The Mainstream Business of Adult Animation
Risk Taking May Pay Off
From a program development and sales perspective, there is a major challenge to be faced. How do we convince broadcast programmers that an animated half-hour sitcom can go head to head with its live-action counterparts? Certainly, the precedents are there. The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Beavis and Butt-head, and South Park to name a few. The stigma remains though. Animation is for kids. At this stage, most programmers will admit to the success of the aforementioned shows. However, there is an often an underlying supposition that these shows were "one-offs," that they got lucky. This is an increasingly difficult argument to sustain when the successes just keep coming.
Part of the problem is that by and large, we work in a fear-based industry. Most broadcasters are afraid to roll the proverbial dice. There is too much at stake. Ratings, advertising revenues, and ultimately careers are lost with bad programming decisions. There are, as always, exceptions to the rule. Abby Terkuhle is one of them. As Abby points out, "We have always taken chances, and they have paid off. With a network so closely linked to the music industry, it is essential to not only keep up with the times, but to stay ahead of them." As the competition for finite advertising dollars increases, it will be necessary for broadcasters to take more chances. In some ways, it is less a matter of taking chances, and more a question of keeping up with the Joneses. As Comedy Central, MTV and Fox enjoy much success in this area, other broadcasters may be taking a risk if they don't begin to explore the world of adult animation. Many of North America's current programming blocks include an animated sitcom. These blocks will often hinge on that show, putting more than just one half hour slot at stake.
Character Makes the Difference
What separates the successful adult series from the rest? Fine suggests that, "It is the writing quality and the voice quality. If you look at a show like South Park, the strength is in the writing and the characterization. If the stories aren't there and the characterizations aren't there, it doesn't matter how good it looks." In terms of Bob and Margaret, David's hope is that the series will be "viewed and enjoyed as funny stories, not put into the pigeon hole of, `This is animation.' It should be a prime time series that happens to be animated, as opposed to an animated series put in prime time." As Canada's first ever prime time animated series, Bob and Margaret will, in many ways, set the tone in this country for how animation will be perceived by the prime time viewing audience. As we roll into the fall, we will also see more animated prime time series out of the U.S. and indeed, internationally, with show's like Stressed Eric from the U.K.
Animation has undoubtedly matured as an industry. Some people will argue that adult animation today is merely a renaissance of the early days, when cartoons were played in the theater ahead of adult features. Realistically though, it goes much further than that. Innovations in design, technique and format have made the animation industry as diverse as live-action. Today's animated programming runs the gamut from children's to drama, sitcom to variety, and even reaches as far as documentary. It is now widely accepted as a medium with which to entertain, inform, and to unleash the imagination of the viewer. The freedom of animation allows us to tell stories that cannot be told in live-action, and often adds considerable value to those that can. The recent success of all-day animation services like Teletoon and The Cartoon Network provides evidence that there is a demand for animated programming of all types. It is now the responsibility of creators, writers and producers to keep the momentum going with well written, provocative and entertaining shows.
Sean Murch has worked in the development, production, financing and sales of animated film and television programs for the past eight years. He has lived and worked in London, Paris, San Francisco, Vancouver and most recently, Toronto. In 1998, Sean joined Nelvana Enterprises as Director of Canadian Sales and Distribution. In addition to his sales duties, Sean also sits on Nelvana's development committee and is responsible for program development in Canada.
Risk Taking May Pay Off