The Allure of Horror in Children’s Television Shows

Last week, in class, we spoke about a particular television show that seemed to resonate with everyone: Courage the Cowardly Dog.


Still from Courage the Cowardly Dog, “Opening Sequence” (Season 1, Episode 1, 1999.)

This show seemed to leave an everlasting impression on people, especially for its elements of terror and incorporation of dark comedy. Growing up, shows such as Goosebumps, The Adventures of Billy and Many, and Are you Afraid of the Dark? took the adolescent world by storm as children glued themselves to their television screens in order to watch a pink dog handle various terrifying situations in the middle of Nowhere (which was actually the name of the place where they lived). Between the early 1990s to early 2000s period, kid’s horror shows were widely acclaimed due to their ability to not only provide a thrilling as well as comedic aspect to various story lines, but also achieve an abstract viewpoint on what is suppose to be a show for children. In an interview with John R. Dilworth, the creator of Courage the Cowardly Dog, his inspiration behind the series originated from his fascination with the “elasticity” as well as the “absurdity” of various characters that he grew up with during “the Golden Age” of cartoons. His interview here:

While researching various creators on shows relating to this subject matter, I came across another famous household name in the land of television horror for children: R.L Stine, the creator of Goosebumps. I noticed a similar characteristic with R.L Stine that I had noticed previously with John R. Dilworth. When both creators started out creating their shows, they did not have a moral lesson in mind. Their shows did not have a deeper or more complex meaning behind them and they did not particularly care for the psychoanalysis aspect of television. They simply wanted to create a show that was funny and chilling at the same time. They both loved the feeling of being scared or scaring people because of the feeling of anticipation that a person receives from these particular actions. When children would watch these types of shows, rarely would they look for a moral of the story. Critics often regarded these types of shows as aesthetically pleasing  and fresh, but would not typically capitalize on the psychology within the show because it was open to interpretation.

Still from Goosebumps, “The Haunted Mask” (Season 1, Episode 1, 1995.)

Though the genre for children’s horror thrived during the 1990s to early 2000s period, creators such as Stine and Dilworth worry about this genre today. With the limitations put on television these days, especially children’s television, it is much harder to get approval from networks for these types of shows anymore. An episode such as “King Ramses’ Curse” would have probably never aired today due to its strong elements of horror.

Still from Courage the Cowardly Dog “King Ramses’ Curse” (Season 1, Episode 7, 2000.)

Knowing this, creators who dabble in this particular genre have had a hard time actively seeking networks to pick up their shows. In order to enjoy classics such as these shows, children’s television networks must find a way to compromise with aspiring animators.

-Shelby Halliman

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5 Responses to The Allure of Horror in Children’s Television Shows

  1. mediaphiles says:

    Because I grew up without cable, I was lost during the discussion about Courage the Cowardly Dog, but when pictures were pulled up from the show, I was immediately disturbed (and weirdly thankful for what I always viewed as having a deprived childhood). I think it’s interesting what kind of shows networks like Cartoon Network deems appropriate for children, and why so many kids are drawn to them. I might have to give some of these shows a shot and see what I think now!
    – Sarah King

  2. mediaphiles says:

    I watched CCD when I was younger, and I recently watched an episode on Netflix just for kicks. Oh man! I’m 22 and was so freaked out by the episode I watched I left my closet light on that night. It’s interesting that the creators of the show say that one of their primary objectives was simply to scare members of their audience. I think this is why I’ve never been a huge fan of this genre (or horror movies, for that matter) because it feels kind of pointless. Where is the value in being scared by something like CCD? Is there anything valuable in that process? I’m not sure. If I’m going to watch a show that doesn’t require any kind of critical or psychoanalysis, I’ll stick to The Office.

    -Callie Sartain

    • marymdalton says:

      I read an article once about how watching horror movies is a coming of age rite of passage for kids today analogous to some Native American practices like having a young man stay out in the woods to prove his bravery and make the transition from boy to man in a tribe. It’s as good an explanation as any I can come up with!

  3. mediaphiles says:

    I remember watching Courage the Cowardly Dog when I was younger and I never really understood it. I think I just watched it because the main character was a dog but it never really scared me. I think the show is so memorable because of how different it was. It is interesting that the show was created with no underlying, complex meaning because I feel like many people have tried to find one is CCD. I’ve noticed a lot of theories surrounding this show about how it actually has very deep and dark underlying themes. – Katie Thevenow

  4. marymdalton says:

    I feel that I SHOULD watch an episode but DOUBT I’ll be able to make the time!

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