Back in 2001, when Cartoon Network announced it would be setting aside part of its late-night schedule for original, non-kid-friendly programming, few would have guessed the experiment would be a tremendous, lasting success. And yet, a decade and a half later, Adult Swim thrives with its signature mix of stoner humor, stylistic invention, obscure surrealism, and cheerfully over-the-top violence. YouTuber KaptainKristian has created an excellent, informative tribute to the mighty programming block with his video called “Adult Swim - The History Of A Television Empire.” That’s a rather grandiose title for a network most closely associated with talking fast food items and superheroes with their own talk shows, but KaptainKristian makes a good case for Adult Swim’s importance in the television landscape. “It’s incredibly rare when a television network can hone in on the sensibilities of an entire generation and immediately click with its audience,” he says. “For my parents’ generation, that was MTV, but for my generation, it was and continues to be Adult Swim.”
The roots of Adult Swim go back to 1994, when Mike Lazzo repurposed existing animation from the 1960s to create Space Ghost Coast To Coast. That series was not only different from everything else on Cartoon Network’s rerun-heavy lineup, it basically created a new way of being funny on television. The initial Adult Swim series, including Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Harvey Birdman, were direct offshoots of Space Ghost. But the network continued to grow and mutate over the years, embracing a wide variety of animation and comedic styles. The video also points out that Adult Swim made a point of interacting with its fans as no television network ever had in the past. The channel has managed not only to cultivate new stars but also to play a crucial role in the revival of endangered series like Futurama and Family Guy. One possibly overlooked facet of Adult Swim, also highlighted here, is that the network took the initiative in introducing serious anime, such as Cowboy Bebop, to an American audience. In its own weird way, Adult Swim has changed television.