Amid over at Cartoon Brew has written an excellent and well thought out editorial on the decline of creator-driven shows. He pretty much hits the nail of the head when he says that the glory days are over, with the current crop of shows on The Hub as well as the upcoming Nickelodeon show based on the Sketchers shoe line ushering in a new era of corporate assembly line properties. While I believe that this is certainly true, there are a few important things to consider that I suppose are too long for a regular old comment.
Firstly, The Hub is a brand new channel, competing in a market where the competition is fierce (albeit friendly enough for the live-action shows). The Cartoon Network has struggled as of late, relying instead on a desperate (?) push into live-action shows that is highly unlikely to edge them into the number two spot.
In the face of all this, The Hub is attempting to establish itself as yet another competitor. Based on the old ratings for Discovery Kids, it has a hell of a hill to climb if it is to reach any kind of meaningful market share. With that in mind, the overarching influence of its toyetic line of shows should not be overestimated.
Secondly, although the new shows in question are established, they have been somewhat irrelevant for at least the last decade or so. As a result, they way as well be starting from scratch in terms of audience.
Will kids even care what these shows provide? My guess is probably not. Anyone who grew up on 80s cartoon fare seems to have a rose-tinted view of them nowadays, but when you actually sit down and watch the likes of the Snorks, He-Man, etc, etc. and compare them to what we have now, they can’t hold a candle to the likes of SpongeBob Squarepants.
Which brings me to another point. The yellow sponge has been so successful for two reasons: the show is creator-driven and Nickelodeon was very careful and clever in how they marketed the show (including cashing in with a theatrical film at the peak of popularity). These two things acted as a kind of synergy and together have ensured that the show has stayed in the minds of the public for over a decade. Nickelodeon is surely aware of this and their continued production of creator-driven shows (such as T.U.F.F. Puppy and Fanbuy & ChumChum) should serve as a reminder that such shows are still being made.
I do not see all of this as an end of the creator-driven era however. Talented animators will continue to emerge from schools and obscurity. Creator-driven content wil continue to be made either for TV or otherwise. Amid is right in pointing out that there will continue to be fragmentation of the viewership as a result of the internet. This does not, however, preclude that people will stop wanting to watch animated TV shows.
Someone will come along and figure out how to make money doing it. I can understand the natural anxiety about the disappearance of traditionally animated shows in favour of flash, but I think that is being overly pessimistic. Hollywood didn’t disappear as a result of television (although it took them a heck of a long time to figure out why people actually go to the cinema) and television is unlikely to disappear as a result of the internet, at least in the short term.
Amid’s article is refreshingly honest in its sincerity and the comments on the post are surprisingly full of hope for the future. Far from the end, I believe we are entering a new and exciting chapter in the story of short-form animated entertainment. The beginning way be tough, but we will all warm to they story once we’ve all settled into it.