Three Simple Rules For Creating A Popular Animated Show

There’s a ton of blogs and guides out there to creating the perfect animated series. However, most of them focus on the actual animation itself; they neglect all the periphery stuff that is also needed to make a series work. If you’d like to read something professional, I highly recommend any of David B. Levy’s books as a great starting point to what the industry is like from an animator’s perspective. I, of course, am not an animator, so will instead offer the alternative viewpoint.

Adventure Time Promo art
Adventure Time Promo art

1. It’s Not The Idea, It’s the Characters

Characters are what makes great animation. The plot, setting and so forth count too. But the audience is invested in the characters and only the characters. If you can’t get them on board with those on screen, then you’ve lost them.

They’re the reason why cartoons like What’s Opera Doc and Duck Amuck are so engrossing. We don’t so much care about the actual plot, or action on screen so much as how the characters we know and love react to them. In the case of the latter, it’s just sheer genius watching what happens to Daffy; it wouldn’t work near as well with another character.

Ditto for the Simpsons. Family shows are a staple of American TV and audiences quickly attached to Bart, but by the time the show was firing on all cylinders, Homer was the character that everyone loved. Why? Because we all wanted to see how this evolved, complex character he would handle situations like being kicked out of an all you can eat restaurant; that’s why!

The tradition continues today with shows like Adventure Time and the Legend of Korra. The stories in both play second fiddle to the characters that must navigate them.

2. Distribution: Pick Your Poison

In the past, this would have been the TV networks. Today, however, distribution of a show can take place in a multitude of platforms. TV remains a stahlwart, but the internet is quickly catching up and Rovio [initially] released the Angry Birds series solely on mobile phones.

So which one is best, and does the choice still affect your chances?

The network route really is a toss-up. The network that is on top now, may not be on top by the time a series is actually produced and broadcast. For example, Nickelodeon was the king of kids TV for a long time, but Disney caught up and then both were eclipsed by Cartoon Network; which had languished at the bottom (and was given a huge boost thanks to Adventure Time).

For comparison’s sake, the Hub started from scratch and reatains a small audience, but has managed to carve out a bit of a niche for itself.

The internet is an obvious choice for everyone now, but it remains a bit of a wild west when it comes to content. There are many choices when it comes not only to distribution services (Netflix, YouTube, etc.) but also whether you go the TV/PC route of the mobile one.

Does the platform affect your chances? Absolutely it does! TV channels continue to pull in the largest audiences but the internet is catching up. TV is also where the big bucks are, but again, the internet is on its tail, albeit some way behind. In the end, a popular show will only be as popular as the platform on which it’s released allows. TV may be big, but the internet is bigger.

3. Correctly Handle Your Frenemies in Fandom

Fans are the lifeblood of any popular animated show. While they can be slightly more or slightly less relevant depending on the nature of the show and the size of its audience, fans more often than not are what fuels a show’s success.

That said, fans can also hinder shows, if they’re not handled correctly. Now I say this from the standpoint of the creators/producers/networks. Fans have proven an ability to rebel against an unpopular decision and make their voices quite public in the process. However, there is the flip side that catering to fans and only fans can drive away the rest of the audience. Witness John K. and his Ren & Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon shows. Appealing to the fans and fans alone doomed the effort to the historical and commercial dustbin.

Instead, treat fans as your frenemies on a show. You want them, you value their input, but you must remember that they can and will destroy a show if they remain unchecked so to speak. This is not to tar all fans with the same brush, but the most successful shows enjoy a strained relationship with their fans that in the end benefits everyone, including non-fans.

At the end of the day, you can respect fans, you can value them, but you should be able to say no to them and not lose their respect.


Do other factors play a role in a show’s success? Absolutely! However, such things like the executives in charge, popular tastes, animation techniques and so forth are very much dependent on the actual production itself. The three factors mentioned above are universal and apply to any animated show that is not a feature.

What’s the most important thing to take away from this post? That the above rules are often ignored completely.