Crusader Rabbit was the first animated series produced especially for television. The first episode of Crusader vs. the State of Texas was aired (locally) over KNBH in Los Angeles on August 1, 1950.
Until the debut of the series, cartoons on TV had originally been produced as cinema shorts, especially for Saturday matinées for children. Despite the name of the character and his appearance as a horse-riding knight in armor in the title sequence, the series had nothing to do with religious crusades, but were very short and usually satirical episodic adventures in the form of the familiar serial, with a cliffhanger ending to each episode.
The original run had very limited animation, at times appearing almost as a series of narrated storyboards with frequent cuts and minor movement of the characters. This was due to the VERY small budget Jay Ward and Alex Anderson had to film the series.
The series was originally syndicated from 1950 - 1951, lasting 195 episodes (ten "crusades"), and reran for many years and featured a brave Crusader Rabbit, his pal Ragland T. Tiger (Rags), and their nemesis, usually a variation of the 19th century stage black-cloaked, moustache-twirling villain. Rags's name was a play on the jazz tune, Tiger Rag.
The series was revived and 13 new "crusades" (260 color episodes) were produced in 1957 by Shull Bonsall's Capitol Enterprises. Bonsall had bought out Television Arts Productions, and the rights to "Crusader", after a long legal battle between Jay Ward & Alex Anderson, Jerry Fairbanks and NBC as to which of them owned the rights to the series (see below). Animation facilities were provided by Bonsall's Creston Studios, aka "TV Spots, Inc.", under the supervision of Bob Ganon and Gerald Ray. He was one of the animators on the original Anderson & Ward episodes. In most areas, the new series wasn't seen until early 1959. One change was that Bonsall combined all of the similar villains into one, Dudley Nightshade (a play on the poisonous plant, deadly nightshade), claiming that the others such as Whetstone Whiplash and Ill-Regard Beauregard had been Dudley in disguise.
The idea of an animated series made for television originated with animator Alex Anderson, who worked for Terrytoons Studios. Terrytoons preferred to remain with film animation, and Anderson approached Jay Ward for financing. Ward became business manager and producer and joined with Anderson to form "Television Arts Productions". They tried selling the series to the NBC television network, who assigned Jerry Fairbanks as "supervising producer". Fairbanks was the network's official provider of filmed TV programs in the late '40s. In the end, NBC did not telecast "Crusader Rabbit" on their network, but allowed Fairbanks to sell the series in national syndication, with many of the NBC affiliates (including New York and Los Angeles) buying it for local showings. For example, WNBC-TV in New York continued to show the original "Crusader Rabbit" episodes, on and off, from 1949 through 1967, and some affiliates used the shorts as time fillers well into the 1970s.
The voice of Crusader Rabbit was provided by Lucille Bliss in the original series, and Ge Ge Pearson in the revived series. Vern Louden played Rags in both. In the initial series, Dudley Nightshade was played by Russ Coughlin and narration was by Roy Whaley.
Jay Ward went on to produce the better known and more popular The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show (also known as "Rocky and His Friends" and "The Bullwinkle Show"), with much the same structure and characterization, and the roles held by Crusader, Rags and Dudley taken by Rocky the Squirrel, Bullwinkle the Moose, and quasi-Soviet spies Boris and Natasha.
In 1985, Rhino Entertainment released the first two volumes in a planned re-release of all of the original episodes on videotape. However, they had to discontinue this plan when a dispute arose over who held the ownership rights to the series. When it was discovered that Twentieth Century-Fox owned the series, due to their acquisition of previous owner Metromedia Producers Corp. in 1986, Fox allowed Rhino to release only the two volumes already on the market. Any future video release by Fox has yet to be announced.