on the site, that number jumped to 80,000 and climbing. As media attention grew, Warner Brothers decided to respond.
The studio's reply was somewhat mixed. Statements from Warner Brothers spokesman Scott Rowe indicated that he and his colleagues had "heard the outcry from fans" and that the designs of the "Loonatics" characters were being revised. But Rowe also implied that what we'd been shown were just "early drawings", not final designs, a fact that was never mentioned in previous "Loonatics" articles. Readers were also told that test audiences had responded enthusiastically to "Loonatics" and the show would go on.
It's a small victory. "Loonatics" has not been canceled. The action-adventure concept is not going to change. Thomas Adams's petition suggests that the concept would work with new characters not based on the Looney Tunes, but Warner Brothers is not conceding that point. Nonetheless, it is rare fan outcry to prompt a studio to make changes to an upcoming show.
But is it fair? The general public had only seen a few character designs and a trailer that probably didn't contain any animation from the actual show. Was it right for them to judge "Loonatics" based on so little information? Did Warner Brothers make the right call by responding to the uproar and changing the show?
The fact is, people make judgments like this all the time. It is simply impossible for us to watch, read, play, listen to or purchase everything that is advertised to us. So we make decisions based on the limited information we have. In the case of movies or television shows, we often receive that information long before the finished product is actually available to us. Studios know this and expect it. They work hard to put out trailers and other tidbits of information that make their product stand out. They know we'll make decisions before we have all the info, so they try to insure that our first impressions are good ones.
This was not a case of some early production artwork being unexpectedly leaked onto a couple of animation fan websites. "Loonatics" was news because Warner Brothers wanted it to be. The articles that introduced the public to Ace Bunny and his team include various quotes from WB spokespeople talking about how "Loonatics" will make the Looney Tunes brand exciting and relevant to today's kids. If their later statements are to be taken at face value (and I repeat, I have seen no mention of the idea that the designs we saw were not final until the later articles), then someone at WB screwed up big time. Generally, giving the public sneak peeks at your show's development is not a good idea. Even if they like what they see, early concepts often change and the audience may be disappointed with the alterations. And if the public hates the concept work, then you've got an uphill battle trying to win them back.
So whatever stage these character designs were at, Warner Brothers took a risk releasing them to the press. And the risk backfired. Not because the media jumped the gun on the story, but because the public decided, based on the information that Warner Brothers gave them, that "Loonatics" wasn't going to be good. Still, the decision of what to do about this negative reaction was never taken out of Warner Brothers' hands. Yes, some kind of response was necessary. I doubt any execs wanted to see headlines like "Fans Dub 'Loonatics' Dethpicable" or "I Tawt I Taw A Twavesty!" But WB still could have gotten away with keeping the show exactly as it was. They could have pointed out that "Loonatics" tested well with its target audience of kids 6 to 11 who had actually seen the show. They could have reminded fans that "Loonatics" was not meant as a replacement for the classic Looney Tunes, who could still be seen on Cartoon Network's Boomerang or on DVD. Having given an adequate reply, Warner Brothers could have been comfortable in the knowledge that their show was good and that given a couple of months and a sizable advertising campaign, people would learn to love "Loonatics".
So the question isn't "Was it fair to judge 'Loonatics' before the finished product was out?" That's pretty much what Warner Brothers wanted; they just didn't get the reaction they'd hoped for. The real issue is whether it was fair for the WB higher-ups to bow to the wishes of these fans.
If there's anyone in this story I feel sorry for, it's the people who actually worked on "Loonatics". They're the ones who will have to do the work resulting from WB's decision to alter "Loonatics". Probably the best argument against the decision made is that Warner Brothers should have stuck up for not only the show, but for the people who put their time and effort into making it.
But the "Loonatics" crew hasn't really had the rug pulled out from under them. The show is still being made and it is still an action-adventure cartoon. In fact the only thing being changed is the one aspect of "Loonatics" that could be judged fairly from what we did see the character design. Aside from that, Warner Brothers is actually sticking by the concept, pointing to its well-recieved test screenings as a sign that the show will find its audience.
Is this incident going to set a precedent, potentially dooming new shows to radical changes or cancellation months before the pilot has a chance to air? I don't think so. For every story like this, there are several others where the public's early skepticism about an upcoming show gave way to high ratings. Take "Teen Titans" for example. Some fans of the original comic dismissed the show as too silly and too heavily influenced by anime. Heck, even I was less than impressed with the ads before the pilot was showed. (I admit it; I was wrong.) In this case, Warner Brothers and Cartoon Network ignored the protests and the show did quite well for itself. That sort of story is the norm; "Loonatics" is the exception.
Warner Brothers had the option of virtually ignoring the uproar. The could have said, "We know this show is really great and when you see it, we think you'll agree." They'd done it before, they could do it again. Any show is going to have its detractors, especially one that reinvents a well-loved cast of characters. But Warner Brothers decided that either the sheer number or the particular demographic of people who were upset about "Loonatics" represented something they could not afford to lose. What happened here was essentially an out-in-the-open focus group. The show may have tested well with its intended audience, but fans of the original Looney Tunes ended up voicing their concerns about the show in the media rather than a screening room. Time will tell how much impact their opinions had on "Loonatics". But I imagine Warner Brothers will be very careful consider the fan demographic if they ever try another reinvention of Looney Tunes.