Being in development for some time, Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir has been through a convoluted development process that wound it’s way through various countries and formats before finally landing on the kid-friendly, 3-D CGI production we have today. It’s the type of show that’s becoming increasingly rare, but for a variety of reasons that are worthy of discussion.
This week saw the announcement of not one, but three reboots to popular old shows. The Powerpuff Girls are being trotted out again, ReBoot gets well, rebooted, and even the Three Stooges refuse to die with a new animated show in the works. It’s all too much for me to bear!
Great TV is everywhere nowadays, at least that what everyone is telling me. Creators are pushing boundaries, genres are being stretched, and cultural barriers are falling. If only it were all true! Great TV is like Punk Rock in more ways than one, and what is on our screens nowadays isn’t inspiring me to get a leather jacket, or a mohawk.
The production of animated TV programs has never been greater. All three kids channels have full slates, numerous cable networks have their own shows, and FOX continues its long tradition of animated programming on Sunday nights. It’s a good time to be an optimist, yet it’s never been more important to be pessimistic about this sector of the business, because it’s about to go barrelling over a cliff.
Live-action has a virtual monopoly on lots of the entertainment industry. Animation is slowly making inroads, but one area that has been staunchly resistant to change has been television dramas. Comedy series are a dime a dozen and prove that animation can be popular with adults as well as kids on the small screen, but drama is whole different kettle of fish. Thankfully, some proof has recently come to light that suggests that dramatic animation isn’t as much of a pipe dream as we believe.
Funnily enough, it never crosses my mind that they three major kids networks here in the US actually have online stores of their own (the Hub has no store of their own, yet). My default destination for online shopping is Amazon, and not just because they have everything. So I thought it might be interesting to actually visit said stores and have a nosey around in there to see what they sell and how well they’re doing it.
Starting with Nickelodeon, the homepage greets us with some featured shows, some specials some top sellers and an advertisement (because we all go to shops to buy stuff. In fairness to Nick, they’ve got merchandise for a good chunk of their shows (no Teenage Robot though) and actually go pretty far back too, Alex Mack anyone?
What they’re actually selling though is up for debate. Setting aside SpongeBob as the exception, Nick is a bit odd when it comes to certain things. For example, men’s apparel; which consists solely of skateboard decks. Yup, that’s a new one for me too. Naturally the kids apparel and toys are well catered too, but adults are going to feel distinctly left out.
Interestingly enough, Nick does have a ‘Nickelodeon U‘ section of the store that contains four pieces of apparently random SpongeBob merchandise. Yes, you can buy SpongeBob golf balls, golf club socks, a hamper and a shower curtain. Surely this wins as the most amusing thing I found on there.
The site itself is horribly difficult to navigate and is clearly not intended to be kid-friendly. It seems to be more of a token effort than something that is given serious attention by Viacom.
This one is a clear winner. Selling merchandise has been the cornerstone of the Disney empire since its foundation and their current online outlet continues the tradition. You can buy anything and everything there (including some fabulously overpriced fine art) and the company isn’t shy about leveraging the entire organisation either. You can buy Disney Channel, studio and park merchandise all in the one place. In other words, if it’s Disney-related, you can buy it. The store itself is easy to navigate and with tons of products, its possible to find something you want.
What I did find to be the interesting part of the store is the homepage itself. Take a look at it. Who’s it targeting? Kids obviously, but if you scroll just a wee bit further down the page, it becomes clear that the Disney Princess brand is being flogged for all its worth. You’ll also note that girls come before boys in the menu bar. Now that is not to say it’s a bad thing, but like Rebecca Hains, I just tend to take a dim view on how Disney targets girls in particular.
Lastly, we come to Cartoon Network, long the dark hose of the three but now enjoying either top or second billing. The network has really improved its online store over the version I visited a couple of years ago. Now instead of nothing, there is a ton of stuff, but not just any old crap.
All three networks have the now-obligatory iPhone cases but only CN puts them on the front page. Behind the facade there is a very well-designed and laid out store that could easily be navigated by anyone.
Besides the clear groupings of shows and types of merchandise at the top of the screen, the stuff itself is perhaps the best of all the networks. It would seem that Turner has gotten its act together as of late with a really good variety of products. I mean, OK, there still is the odd dodgy article and the usual toys, but how about not one, but two choices of Powerpuff Girls canteens? Or the fact that they sell stuff for a good many of the classic shows that have been off the network for maybe 10 years or more?
Of course as good a job as CN does, it could do better. Plenty of the shirts that are available elsewhere aren’t available here. So anything in Hot Topic or WeLoveFine isn’t there. A loss for sure on CN’s part because as good as their stuff is, the most exciting stuff is being done away from corporate control.
Overall, the winner in terms of range is clearly Disney. However in terms of actually creating a great looking shop that will appeal to their audience, Cartoon Network is on top. The loser in all of this is Nickelodeon, although they sell so much through traditional channels, they are likely not as worried as they should be.
The Animation Guild blog has been reporting over the last few weeks and months as the various McFarlane shows on FOX waited for the venerable “renewal” notice. They finally came this past week with everyone returning in the autumn. The only thing that made me think about all of this is that the process for renewing a show is hopelessly obsolete.
Why do studios and networks wait for a certain date before “announcing” whether a show is coming back or not? Oh yes, they have to decide whether to continue a show or not, but there seems to be this almost perverted ritual where networks come forward to say what the story is. Of course good shows get renewed a the drop of a hat and bad shows get the axe immediately. However, it’s the shows on the bubble that get run through the wringer.
Having said all that, this process will soon disappear. Online viewing has much better metrics than traditional broadcast or cable metrics and once it is firmly established, it will be much easier to gauge audience sizes. Indeed, networks may find that just because a show gets low numbers on first broadcast, it may have substantial numbers viewing it after the fact. Why on earth FOX and the rest aren’t using Hulu to its full advantage for this kind of stuff is beyond me
If viewer numbers hold up fairly well in the off-season, then surely a show should continue, right?
To go a step further, why even have “seasons” at all? Sometime in the foreseeable future, that concept will also disappear. Hopefully then, orders will be continuous with no need to have crews get shuffled around to save costs.
All in the future though, unfortunately.
You may have read the LA Times article from the other day that talks about a shift that’s currently underway at the Disney Channel. The interesting thing is that it included (all the way at the end) this quote from Jerry Beck:
“Before Eric got there, [Disney Channel] had a couple of mild hits, like ‘Kim Possible.’ They were doing derivative things. They were following trends,” Beck said. “Now, they’re leading trends.”
Now I don’t necessarily agree that Kim Possible was derivative, perhaps as a kind of show it was, but there’s been nothing like it since, and it still remains a rare, female-protagonist, show.
That notwithstanding, Jerry hits the bullseye with his point that creating derivative shows will not get you very far. We’ve seen it time and time again when a show get big and a whole host of imitators follow. It happened with The Simpsons and the only shows to last more than a season or two were FOX’s own.
So when it comes to animated TV, do networks tend to follow trends rather than make them? The answer is emphatically, yes. That is by far the less risk option. However, as SpongeBob SquarePants proves, creating a trend can lead to a very long (and insanely profitable) property.
FOX is well known for being the only consistent purveyor of animation on broadcast TV. Ever since 1989 when The Simpsons burst onto our screens, the network has been the only maintream network where animation has found success. The others do not lack for want of trying however, they’ve just never been able to crack the nut in the same way that FOX has.
It’s also well known that FOX has had problems over the years moving outside it’s traditional animation strongholds. Besides the Simpsons, the network has had only two other bona fide animated hits in King of the Hill and Family Guy. There were other shows, better shows, but none managed to last more than a few seasons (we’ll get to the McFarlane spin-offs in a minute).
Naturally, FOX hasn’t been resting on its laurels but has been actively searching for potential replacements for its incumbent shows. Its success in that regard has been lackluster to say the least. Family Guy is the only show to have come close to toppling the Simpson’s strangelhold on the network, and even then it was canned before it was brought back to life after a year and half.
Since then it has become a massive success, which has lead to the two spin-off shows in American Dad and The Cleveland Show. However, all three shows and the Simpsons are essentially the same formula in that they revolve around a family. Now that’s not to say its a bad thing, but it does tend to limit your audience if you do that. Besides, the McFarlane children exist only because of Seth’s midas touch and his accute wisdom to stay within his safety zone; unlike Matt Groening, who went beyond with Futurama and got burned because of it.
Secondly, FOX is broadcasting shows whose formulae are well out of date. The Simpsons is 20+ years old, Family Guy is almost a teenager. Yes, the shows have kept ‘up-to-date” but they are still rooted in those eras. Things just aren’t the same as they were back in the day. Styles and tastes have moved on. Admittedly FOX has attempted to catch up but its efforts with Futurama and Sit Down, Shut Up were pathetic to say the least.
Lastly, we need to ask ourselves if big-budget scripted animated shows of the caliber of the Simpsons and Family Guy are even worth creating any more? The historical context is that broadcast networks drew a much larger audience than cable. But everyone and their wife knows that broadcast ratings for even the highest shows are perilously close to those of cable. The fractitous nature of the viewing audience has resulted in a proliferation of networks that cater to more nuanced tastes. Thankfully some of those tastes have included animation.
So the question is not really why can’t FOX get another animated hit so much as should it even bother trying?
My position is that it should not, at least not on the scale that it currently produces. If animated shows are to survive in “broadcast” TV they need to be leaner and smarter and sadly FOX is searching for neither.
This morning as I sat down to write the usual Monday list post, I immediately drew a blank. Normally, I would search around for some inspiration (and in reality, I should have it lined-up and ready to go) but unfortunately this morning, I was beaten by the clock and had to rush off to work.
Where does inspiration come from? Well, it can come from just about anywhere. It’s a topic I’ve covered before (not un-coincidentally after I drew a similar blank when attempting to write a post) so I won’t go into it again, but here are a few good sources that you can use when searching for inspiration.
1. The Great Outdoors
Not to be blatantly obvious, but a lot of what I write about is surprisingly enough, influenced by my surroundings. Seeing a sticker on a car or a T-shirt in a shop can turn on the lightbulb in the old noggin’. You’ll surprise yourself; I certainly have.
I don’t think I can emphasise this one enough. You don’t have to follow a lot, but you should follow a few regular ones at least. There’s nothing worse than finding a great blog and to learnt that it’s only updated once a year, or even worse! Great blogs will do more than give you something to think about, they will cause you to build on the original topic, and hopefully come to some new and excting conclusions yourself. At the very least, they will give your mind a rest from thinking of something on its own.
Books, books, books. Yes, if you aren’t a regular reader, you certainly are missing out. They don’t have to be boring books either. They can be fiction or fact. I prefer fact most of the time, but that’s just because I simply don’t have the time to read much anyways (although my claim to fame is reading all the Harry Potter books in days. Let’s jsut say I haven’t really put 18 hours a day into anything much since).
Books are much like blogs, but they tend to operate at a much slower pace, and they generally afford the mind more time to muse over ideas and thoughts. This can be good too, as you will tend to linger on what you read in a book for longer than you would a blog post.
Yes, further down the list is the good ol’ tube. TV can be a good place for inspiration, but only if you vary things a bit. Sure, you could watch Nicktoons all the time, but you would be neglecting a whole host of others. The same could be said for Disney films. Yes, they’re all mostly excellent, but they do tend to stay within a fairly well-defined set of limits. Use TV for inspiration in small doses and you can get some god inpiration from it.
Some may consider this a dirty word with no place in the arts, but truth be told, a little education here and there can do you wonders. I’m not strictly talking about formal education, but more the kind that teach specific skills and techniques. Things like photography, live-drawing, HTML, etc. All these are not absolutely necessary for your job or life in general, but they can help enhance it. Say you take a photography class, the practice and techniques you learn could come in handy in other areas, or you may learn about something that you previously did not. At the very least, you’ll mix with a group of people with similar interests to yourself, and that can only result in a cross-pollination of ideas.
Via: Sick Sad World
We didn’t really get Daria back in Ireland. It was either too odd for the stiffs at RTE so those of us without satellite or cable (i.e. almost everyone) were left in the dark.
Skip forward to today, and I’ve managed to move to the country where Daria was made. Even better than that, I met someone who likes Daria, a lot. So it goes without saying that I have now watched every single episode and the two movies and it has become one of my favourite shows.
Why? Quite simply it is the characters. They’re a fantastic smorgasbord of types that you would probably never come across in real life, but who make for enjoyable entertainment nonetheless.
While I could write a post for each and every one of them, it makes sense to focus on two in particular. No, not Daria and Jane but Daria and Quinn. Why you ask? Because they’re sisters but are still polar opposites when it comes to personality, which the series uses every chance it gets for comedic and dramatic effect.
At first glimpse, Daria is deathly boring. She’s mostly expressionless, very rarely conveys any emotion of any kind and to top it off, her voice is as monotonous as the corn fields of Iowa (no offence to Iowans). On the surface, she’s an extremely flat and unlikeable character, and yet, the more we see of her, the deeper and more complex she becomes.
Daria is the school oddball, in other words, quite content in herself but seen by just about everyone else as a weirdo. She’s also the voice or reason, or rather, that of rationality. She sees things in a very black and white manner and has the ability to see past attempts to pull the wool over her eyes.
What is particularly interesting about Daria is that even though she’s a teenager, she displays hardly any of the typical teenage traits. She rarely talks back to her parents and rarely gets into mischief. She’s smart to be sure, but throughout the series her attitude and generally vacant expressions make it difficult to determine when she is enjoying herself.
The series did a great job of including some character growth throughout the series hwoever, and it’s nice to see that, by the end, Daria is well on her way to being a real, sort-of rounded adult as opposed to a selfish child.
Speaking of selfish children, let’s talk about her sister. Quinn is presented as the stereotypical teenage girl. Obsessed with fashion, popularity and friends, Quinn is also a member of the “Fashion Club” whose members talk a lot about fashion but not much else.
Quinn is presented as being an even shallower character than Daria but the difference is that her’s is portrayed much more up front. Her blatant self-interest is made only more pronounced by the fact that she uses her dates as a means to her own ends.
For the majority of the series, Quinn is shown this way, but like Daria, she begins to develop towards the end. In the first movie, “Is It Fall Yet?” we see her come to terms with the fact that she yearns to succeed but is faced with the prospect of having to actually study in order to achieve it. Perhaps fittingly, we see her in the end credits of the second movie, “Is It College Yet?” as someone who appears to have succeeded in life.
Together, Daria and Quinn represent the yin and yang and despite their differences, they do have some similarities. For one they are both relatively indifferent to their parents, they both respect the value of a dollar when it comes to negotiations and they are both quite good at hiding their true feelings from their friends.
Together, both characters add a lot to what could have been a devastatingly dull series. Without them, the surrounding characters would be floating around Lawndale with little to provoke them or bounce off of.