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The Real Reason These Popular '80s Cartoons Were Canceled

Cartoons in the 1980s were so plentiful that finding detailed documentation for many of them is nigh-impossible. So many of these shows were the TV equivalent of mayflies: They debuted, ran for a brief handful of episodes, and ended, rarely to be mentioned again. Some shows weren't even canceled, having only ever been commissioned for a certain number of episodes. They were then sold into syndication while the studio pursued other work. Take Inspector Gadget — did you know that storied cartoon only ran for two measly seasons?

Yes, the 1980s saw oceans of cartoon cancellations. And it wasn't all junk like Rubik, The Amazing Cube either — popular shows with a loyal following just up and left the TV screen forever, from time to time. Was it network politics? Was it bad toy sales? Was it sheer foolishness? Turns out it was all of those things ... and more. Join us as we explore the real reasons these 1980s cartoons were canceled.

Dungeons & Dragons

Long before every other podcast became minor celebrities playing Dungeons & Dragons, kids could watch Dungeons & Dragons, Saturday mornings on CBS. The 1983 show follows a group of young teenagers stranded in the "realm of Dungeons & Dragons." They each play a role — ranger, barbarian, thief, and so forth — and try to get home while helping the realm.

It was the highest rated show in its time slot for two years, and had a writing staff that included a young Paul Dini and Howard The Duck creator Steve Gerber. It lasted three seasons before cancellation. Rumors built up over the years about why the show was cut: Was it too violent? Did the 1980s moral panic over D&D squash it for good? A partial answer came from Michael Reaves, one of the writers. He claimed that "problems with TSR, the D&D parent company, ultimately killed the plans for a new season."

Mark Evanier, who helped develop the show for TV and wrote the first few episodes, finally set the record straight in 2012: The show was canceled for declining ratings. "As far as I know," he reported, "the protests were minimal and had no impact. The show simply began losing its audience, as all shows eventually do."

RoboCop: The Animated Series

RoboCop isn't the most violent movie to turn into a cartoon for children — that honor goes to Rambo: The Force of Freedom – but it's a solid second. Sure, the movie itself is toyetic, but it's still an R-rated action movie. Nonetheless, RoboCop: The Animated Series existed in 1988 and had a solid following.

Now, the show did make several alterations in the name of being kid friendly. Bullets were replaced by laser beams, and action was shifted to a high-tech future Detroit instead of a late capitalist kleptocracy. The original plan was to run for 13 episodes in syndication ... until its budget for episode 13 was rerouted. The series stops at 12 episodes, the money for the planned finale put towards Pryde Of The X-Men, a pilot for an X-Men series, instead. While there would be many X-Men cartoons over the years, Pryde never came to fruition, meaning they canceled one cartoon in a failed attempt to start another.

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero

The title G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero could refer to two separate shows. The first is the series made by Sunbow Production that ran from 1983 to 1986. The second is the series made by DiC that ran from 1989 to 1992. Why was there a gap between two studios telling one continuous story? Because the first edition of the show was canceled after losing a bidding war.

After producing the first two seasons of the show, Sunbow had detailed plans in place for a season three — the Joes would go off to fight a new foe called The Coil, while Cobra Commander would be in the background, biding his time until he could play The Coil and the Joes off each other.

Before this could get made, however, Hasbro changed things up. Hasbro had been self-funding the show with Sunbow, and decided to cut production costs. As G.I Joe story editor Buzz Dixon recounted, the syndication market was saturated in the mid-1980s, with more shows than time slots. DiC, by his telling, was a big part of this problem, often underbidding competitors. All this led to Hasbro deciding to cut costs by dumping Sunbow after DiC offered them a contract too good to refuse.

Dixon has no kind words for DiC to this day: "These guys may not have been 100% responsible for the destruction of the animation industry in the late eighties but they sure helped!"

Captain N: The Game Master

Captain N: The Game Master tells the story of a boy sucked into Nintendoland, where he goes on adventures with various Nintendo properties. He teams up with the likes of Mega Man and Simon Belmont against enemies including Mother Brain and Donkey Kong. Almost every Nintendo property from 1989 is represented. Imagine Ready Player One for younger audiences, but licensed and somehow more cloying. It was never a good show, per se — the animation in particular has aged poorly — but it was a moneymaker, and kids would watch anything related to video games. The show's cancellation, as such, had less to do with the show's merits (or lack thereof) but the fall of its medium and the rise of teen television.

By the early 90s, the concept of "Saturday morning cartoons" was in decline. As such, NBC canceled their entire Saturday cartoon block in 1992, replacing it with teen programming like Saved By The Bell. Captain N was a part of this purge, canceled after its already abbreviated third season.

Garfield and Friends

Based on the long running comic strip, Garfield and Friends was a massive success worldwide and featured some of the best animation of its era. The show lasted seven seasons — an eternity in 80s cartoon years — before cancellation. The reason for this cancellation? Budget cuts due to a changing TV landscape.

The show was expensive to produce, but the producers figured it was worth it — selling the show to CBS, plus syndication across the country, let them charge a high license fee and rake in profits. The success upped the license fee each year, and eventually CBS wanted to renegotiate.

When Garfield and Friends premiered, cartoons aired almost exclusively on CBS, ABC, and NBC. As the series went on, however, Fox became viable, and entire channels dedicated to cartoons like Cartoon Network popped up. More places to watch cartoons meant that the audience was spreading thinner, which meant networks became stingier.

CBS asked the producers to cut the show's budget by two-thirds, figuring that they made enough in syndication to handle a smaller cash flow. The producers did the math and determined it wouldn't work — syndication wasn't going to cover the deficit costs, and the show was doing well enough in reruns. Thus, the show was canceled after mutual agreement.


Voltron barely needs any introduction — it was one of the most popular cartoons of the 80s, spawning a franchise that exists to this day. At its peak, it was the number one syndicated children's show in America.

After the second season, plans for another were in place — but they never materialized. There were several reasons for this, but it all boils down to two major producers having a falling out.

Voltron started because producer Ted Koplar realized there was a market for adapting foreign children's shows to the American market. Koplar hired Peter Keefe, an energetic man with a real talent for the business, to help localize Voltron from anime shows Beast King GoLion and Armored Fleet Dairugger XV and run production. Tensions boiled between the two, and it all came to a head in 1989 when Keefe sued Koplar over breach of contract. Keefe felt he was owed more money.

Bitter feelings persisted until the two men reconciled around 2010, just before Keefe passed. It was that peace that paved the way for today's modern Voltron properties.

Thundarr the Barbarian

Thundarr the Barbarian follows the eponymous Thundarr and his friends across a post-apocalyptic Earth. The show was made by Ruby-Spears Productions in 1980, and had comics legend Jack Kirby help with the design of the show. Though ostensibly a children's show, the writers aimed it at slightly older audiences. Despite its popularity, the show was canceled after two seasons in 1981. 

It's hard not to wonder if Thundarr was canceled due to its more mature take on animated fantasy. That may well have been part of it, but there was an even bigger factor in play: Garry Marshall wanted its slot. Marshall oversaw ABC's three biggest shows, Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and Mork & Mindy – what he wanted, the network worked to give him. Marshall wanted animated versions of his shows, to cover every audience. To make room for Fonz and the Happy Days GangThundarr was kicked from the airwaves.

Fonz and the Happy Days Gang was gone one year later, and a series of shows based on other Marshall properties took its place. None did as well as Thundarr. Alas, poor barbarian — we hardly knew ye.

Heathcliff and the Catillac Cats

Sunday funnies mainstay Heathcliff had two cartoon adaptations by two studios two years apart. The first, simply titled Heathcliff, was made by Ruby-Spears Productions and ran on ABC from 1980 through 1981. The second, better known as Heathcliff and the Catillac Cats, was produced by DiC and ran in syndication from 1984 through 1985. There hasn't been a new Heathcliff cartoon since, because of the loss of their legendary lead voice: Mel Blanc.

In an era when most voice acting was done by character actors and anonymous voiceover artists, Blanc was a legit superstar on par with anyone in Hollywood. The voice of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and far too many others for us to recount here, Blanc also voiced Healthcliff in both iterations of the show.

Blanc was also a heavy smoker. To put it more accurately, he smoked a pack a day from when he was nine — yes, nine — until he was 77. He quit after developing emphysema, and spent most of his last decade revisiting characters he played for years. Heathcliff was his last new character.

According to Donna Christie, who voiced Iggy and Cleo on Heathcliff and the Catillac Cats, the show ended because Blanc became too ill to keep doing it. His death in 1989 meant nobody had any reason to make more Heathcliff episodes. Any attempts to revive the show later were pointless — nobody could follow Blanc.

Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors

Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors was one of many TV shows that doubled as a toy commercial. It follows the titular Jayce as he battles the forces of evil in his super cool vehicles that were, ahem, totally for sale at your local toy store. Mattel created the show, in fact, to promote their Wheeled Warriors toy line. J. Michael Straczynski of Babylon 5 fame ran the show and managed to created a long, serialized story that ran for 65 episodes before cancellation. The primary reason for the show getting canned was bad toy sales, much of it based on poor decision making.

Believe it or not, Mattel failed to link the toyline and the cartoon. None of the characters had their own toys, and with no way for kids to recreate storylines, interest in both the show and the toy cratered. The show itself ends on a cliffhanger that will remain forever unresolved. At least the theme song is cool.

Garbage Pail Kids

Most of the shows here were canceled after they got popular. The Garbage Pail Kids were popular entirely because they were canceled — before a single episode had even aired.

The Garbage Pail Kids brand started as trading cards, created as a parody of the Cabbage Patch Kids. Contrasting the cuteness of the Cabbage Patch brand, the Garbage Pail Kids were chock-full of gross-out humor. They stirred up a decent amount of controversy in their heyday, often getting banned from schools.

When word got out that there was going to be a cartoon based on the cards, morality enforcers swooped in to strike. The National Federation for Decency — today known as the American Family Association, listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center — took up arms with particular zeal. These protests led to advertisers backing out and some affiliates refusing to air it.

Ultimately, CBS pulled the plug on the show before it could air in America. They attempted to sanitize the show, but it just didn't work. The show aired in several other countries, gathering a cult following through bootlegs and eventually a proper DVD release.

One unlikely party who was happy to see it cancelled? Mark Newgarden, part of the team that created the trading cards. "I've seen the pilot episode, he reported, "and it's a lame, castrated version of the Garbage Pail Kids, carefully avoiding everything that made our cards work."


Inhumanoids follows a team of Earth scientists fighting off the titular subterranean beasts. It ran for 13 episodes in syndication, and was noted for its monstrous designs and surprising amount of violence. Though it had a following, it was canceled after one season due to a few factors, chief of which was — as always — money.

Now, the show did generate some protests due to its brutality, which certainly contributed to its cancellation. The most notable opponent was Thomas Radecki, a former psychiatrist who made a name for himself as a moral crusader before a drugs-for-sex scheme sent him to prison. While opposition of this nature didn't help matters, the nail in the coffin could be found in the toy aisle.

Like many cartoons of the era, Inhumanoids was designed to sell toys. There was just one problem: the toy line bombed. The toys were large in size, heavy, and too grotesque to be mainstream. They were so top heavy, in fact, that they were infamous for falling over. The show also appealed to a slightly older audience, one that tends to be less interested in toys. Clearly not much was expected of the toy line, either — the show was canceled before the toys were even released. Someone realized it was a losing effort early.

The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!

Swing your arms from side to side! Come on, it's time to talk about The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!

Though mostly remembered for its live action bits starring Lou Albano as Mario and Danny Wells as Luigi, the Super Mario Bros. Super Show! was half cartoon. The show was nevertheless labor-intensive for the actors, who had to work six days a week to produce a new episode every single weekday. It was a huge hit with children, almost certainly enamored by the fact that they could get their fix of video games and cartoons from the same source.

At the end of the season order, perhaps for reasons listed above, Nintendo simply didn't have any more interest in the show and didn't renew their agreement with DiC for it. In 1990, Nintendo and DiC teamed up again for The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3, doing essentially the same show but without the live action bits.

If it's any consolation, Albano's stint in the Herb Abrams UWF means The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! will always be the second most embarrassing thing he did in public.