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Secondly, FOX is broadcasting shows whose formulae are well out of date.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.