Get ready! New TV is on its way. Amid Amidi takes a whirl through the upcoming season's highlights and also notes some trends for which we should be on the lookout.
It's time to wash those pajamas and stock up on sugar-coated cereals because the fall cartoon season is arriving, and it promises to be a dandy. But it's not just Saturday mornings anymore. From new afternoon cartoon blocks to primetime and late night television, TV cartoons are everywhere you look. This selective rundown will take a look at some of the new shows and highlights of the fall TV animation season. But before we get started, here are a few interesting trends worth pointing out that might help put the current state of TV animation into a clearer perspective.* Branding: Networks are starting to realize that to get ratings, you have to do more than create a bunch of unrelated shows. Channels need to have their own identities, and people need to know why they're watching a particular network. By creating themed packages out of their shows, a network's cartoon lineup becomes a destination rather than just an assorted group of cartoons.* Syndication: With the proliferation of niche cable networks popping up, syndication has gone the way of the dinosaurs. It doesn't really affect the amount of cartoons available, but rather the cartoons are being aired through different distribution channels than before. While there is still the odd syndicated cartoon floating around, expect to see them completely disappear within the next few years.* Reality-based Cartoons: Kids can't use their imaginations at school; now they can't use them at home either. Suffering from the Doug-syndrome, cartoons don't transport kids to fantasy places anymore; they're about normal kids who do normal things and eat normal foods and have normal friends and...well, you get the idea.* Primetime Animation: Cable networks first realized the potential of what a good primetime cartoon can do for their ratings. Now, broadcast networks are jumping onto the bandwagon, and within the next few years, cartoons are poised to become a regular staple of primetime television. However, the biggest common factor, and potential hazard, among primetime cartoons is the fact that nearly all of them rely too heavily on the writing, without giving nearly the same regard to the visual aspects. While no one doubts that the writing is what has made The Simpsons a success for over a decade, it is only a matter of time before audiences tire of the visually uninvolving animation and art that plagues so many primetime animated efforts.
Why fix it, if it's not broke? No dramatic changes are in the works for the Disney-owned network, just some fine-tuning. The returning shows - Disney's Hercules, The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Mickey's MouseWorks, the "One Saturday Morning" block (Disney's Doug, Recess, Pepper Ann), Schoolhouse Rock and Squigglevision - form nearly the exact same Saturday morning lineup from last season. The only new arrival is DIC's Sabrina, the Animated Series, which fills the empty slot caused by the shortening of The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show from one-hour to half-an-hour (for more on Sabrina see the UPN section).
One of the most consistently enjoyable and creative aspects of ABC's lineup is the series of interstitial shorts that accompany the two-hour "One Saturday Morning" block. Meme, portrayed by Valerie Rae Miller, will continue to host "One Saturday Morning," but expect to see expanded roles from her co-hosts - Jelly Roll, the 5,000-pound talking elephant, and Derby, a geriatric, wise-cracking mouse. Another very promising freshman interstitial series is Manny's America, a series of 3-minute segments where Manny the Uncanny (actor/comedian/writer Paul Rugg) sets off in his 30-foot motor home to discover the off-beat sights around America. From the Bayou Swamp Tour in Louisiana to the Ventriloquist Museum in Kentucky to the Glass Blowing Factory in West Virginia, this mini-series promises to be very amusing and enlightening.
Also new for the fall season is What's the Diff?, an interactive interstitial broken into four short viewings per hour. Every viewing, two "snapshots" pop up with seemingly identical frames of animation; and viewers must quickly detect the slight differences between the images. Returning interstitial segments include the award-winning Great Minds Think For Themselves, hosted by the Genie (voiced by Robin Williams) from Aladdin, the CG-cartoon Tube Dwellers, the zoological-themed Flynndiggery Do! and Flipbook. And for fans of Ms. Munger's Class, which was taken off the air as a result of legal complications, there is a similarly-produced interstitial, tentatively titled Cafeteria, which will premiere later in the fall season.
BKN (Bohbot Kids Network)
Launched on August 29 across 92% of the United States, BKN is poised to become the nation's fourth broadcast kids network. Two distinctly branded broadcast services will air a total of 24 hours of animated programming per week. The flagship BKN service, "Bulldog TV," will offer action-based animated series targeting boys 6-11, while the second service, BKN II, will target a broader audience encompassing both boys and girls 2-11. Broken into two-hour programming blocks on weekdays, as well as Sunday, the cartoons on the schedule are primarily older syndicated shows such as Mummies Alive!, Double Dragon, Street Sharks, Jumanji, Sonic Underground, Beakman's World, and Captain Simian & the Space Monkeys. However, Bulldog TV does have two new original series - Roswell Conspiracies: Aliens, Myths & Legends and the CG-animated Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles. "It's far and away the most advanced CGI work ever seen in an animated TV series," says Starship Troopers co-executive producer Jeff Kline. Using motion capture and other techniques, Kline says that there was a major emphasis on doing believable human characters and mouth movements, an area where other CG-animated series have previously faltered. Continuing the legacy of the novel and feature film, the series follows the ongoing galactic adventures and teenage hardships of the Starship Troopers - Rico, Dizzy and Carl. Kline describes the series best as "Beverly Hills 90210 goes to war in space." However, the show's most interesting aspect may be its novel approach to storytelling. Starship Troopers is being produced in a way so that each week's worth of five episodes will be a self-contained story arc that takes place on a different planet. The last two weeks of the forty-episode series are planned as the climactic final war campaign on Earth. With its detailed computer animation and unique story structure, Starship Troopers is one of the more ambitious animated series to debut this fall.
The Eye network continues with their all-NELVANA, all-educational strategy in an effort to attract the lowest ratings possible. The three-hour block features three returning shows -- Anatole, Flying Rhino Junior High, and Mythic Warriors: Guardians of the Legend -- along with three new shows, Blaster's Universe (based on the educational CD-ROM series), Rescue Heroes (about a team of emergency response pros), and New Tales from the Cryptkeeper (teaching kids valuable life lessons in a scary way).
Fox Four of last season's five animated primetime shows are returning this fall -- The Simpsons, Futurama, King of the Hill (all three airing in a Sunday evening block starting at 7:30 PM ET/PT) and Family Guy (Thursdays at 9 PM ET/PT beginning September 23, after a special show on September 19). While not on the fall schedule, Will Vinton Studios' The PJs is currently in production on its second season and will have a midseason premiere, presumably with Gary & Mike, another stop motion series that Will Vinton is producing. Taking a cue from the long-running Simpsons tradition, all the Fox cartoons will feature a plethora of celebrity guest voices this season. Entering its 11th season, The Simpsons will welcome guest appearances by Mel Gibson, Lucy Lawless (Xena, Warrior Princess), Ed Asner, John Goodman, Henry Winkler (The Fonz), Tom Arnold, homerun champ Mark McGwire, Access Hollywood news hosts Nancy O'Dell and Pat O'Brian, Jay North (the live-action Dennis the Menace), magicians Penn & Teller, the ever-perky producer/spokesman Dick Clark, Don Cheadle, Garry Marshall, Gary Coleman, Butch Patrick (Eddie on The Munsters), and Elwood Edwards (voice of AOL). Additionally, keep an eye out for the return of Apu's wife, Manjula (Jan Hooks), and mobster Fat Tony (Joe Mantegna).
On King of the Hill, returning for its fourth season, keep your ears perked for vocal appearances by Meryl Streep, Drew Carey, Heather Locklear, Kathleen Turner, football great Don Meredith, and country music crooners Clint Black, Mac Davis and the Dixie Chicks. And finally, Family Guy boasts a humongous guest cast including Jay Mohr, Fairuza Balk, Patrick Warburton, Ben Stein, Luke Perry, Jennifer Tilly, Adam West, Lee Majors, Dawn Wells, Erik Estrada, Sam Waterston, Robin Leach, Will Ferrell, Phil LaMarr, Tim Curry, Jon Cryer, comedian Alan King, former Dallas couple Patrick Duffy and Victoria Principal and legendary rock group KISS. Many of the guest voices - including the cast of Murphy Brown (Candice Bergen, Faith Ford, Joe Regalbuto and Charles Kimbrough) - will reprise their roles from former TV series (only this time they'll be animated). Another twist to the second season of Family Guy is the addition of live-action sequences to the show.
Fox Kids Network
Vying to be the top broadcast kids' network once again, Fox isattacking the fall season with a vengeance. Eight new animated shows will hit the airwaves starting in September meaning only one animated series from last fall - Godzilla - is remaining on this year's lineup. Realizing the importance of branding and giving the lineup a distinct identity, the new emphasis for Fox Kids Network will be on "action, adventure and prankster comedy." "The goal is to clarify our brand," says Roland Poindexter, Fox Kids NetworkVice-President, Head of Programming, "and Fox Kids will be the sole source for 'action, adventure and prankster comedy' programming.On the surface, these elements may appear to be more appealing to boys, but in previous cases, we've also found that there's a broad girl audience that enjoys shows like Power Rangers and X-Men." The new fall series are The Avengers (based on the Marvel Comic), Beast Machines (the next generation of the Beast Wars franchise), Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot (based on the DarkHorse comic book), NASCAR Racers, Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century, Spider-Man Unlimited, Xyber 9, and Digimon: Digital Monsters. It should also be noted that while Woody Woodpecker is off the fall schedule, it is still a part of Fox Kids Network and will reappear later in the season. One of Fox's most promising series is Spider-Man Unlimited, a continuation of the ever-popular franchise which picks up directly after the last series ended. In its over-the-top science-fiction premise, the world's top astronaut discovers a new planet on the other side of the Sun called Counter-Earth. The story gains steam when Spider-Man volunteers to go rescue the stranded spaceman, and discovers the shocking surprises that await him on this uncharted planet. The new Sherlock Holmes series also looks to be an entertaining new entry, but this one is also educational. In the Sherlock Holmes short story, "The Final Problem," published in 1893, but taking place in 1891, Holmes and his arch-enemy, Professor Moriarty, went over a waterfall in their final battle. Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had intended to kill Holmes off with this story, but eventually brought him back in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901). The new TV series asks us to believe that after falling over the cliff, Holmes and Moriarty remained suspended in the icy waters beneath the waterfall for hundreds of years. Now they are brought back to life to continue their battle of good vs. evil. So where does the educational value fit into a concept like this? Roland Poindexter explains: "Most people have confused educational programming to be very concrete, lesson-based material filled with the traditional reading, writing, arithmetic and geography, but I don't think it necessarily has to be that way. The Sherlock Holmes series really helps endorse the whole notion of logical thinking and deductive reasoning." Of all the networks, Fox is offering the most impressive slate of original animated programming this fall. What remains to be seen is whether the ratings will reward their efforts. Kids' WB! Powered by the Japanese hit sensation Pokémon and some creative repackaging of the older Warner Bros. TV Animation cartoons, Kids' WB! has a relatively low-key, but powerful, lineup this year. The Saturday schedule, premiering through September and early October, includes the return of The New Batman/Superman Adventures, Batman Beyond, Men In Black, a double dose of Pokémon, and The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries. Kids' WB! also has a weekday morning and afternoon lineup which utilizes the same Saturday morning shows with the addition of Warner Bros.' Histeria!
The two new additions are Detention and (get ready for this) The Kids' WB! Cat-And-Bunny-Warneroonie-Super-Looney-Big-Cartoonie Show. The latter is a half-hour program that repackages older episodes of Animaniacs, Tiny Toon Adventures, LooneyTunes, Pinky & The Brain, and Pinky, Elmyra &The Brain.. Big Cartoonie will also be a testing ground for introducing new characters to the Kids' WB! lineup. For starters, the show will have 13 original interstitials introducing Karen and Kirby, a young, computer-animated boy-and-girl duo created by animation historian/author Jerry Beck and animator/author George Maestri (who was the animation producer of the first six episodes of South Park). Karen and Kirby premieres on September 18. Detention on the other hand is a comedy about a group of less-than-perfect twelve-year-olds who are regularly detained for after school detention. Overlooking the fact that these are not exactly the type of role models you wantyour children to emulate, Detention features a talented cast of voice actors including Billy West, Tara Charendoff, and Carlos Alazraqui, along with Tia and Tamera Mowry (the twins in the WB series Sister, Sister).
Undeterred by the failure of their last primetime cartoon series, Stressed Eric, the peacock station has two new primetime animated series in development -- Sammy (created by Just Shoot Me actor/comedian David Spade) and God, The Devil and Bob -- but don't expect to see either of them until at least midseason. PBS Dragon Tales, a whimsical animated edutainment series from Columbia TriStar and Children's Television Workshop launches on September 6. The kind-hearted Arthur also returns to PBS this fall with new episodes.
The two-hour programming block, "Disney's One Too" premieres September 6 on UPN and in syndication. One Too will air Sunday through Friday, which when coupled with ABC's "One Saturday Morning," expands Disney TV cartoon programming to seven days a week. The four series that will make up the schedule are Disney's Hercules, Disney's Doug, Recess (new episodes) and Sabrina, the Animated Series. In addition to the regular episodes, more than 720 original animated interstitials featuring characters from the OneToo shows, to be interspersed between the shows à la Rocky & Bullwinkle, are being produced. Sabrina, a prequel to the ABC primetime live-action series, features the vocal talent of the live-action show's star, Melissa Joan Hart, as the characters Aunt Zelda and Aunt Hilda, while Melissa's younger sister, Emily Hart, provides the voice of young Sabrina. The show is produced by Disney subsidiary, DIC Entertainment, and executive produced by Eek! the Cat co-creator Savage Steve Holland. Because of its main characters, it is likely to assume that this is a very girl-oriented cartoon but Holland explains the cross-over appeal. "This is really a super-pro girl show. When we were testing this show with little kids, we thought, 'Well, maybe it's JUST a girl show,' and then we showed it to the boys. After the screening, I went over to this little eight-year-old boy and asked him what he liked about the show and he just rolled his tongue, 'pprrrrr.' I guess it's the Charlie's Angels theory." Savage Steve points out that some of the funny guest voice appearances include Downtown Julie Brown, Mr. T as the leader of a timid alien race, and Weird Al Yankovic popping up to do a song parody of the Spice Girls. Of course, the biggest question concerning this series is how Savage Steve got his name. Well, after Animation World got personal, we eked out this response: "It's just a stupid nickname. I hita kid in the teeth when I was in the sixth grade, accidentally thatis, but everybody thought I did it on purpose so I got the Savage nickname. I thought Savage Steve sounded cool so I let them call me that. Of course, it's a lot better than my little sister's nickname -- Squid."
On the primetime side of things, the comic strip-based creation Dilbert returns for a second season on UPN. With office-place foibles aplenty, the new season premieres on October 5 (8 PM ET). Some of Dilbert's many escapades this year include paying a visit to his company's militant account guy (voiced by Gilbert Gottfried) to get approval for a business trip to Elbonia, creating a doll (ChristopherGuest from This Is Spinal Tap) with artificial intelligence that becomes the son he never had, trading jobs with a security guard (Wayne Knight, who played Newman on Seinfeld) to find out who has the more challenging career, and searching for his father, Dadbert (Buck Henry), who has been lost in the mall for years. Other guest voices popping up on Dilbert this year include actors Andy Dick, Jeri Ryan and Chazz Palminteri.
Cartoon NetworkThe Cartoon Network continues their assault on the animated world with Courage, The Cowardly Dog and Mike, Lu & Og, their seventh and eighth original "Cartoon Cartoon" series for primetime. Both series will premiere on Friday,November 12. Created by indie animator John Dilworth, Courage is based on the 1996 Academy Award-nominated cartoon The Chicken from Outer Space. Following the adventures of a timid farm dog who must continually deal with paranormal X-Files-ish elements,the show features a rather unique voice cast. Courage's voice director, Peter Fernandez (the original voice of Speed Racer), has recruited Lionel Wilson (original voice of Tom Terrific) as The Farmer, Arnold Stang (original voice of Top Cat) for numerous voices, andPaul Schoeffler (currently appearing on Broadway as Captain Hook in "Peter Pan") as the person who performs "bad guy"voices for characters such as Katz, LeQuack, Snowman, and Goose God.
On the other hand, Mike, Lu & Og is a totally different creature. Mike is a sophisticated girl from New York who leaves the Big Apple for adventure on a secluded island in the middle of the vast, open seas. There she meets the quirky natives,including her new friends Lu, the self-proclaimed princess, and Og, a quiet genius who holds philosophical discussions with his talking barnyard animals. The show is created by Rugrats creative producer Chuck Swenson, commercial director Mikhail Shindel, and Russian independentanimator Mikhail Aldashin. When asked about the overall tone of the show, co-creator Swenson says, "There's a bigger fantasy elementthan many reality-based cartoons like Pepper Ann and Rugrats." Another novel aspect of Mike, Lu & Og is the fact that the show has a continuously moving production schedule as the primary creators work out of both Moscow (Pilot Studio) and Los Angeles (Kino Film), while the final animation is done in Korea. Even more interestingis the show's production process which insures that artists are involved in the scripting stage (a rarity in TV animation if there ever was one). "First we come up with a premise at Kino Film," explains Swenson, "and then a couple page outline. This outline is sent to Pilot Studio in Moscow where the artists do a rough storyboard to help create the setting as well as come up with visual gags. Then, the final screenplay is written off of that in the States, and sent back for final storyboards in Moscow. It's not the old-time tradition of completely storyboard-driven cartoons that John Kricfalusi endorses, nor is it the limiting TV process where cartoons are entirely script-driven. It's sort of the best of both worlds."
Other Cartoon Network programming highlights include Hanson, Jerry Springer, Steven Wright and Bob Costas guesting on the new season of Space Ghost: Coast to Coast starting in October, a one-hour Dexter's Lab millennium special called "Ego Trip," and on September 24 there's the you've-got-to-see-it-to-believe-it Ranger Smith special with new cartoons featuring Yogi, Boo-Boo and the Ranger from Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi. Comedy Central The comic cabler keeps it safe by continuing to air episodes of Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, Bob and Margaret, South Park and The Tick. In January 2000, Comedy Central will start exclusively airing re-runs of Duckman, the cult animated series that stars Seinfeld's Jason Alexander (George Costanza) as a bumbling private dick who's a duck.Fox Family Channel Continuing their rapid expansion as the revitalized version of the Family Channel, Fox Family premieres a slew of animated programming through the fall. The network is trying to set themselves apart from other kid broadcasters like Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network by offering animated shows using a variety of animation techniques and medias, instead of just the traditional, hand-drawn 2D style. For example, Angela Anaconda (October premiere), from Pepper Ann creator Sue Rose, has an innovative cut-style using real pictures of kids, Rotten Ralph (premiered in July) uses stop-motion with 3D custom-crafted puppets staged on real sets, and Weird Ohs (October premiere) is a computer-animated series done in a squash-and-stretch style. Other animated shows on the fall schedule include Jellabies, Mega Babies, Room 402 and It's Itsy Bitsy Time!HBO Two new star-studded cartoon specials will appear on HBO by the end of '99. Premiering on September 14, The Sissy Duckling is a story about an ostracized chick named Elmer who likes to play make-believe instead of sports. Written by actor Harvey Fierstein, the special is narrated by Sharon Stone, and features the voices of Ed Asner, Andy Dick, Melissa Etheridge, Fierstein, Debi Mazar, Kathy Najimy, Dan Butler, Estelle Getty, and Stephen Root, along with an original song performed by Fierstein and Dionne Warwick. The other special, Goodnight Moon and Other Sleepytime Tales, debuts in December. Using animated segments, the show is a compilation of bedtime stories narrated by Natalie Cole, Billy Crystal, and Susan Sarandon, combined with songs by Tony Bennett, Patti LaBelle, Lauryn Hill and Aaron Neville.HBO is also premiering new episodes of Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child throughout the fall. However, the network is still undecided whether they will produce a fourth season of their acclaimed late-night animated series Spawn.
The numero uno cable station for kids adds two new animated shows to its lineup this fall, Rocket Power (premiered on August 16) and Little Bill (premieres on November 28). Set in a generic Southern California beach community, Rocket Power follows the trail of four kids looking for the ultimate adrenaline rush (that is, without the aid of chemical substances). Whether riding the ultimate wave, ramp or slope, the gang learns by taking risks, experiencing failure and sticking together through it all. Reflecting the signs of our times, this cartoon (like many others) has a single parent in it, but uniquely enough, this time the single-parent is a dad.On the other end of the Nick spectrum is Little Bill, based on a series of children's books by Bill Cosby. Following the adventures of an inquisitive five-year-old boy as he discovers the world, Little Bill features the voices of Gregory Hines, Phylicia Rashad, Ruby Dee and Madeline Kahn.MTVMTV Downtown, which premiered in August, will continue to air through the fall, as will Daria, albeit without any new episodes. What is worthy of excitement is the October 7 season premiere of Celebrity Deathmatch, the show where clay-animated celebrities beat the living daylights out of each other. Some of the scheduled fantasy bouts this season include Fabio vs. Bono vs. Yoko Ono, Alex Trebek vs. Pat Sajak, Sean Connery vs. Roger Moore, Gandhi vs. Genghis Khan, The Three Stooges vs. The Three Tenors, Dennis Franz vs. Sammo Hung, Cameron Diaz vs. Meryl Streep, and Benito Mussolini vs. Roberto Benigni.Amid Amidi's most recent accomplishment is not printable because of its rather graphic nature. However, he is pleased to reveal his... screen credit on John Kricfalusi's Yogi Bear special. Additionally, he is the publisher of the fashionable animation 'zine, Animation Blast, and the former associate editor of Animation World Magazine. He is currently working on a coffee table book about the personal lives of animation artists, even though he doesn't like coffee tables.