Friday, June 07, 2013

Hit Makers

A few days back, there was this from one of our fine trade papers:

“The Simpsons” began as a toon segment on “The Tracey Ullman Show,” “South Park” got its jumpstart as a viral Christmas card and “Robot Chicken” emerged out of an Internet-only precursor. So it’s long been clear that award-winning animation can be nurtured outside the traditional pilot-to-series development track.

Such once-novel routes have become commonplace. Network execs and new-media honchos have made it a priority to root out the next big hits by embracing short-form and incubating talent in-house. But the process remains an inexact science.

That’s why Cartoon Network and Adult Swim, per chief content officer Rob Sorcher, are experimenting with the CN Shorts Program to breed the next big skeins. Sorcher says the program cuts the production timeline down and allows creators to avoid foundering in “development hell.”

The current program and its former iteration, “The Cartoonstitute,” have given rise to “Uncle Grandpa,” “Adventure Time,” “Rick and Morty,” “Steven Universe and Clarence,” as well as the Emmy-winning “Regular Show.” ...

Let's go back in time a bit.

The first "Let's Develop a Series By Doing a Bunch of Shorts" started at Hanna-Barbera in the 1990s, when top-kick Fred Seibert invited staff artists to pitch their home-grown ideas to the studio, and the best of them would be turned into shorts that would go on the t.v.

This throwing-things-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach was actually quite successful. In fact, the core series on Ted Turner's Cartoon Network -- Dexter's Lab, Power Puff Girls, Johnny Bravo -- came out of the experiment and helped make the network what it is today. It also boosted a lot of young artists' careers.

This development format has gone on at most of the studios doing television animation, also (in one version or another) the feature animation outfits. But this incubator process for t.v. cartoons is now twenty years old, and VARIETY has one thing above wrong. Adventure Time, one of Cartoon Network's big hits, began life as a Nickelodeon show, developed by Fred Seibert's group. (The same Fred Seibert that created the format at Hanna-Barbera.)

Despite positive staff reaction (I was in a screening and watched it being positive), and despite middle management's push to get the short turned into a series, upper management elected to go with something else, and Mr. Seibert took the show to Cartoon Network and ...

The rest (as they say) is ratings gold.

Good news for CN, less good for Nick. Which might be one reason that much of Nickelodeon's upper management has since boogied on.
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