This afternoon, I took my bag of 401(k) books to Fox Animation, where a staffer said to me:
I don't know what it is, but I've been picking up that companies are really looking for new animation ideas, new shows, new characters. I'm getting the idea that they want more animation shows, but aren't finding new stuff they like. So the universe isn't expanding, but they want it to ..."
I responded that with the broadcast universe dividing and subdividing to the point where NBC isn't a lot different than TBS, our fine congloms were looking for more animation shows because
A) Unlike reality shows, 'toons have a robust afterlife in reruns and DVDs. (How many boxed sets of John and Kate, the first season you think are going to be sold? Fifteen?)
B) Compared to scripted live action, animated half hours are cost effective.
C) Fox has figured out it can build a whole prime time block around animated comedy. (Others will soon catch on to this ...)
Fox [benefitted] from spinoff mojo as "Family Guy" spinoff "The Cleveland Show" opened very well Sunday at 8:30 p.m. (4.9/12 in 18-49, 9.51m) between the season preems of "The Simpsons" (4.3/12, 8.31m) and "Family Guy" (5.2/12, 10.11m).
The Fox artist pointed out one puzzle piece I overlooked: merchandising. John and Kate dolls and board games just aren't moving that well. Cartoon merchandise is. And the cash flow has to come from somewhere, because broadcast networks no longer command 30%, 40% or 50% of the viewing audience. They are now little more than glorified cable channels, with viewership to match.
That being the case, the networks need to put on programming that makes them money as soon as possible. Jay Leno has a prime time show five nights a week for a reason. He's one hell of a lot cheaper than scripted live action, NBC can turn a profit with 1.5 million viewers, so they give him a shot.
The green eyeshade types have done the math, and know the budgets they have to work with. Which is why companies are looking at more toonage. It's relatively inexpensive, it has ancillary markets, and it will make everyone a nice bundle if it hits big.
Network t.v. isn't a high margin business anymore. General Electric, after all, is looking to unload Universal-NBC for a reason. It can count.