In the beginning, both Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies drew their storylines from Warner's vast music library. However, eventually the two series distinguished themselves by Looney Tunes becoming the umbrella for the studio's various recurring characters, while Merrie Melodies continued with the use of one-shot characters. Also, from 1934 to 1943 Merrie Melodies were produced in color and Looney Tunes in black and white; after 1943, however, both series were produced in color; the only real difference between the two series was in the variation between the opening theme music and titles. Both series also made use of the various Warner Bros. cartoon characters. By 1937, the theme music for Looney Tunes was "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down" by Cliff Friend and Dave Franklin; the theme music for Merrie Melodies was an adaptation of "Merrily We Roll Along" by Charles Tobias, Murray Mencher and Eddie Cantor.
Black and white Looney Tunes opening title from 1942.In 1930, Warner Bros. became interested in developing a series of musical animated shorts in order to promote their music. They had recently acquired the ownership of Brunswick Records along with four music publishers for US $28 million. Consequently, they were eager to start promoting this material in order to cash in on the sales of sheet music and phonograph records. Warners made a deal with Leon Schlesinger to produce cartoons for Warner Bros. Schlesinger hired Rudolph Ising and Hugh Harman to produce their first series of cartoons. Bosko was Looney Tunes first major star, debuting in the short "Sinkin' in the Bathtub" in 1930. When Harman and Ising left the Warner Bros. in 1933 over a budget dispute with Schlesinger, they took with them all the rights of the characters and cartoons which they had created. Schlesinger had to negotiate with them in order to keep the rights to the name Looney Tunes as well as for the right to use the slogan That's All Folks! at the end of the cartoons.
A bland white-washed version of Bosko called Buddy became the star of the Looney Tunes series for the next few years. With the animators working in the Termite Terrace studio, they debuted of the first truly major Looney Tunes star, Porky Pig, who was introduced in 1935 along with Beans the Cat in the Merrie Melodie cartoon I Haven't Got a Hat directed by Friz Freleng. Beans was the star of the next Porky/Beans cartoon Golddiggers of '49, but it was Porky who emerged as the star instead of Beans. This was followed by the debuts of other memorable Looney Tunes stars such as Daffy Duck (in 1937) and the most famous of the Looney Tunes cast, Bugs Bunny (in 1940). Bugs appeared mostly in the color Merrie Melodies and formally joined the Looney Tunes crew , Buckaroo Bugs. Bugs Bunny made a cameo appearance in 1942 in the Avery/Clampett Cartoon Crazy Cruise and also at the end of the Frank Tashlin 1943 cartoon "Porky Pig's Feat" (Bugs Bunny's only black and white appearance). Schlesinger sold his interest in the cartoon studio in 1944 to Warner Bros.
The Looney Tunes series' popularity was strengthened even more when the shorts began airing on network and syndicated television in the 1950s under various titles and formats. However, since the syndicated shorts' target audience was children and because of concerns over children's television in the 1970s, the Looney Tunes shorts began to be edited to remove scenes featuring innuendos, racial remarks, curse words, ethnic stereotypes and extreme violence.
The original Looney Tunes theatrical series ran from 1930 to 1969 (the last short being "Injun Trouble", starring Cool Cat). During part of the 1960s, the shorts were produced by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises after Warner Bros shut down their animation studios. The shorts from this era can be identified by the fact that they open with a different title sequence featuring stylized limited animation and graphics on a black background and a re-arranged version of "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down," arranged by William Lava. (When Seven Arts Associates merged with Warner Bros. in 1967, the logos were updated, replacing all regular WB elements with the Warner Bros.- Seven Arts logo, as well as new theme music.) Theatrical animated shorts went dormant until 1987 when new shorts were made to introduce Looney Tunes to a new generation of audiences. New shorts have been produced and released sporadically for theaters since then, usually as promotional tie-ins with various family movies produced by Warner Bros. This lasted until 2004.
Beginning in 1975 and continuing throughout the 1980s, several feature-film compilations were produced, beginning with Bugs Bunny: Superstar (first distributed by United Artists). After that, Warner Bros. compilation films began with 1979's The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie and ended with 1988's Daffy Duck's Quackbusters; these two pastiche features are generally considered the best of the Looney Tunes' compilation films.
In 1976, the Looney Tunes characters made their way into the amusement business when they became the mascots for the two Marriott's Great America theme parks (Gurnee, Santa Clara). After the Gurnee park was sold to Six Flags, they also claimed the rights to use the characters at the other Six Flags parks, which they continue to do presently.
In 1988, several Looney Tunes characters appeared in cameo roles in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The more notable cameos featured Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, Sylvester, and Tweety. It is the only time in which Looney Tunes characters have shared screen time with their rivals at Disney - particularly in the scenes where Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse are skydiving, and when Daffy Duck and Donald Duck are performing their "Duelling Pianos" sequence.
In 1988, Nickelodeon aired all the unaired cartoons in a show called Looney Tunes on Nickelodeon until 1999. To date, Looney Tunes on Nickelodeon is the longest-airing animated series on the network that was not a Nicktoon.
In 1996, Space Jam, a feature film mixing animation and live-action, was released starring Bugs Bunny and basketball player Michael Jordan. The movie was somewhat successful despite its odd plot, and it introduced a new character named Lola Bunny.
In 2000, Warner Bros. decided to make the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies library exclusive to fellow Time Warner properties, specifically Cartoon Network. Immediately prior to this decision, Looney Tunes shorts were airing on several networks at once: on Cartoon Network, on Nickelodeon (as Looney Tunes on Nickelodeon), and on ABC (as The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show). The latter two had been particularly long running series, and the Warner Bros. decision forced the two networks to cancel the programs. This is the main reason why Looney Tunes is seldom seen on television today.
In 2003, another feature film was released, this time in an attempt to recapture the spirit of the original shorts: the live-action/animated Looney Tunes: Back in Action. Although it earned relatively good reviews and has been argued by animation historians and fans as the finest original feature-length appearance by Bugs and friends, the film was a box-office disappointment, putting the theatrical future of The Looney Tunes in limbo.
In 2006, Warner Home Video released a new, Christmas-themed Looney Tunes direct-to-video movie called Bah, Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas featuring a wide array of characters working in a mega-store under the Scrooge-esque Daffy Duck. The movie parodies the famous book by Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol.
Since the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Looney Tunes characters have been featured in numerous video games, such as a same-titled one that came out on Game Boy in 1992. It was later remade for the Game Boy Color in 1999; it was not a best seller and received poor reviews.
The Looney Tunes characters have had more success in the area of television, with appearances in several originally produced series, including Taz-Mania (1991, starring The Tasmanian Devil), The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries (1995, starring Sylvester the cat, Tweety Bird and Granny), Baby Looney Tunes (2002, which had a similar premise to Muppet Babies), and Duck Dodgers (2003, starring Daffy Duck,Porky Pig and Marvin the Martian). The Looney Tunes characters also made frequent cameos in the 1990 spinoff series Tiny Toon Adventures, where they played teachers and mentors to a younger generation of cartoon characters, plus occasional cameos in the later shows Animaniacs and Histeria! Most recently, Loonatics Unleashed, a futuristic version of the characters, is currently airing on Kids' WB! It has a large fanbase, although the show was greeted with negative criticism from audiences familiar with the original versions of the characters.