Hosted by Ben Mankiewicz, the series featured three classic animated shorts from the 1930-1950's per episode. Most shorts were from The Golden Age of American animation. Each of the three shorts focused on a common theme. Most shorts came from Warner Bros., MGM, and Paramount (the latter studio provided the Popeye cartoons only; these were in Turner's hands by this point), but during the show's first season Cartoon Alley featured shorts from the Gaumont Film Company. Many recognizable characters have been featured in at least one episode such as Bugs Bunny, Popeye, Porky Pig, Tom and Jerry, and others not so famous such as Goopy Geer and The Captain and the Kids. The shorts often appeared uncut and uncensored (a few cartoons utilized cuts for content), and the more controversial cartoons (such as Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt and Half-Pint Pygmy) were often introduced with a brief warning by Mankiewicz about the ethnic stereotypes being portrayed. The network's logo was only featured for a brief time, usually during the last short featured.
From November 2004 to September 2005 the series was featured just once a month but after popular demand the series became a weekly feature. This series never aired in February because of TCM's 31 Days of Oscars programming. The series was canceled in autumn of 2007.