Will FOX Succeed In the Online Arena With Animation?

Via: Wikipedia
Via: Wikipedia

It’s no secret that FOX has long been the dominant player of all the mainstream networks when it comes to animation but with audiences slipping away to the internet, what are they to do? Well, the apparent answer is to open up a new studio and attempt to compete with the likes of Frederator’s Cartoon Hangover.

The Gist of It

The Animation Guild is reporting that the new studio is currently in full swing and has about a hundred people working there at the moment. As part of the previously-announced extension of the Animation Domination block of shows into Saturday nights, the network also took the extra step of setting up a dedicated production house. (Non-union of course, hence TAG’s gripe.)

The studio is producing not only the content for the programming block (as in, Axe Cop and High School USA!) but is also busy cranking out animated GIFs such as the wonderful specimen you see below.

Via ADHD
Via ADHD

Where Things Get Interesting

Although this could be just another run-of-the-mill story about a new development in animation, where it takes an interesting turn is not where you would expect. Namely, FOX purposely kept production close to home:

Fast reaction time is another key to the ADHD approach. Instead of farming out animation work to Asian firms, with a lag time of at least six weeks, the team in Hollywood can shoot out topical spoofs to stay in the social conversation.

Fox’s toons prepare episodes well over a year in advance, said Reilly. “With ADHD, I can say something today and we can have something tomorrow.”

It’s nice in a way to see FOX accepting the need for speed in the online youth media market, and addressing it by employing talent close to home. It marks a potential bright spot in the otherwise gloomy animation industry that has had too many stories of layoffs over the past few months. Although pay is obviously not the highest, there is still potential for that to change if demand heats up thanks to a success or two.

That said, in contrast, Cartoon Hangover, instead of maintaining a studio for quick stuff, instead hires freelancers. Granted it isn’t as steady as regular employment, but if FOX did the same, they could pay animators more since the overhead of a studio wouldn’t exist.

The other interesting thing is how FOX sees the money streams:

Reilly declined to discuss specifically what kind of coin Fox is pumping into ADHD, saying that it’s not insignificant. The project will run at a “very mild deficit” for about three years before it gains ad traction, he said.

What I would like to know is why it will run a deficit for all those years. Online content has proven to be profitable already; surely it shouldn’t take an established player like FOX three whole years to make money. Of course, I’m also curious why ads are being given such weight; again, there are plenty of other revenue sources available that could suffice.

Lastly…

Before we reach the thrilling conclusion to this post; it really says something about animation as a form of entertainment that FOX sees it as the least risky way to get a foot in the door of online streaming. Can it really be that the ease of creating [quality] animation combined with its popularity among the key 18-34 demographic? It would certainly appear that way:

That noted, Reilly is convinced the model is an efficient way to develop quality content, and he’s eyeing other genres Fox might choose to replicate ADHD. “The cost structure of this stuff by its nature is different from TV,” he said. “The digital world continues to explode. It’s fun. And it has promise.”

Let’s see how this pans out. If it works, expect others to follow.

PS. Notice how FOX is about a year behind online-native efforts? Yeah, me too.

 

Why Cleveland Brown Himself is the Only Great Thing About The Cleveland Show

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We all know that the Animation Domination block on FOX has been on somewhat of a slide in recent years. The glory days with the Holy Trinity of The Simpsons, Family Guy and Futurama have long since passed and sadly attempts to improve the variety of the block (such as with Sit Down, Shut Up) have not ended well. Nowadays, we have The Simpsons and an hour and a half of Seth McFarlane for company on Sunday nights.

Last season it was the turn of Cleveland Brown, a side character in Family Guy, to strut his stuff in his own spin-off show. There was rampant speculation at the time on whether or not he was worthy of such an accolade. Yes, it’s true that on Family Guy, he plays a deathly boring character whose only reason for existing was to be the butt of jokes (as if he needed any worse luck when it came to bathtubs). However, with his own show, Cleveland has been forced to add a bit of depth to his character, although he does so at the expense of everyone else in show.

The key to any good show is the interaction between the characters. In most shows, said characters normally have personalities distinct enough that they bounce back and forth off each other. A great example is The Inrcredibles, where the family members constantly clash with each other as their different powers take flight.

In The Cleveland Show, you have the typical “nuclear” family; husband, wife & kids. So far so much the same as Seth’s other two shows. You have Cleveland’s biological son, a simpleton who never has much to say, his adopoted daughter who seems to exhibit some of the worst traits of being a teenager and his adopted son, who acts like a much brasher version of Stewie from Family Guy. Donna would seem to be a good match for Cleveland in terms of character, but she has yet to have near as much airtime has him.

As for Cleveland’s buddies, let’s just say they all have one defining trait and we’ll leave it at that.

Which leaves us with Cleveland himself. What has changed about him in his transition from side-characters to main protagonist? Well for one, he has a lot more screen time, so he has a heck of a lot more talking to do. Besides that, he is still somewhat hard to pin down. He’s a devoted husband and father, but he is not averse to getting them into obscure situations that involve, say, a shootout.

He displays a higher level of intelligence than previously, although that may be the result of actually being more involved with the show. He is an optimist at heart, always looking for the good in folks, although that does not preclude him from having negative opinions which he does dispense when it suits him.

As the centre of the show, he naturally gets involved in a lot more activities than his family, and he has some genuine funny moments. The fact that he even displays a lighter side (perhaps even a colourful one) is a significant indicator that he is the most developed character on the show.

Cleveland Brown is, however, not a decent enough reason on his own to watch The Cleveland Show. The girlfriend and I gave up at the second ad break last Sunday, simply because the effort required to stay up didn’t justify the awesomeness that is sleep. If you, however,  enjoy a show with only one half-decent character, The Cleveland Show will do the job.

The Declining Quality of Animation on FOX

It was akin to a religion for me, and the only night of the week when I would absolutely have to watch “my shows”, yet recently, I have begun to skip Sunday nights altogether. Yes, FOX still has a full schedule of animated shows that is completely unrivalled by other networks, save for perhaps [Adult Swim].

What happened? Where has the love gone? Well, I’m not entirely sure. Let’s start at 8 o’clock and go from there.

The Simpsons. What can I say that hasn’t already been said ever since Principal Skinner was outed by Martin Sheen as an impostor. The quality of the show has clearly fallen since the heady days of the 90s and some people have been actively campaigning for the show’s cancellation in recent times (shoutout to the Dead Homers Society).

While it is clear that the show will be around for a wee while yet, it is unclear just how much farther it can fall. For example, last Sunday night’s episode was about a beached whale and not much else. If it wasn’t for the combination of a thunderstorm and some ice-cream, I may well have nodded off.

The Simpsons continues to hobble along being a mere ghost of it’s former self. Even the shows that supposedly outdid it are themselves falling into laziness (see below). The future beyond The Simpsons does not seem particularly bright as they are such a hard act to follow, here’s hoping FOX makes a decent choice.

Moving on to 8:30, we now have the Cleveland Show. For the previous decade, we were treated to a mild-mannered Texan and is cronies. Looking back, I should have been more appreciative of Mike Judge’s unique brand of humour. In between the launch of The Cleveland Show, were were treated to the severely underrated Sit Down, Shut Up. I’ve made my thoughts known before, but suffice to say, I believe SDSU was sorely needed in a full-time slot. Sadly, FOX didn’t agree.

The Cleveland Show as we all know is a spin-off from Family Guy, which pretty much says it all. Even though the humour is not near as pointed as it’s parent, it is still recognizable for the crass jokes and wacky neighbours. As a show it is funny enough, but the show that follows does not do it any favours.

Family Guy is the comeback king (well, almost, Futurama has to be the comeback king, seeing as it was even deader that Family Guy when it was resurrected a few years ago) and since its return has proven to be a strong ratings success. OK, sure the jokes have gotten even more borderline and the plots have evolved to the point where the characters have practically no, um, character.

When viewed immediately after Cleveland, the similarities are too easy to miss. Both shows together end up leaving me feeling like I wasted half an hour in there somewhere, even though I didn’t.

The best show doesn’t begin until 9:30. Even then, it falls far short of the Simpsons in their prime but that didn’t stop me praising the show a while back. I still stand by that post. Why? Well compared with Family Guy and The Cleveland Show, American Dad! is breath of fresh air. OK, the first season was pretty lame with its overbearing political slant, but since then the show has matured enough to the point that it’s half decent.

For me though, it’s on a bit late, the curse of having to get up at 6 every morning in order to hit the gym before work. This late timeslot also seems to render it the forgotten child in the promos during the earlier shows. In the grand scheme of things, it continues to survive, which I am grateful for.

Having said all the above, I do appreciate that FOX continues to have faith in animation and does continue to look for new shows with the aim of replacing ones as they inevitably peter out. It’s just that right now, the evening is filled with shows that are so desperately boring overall, that I would much rather watch any one of Hayao Miyazaki’s films for the 20th time.

FOX needs to realize that staying in a comfort zone for too long isn’t healthy. I understand that they can’t add more hours to the day, but with the overall shift to on-demand viewing, they could easily vary the schedule from week to week without any severe damage. I have hope for the future, but right now, I’m just one fan who would rather watch something else on a Sunday night.