Cartoon Network was in a dilemma in 1996. Certainly the kid-vid industry was changing before their eyes, and a golden opportunity was ready for them. Nickelodeon, The Family Channel, and USA didn't air action-animation on weekday afternoons. Disney Channel was still mostly a non-issue because they were still primarily a premium network. Fox Kids was at the top of the heap with their mega-powered Power Rangers franchise and looked unstoppable. Kids' WB, their younger corporate cousin, presented only comedy on their hour-long afternoon block in 1996. UPN's action block was short-lived on Sunday mornings. The opportunity to develop a strong action franchise was there, especially since TBS and TNT's lineups were comprised mostly of comedic cartoons.
However, they didn't exactly know how to accomplish it. Even though a wealth of action fans existed in the Williams Street production facility that's responsible for the production of the comedic Space Ghost Coast to Coast talk show, Cartoon Network felt that the Techwood Drive offices were a more professional place to develop a potentially big brand name for the network.
Cartoon Network decided to name the action block something simple: POW! The name evoked the spirit of the previous block Power Zone as well as the sound of someone getting punched. Utilizing a graphic style that emulated the 1960s Batman series as the packaging, POW! premiered on January 20, 1997 featuring a lineup of mostly acquired programming:
4 PM: Batman: The Animated Series (which they acquired from Warner Bros.) 4:30 PM: G-Force 5 PM: Speed Racer 5:30 PM: The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest
POW! received much love from the viewers, but they wanted something a little more. Cartoon Network had a successful action block, but they wanted to make it great. Cartoon Network acquired broadcasting rights to a pair of 80s cartoons replacing the action in the middle of the block (G-Force was heading to the pre-POW! hour while the broadcasting rights to Speed Racer was about to elapse). They acquired the rights to Thundercats from Warner Bros. and the rights to Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors from DiC.
In January 1998, POW! acquired broadcast rights to Voltron: Defender of the Universe from World Events which replaced the lone new series on the block, The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest, which was already cancelled in the fall of 1997. By fall 1998, Cartoon Network was forced to move Batman from POW! because Kids' WB! was planning to bring The New Batman/Superman Adventures to weekday afternoons, creating a potential conflict with Batman on Cartoon Network. So, Batman was moved to the post-POW! block and POW!'s lineup was revamped with the return of Jonny Quest, still in rerun mode.
In 1999, Cartoon Network needed help in programming POW!, so they reluctantly looked towards the Williams Street facilities and asked for their imput. Guys like Jason DeMarco, and Sean Akins were asked what they would put on POW!'s lineup. Jason suggested Robotech, Evangelion, and Sailor Moon. Sean suggested Dragon Ball Z, Ranma 1/2, and Gundam Wing. Cartoon Network looked at the availiability of those shows (and to ask what Gundam Wing, Evangelion, and Ranma 1/2 were) and picked up rights to Robotech and Sailor Moon for POW!'s spring lineup while waiting on whether DBZ could be availiable in time for the fall. Sailor Moon became the marquee show, replacing Jonny Quest, while Robotech, which replaced Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, became an overnight phenomenon. When Dragon Ball Z finally premiered in September 1999, Cartoon Network's POW! was finally a hit in the mainstream.
Sean and Jason became executive producers of POW! and became responsible for creating an image for the block, which was a 3D steampunk world of robotic espionage. They developed a mascot of sorts named SAM (Sentient Autonomous Module), who was a robotic adventurer.
POW! expanded an hour in 2000, and an opportunity was made. Bandai entered the animation distribution business in North America, and they began to search for broadcast partners. POW! became the official home of Mobile Suit Gundam and Gundam Wing, both of which premiered that fall. Mobile Suit Gundam aired in a newly created late-night block called POW! Night Shift while Gundam Wing was prepped for the regular block.
After the events of September 11, 2001, POW! became reduced in importance at Cartoon Network. The block was deflated by an hour (avoiding conflict with Kids' WB thanks to new network boss [and Kids' WB! founder] Jamie Kellner) while Dragon Ball Z remained in an earlier part of the block rather than close to prime-time. Gundam was completely gone from the lineup, as were many of the older properties. On the other hand, Samurai Jack and Justice League became a part of POW! on Friday afternoons encoring the previous week's premieres in primetime. Sadly, Sean and Jason left the block and Cartoon Network in search of better opportunities, which they found at Comcast and Sony where they've been developing Toonami, a new animation network that's aimed towards older audiences.
In 2007, ten years after its premiere, POW! is still the most popular block on Cartoon Network. The Night Shift began airing TV-PG/14 programming like Naruto and InuYasha over the years while new programming and co-productions began airing exclusively on POW! such as Code Lyoko, Robot Boy, Ben 10, Justice League Unlimited, Teen Titans, and The Batman. They never took into account that the audiences were maturing, but the block remained a fan favorite even as the network continously began to spiral out of control.