It's not just enough to make a good cartoon any more. Too often, animated shows are dependent on selling action figures in order to stay on the air, ratings (and quality) be damned. Here are seven shows whose fates would have been far different if they had gotten their merchandising together…
1) Young Justice
As long time DC animation head honcho Paul Dini revealed in a bitter interview, network executives of kids' channels don't just want audiences, they want specifically boy audiences, as boys buy toys. So despite Young Justice's popularity and critical acclaim, it was canceled for having too many girls watching, which is to say girls weren't buying enough Young Justice toys. Of course, this ignores that the boys probably weren't purchasing Young Justice toys either, thanks to Mattel's limited assortment of poorly articulated heroes which were either 4.75 inches, incompatible with all other DC figures, or a more traditional 6-inches, which competed with several other DC toylines that kids also didn't want. Of course, Mattel also barely released any figures of the cartoon's many superheroines, thus ensuring girls wouldn't want to buy the toys. TV executives are idiots.
2) He-Man and the Masters of the Universe
I speak not of the '80s cartoon, of course, which helped sell a million action figures and vice versa. But the 2002 relaunch which, despite reaching a respectable two seasons totaling 39 episodes, was a pale shadow of the '80s juggernaut. Surely it didn't help that the cartoon was a weird throwback to the '80s cartoon, full of bumbling villains and obvious morals. But the toyline didn't help either, although they were pretty good. They were excellently sculpted and had some fun features, although they were certainly retro in style if not in design. What doomed the toys is that Mattel decided to release several million crappy variants of He-Man and Skeletor instead of all the other characters, ensuring only He-Man toys that no one wanted flooded the shelves.
The original Go-Bots cartoon was, objectively, terrible. I mean, compared to the Transformers and G.I. Joes and He-Mans of the time, which managed to sneak in some cool stories, some badass moments, or just enough weirdness to turn kids into life-long fans. Go-Bots, however, just sucked from start to finish. The cartoon had no redeeming qualities. And yet and many other cartoons of the '80s proved, the quality of the cartoon didn't matter if the toys were halfway decent, which the Go-Bot toys were decidedly not. They looked terrible, the transformations were lame, and the cartoon proved that the characters were all unlikeable imbeciles. Had the Go-Bots managed to put figures even half as good as the Transformers toys we might have watched Michael Bay's Go-Bots this summer.
4) Avengers: United They Stand
Well before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but after Marvel had major hits bringing Spider-Man and the X-Men to Saturday morning animation blocks, the Avengers made their first cartoon debut in 1999. How did an Avengers cartoon fail? Well, there were two main reasons: 1) Marvel made the inexplicable decision not to include Captain America, Thor or Iron Man in the show, instead focusing on a team based on the much lesser known and less interesting West Coast Avengers; 2) rather than trusting their characters, as they did with Spider-Man, X-Men and other, they decided to give the superheroes anime-esque armor to transform into. This was because they'd decided kids would be more interested in buying anime-esque Avengers than regular ones, and based the cartoon around these designs. Thus the toys sabotaged the Avengers cartoon from the very beginning. Kids, of course, recognized this Avengers cartoon and the action figures for the cheap anime knock-offs that they were and stayed the hell away from both. Within a year, both the show and the toyline had been canceled.
5) Sym-Bionic Titan
Genndy Tartakovsky's fantastic giant robot cartoon managed an impressive feat of being killed by non-existent toys! After the show became a hit in its first season, network executives started seeing dollar signs, and planned a plethora of action figures and other merchandise, and asked — excuse me, I should say, they "asked" — Tartakovsky to make the show's second season more conducive to selling toys with new robots, action features, etc. Tartakovsky probably didn't tell them to go fuck themselves, although he almost certainly should have. When no one could agree on the toys, the network canceled the show, despite it having solid ratings.
6) Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers
This cartoon series — a wild west/scifi mash-up — was, somewhat familiarly, a cult favorite that didn't get much recognition when it aired. But compared to most of the other kids cartoons at the time, Galaxy Rangers had some well-defined characters and decent writing, and, most importantly, never seemed like it was made solely to shill toys. This was probably because the toys weren't ready when the show was first produced and slapped on TV. Of course, what made it special was also its undoing; without the synergy of a toyline, it freed up the storytelling, but it failed to reach the popularity needed to stick around. Galoob never even bothered releasing the Galaxy Rangers toys they made in America, and sent them to Europe instead, and the cartoon was canceled.
7) Green Lantern: The Animated Series
Canceled unceremoniously around the same time as Young Justice, Green Lantern didn't have as large a female audience, but it also didn't have any toyline to speak of, as Mattel toy executives were still reeling from the complete failure of the live-action Green Lantern movie and its accompanying toyline. So DC Animation made a Green Lantern cartoon, Mattel refused to make toys for it, and then it was canceled for not selling enough merchandise. That's got to be frustrating.