The Rise and Fall of MTV’s Animated Shows

The 1990s is a fondly looked upon decade that arguably gave birth to some of the greatest movies, television and music of all time. This decade was right before the streaming and binge-watching era we now live in, meaning media such as movies and television were consumed differently. Everyone either went to the movie theater or waited for the VHS; you either watched the new Simpsons episode or recorded it on VHS. 

When it came to music, people either watched MTV or bought CDs and cassette tapes. These days, no one watches MTV for music; music shows and music videos have been replaced by mediocre reality television. The network itself has even gone as far to remove music from the network’s name turning Music Television into just MTV. Music is not the only thing that has been removed from MTV. Many often forget that animation once reigned supreme on the network as well.

MTV’s animation department was formed in the late 80s with the purpose of producing short bumpers that would air on the network during commercial breaks. It wasn’t until the 90s began that they would produce their most well-known shows like Beavis and Butt-Head, which followed two stupid teenagers as they either went to school or sat on the couch watching television. 

Besides the iconic laughs of this dumb duo, the most memorable part of the show was them watching music videos. Music videos that would air regularly on MTV would be featured on Beavis and Butt-Head. Usually, the video would play on their tv as they provided their own “unique” commentary. The show gained a lot of attention both good and bad and it lasted from Mar. 8, 1993 to Nov. 28, 1997. 

Beavis and Butt-Head was so successful that a spin-off show called Daria premiered in 1997. Daria was a satire of American high school and followed Daria Morgendorffer (Tracy Grandstaff) and her best friend Jane Lane (Wendy Hoopes) and their observations of the world around them. I like to think of this show as the opposite of Beavis and Butt-Head, which is ironic since Daria was originally a side character on the show. Unlike Beavis and Butt-Head, Daria and Jane are smart and pretty mature. There are also some emotional moments involving them that help further distance the show from Beavis and Butt-Head.

While animated hits like Daria and Beavis and Butt-Head were airing on MTV, the network aired other animated shows as well; unfortunately, they did not last very long. Ed, Edd n Eddy creator Danny Antonucci created The Brothers Grunt in 1994 which was cancelled almost a year later most likely due to low ratings and the negative reaction to its gross humor. Then there was The Maxx, an adaptation of a comic book series that only lasted two months. Plus, Downtown, a show set in New York with a racially diverse cast was canceled after a few months.

Out of all the MTV animated shows in the 90s, only four lasted for more than two years. This number got lower as the network headed into the new millennium. Perhaps the biggest MTV animated show of the 2000s was Clone High, a show about clones of historical figures attending high school. It was created by Chris Miller, Phil Lord, and Bill Lawrence — Lord and Millar are the creators of  The Lego Movie and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

The show was a great parody of Dawson’s Creek and other teen dramas, but became controversial due to its portrayal of Gandhi as a loudmouth party animal. People in India were so offended that they went on hunger strikes and MTV broadcasting license was threatened if the show didn’t stop airing. And of course since this was an animated MTV show not named Daria or Beavis and Butt-Head, it was canceled in 2003 after just one season. Clone High was the last popular animated show that aired on MTV. 

Ever since 2003, the network has tried hard to recreate that magic they had in the 90s in terms of animation. In 2009, they tried making a Beavis and Butt-Head knock off called DJ & the Fro. Want to guess how long that lasted? I’ll give you a hint, everything that came after Clone High was a forgettable and obscure show that got cancelled after one season. This even includes the Beavis and Butt-Head reboot from 2011. Animation is pretty much dead on MTV at this point, however there is hope for Beavis and Butt-Head and Clone High.

Both shows are receiving reboots that will air on Comedy Central, a sister network of MTV, along with a Daria spinoff. This makes sense as Comedy Central has always had great animated shows. This decision proves that animation won’t make a comeback on MTV anytime soon, but hopefully Comedy Central learns from MTV’s mistakes and properly advertises the shows so they aren’t cancelled after one season.

Beavis and Butt-Head is available to stream on CBS All Access/Pluto TV. Daria is available to stream on CBS All Access. Clone High is available on Youtube.

By Brendan Bell

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