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Adult Swim is a block of adult-oriented animated programming that airs on Cartoon Network daily from 9:00 PM to 6:00 AM The eight-hour block is broken into halves, with the first half being dedicated to new episodes and the second half repeating (with some exceptions) the first four hours.
Adult Swim grew out of Cartoon Network's previous attempts at airing content appropriate for adults and teenagers who might be watching the channel after 11PM. The network began experimenting with its late-night programming by airing anthology shows like Toonheads and The Tex Avery Show, which both boasted uncensored classic cartoon shorts. Space Ghost Coast to Coast, one of Cartoon Network's first forays into original programming, was created in 1994 specifically for late-night audiences. The series was created by Ghost Planet Industries, which eventually became Williams Street Studios, the eventual producers and programmers of Adult Swim.
In 1999, the loosely organized "late night" block became Toonami: Midnight Run, a spin-off of the afternoon action block Toonami, and primarily aired anime series like Gundam Wing and Outlaw Star, as well as music videos by groups like Daft Punk and Gorillaz. Space Ghost was carried over from previous years and was the lone original series on the block. In 2000, several Williams Street programs debuted during this late night block and made a foundation for what would become Adult Swim. Sealab 2021, Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, Aqua Teen Hunger Force and The Brak Show aired between one and three episodes each before disappearing into production.
The popularity of the Midnight Run block and the William Street originals caused Cartoon Network to send Adult Swim into development under the supervision of Mike Lazzo and the other producers working at Williams Street. The block officially went on the air on September 2, 2001 and only aired three hours of programming (11 p.m. to 2 a.m.) twice weekly—premiere episodes on Sundays and an encore on Thursdays. The first programs airing on the block included Cowboy Bebop, Space Ghost Coast to Coast, Leave it to Brak, Sealab 2021, Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Home Movies.
Over the years, the block gradually expanded. In 2002, Saturdays were added to the Adult Swim schedule. In 2003, the network acquired then cancelled series Futurama and Family Guy from FOX and grew to five nights per week (Sunday-Thursday). The two series were massive hits for the network, often pulling in more than a million viewers per episode, a significant figure for late night cable television. By March 2005, bolstered by the popularity of these shows, the network added Saturday to its schedule and increased its air time to more than 40 hours per week. In July 2007, Adult Swim began broadcasting every night.
On March 28, 2005 Nielsen Media Research began treating Adult Swim as an entirely separate channel for ratings purposes, much like how Nick at Nite is treated by Nickelodeon with a triggering on/off switch. This also allowed for commercial advertisement more appropriate for the less than child friendly late-night programming.
When the block premiered, its name was taken literally to inform the style of the bumpers (or "bumps" as they're usually known) consisting of a lifeguard with a megaphone narrating over a group of elderly people swimming in an indoor swimming pool. The logo was simply bold red letters. The "adult swim" bumps were changed to safety manuals in 2003. Several stylistic changes occurred between 2001 and 2005 before the network settled on a minimalist format.
When the block expanded to five days per week, the bumpers and logo were dramatically simplified. The new bumps are black intertitle cards with white text using the Helvetica Neue Condensed Black font, often combined with unusual still art that either is associated with the program it leads into (often used for anime) or a complete non-sequitor (more often used at the end of the block). These bumps appear at the beginning of the block and between each commercial break at the top and bottom of the break. Typically they are seemingly random opinions or statements, but on occasion they are informative with information on schedule changes, DVD releases or new shows. At one time, Thursday nights would feature bumps with white backgrounds and black text written by members of the message boards. This has since been scaled back entirely.
April Fool's Day
Since 2004, Adult Swim has traditionally celebrated April Fool's Day by pulling some kind of prank at the expense of the unwitting viewer. Typically, the hoaxes are aimed at anime fans, who are well known on the Adult Swim message boards as an extremely vocal group. The following list compiles the network's history of April Fools pranks:
- 2004: Programs aired as usual, except all of the characters had mustaches drawn on.
- 2005: A very early, unfinished version of the Squidbillies pilot was aired in the place of Robot Chicken and initially thought to be a hoax. The network later admitted in the bumps that it was, in fact, an unfinished episode. The pilot was later scrapped and reworked before its October premiere.
- 2006: Instead of the usual programming, the first couple of hours were replaced with old episodes of Mister T and Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos. The new episodes of Fullmetal Alchemist and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex scheduled for that night were broadcast but with fart noises imposed over the dialogue.
- 2007 (March 31): Instead of airing its usual Saturday night anime line-up, the network aired the first Perfect Hair Forever webisode followed by the first season of the series shown in reverse order and in the style of VHS fansubs. The episodes were digitally degraded to look like several generation old videotapes with grammatically incorrect subtitles. At one point, the subtitles shown on screen were actually for an Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode.
- 2007 (April 1): In a rare prank two-fer, the network had been advertising that it would be airing Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters in its entirety on April Fools Day. Technically, they made good on their promise by showing the first two minutes (which had long been available on the movie's website) full-screen and the entire rest of the film in a very small picture-in-picture window without sound.
- 2008: At midnight, instead of pulling a practical joke on the audience, Adult Swim aired a block of eight stealth premieres under the guise in the schedule of an encore of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie, which had its worldwide television debut the night earlier. Starting with a new episode of Fat Guy Stuck in Internet, the ensuing two and a half hours included pilots, unfinished episodes, season and series premieres, as well as new episodes of current programs on hiatus. The repeat block did air the ATHF movie, with bumps teasing the viewer about missing the premieres. The block was as follows:
- Fat Guy Stuck in Internet: Beast and Breakfast (2 months early)
- The Venture Bros.: The Doctor Is Sin (unfinished first segment, third season premiere)
- Delocated: Untitled Pilot (unaired pilot)
- Superjail: Superbar (unfinished series premiere)
- Young Person's Guide to History: The Duel (miniseries premiere)
- Metalocalypse: Dethwedding (1 month early)
- Robot Chicken: Tubba Bubba Is Now Hubba Bubba (4 months early)
- Moral Orel: Grounded (third season premiere, 4 months early)
- 2009: The network aired The Room, an independent film written, starring and directed by Tommy Wiseau about a love triangle between himself, his fiancee and his best friend. Wiseau previously directed and appeared in the Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! episode Tommy (which also aired after the movie). The movie is so bad that it generated a cult following in Los Angeles, where it is often screened at midnight showings.
- 2010: The network re-aired The Room for the second year in a row, featuring bumps with Tommy Wiseau on Space Ghost Coast to Coast.
The network has also expanded into Video-On-Demand services in mid-2004 on several digital cable providers. The video content is separated into two channels, Adult Swim Comedy and Adult Swim Action. Comedy is strictly original Adult Swim content like Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Action is licensed content from Bandai, some of which has never been aired on the main network. For instance, S-cry-ed debuted on VOD before being aired in the normal schedule.
Adult Swim was also one of the pioneering networks for online streaming content with the Adult Swim Fix, a group of episodes available between 11PM and 6AM. Often, this serves as a place to premiere new episodes of Sunday premieres and special episodes of older programs and pilots like Space Ghost and Welcome to Eltingville. The video section of the website has since been renamed to, simply, "Adult Swim Video." The video service also airs some internet-only webisodes for Perfect Hair Forever, The Brak Show and 12 Oz. Mouse. It has also been the home for original spin offs like I'm Pissed (starring Carl from Aqua Teen Hunger Force) and Lowe Country (starring Space Ghost voice actor George Lowe).
Beyond television, the network collaborated with rapper MF Doom and DJ Danger Mouse to create an album consisting of songs about Williams Street shows and, within those songs, samples derived mainly from characters in those shows. They have also produced albums by Dethklok and put on college tour concerts for rappers like Ghostface Killah.
- See the program listing for a listing of all Adult Swim series broadcast in the United States.
In addition to its main block on Cartoon Network, Adult Swim also airs in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Latin America. Due to different ownership rules and broadcast rights, different shows are broadcast, some of which do not air on the US Adult Swim including Clone High, Bromwell High, Gundam Seed and Bob and Margaret. International schedules for a variety of nations vary wildly and are often subject to sudden change.