The Underground

For years, there has been an active underground in animation that few artists and no executive in the business knew of. This underground has been more effective than anyone realizes.

Before the era of the pseudo-producers, information about animation budgets, contracts and the like, was a secret that was held very close to the vest. But during the 1980s, the Animation Underground developed some effective methods of acquiring this kind of information. Not really any special indication of espionage skills, just a lot of help from some sloppy, careless pseudos.

In the late 1980s, Congress was debating the issue of re-regulating the amount of advertising that could be included in any given time on children' s programming. Spearheading this movement on behalf of the American people was Peggy Charren, the warrior from Action For Children's Television, commonly known as ACT. Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts was leading the discussion in Washington, D.C. He was looking for a compromise with the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) who were vehemently opposed to the idea of prohibiting mega toy companies from buying up large blocks of their air time so they could trick the kids of America into having their parents buy action figure dolls to play with and emulate the cartoon.

The battle promised to be a tough one with no guarantee of a positive result. The NAB was ready for a dog fight with a thick pile of documentation all conjured to brace up their old propaganda line about the "chicken or the egg", rendering animation originated in their marketing departments as opposed to the animation industry as harmless and trivial with no proof of any potential damage to the future of society.

Well, a few anonymous phone calls later, several packages were sent to the headquarters of ACT and the Washington based law firm representing them in the Congressional hearings. The packages contained years of accumulated proof of toy company collusion with animation studios. Hundreds of faxes between animation and toy executives and managers exhibiting clear and undeniable evidence that toy companies were changing creative content to exhibit their toys. Changes in dialogue and action, all called for to show what a vehicle, backpack, transforming robot, soldier, villain or muscular hero can do.

After this evidence was presented to Senator Markey, the tone of the hearings drastically changed. Senator Markey abruptly told the NAB that they will voluntarily re-regulate advertising on children's TV or Congress will do it for them.

The NAB, mysteriously, put its tail between its legs and said nothing.

It was a huge victory for ACT, for the families of America and for our industry. And no pseudo in town has any idea that some of their names are permanently included in the Congressional Record.

The Children's Television Act of 1990 helped fuel the boom of this decade and set the stage for the Second Golden Age by effectively ousting toy company production capital from our business and forcing the industry to look to itself as it used to, thanks to this virtually unknown Animation Underground.

Charles Zembillas © 1999
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