Animation has picked up a reputation as a frivolous medium suitable primarily for children’s entertainment. According to many people in the animation community, this attitude is prevalent across much of the Western Hemisphere, although the Eastern Hemisphere also has this to an extent. This wasn’t always so: during both The Silent Age of Animation and The Golden Age of Animation, cartoons — although very limited in their range of subject — were as much for adults as anything else was. What happened to change this? The rise of limited animation, the fall of the studio system, and advances in color film technology happened.
In the age of black and white film, shooting live-action footage in Technicolor was a complex and expensive process; color animation, however, was simpler to create in comparison — and it was just as much of a draw. By The Fifties, live-action color films (and even television) were commonplace (negating the Wow Factor of animation), and without the studio system to make sure shorts would be bundled with features, the market for shorts eventually crumbled and crippled all theatrical film shorts. Due to its focus on long-format pieces, only one studio (Disney) was left in the American animation business, and in The Fifties and The Sixties, it was entering a period of being aggressively family-friendly.
Due to the lack of a theatrical venue, short-form cartoons were only practical on television. Full-quality animation was labor intensive and involved protracted development cycles; given the technology available, only limited animation methods could achieve the required output of ten to twenty episodes per season while remaining reasonable in terms of cost. Studios soon caught on that cartoons made with limited animation could be cheaper than live-action shows, and while a few did make primetime early on (see The Flintstones, season 1), many of them went to children’s programming (since children are not as sensitive to the quality issues and cartoons were cheaper — and more reliable — than the kinds of live-action shows that get aimed at children). There are no last-minute bloopers with animation, no need to control live untrained children, and less pay/credit for the people who do the work.
Once television animation became associated with children, the producers of animated shows began writing down to their presumed audience. This practice gave rise to the idea that animation which doesn’t fit in the Animation Age Ghetto isn’t as profitable as animation that does. If it’s considered safe for children, then you can license merchandise to children from the shows and be (reasonably) sure that someone will buy it. You can even make the shows 30-minute commercials, FCC regulations permitting. Older demographics aren’t seen as profitable.
The Ghetto is, thankfully, not as strong as it used to be — at least on television, anyway.