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Editor's Notebook

Expanding television...

Heather Kenyon

Well, the fall season is upon us once again. The most notable mark this year is the expansion of animation into prime-time. While The Flintstones started the world of prime-time animation, no one has revived it, and profited from it, like Fox. Ready to expand its current success, Fox is adding three prime-time shows this year: Futurama, Family Guy and The PJs are all being introduced mid-season. That's quite an influx! However, there is more. The success of shows like The Simpsons, which is a tremendously popular phenomenon whether we are talking live-action or animation, and King of the Hill, have inspired others to take part in the game. Comedy Central was one of the first to take the plunge with Dr. Katz and South Park. Their risks have proven profitable. South Park has been a huge victory for them, grabbing the network's highest ratings to date. Now, Bob and Margaret promises to be another, albeit less crude, hit. Furthermore, with almost simultaneous Canadian, U.K. and U.S. distribution Bob and Margaret could be an international success early in its airing career. Now even NBC, a major U.S. network, is getting involved by airing the U.K.'s Stressed Eric. What is interesting to note is that instead of Bob and Margaret and Stressed Eric being spawned in the U.S. and then distributed globally, these are co-production deals that are bringing these shows to multiple, international outlets at once.

We have long heard of the booming animation field and we have long feared the inevitable recession. First the expansion was in features, then it was in home video, now it is in prime-time animation. We have been saved from heavy recessions and have experienced growth due to new outlets continually opening up. Prime-time could be our next savior and even offer another chance to expand. Here's hoping these new prime-time shows are everything they are cracked up to be and that the audience responds in kind!

This is also the second season of FCC-friendly programming in the U.S. Despite all the panic and suspicion that children were going to turn away from the tube in droves, Disney and ABC have proven that pro-social programming can be popular--and the ratings agree. Children haven't turned off. In fact, good shows are just plain good shows and if the stories and characters are engaging, children will watch and, hey, maybe even learn something.

The Writers Guild of America's Animation Writers Caucus also deserves congratulating this month as they have struck a deal with Fox's prime-time schedule to represent the network's animation writers, offering them a new round of benefits. Long under the artists' MPSC banner, this signing delineates a shift as explained by Craig Miller in his article "Better For All Concerned: The Writers Guild of America's Animation Writers Caucus." There is an ongoing struggle between artists and writers that is unique to animation and that has been heightened in the last few years. Some shows are heavily writer-based, causing storyboard artists to feel very put-out indeed. Still, other shows let the artists have their way...and sometime these shows wander without a sturdy foundation. With the influx of live-action personnel into animation this misunderstanding has only grown. Live-action folks often want to see the final script! Not understanding that in animation a final storyboard is more close to the actual final show than any script. Naturally, in a healthy situation it is a blending of writing and `boarding that makes a successful product and each production needs to find its own middle ground.

Kudos also go to the Walt Disney Company for avidly preserving their history. There is no doubt that when we consider animation we have to discuss Disney. I'd like to thank them for seriously archiving their history and artwork. These materials are a tremendous resource, not only to Disney historians, but all animation scholars. To learn more about their collections, please read Katie Mason's "Inside Disney: The Archives and Animation Research Library."

Until next time, Heather