Crusader Rabbit was the first animated series produced specifically for television. The concept was test marketed in 1948, while the initial episode - Crusader vs. the State of Texas - aired on KNBH in Los Angeles, California on August 1, 1950.
The concept of an animated series made for television came from animator Alex Anderson, who worked for Terrytoons Studios. Terrytoons preferred to remain in film animation, so Anderson approached Jay Ward for financing. Ward became business manager and producer, joining with Anderson to form "Television Arts Productions" in 1948. They tried to sell the series (initially presented as part of a proposed series, The Comic Strips of Television, which also featured an early incarnation of Dudley Do-Right) to the NBC television network, which assigned Jerry Fairbanks to be "supervising producer". 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) picking it up for local showings. WNBC-TV in New York continued to show the original Crusader Rabbit episodes from 1949 through 1967, and some affiliates used the program as a time filler as late as the 1970s.
The original series had limited animation, appearing almost as narrated storyboards with frequent cuts and minor movement by the characters. This was due to the limited budget producers Jay Ward and Alex Anderson had to film the series.
Each program began with a title sequence of a mounted knight galloping across the screen. The episodes then featured a short, usually satirical, adventure in the form of a movie serial, ending with a cliffhanger.
Crusader Rabbit was originally syndicated from 1950 to 1951, totalling 195 episodes (divided into ten "crusades"), and was re-aired for many years. It featured Crusader Rabbit, his companion Ragland T. Tiger (Rags), and their occasional nemesis - Dudley Nightshade (called Ill-regard Beauregard in a few episodes). Ragland Tiger's name came from the jazz tune Tiger Rag, while Dudley Nightshade's was a play on the poisonous plant, "deadly nightshade".
The series was revived and 13 new "crusades" (totalling 260 color episodes) were produced in 1957 by Shull Bonsall's Capital Enterprises. Bonsall had bought out Television Arts Productions and gained the rights to Crusader Rabbit, after a long legal battle between Jay Ward and Alex Anderson, Jerry Fairbanks and NBC over who owned the series. Animation was provided by Bonsall's Creston Studios, also known as "TV Spots, Inc.", supervised by Bob Ganon and Gerald Ray. Bonsall was one of the animators on the original Anderson and Ward episodes. The new series was not seen until early 1959.
Lucille Bliss provided the voice of Crusader Rabbit in the original series, and by Ge Ge Pearson in the revived series. Vern Louden played Rags in both. Dudley Nightshade was voiced by Russ Coughlan, and narration was by Roy Whaley.
The success of Crusader Rabbit inspired many more television cartoons series. Jay Ward would later produce The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. In 1985, Rhino Entertainment released the first two volumes of Crusader Rabbit in a planned home-video release of all the original episodes. However, 20th Century Fox claimed right by their acquisition of previous owner Metromedia Producers Corporation. No further Rhino releases of Crusader Rabbit were allowed.