How He-Man, Rudolph, Underdog, and Bob the Tomato became Corporate Cousins

I love interesting pop culture stories, and I love interesting corporate stories, and the story of Classic Media rivals TimeLife Warner Bros AOL Turner whatever it’s now called, and Comcast NBC Sheinhardt (ha) Universal GE whatever in the annals of corporate synergy, though on a smaller scale.

Classic Media was started by former Broadway Video executive John Engelman and Marvel CEO Eric Ellenbogen “in hopes of acquiring mismanaged classic properties and giving exposure to them” (Wikipedia).  Unfortunately, the Wikipedia entries have changed over the years, so I can’t double check the exact details, but, basically, Classic started as a spin off of Broadway video.  It made its name by buying bankrupt properties.  This includes the video arm of the defunct Golden Books, which itself includes most of the pre-1974 Rankin-Bass library (hence Rudolph), Underdog and other properties.

In 2003, Classic Media purchased Big Idea, the parent company of VeggieTales, which had gone bankrupt due to a lawsuit.  Ironically, the lawsuit was filed against Big Idea by HiT Entertainment.  HiT had acquired the company that had VeggieTales’ distribution contract, and Phil Vischer for some reason was not morally comfortable doing business with HiT.  He had a verbal agreement with his distributor that opted him to use a different distributor if they were ever bought.  In the long run, Big Idea won the lawsuit when it came before the Supreme Court, but not before going bankrupt in legal fees, especially following overexpansion and the lackluster theatrical performance of _Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie_.
So, Classic Media acquired VeggieTales.  In 2006, Classic sold itself to a company with a similar vision, the UK-based Entertainment Rights.  Entertainment Rights ironically has ties to HiT Entertainment, both as a competitor and as  the companies split some of the rights of certain properties.

Interestingly, Entertainment Rights already owned Lou Schiemer’s defunct studio Filmation, which had a similar history to Big Idea.  Filmation was known for producing advertisements and Saturday morning cartoons but made its name with the 1970s _Star Trek_ Animated Series, which won an Emmy for its sophisticated storytelling (episodes were often written by the same writers as the TV series).  They also had a successful 1970s live action series called _Ghostbusters_ and some adaptations of DC properties, including Captain Marvel and Batman.

When _He-Man and the Masters of the Universe_ came out in the wake of loosened FCC regulations regarding censorship of cartoons, it pioneered both the “toy-based cartoon” of the 1980s and the “made for afternoons” cartoon.  Up until then, cartoons broadcast on early mornings or afternoons were syndicated reruns of old Saturday morning cartoons.  MOTU was the first cartoon to be created specifically for first run syndication in the afternoons, and paved the way for _GI Joe_, _Transformers_ and others series.


When Columbia came out with the movie _Ghostbusters_ in 1984, it didn’t get approval from Filmation, which owned the trademark to the name “Ghostbusters.”  Filmation sued Columbia and suffered a similar fate to Big Idea: Filmation ultimately won the lawsuit, but legal fees combined with overexpansion drove it into bankruptcy.  Meanwhile, Filmation decided to capitalize on its license and Columbia’s violation of the trademark by introducing a _Ghostbusters_ cartoon based on the 1970s series.  Therefore, the animated versions of the Columbia version were known under names such as “The Real Ghostbusters,” “Slimer and the Real Ghostbusters” or “Extreme Ghostbusters.”

He-Man and She-Ra Christmas Special

What does the He-Man & She-Ra Christmas Special have over most of the Rankin & Bass specials? It actually mentions Jesus!!

Filmation, again, was purchased by Entertainment Rights.  Entertainment Rights purchased Classic Media in 2006, but *also* engaged in too much overexpansion and went bankrupt.  In 2009, Engelman and Ellenbogen, with a new partner GTCR, bought Entertainment Rights under the new holding company Boomerang Media (how they got away with that name, I don’t know).  Reportedly, they paid less for the whole enchilada than what Entertainment Rights originally paid them for Classic Media and even what Classic originally paid for Big Idea.  They changed the name back to Classic Media and recommitted to invigorating their properties.

Meanwhile, a few years ago, Mattel started making _Masters of the Universe Classics_ (MOTUC), an 8-inch line of highly articulated figures sold directly to collectors online and representing various permutations of the franchise.  So far, figures produced have included characters from MOTU fiction that were never made into figures, characters developed for the original line but never produced, characters from the 2002 version, the original version, _She-Ra: Princess of Power_ and the late 90s “New Adventures of He-Man”.  Originally, Mattel had announced that some character names technically belonged to Filmation, such as Queen Marlena and Cringer.  Recently, however, Mattel has produced and announced a package of those two very figures, which would seem to indicate that they acquired the rights from Classic Media.  They’re also doing a big push for the 30th Anniversary of the franchise, which may include a retail release of the MOTUC line.

This gets us to the news that inspired this blog post: Classic Media is launching a partnership with Mattel to “reinvent” various classic properties.  Mattel will produce toys based upon some of Classic Media’s other properties (i.e., Voltron), and Classic Media will be not only amping up the distribution of the classic cartoons but is also planning new productions based upon these properties.


One response to “How He-Man, Rudolph, Underdog, and Bob the Tomato became Corporate Cousins

  1. Now all they need is their own cable channel- the Classic Media Network.

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