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Screwed by the Merchandise

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"Don't those cartoon characters make you wanna buy those products? I sure hope so, or else I'll be off air."

No matter how popular the work itself is, it can be Cut Short if the toys or other merchandise doesn't sell as expected. This is most common in Merchandise-Driven cartoons; however, action cartoons also suffer from this, and the difficulty of selling toys is a large reason why the genre has become unpopular in America in the 2010s. The term "toyetic" is often passed around when a production places a high emphasis on being Merchandise-Driven with various vehicles, gadgets, outfits and unique locations that can translate into the figures, role playing items and playsets lining store shelves. This can be embraced by the fans as a way to express their fandom, but can also be lost if the toys are of poor quality or emphasizes the wrong things.

Unisex Series, Gendered Merchandise can be the source of why works end up cancelled. The merchandise producers are trying to aim for one demographic, but they end up attracting "too many" of another demographic. Instead of aiming the merchandise at the other gender, they cancel the entire franchise.

In general, this is the reason why many modern kids' anime series and video games, especially Magical Girl and Idol Genre series (like the Pretty Series, Aikatsu!, Inazuma Eleven, etc.) won't make it outside of Asia (or Asia & Europe in some cases). The anime series and merchandising line go hand-in-hand, making it way too expensive and risky for most anime licensors like Crunchyroll and Funimation. It's easier for licensors to focus on series, often older-aimed series, that aren't heavily tied to merchandise.

Despite claims that the merchandise didn't sell, it doesn't mean the merchandise line was unpopular with the public. Indeed, there have been cases that certain toys were flying off the shelves, while the rest of the line was left unsold. There could be irony abound if the producers made too many toys on what they thought would be popular, but only barely the minimum for toys that would actually be in high demand. Basically had the producers had better foresight on what elements of the cartoon would be popular in toy form, they could have hit their sales targets.

Compare to Screwed by the Network, where something is canceled due to Executive Meddling. Unless executives somehow meddle with the toyline, this trope does not overlap with Screwed by the Network, although they both deal with cancellation due to factors other than the quality of the show.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Beast Wars NEO: while the show did quite well, the toys sold very poorly. A big part of the problem was that many of the toys were what is known as "shellformers" i.e. Transformers whose transformation sequence involves folding the robot and then rotating large panels to cover it up (hence the term 'shellformer'). Big Convoy's toy was infamous for the fact that one could pull off all the mammoth parts and would wind up with a perfectly serviceable robot and an almost complete mammoth. Worse, the toys were viewed as being fiddly, overcomplicated and just not fun to transform, a death sentence for a franchise where converting a toy from one mode to another is the entire point. The reaction was so bad it essentially killed the Beast Wars franchise in Japan.
    • Frankly, the entire Transformers brand never really recovered after this. While there were occasional spikes here and there, for the most part it would primarily become an American-focused toyline, to the point where by the 2010s at least half of any new line is sold as exclusives by Takara because sales of on-the-shelf toys keep decliningnote .
  • Nurse Angel Ririka SOS was doing rather well with the ratings, however, it had too large of a Periphery Demographic. The actual toys weren't selling enough with little girls and thus they wrapped the anime's plot up early. The show was intended to become even grimmer. The actual ending is not exactly light though, as Ririka commits a Heroic Sacrifice (though ends up surviving).
    • The same thing happened with Magical Princess Minky Momo 12 years earlier. While the show had great ratings, not many people were buying the merchandise, which led to the infamous scene where, Momo gets hit by a truck carrying toys (which famously didn't stick since she was reborn as a human child). Though this was subverted by the fact that despite this, the show ran for 18 more episodes and eventually spawned an OVA in 1985, a sequel series (on another network) in 1991 note  and a movie which ended the franchise in 1994.
  • Ojamajo Doremi was a smash hit in Japan and many other countries, but the success did not translate to the United States, where the show got low ratings and the toys barely sold. The second wave of toys (which leaked Oyajide and Onpu's dub names) was cancelled and 4Kids Entertainment took the show off air, broadcasting the rest of the series via streaming from their website.
  • The 4Kids dub of Tokyo Mew Mew, titled Mew Mew Power, was cancelled and the second half remained undubbed despite good ratings because they were not able to get a merchandise deal for the show.
  • The Tamagotchi anime franchise got cancelled due to the poor sales and reception note  of the Tamagotchi 4U, the device made to tie in with GO-GO Tamagotchi!.
  • While Yo-Kai Watch was a big hit in Japan, it was far less successful in the US; with the toys not selling as well and a whole line of merchandise not seeing release despite prototypes being shown off at Toy Fair. The anime was eventually canceled after the third season of the English dub.

    Film — Animation 
  • The Disney Fairies books and films were popular, however, because the toys weren't selling up to expectations, the film series was put on a permanent hiatus.

    Film — Live Action 
  • This trope became the downfall of the original Batman movie series. Batman Returns was full of horrific and sexual content, and thus the McDonald's Happy Meal toys for the movie caused an outcry and the action figures didn't sell. Warner Bros. kicked out Tim Burton and brought in Joel Schumacher to make the Batman Forever Lighter and Softer with more colorful characters and vehicles so they could broaden their appeal and sell more action figures, which largely succeeded. Unfortunately, Batman & Robin pushed that further to the detriment of the film (the batmobile had a single seat to easily replicate as a toy), and in fact many working on the movie would comment that it was the first time they learned of the term "toyetic". Decades later, Joker almost didn't happen because Warner Bros. executives were concerned that the film was not "toyetic".
  • Return of the Jedi: In an 2010 interview with the LA Times, producer Gary Kurtz said that he thought that the emphasis on toys made Return of the Jedi a weaker film. Originally the movie was meant to be bittersweet, where the victory comes at great cost, Han Solo dies, and much fewer Ewoks. However George Lucas changed the plot so that Han Solo would live, because Solo dolls were so profitable.[1]

    Live-Action Television 
  • Despite no issues rating-wise, Barney & Friends was cancelled in 2009. At this time, Hit Entertainment was more focused on the merchandise sales for their intellectual properties rather than the qualities of their series, and sister property Thomas & Friends, following its transition from scale train models to CGi animation, was raking in more money than Barney for the first time since the peak of its popularity in the 90's. Hit shelved Barney to focus more on their really useful engine, resulting in the end of what was once a long-running staple of PBS.

    Video Games 
  • Disney Infinity was an Action-Adventure sandbox toys-to-life game series that ran from 2013 to 2016, inspired by the Toy Box Mode from the Toy Story 3 Licensed Game. On May 10th, 2016, Disney announced that due to low sales, Infinity would cease production the following month, as it was costing too much money to keep the series and figures rolling, also canceling many of its future plans. As part of the end of the franchise, Disney Interactive Studios had its publishing unit shut down, relegating it to a licensing unit for Disney's properties, and developer Avalanche Software closed (although the developer reopened under Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment ownership in January 2017).
  • Skylanders was one of the biggest video game Cash Cow Franchises for years and kickstarted the "toys-to-life" genre. After several years of amazing sales, the bubble finally burst with the sixth installment, Skylanders: Imaginators. It didn't sell nearly as expected and thus the franchise was put on hiatus.

    Web Original 
  • Exaggerated in Joueur du Grenier, where Fred claims in the introduction to Merchandise-Driven media that the JDG show was only intended to sell pull-string dolls. The dolls never sold at all (that they tell a racist joke with every pull of the string might have had something to do with it), but the show was kept going.
  • Both of Mattel's Cash Cow Franchises Monster High and Ever After High were canceled after diminishing toy sales and a change in the market towards smaller, cheaper toys (such as Blind Bag Collectables). In their place Enchantimals was created as a replacement. This means that the crossover movie was scrapped and Ever After High's plot was not finished. As of 2019, both lines are discontinued, though a reboot is planned for Monsters High.

    Western Animation 
  • The reason why Young Justice (2010) was initially canceled after two seasons was because it wasn’t moving enough merchandise. This mainly came from the large Periphery Demographic of the audience. As a serialized, action show with some heavy DC mythology, it wasn't watched by kids. It was watched by teens and adult comic fans. The merchandise didn't consist of things older people buy like phone cases or t-shirts, it was action figures/ toys aimed at 8-12-year-old boys (the audience was also more female skewing than anticipated). Quite simply kids weren't watching the show to know to buy the toys and the people who watched the show didn't buy toys. Unlike most examples here, the fans of the series were able to get a revival produced that didn't have a toyline to dictate its future.
  • Littlest Pet Shop:
    • Despite the ongoing popularity of previous years' toys, Littlest Pet Shop (2012) was canceled after four seasons due to poor toy sales. This is largely due to the cartoon's art style, which was different enough from previous eras of the franchise to alienate fans, and translated poorly into toys. Infamously, the toys were intended to be able to stand up on their own, but their especially large heads and small feet gave them a habit of falling over; as word of this and other issues (such as wonky paint jobs and generally poor quality) spread, toy sales plummeted and eventually doomed the cartoon.
    • Littlest Pet Shop: A World of Our Own, which tried to return the franchise's art style to something close to that used during the height of Littlest Pet Shop's popularity, still did very poorly in sales and only only lasted one season. This was heavily due to the toys' overly exaggerated facial expressions — children playing with the toys couldn't invent personalities for the pets like they had before, while older fans who made videos using the toys found that no amount of visual tricks could make these pets appear to react appropriately to situations.
  • Jem lasted three seasons and was popular. However, the toys weren't selling enough, so it was cut early. It had a series finale, but many plot threads were left unexplored (such as whether Rio will ever find out if Jem and Jerrica are the same person, what happened to Pizzazz's mother, Rio or Riot, etc). Despite this, it ended up a Cult Classic and over twenty years later was adapted in a film and a comic book.
  • Despite great ratings, the 1994-1995 Mega Man (Ruby-Spears) cartoon was cancelled after two seasons partially because Bandai cut several toy lines due to poor sales and were putting merchandising pressure on Capcom.
  • ThunderCats (2011) wasn't selling enough toys, and that is part of the reason why it ended after season 1 on a cliffhanger.
  • The 2002 remake of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was canceled because its toyline was not doing well. Since most shipments were full of strange variants of He-Man and Skeletor with only a couple of the other main characters, the toys became shelf warmers, and the final wave wasn't even released in its home country. The show itself was well-received, though also dealt with unpredictable time slots before its cancellation.
  • Sym-Bionic Titan was canceled after twenty episodes due to no companies wanting to make merchandise for it. How Cartoon Network was unable to get a toy deal for Humongous Mecha and Kaiju is a mystery for the ages.
  • Pound Puppies (2010) was eventually canceled due to a lack of toy sales (and increasingly poor ratings).
  • According to Word of God, this was one of the factors that lead to the cancellation of Courage the Cowardly Dog. It was thought that boys would be discouraged from wanting toys of a pink dog.
  • Ben 10: Omniverse's poor toy sales compared to the previous installments, combined with the mixed reception by long-time fans, caused it to become a Franchise Killer. The next installment was a Continuity Reboot.
  • Green Lantern: The Animated Series was canceled after one season, and on a cliffhanger at that, due to this. The film that had came out a few years earlier was a Box Office Bomb. It ended up souring the reputation of Green Lantern and this caused Green Lantern toy sales to plummet.
  • Challenge Of The Gobots is an interesting example. It had a toy line that at first did quite well, but then suffered from competition from The Transformers. The Gobot toy line was primarily made up of small toys, with a few characters getting larger Super Gobot versions (mostly main characters like Leader-One and Cy-Kill). In comparison, the Transformers ranged from the smaller, cheaper Minibots like Bumblebee to the mid-sized toys like Starscream and Jazz to larger toys like Soundwave and Optimus Prime, meaning that kids and their parents were more likely to buy many of the toys since they were all unique characters. The presence of bios on the Transformers toys as well as clear delineation between the factions also helped (most prominently the faction symbols sported by Autobots and Decepticons). In addition, The Transformers was a ratings hit, and while in many regards Gobots did some things better (e.g. there were prominent female Gobots from the start, the human cast was more diverse than that of The Transformers), it was generic in comparison. These factors wound up sinking the show, not helped by the failure of the Rock Lords film.
  • The Avengers: United They Stand was a case of the show getting screwed by the toys as well as the toys getting screwed by the show. The execs decided to make everyone have anime-style armor to sell matching toys, while the most popular Avengers were omitted for legal reasons. The concept failed and the show and toyline both tanked.
  • The Powerpuff Girls (2016) reboot failed to become the Cash-Cow Franchise like the original was. This was likely due to a combination of Girl-Show Ghetto, heavy criticism of pretty much every change by old fans, and new fans not finding the show as interesting as something like Teen Titans Go!. As a result, the series ended up Quietly Cancelled.
  • The Bots Master was intended to be a Merchandise-Driven series, but thanks to the toys based off of the show not selling wellnote , it only lasted 40 episodes before getting cancelled.
  • Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors was created to be merchandise-driven from the start, and never finished due to poor toy sales.
  • The Animated Adaptation of Bucky O'Hare and the Toad Wars! got done in by a shipping and distribution error during the Christmas season, where not enough of the popular Bucky figures were made available. Combined with the Invisible Advertising of the series, a second season was never greenlighted.
  • One of the reasons Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat was cancelled was probably this as the merchandise was near-impossible to find outside of the home media releases (the plushies sold in the States were made by the obscure Panache Place leading to limited distribution). And to boot, some of the merchandise was pretty odd and not exactly kid-aimed (a tea set made by Reutter Porcelain and party supplies to name two).
  • According to Mitch Watson, Beware the Batman would have lasted at least another season if it had gotten a proper toyline. Mattel contacted him and Glen Murakami about meeting up and exchanging ideas for toys. However, Mattel quickly changed its mind and wanted to focus on its own Batman line. With no funding, the show was not renewed. Only a collector's figure, a Happy Meal promotion, and a Deathstroke bust (which came out five years after the show's ending) are the closest to toys it has gotten.
  • There has been minor debate as to whether this was why the Earthworm Jim cartoon didn't make it past season 2. The show came out two months before the release of the second video game, and it had an associated toyline and comic book series. However, while the first two games were critical and financial successes, the toys and comics were not, and the third game wouldn't be ready for another three years. Given creator Doug TenNapel's dislike of the cartoon series and comments that it was "a cheap cash grab", it's likely the cartoon was meant to become a merchandise driven franchise, which obviously didn't happen.
  • Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was axed after two seasons in 2020 due to poor toy sales. As a result, Season 2 was cut in half and only had 13 episodes, compared to 26 for the first season. In August 2022, 104 weeks after the finale of the series aired on Nicktoons, Netflix released a Direct-to-Streaming movie called Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie.