Thursday, March 20, 2008

The TV 'Toon Marketplace

I've had lots of conversations with directors and execs about how the television cartoon space is doing. Disney, Cartoon Network, Nick and others have had their ups and downs, and lately many have been in the Drop Zone ... down in the dumps.

Which of course hurts animation employment big time, because when the cartoon marketplace is crappy, the number of artists working is also crappy. So I was happy to see this on the front page of the Hollywood Reporter:

A 13-year winning streak on the ratings front and a roster of franchise hits like "SpongeBob SquarePants," "The Fairly OddParents" and the new live-action series "iCarly" -- which drew 21.7 million viewers during the course of its Sept. 9-10 premiere weekend, averaging 3.92 million viewers per showing -- have planted Nick squarely in the driver's seat in ad-supported cable.

"It's quickly becoming a one-horse race with the lead we have and the momentum we've sustained," Perry said. "But we're never going to rest on our laurels. All it takes is one hit and someone's back on their feet." In this case, that "someone" refers to second-place Cartoon Network.

When the Turner network unveils its upfront slate on April 3, the centerpiece of the presentation will focus on a new project from Star Wars creator George Lucas. Cartoon has ordered 22 episodes of "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," a CGI-animated series ...

You don't have to be psychic to know that the t.v. side of animation has been hurting. The Disney Channel has filled timeslots with live-action, squeezing out animated shows, and other cable networks have cut back on animation because ratings have been lacklustre. As a Cartoon Network exec said to me some months back (and I reported here earlier): "We've been hurting in the ratings. And lately we've been #3 ... a distant #3 ..."

Maybe I'm being Pollyannish about this, but in the last few weeks t.v. employment has picked up a bit. It's not just that artists are returning to the Fox prime time shows after a three-month writers' strike, it's the daytime stuff as well. Chowder is doing well for Cartoon Network and its staff is now back at work; Nick has greenlit new episodes of Fairly Odd Parents and Sponge Bob Square Pants; even long-hibernating Warners Animation has a Scooby Doo feature and series order.

Maybe it will be nothing more than a short-lived expansion. Maybe the bloom still has not returned to the small-screen animation rose. But the lede in the Hollywood Reporter fills me with hope:

Early reports on the ill health of the kids upfront [ads for teevee cartoons] have been greatly exaggerated, according to network ad sales executives, who hope to swap out Chicken Little projections of a flat to down market in favor of a more blustery Foghorn Leghorn outlook.

Let us pray that it is so.


Anonymous said...

I'm pretty certain that in the Fairly Odd Parent's case, the expansion will be short-lived. It has lost a sizeable portion of its audience overall, due primarily to bad scripting. Butch Hartman's adding a baby to the show was a clear sign of panic, and while the trick worked once in boosting the show's ratings, it's probable that unless real improvement is made, the show will soon begin to languish once again.

Spongebob, on the other hand, doesn't need a trick or gimmick to lure new viewers. He's doing fine, thanks to his producers understanding what it is about the show that works, and always remembering that people watch Spongebob not just because the show is funny, but because the little yellow guy himself is so appealing. His writers have been very smart in keeping him that way.

Anonymous said...

Whenever animation executives are quoted patting themselves on the back for any degree of success it never fails to crack me up. They really seem to believe that they actually had something to do with it.
Here's a note to any animation executives out there who may possibly stumble upon this post: 'Spongebob', 'Fairly Oddparents', 'Chowder'... all of these shows are successful IN SPITE OF YOUR INVOLVEMENT. Not 'because' of it.
If you track the ebb and flow of the animation industry as a business and watch these executive chuckleheads constantly running around, firing each other, re-hiring each other and bumping into things, it really starts to resemble a bunch of severely retarded people trying to assemble a racecar. It's pathetic.

Anonymous said...

what he said.

Robiscus said...

i thought people watch Spongebob because it was funny.

...but then i dodn't think the recent episodes are very funny, so the "appeal" is lost for me.

Anonymous said...

I think the Spongebob show is still funny, and the animation - hand-drawn for the most part - is excellent. As for Fairly Oddparents...well when Cosmo is funny again, the show will be funny again. But right now the little twit makes my ears bleed.

Anonymous said...

>>and the animation - hand-drawn for the most part - is excellent.<<

You don't set the bar too high, do you?

Anonymous said...

the greatest thing about the relationship between the design and the animation in sbob is that they work together so well, neither visual aspect stomping on or restricting the other. it's great cartooning. and the animation is great when it needs to be, and doesn't move around excessively when it would be a distraction from character and story.

most limited animation puts design too high up on a pedestal - it's usually too unclear and heavy-handed, and because of time and money, restricts the work from breathing and evolving.

Anonymous said...

People enjoy shows like these (all of which are good but not great) because the bar has been set so horrifyingly low. If any of these executives ever decide to grow some balls and put something on the air that's actually daring and original and great it would revolutionize television.
There are some good cartoons out there but they mainly serve as a painful reminder of how much better things could be if executives knew anything about what makes a great cartoon. As it is now anything good that makes it to the air is purely accidental despite the best efforts of the laughably inept executives in charge.
What's even more pathetic is if any of them read these comments they would probably stick their noses up and say "they just don't know what they're talking about."

Anonymous said...

I can't belive the live action series are looked up with that much esteme, when they are basically the same lame retreads of Saved By the Bell Knockoffs of the 90's. Just because you sqeaze terrible little pop songs into a show doesn't make it better. And yet, these pieces of junk are kicking animations butts. But hey, maybe if they didn't greenlight weak pathetic nonsense like "My Gym Partner's a Monkey" and "Skunk Fu" we can have some decent competition for a change.

Anonymous said...

As a designer in the business...I gotta say....if there were.....were....any new great ideas they would be on TV. Some one who says producers are inept are only half right. I have seen a lot of bad stuff getting pitched.

Sometimes the Producers don't get the ideas and they do slip through the cracks,but a lot of times most ideas are bad.

If you know better, prove it then pitch it.

Anonymous said...

look at it this way. all, not most ideas, are bad ideas. It's more of a case of how much trust a producer is willing to put on the line, and how much time and energy the studio is willing to devote to grow that occasional random accident into a shiny, brand new, brilliant idea. Risk vs reward. is the relationship going to go the distance to see it to the end, good or bad?

Anonymous said...

I agree with both of the above comments. The majority of ideas being pitched right now are the same-old-same-old gimmicky stuff at best and simply awful and unbearable at worst.
The trouble is, development executives are so completely unaware of what makes a good idea that they tell everyone "GREAT STUFF!" until their bosses tell them to say otherwise.
Of course, their bosses don't know what makes a good cartoon either, but they are in a position to blame their underlings if they let something through the pipeline that sucks (note the current "development shakeup" that has occurred).
This way, the bosses can claim victory when something is a hit and place the blame elsewhere when something is a flop.
It's a vicious cycle that pretty much guarantees mediocrity.

Anonymous said...

icarly and FOP are okay but i freckin hate spongebob

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