Let the Flames Begin: Or, What 4Kids Did Right

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WARNING: Please understand that this title is meant to be dry humor about the reaction some well-known Winx fans might have to the sentiments of this article: to instantaneously start flaming it.  Therefore, do not take the title seriously.  This is a positive Winx blog, and while reasonable disagreement is acceptable, no flaming.  Every time you do that, you are pushing kindly argumentation theory teachers to spiral into increasing levels of insanity and to start crying about how no one seems to appreciate their advice in today’s world.  End sarcastic public service announcement and actually start talking about the topic.

Let me set the scene for you: imagine that you’ve just come out about your Winx fandom to one of your friends.  Rather than laugh at you, they ask, “Oh, was that the fairy show on Saturday mornings?”  You nod your head, and then the friend starts having one of those crazy nostalgia moments, maybe even bursting into song.  And if you’re like me, you’re probably thinking, “Why the heck doesn’t anyone know about Winx on Nickelodeon, a 24-hour television behemoth, but everyone seems to remember the tiny 4Kids adaptation that was only on Saturdays?  That’s right, just when you finally began to understand the entertainment industry, wrenches like this get thrown into the mix.

So that just got me to thinking: what could 4Kids have gotten right with Winx?  How did a European show become so much of the American nostalgia experience?  And even more importantly, how could Nick replicate that seemingly effortless success?  Finding these answers made me realize that even though 4Kids Americanized the show substantially, you can’t help but admire some of their amazing business strategies.  Let’s get started:

  • They treated Winx Club as though it could have ratings to rival any of their other programs.

Now here’s where Nick’s success can become its greatest downfall.  To elaborate, consider the fact that no one on 4Kids could possibly have had the mindset that small, Saturday morning cartoons could topple SpongeBob from its throne as the most popular kids’ animated series.  Therefore, they pretty much publicized all their shows equally, meaning that there were plenty of opportunities to learn about the show while watching, say, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Yu-Gi-Oh!  I always used to get really happy when they showed Bloom as a “spokesperson” for one of their promotional station commercials.  The problem with Winx on Nick is that it’s still “new,” and while newer teen sitcoms can gain popularity quickly, it’s much harder for newer cartoons to gain this same momentum when the station’s been around for years.  (Now, this would be a lot easier if Nick was at least half as diligent about airing reruns as 4Kids was.)  “New” in this case can translate to expendable and fleeting, plus the fact that Nick has a history of trying to keep newer cartoons from getting more popular.  (For instance, they rarely air “newer” shows like TUFF Puppy other than on Nicktoons Network, and scrapped Danny Phantom after only three seasons.  Please ignore the fact that I’m only using Hartman cartoons as examples.)  A good solution to this problem might be adding more commercials and print ads, but also the possibility of a TV special highlighting its popularity in Europe.  This would be a great opportunity to show its consistency and to clear up some of the bad press that Winx is getting lately.

  • They pandered to the younger audience in ways that adults could at least tolerate.

4Kids Winx had camp, and it most definitely spread this to even the most serious moments.  Remember the hardcore guitar riff that would always play during Valtor’s latest act of villainy, the Big Nos done by the Winx as Tecna was being sucked into the Omega portal, or the infamous Lord Darkar “talk to the hand” line?  Nick, on the other hand, tries to lure younger audiences in through formulaic plot ehconstruction and simplistic plotlines.  How do these two methods differ?  For one thing, camp is notorious for luring huge cult fandoms.  Some arguments cite this as the reason for the genesis of the comic book fandom.  Additionally, its camp appeal sets it apart from average children’s programming in that it is actually memorable.  People still make jokes about 4Kids Darkar’s lines even today, eight or nine years after S2 aired on the station, to the point that I actually found it jarring that Nick tried to make him into a full-blown, demonic character (complete with that voice *shudder*).  Pretty much, a lot of people liked 4Kids because it came off as effortless and almost self-deprecating in some of its scripts, while Nick is simply trying too hard by comparison.

  • The publicity that 4Kids had was pretty awesome for its time.

Remember that this was a time before iPads, apps, and the like, and even if those would have existed, 4Kids likely wouldn’t have had the time or the resources for these methods.  So they had to stick to a mixture of time-honored strategies and new innovations to get the word out.  Remember how you could spend hours just searching around on winxclub.tv, looking at character descriptions and an insane amount of games?  If you did this in a public place in the days before mainstream Wi-Fi, some other kid could see you, become curious, go on the site, watch the show, and bang, they’re a fan.  On the other hand, the same can’t be done with the Sirenix Power app because doing so requires a certain technology and a certain amount of money.  (I still haven’t played it, for instance, and I’m sure plenty of others have the same problem.)  A similar advertising technique was the Winx coloring books, chapter books, and “mangas.”  (And yes, I insist on putting that last one in quotations.)  Nick made a wise decision in compiling the comics, if only I could find a copy.  4Kids went out of their way to ensure that Winx books could be found just about anywhere, while I still have yet to find any of Nick’s books.  This is true to the extent that I can say that I became a Winx fan after seeing one of these books in a magical and heavenly paradise known as Borders.  (For those unacquainted with it, don’t try to find it, as, no matter how hard you tried, your quest would always come out fruitless.  If one still existed, I wouldn’t be sitting at the computer right now.)

So, as you can see, the idiosyncrasy about this complex issue is that Nick’s greatest advantage–its accessibility–can also act as its greatest weakness.  Winx on Nick has never had to worry about possibilities like lack of viewership, lack of publicity, or being seen negatively; it’s like the cliche of spoiled rich kids who feel “entitled” to their relations’ success.  Until now, that is.  The very thing that Nick has been trying to avoid is gaining quicker and quicker onto their heels.  Now, one of the few ways for Nick save that from happening is to acknowledge 4Kids’ existence, look at their strategies, learn from them, and put their own spin on them.  If they’re reading this, I highly recommend for them to do so…

…RIP Borders

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3 responses »

  1. hey there, I haven’t been around in awhile but you are right, 4kids despite it’s Amercanizing actually treated Winx like it could dethrone the Sponge, I think it’s the voices that are harming Nick’s dub mainly and Bloom not popping up every day to promote the show, had they got Liza Jacqueline or Angela Gallupo to do Bloom’s voice then maybe it would have a better shot on Nick (why don’t they just call it the Sponge, it used to be the Tommy now it’s the Sponge, why not The Bloom?)

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