Crusader Rabbit has the honor of being the first animated program on television, ever. Prior to 1949, cartoons in America were only shown in theaters. After the news reels, children were treated to the infamous Merry Melodies, Disney, and other big studio cartoons. Alex Anderson, a former employee of Terrytoons Studio. The idea behind the characters was to have their personalities and bodies mismatch (a formula later used to develop the comedic moose and squirrel duo, and countless others). Alex's pitch to his uncle, also a Terrytoons Employee, to have a rabbit and tiger series, was ultimately rejected, prompting him to leave the company.
Enter one: Jay Ward. Ward and Anderson had been friends since their days at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1948, Anderson approached Ward to finance his made-for-tv animation idea. Jay was intrigued and threw his money into his own production company aptly titled "Television Arts Productions". With their office established in San Francisco, CA. they started to purpose their cartoon ideas to NBC-TV. Their original proposals included three animated series Crusader Rabbit (Crusader and Rags travel to Texas to protect Jack Rabbits taunted by hunters), Dudley Do-Right (A dimwitted Canadian Mountie, which Jay would use later on), and Hamhock Jones (The story of a private eye that had to figure out how to punish a set of siamese twins, with one good, and the other bad).
Luckily Crusader Rabbit was picked up and was hurried into immediate production. With Jay and Alex slaving away in their studio/garage, they had to develop a way to keep the show on budget. The key was reducing the amount of cells needed to produce an episode. In the 1940s, most theatrical cartoons used 40 cells per foot of film. With Ward's new cuts, he was able to reduce it to 4 cells per foot. This was done by only animating only the parts that needed to move, such as the mouths, arms, and legs.
Crusader Rabbit was the story of a courageous rabbit and his best friend, Ronald T. "Rags" Tiger. Each week they would go on random adventures in some exotic locations. Unfortunately their adventures always seemed to be fumbled by the evil villain Dudley Nightshade, who reminiscent of classic Hollywood bad guys (handlebar mustache, top hat, ect.). While overcoming obstacles, Crusader Rabbit and Rags meet a whole cast of new friends, from birds to two-headed dragons.
Jay eventually left the series to work on "Rocky and His Friends," leaving Alex and the new staff to work on the rest of the season. Crusader Rabbit had 195 segments, and ran from 1949-1951. The voice actors included:
The Narrator by Roy Whaley
Crusader Rabbit by Lucille Bliss
Ragland T. (Rags) Tiger by Vern Louden
Dudley Nightshade by Russ Coughlan
The series ended with some rather confusing copyright disputes. NBC was having money troubles and was cutting costs, which meant they would no longer fund the series. A man named Shull Bonsell bought the show's rights from NBC, although Anderson and Ward argued that the character copyrights were never owned by NBC and not included in the deal. To work out the deal, Shull Bonsell bought Anderson and Ward's production company to obtain all the rights for the show and characters. Anderson still retained the character rights (including the pilot series they pitched to NBC), which were then sold to Jay Ward (Who took full advantage of the rights by developing Dudley Do-Right and Rocky and His Friends from the 'Frostbite Falls Review' pilot they worked on previously).
By 1957, six years after the original run of Crusader Rabbit, Shull Bonsell's production company, Capitol Enterprises, teamed up with Creston Studios to create 200 full colored episodes (it was all the rage) of Crusader Rabbit to be put into syndication. While some of the stories were original, it did take many of its themes from the first series. While this second series got more exposure and air time than the original series, it was a separate project in which Jay Ward nor Alex Anderson were a part of. Roughly 260 segments were produced with Ge Ge Pearson as the voice of Crusader Rabbit, and Vern Louden as the voice of Rags.
In the 1970s, Metromedia purchased the rights to the new colorized Crusader Rabbit episodes and aired them in syndication on their multiple television stations around the country. By the mid-80s Rupert Murdoch had purchased Twentieth Century Fox Films and was looking to develop his own media giant. He also purchased Metromedia and tied it with FOX's assets to create his own budding network. Today the legal rights for Crusader Rabbit belong to FOX Networks oddly enough. No word has been mentioned about the use of the property or any developments from it.