The Banality of The Animated TV Show Press Release

Lolirock TV show poster

The above is the image released in announcement of Marathon’s latest animated TV show, Lolirock (which, by the way has no connection to what otaku fanboys think it does.) It’s a 52 by 26′ show (that’s 52, 26 minute episodes) that being bandied about the usual licensing markets. I have nothing personally against Marathon (besides the rather gender-bias of the show) or indeed what they create (there was a time when Totally Spies! was broadcast at a convenient time in my TV viewing schedule) but the press release announcing the series is about as banal as they come. Here’s some selected quotes:

On the protagonist:

LOLIROCK follows the journey of young Iris, a spirited teenage girl with a beautiful voice and an unending desire to help others.

On her destiny:

Three new friends are now bound together by their common destiny as magical princesses and their battle for justice.

What the boss thinks:

Vincent Chalvon-Demersay (CEO, Marathon Media) and David Michel (General Manager, Marathon Media) comment, “LOLIROCK is a fresh, contemporary take on what it is to be a girl today, infused with music and magical adventures and the all-important notion of justice in today’s teenage world. It’s a perfect companion piece to Totally Spies!, which has been so successful in this same space.”
Now all this isn’t to say that the show itself is as boring as these quotes suggest (it is, in fact planning on having real ‘bands’ in key markets to support it). Rather, it appears to be Totally Spies! but instead of spies, we have singers. That said, why does the press release read like such generic drivel? It’s supposed to sell the show!

A Depressing Quoute From Lauren Faust

Lauren's group of self-made dolls that would make a killer TV show, and yes, I own a T-shirt!

Lauren Faust is widely admired for not only her work on the PowerPuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, but also for her work on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and lately, the Superfriends series of shorts for Warner Bros. Well a long long time ago, there was a post on Cartoon Brew (not this one) where Lauren’s husband Craig McCracken was quick to defend her work on MLP because it was the best girl-oriented show going and it was only after facing many defeats pitching her own show to the networks.

At the time, Laruen didn’t really comment on the pitching aspect, but in a recent interview with LA Weekly, we get a bit of an answer as to why she was never able to successfully sell her own show, and not through lack of talents on her part:

On pitching animated shows for girls:

If you talk to the people in charge — the people looking to invest in these things and, unfortunately, the people who usually tell you no — they’ll tell you that girl things just don’t get the numbers. It’s a business and you need to make money. The girl books don’t get the ratings, the girl books don’t get the sales. Unfortunately, a lot of people will tell you that this is because girls aren’t interested in cartoons or girls aren’t interested in comic books.

I don’t think that’s true. I think the reason that might be is because most of the stuff for girls isn’t hitting them in the right place. All too often, “for girls” means “for little girls.” They won’t target an 8-year-old or a 10-year-old. An 8-year-old isn’t going to be interested in something that’s aimed for a 5-year-old. And, when they do gear stuff for 8-year-olds, it’s all about combing your hair and clothes. I don’t think girls are interested in that kind of stuff. I think they’re interested, but I don’t think that they’re interested in stories about it or characters whose lives revolve around it. I just don’t think that enough people have made stuff that was good enough or compelling enough to bring the girls in.

Girls’ stuff doesn’t get the same kind of budget that the boys’ stuff gets. It’s usually lower quality and kids can tell that stuff. Instead of blaming it on the quality, they’ll blame it on the gender. They’ll say the stories are for girls. That’s what’s making it not work, where I feel that it’s the quality and the content that’s making it not work. I’m hoping for people to put a little more faith in girls. Too much stuff for girls is about tea parties and holding hands and skipping down the lane.

Someone please give this woman a TV show!

7 Reasons That My Life as a Teenage Robot is Undervalued

It’s no secret that My Life as a Teenage Robot is one of my very favourite animated TV shows, but it would seem that it’s in the company of many other shows that are also my favourite in that never seemed to catch on with the mainstream crowd (like Futurama, Dilbert, etc.). So why is this so? Here’s a couple of reasons why My Life as a Teenage Robot is currently undervalued.

1. The Plots Are More Complex Than They First Appear

One of the things levelled at the show is that the stories aren’t overly complex; that they’re too simple and pale in comparison to some other shows out there. Well, that is certainly the case, but it is on purpose. The show just happens to be one that doesn’t rely on overly complex stories and is none the worse for it. It’s a fun show, not an epic one like say, Avatar. There is some continuity with the likes of Vexus and the Space Biker Gang that plays out over the seasons, but the stories themselves are complex in how they are resolved. Jenny doesn’t rely on her abilities near as much as you might think.

2. A Kick-Ass Heroine Is Still Quite Rare In TV Shows

We’re starting to see more of these (Korra being the latest) but a lead female protagonist is still a rarity in TV shows, especially animated ones. My Life As A Teenage Robot helped break the mold, and with a robot at that! Jenny is a very strong character that shows how it is possible to avoid the most egregious of stereotypes and still maintain her identity (and a few laughs along the way).

3. The Strong Emphasis On A Cohesive Show Design

One of the things that initially attracted me to the show was it’s sheer focus on design. The creator-driven shows of the 90s are well known for their focus on a strong sense of design; harkening back to the cartoon modern shows of the 50s and 60s, where style was the be all and end all of a show. MLaaTR continues the trend but does so with a heavy emphasis on Art Deco. While it isn’t as strong or forward-looking as Carlos Ramos’ The X’s, it does complement the show nicely and it is great to see one of the revolutionary 20th century styles used to effectively; giving the show a modern, contemporary look but retaining the appearance of class. It’s no coincidence (or hinderence) that the use of Art Deco also echos back to the vintage cartoons of the 1930s like Felix the Cat and even more so the Fleischer Bros.

4. The Use of Colour

This is a topic that will necessitate a full post in the foreseeable future, but needless to say, the show made excellent and effective use of colour that puts it on an entirely different level compared to other shows. It’s something we haven’t really seen since.

5. The Subtle Jokes

Yes, they are in there, and they’re even more subtle than you can imagine. While this may not do much for some, it’s the fact that they are just as knowing as the more blatant examples that makes them funny.

6. The Not-So-Subtle References

The Return of Raggedy Android - note the Hubley reference

Like just about every show that came along after The Simpsons, MLaaTR has its fair share of pop-culture references. These are much more blatant that the jokes but are nonetheless entertaining. Chief among them is Wizzly World and Uncle Wizzly, and all-too noticeable nod to Disney World and Walt Disney. Besides that, there are also plenty of nods to super heroes (how could there not), other TV shows (Samurai Vac anyone?) and Japan and Japanese culture.

7. The Cast

Not to go unnoticed are the voice cast. There are your usual suspects but two stand out in Candi Milo doing a great turn as Mrs. Wakeman and the late Earth Kitt who brings a surprising performance as Queen Vexus with a perfect menacing undertone.

Character Sundays: Dogbert

Via: Panels on Pages

Way, way back in the late 1990s, I remember the Dilbert animated show being on TV in Ireland. The schedule was erratic and I don’t believe anything after the first season was ever shown. Nonetheless, I found it to be an extremely funny show with a great cast of characters. one of whom we will look at today: Dogbert

Dogbert is Dilbert’s pet dog, but he is so in only the most symbolic sense. Dogbert is driven and power-hungry. He is always up to something and it always seems to involve controlling people. Buying laws in Congress to enact Dogbert Day? Check. Gaining control of Dilbert’s company? Check.

On a basic level, he is an anti-hero. He does what he wants and is willing to let others do the tough work for him. Dilbert is often at the sharp end of this, but Dogbert is shown time and again as looking out for his owner and often helping him in inadvertent ways (such as blasting him with a laser cannon just so that he would put an approved stamp on his own machine).

Within the TV series, Dogbert adds a dose of reality and rationalism to an otherwise crazy universe, even if it is for his own personal gain. He doesn’t display a lot of emotion beyond wagging his tail when happy, but this simply elevates the fun, as everyone else around him engages in hyper-emotional ways.

As a character, Dogbert is not overly complex, but he does act as a catalyst to deepen an otherwise shallow cast of characters who inhabit the rest of the show’s universe.

 

Why FOX Can’t Seem To Get Animation Right Again

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.

A Few Awesome Kim Possible Expression Sheets

Coming once again from the Art of Animation tumblelog, here’s a few more lovely looking Kim Possible expression sheets. It’s these kind of sheets that always intrigue me. Animators excel at displaying emotions purely through visuals. Oh sure the voice actor has a large part to play as well, but sheets like these only confirm that animators are essentially actors, no different from their live-action brethren; portraying emotions and actions in ways that evoke feelings within the audience.

Some Kim Possible Character Details Which You Know Are Awesome

For the record Kim Possible is one of the best characters ever to grace a TV screen. So it should come as no surprise that her character constructions sheets, which came by way of Art of Animation and Inappropriate Banjo (both on Tumblr), are no less interesting.

Kim’s a fascinating collection of sharp points and swirling curves that oh so cleverly allude to her double-sided life as an ordinary student and ass-kicking heroine.

Here, we see some of the finer points of her character design in her hair, which undoubtedly adds much grace to her movement in the action scenes.

It’s always great to see these kind of things, especially as they essentially offer us a peek into a character’s soul (per se).

Watch An Attempt To Bring A Show Back in Real Time

Discovered today (Tuesday) on the animation subbreddit, this is an attempt to bring back the mid-90s cartoon SWAT Kats. It was apparently fairly popular (if the claims in this video are credible) and was produced by Hanna-Barbera/Turner with animation being done by Tremblay Bros.

So, have the instigators of this campaign read this post, or are they falling prey to the classic mistakes of campaigns past?

Perhaps this video will help you decide. You can leave your comments below.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhoN9IMkJNo

For the decidedly curious, here’s a link to the revival blog.

Why “Cancelling” A Show Is So Outdated In This Day and Age

Word came through the other day that FOX, after what surely must have been a long discussion (/sarcasm), had decided to swing the axe on Jonah Hill’s much vaunted animated show, Gregory Allen.

So this poses an interesting question, and it’s one that will surely have a different answer than if it had been asked the last time we had this kind of situation on FOX:

What does it even mean to “cancel” a TV show any more?

Seriously! So you “cancel” it from being broadcast on TV. Well, as my fiance would say, woop-di-freakin-do! TV (and I’m talking about traditional, OTA, satellite and cable scheduled programming here) is rapidly becoming a smaller and smaller part of the entertainment landscape anyway, why does it even matter?

FOX already hosts its shows in a couple of places online and its fair to say that a sizeable portion of their audience is watching them there rather than “tuning in” during the week.

With that in mind, would it not make more sense to simply release the episodes online instead? Just because you “cancel” the show, does that automatically preclude that you have to suddenly archive the remaining episodes never to be seen again?

No, of course not!

Why not instead just say that Allen Gregory has moved to being exclusively online? My train of thought is that at some point we’ll see a deeper connection between TV and the web. YouTube is currently pioneering the way with original series (shout out to the YouTube Next Lab) whose quality is rapidly approaching that of traditional TV and it’s only a matter of time before we see audience shifts to them. My point? If a show begins life online and become popular, it could easily be “transferred” to TV with a scheduled timeslot while remaining online, thereby capturing both audiences.

Shows could also go the other way. Say they start out on TV but don’t really find their audience, then they could move to the online world and carry on as before.

I will use any excuse to post Mo Willem's charcter designs for this show.

We’ve seen some rudimentary moves in this regard with the likes of Sit Down, Shut Up. Which, after getting canned, eventually returned as FOX burned off the episodes in the middle of the night. However, they also went up on Hulu, where it was possible for fans (such as myself) to finally see them. And apparently they’re now on Comedy Central (somewhere) too!

Just imagine what kind of online numbers they could have gotten if they had put them online straight away!

Animation is slightly trickier than live-action as they shows pretty much have to be produced before the season begins. That means that it really doesn’t make any sense to “cancel” an animated show and then pretend it doesn’t exist.

To be cliched and quote Bob Dylan: the times, they are a changin’.

Remember, It’s Not Your Idea, It’s Your Interpretation of It

Yesterday, over on the  Cartoon Brew Biz section, I read an announcement that the Disney Channel has ordered a pilot for broadcast in 2012 tentatively called Zombies and Cheerleaders.  Now I’m not so sure about yourself, but when I read that title, the first thing that popped into my head was this:

Yes, it’s the Zombies Vs Cheerleaders comic by Stephen Frank et al at Moonstone Books. Similar topic, very similar title.

On the surface they look much the same, however each composition is/will be hugely different. The TV show is described as follows:

The story follows Zed Necrodopolis, a typical high school student with one small caveat; he happens to be a zombie. Despite a high-tech wristwatch designed to curb any appetite he may have for his classmates, he and his zombie friends remain unpopular with the school’s most influential group, the pom-pom wielding cheerleaders. Never one to back down from a challenge, Zed sets out to improve zombie student body relations and win the attention of Addison, the cheerleading squad’s newest member.

In contrast, the comic is described as:

Morbid or funny, and sometimes morbidly funny, top talent bring eclectic tales of Zombies vs Cheerleaders in this best-selling anthology series. Based on the hit sketch card series from 5FINITY Productions, read the exciting stories of the two things everyone loves: zombies and cheerleaders!

So while they appear similar on the surface, featuring zombies and cheerleaders, they differ greatly when it comes down to actual content.

This is something to be very aware of if you are writing or creating your own material. You can’t copyright ideas, only exceedingly similar interpretations. This is why we continue to see new versions of Alice in Wonderland despite the fact that the Disney version is the de facto story as far as the masses are concerned.

So don’t be afraid to use someone else’s idea for something personal you’re working on, just so long as it’s different or heads in another direction. 🙂

Do You Think Internationally When Developing A Series?

Sam Register discussing Warner Bros. animation at MIP Jr. 2011

 Via: MIPBlog

Do you think you should?

If not, why not?

Going on right now, MIPCOM is pretty much the convention/expo/gathering when it comes to selling shows to international buyers. Thousands come from all over the world to Cannes to see, hear, meet and schmooze about TV programmes. It’s also preceded each year by MIPJr. a similar event for kids shows that is ostensibly the same format as it’s big brother.

MIPCOM is an important part of the global TV ecosystem because it allows content producers to sell that content to others. It’s much cheaper (and easier) to simply sell the rights to a local player and have them handle re-dubbing, marketing, scheduling, etc. Essentially what you get is money for your show with relatively little effort.

So should you develop your show with this event in mind?

Or rather, should you have an international mindset when developing a TV show or film?

The answer is you probably should, not to the extent that you design your entire show around the international market, but you should be aware that certain things don’t play too well in the foreign markets, such as:

  • Westerns – The only place with a wild west is America, most other countries have nothing comparable so they aren’t nearly as interested
  • Military – DreamWorks discovered that as half-decent a film as Monsters Vs. Aliens is, it did relatively poorly internationally because of the heavy military theme didn’t resonate as loudly with foreigners as it did with Americans.
  • You get the picture

The important point is that if a show skews too heavily towards American culture, it might be a difficult sell abroad, resulting in the network being more reluctant to buy it given that international sales are normally necessary to make money.

Of course the opposite is true too. You shouldn’t base you’re entire show around what the international market wants but you should at least be aware that your show will likely be sold abroad at some point and adjust your development accordingly.

The most popular TV shows out there are so for a reason, and that is that they have universal appeal regardless of the culture you live in. The simple reason this is so is because they make culture irrelevant. Think of SpongeBob, where you live has nothing to do with the show, Bikini Bottom could be anywhere in the world!

Just keep an open mind, that’s all!

PS. Dave Levy wrote a great book on pitching and developing TV shows

PSS. Don’t forget to read Steve Schnier’s informative The Pitch Bible Blog