Cartoons Get Grown-Up Plotlines

Ever wonder why Scooby Doo and his hapless hippie companion Shaggy always craved those Scooby snacks so much?

Or precisely what the relationship was between Johnny Quest's father and his bosom buddy Race Bannon, the strapping bodyguard?

A new line of shows starring old cartoon favorites such as Scooby Doo, Johnny Quest and Yogi Bear may just answer those questions that have been nagging you since school let out.

Starting Sept. 2, the Cartoon Network will unveil "Adult Swim," a late-night block of animated programming aimed at adults, which will bring old characters back to life and show now-grown cartoon fans what they could never find out on Saturday mornings.

Most of the characters will be brought back as guest stars on Harvey Birdman, a courtroom drama that revives the little-known Hanna-Barbera superhero Birdman and casts him as a lawyer. His courtroom opponents will be the evil Reducto and his arch-nemesis Vulturro, as a blue-blooded but sleazy attorney.

In one episode, Shaggy is driving the Mystery Machine when he's pulled over for "possession" — although it's never made explicit what he's accused of possessing. Another proposed plotline sees Yogi Bear's pal Boo Boo facing charges of being the Una Boo Boo, who sends corporate heads picnic baskets packed with bombs.

And in what is slated to be the pilot, world-renowned Dr. Benton Quest and his frequent companion, former government agent Bannon, fight over who gets custody of Johnny Quest. Although it's not spelled out, the implication is that Race and Dr. Quest are more than just friends.

"Now why was Dr. Benton Quest and Race Bannon like that?" Cartoon Network spokesman Jim Babcock said from the company's Atlanta offices. "The show plays with things that we grew up with in a mature context. It's very funny."

It also makes a lot of business sense. One of the most popular cable channels on the boob tube, the Cartoon Network reaches more than 73 million homes in the U.S. and 145 other countries. Nearly one-third of that audience is adult, tuning in both for animated oldies and new material like the adult-oriented Space Ghost Coast to Coast, the cult show where the cantankerous death ray-wielding superhero has for years been airing his neuroses on a talk show with real-life guests.

"From a programming perspective, we wanted to expand our line-up to offer some innovative new shows for our adult fans," Mike Lazzo, senior vice president of programming and production, said in a press release. "Animation has never been an art that was geared solely toward kids. … Now we've created a group of shows that we think will become appointment viewing for fans of smart, funny television."

Besides Harvey Birdman and Space Ghost, other Adult Swim shows will include Home Movies, an original series about a socially outcast third grader; Sealab 2021, starring Erik Estrada in a kitschy take on an old Hanna-Barbera undersea series; Aqua Teen Hunger Force, about crime-fighting food; and Leave It to Brak, in which the screechy-voiced Space Ghost regular tries his hand at a sitcom.

The shows will be prefaced with warnings of adult content and will be rated TV-PG or TV-14.

But don't expect anything too outrageous or wildly inappropriate.

"The creative people have an interest in these characters, they grew up with them," Babcock said. "They're still pretty respectful and don't want to do anything that would harm the property."