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.

Reviving Old Cartoons


Word comes through via ToonZone and others about the new Looney Tunes show announced today at the Cartoon Network upfront, the antiquated annual hooplah by a network where advertisers are coerced into buying space during shows that barely even exist yet. Fun times.

So once again, we see the Looney Tunes gang getting pulled out of the closet for new adventures. The last time they did this, we ended up Loonatics Unleashed. A show that many Warner fans would rather forget, but in the end, all it needed was some extra love and attention that would never be forthcoming.

The press summary describes it as follows:

The Looney Tunes Show: A new half-hour animated comedy series starring Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. No longer confined to 7-minute shorts, Bugs and Daffy are out of the woods and living in the suburbs among such colorful neighbors as Yosemite Sam, Granny, Tweety and Sylvester. In addition to each episode’s main story, The Looney Tunes Show also features “cartoons within a cartoon.” The Tasmanian Devil, Speedy Gonzales, Marvin the Martian and other classic characters sing original songs in two-minute music videos called Merrie Melodies and the Road Runner and Coyote are featured in 2-1/2 minute CG shorts. This all new series is produced by Warner Bros. Animation. Sam Register (Teen Titans, Ben 10, Batman: The Brave and the Bold) is the executive producer. Spike Brandt and Tony Cervone (both Duck Dodgers, Back at the Barnyard, Space Jam) are the supervising producers.

Oh…goody.

If the fact that the characters live in the suburbs isn’t enough, the new show apparently helps the characters break out of the classic 7-minute acts that made them who they are today.

Since I have not seen the show, I will reserve judgement on it for now. Suffice to say I’m not immediately impressed and don’t have high hopes either. This despite the fact that Sam Register is running the whole thing.

Reveiving old cartoons characters is fairly old. Sure Disney has been at it for years, Mickey Mouse continues to pop up in new adventures from time to time. Tom & Jerry have had more lives than I care to remember, from Chuck Jones shorts to Saturday morning cartoons to Tom & Jerry Kids!

What have all these things taught us? For one, nothing is rarely, if ever as good as the original. Even Family Guy isn’t the same since it came back, which in turn has me worried about the new series of Futurama.

Granted the FOX shows had a much shorter hiatus than the Looney Tunes. Still though, they won’t be the same. I think the closest we have gotten to the classic WB shorts in recent (!) years has been either Ren & Stimpy or Cow & Chicken. Today’s cartoons really do lack the hard edge and sly humour that have made old cartoons stand the test of time.

I will of course see the new show when it launches, but people rarely get ahead by digging in the past.

Toys As A Creative Source For Cartoons

I was rather gutted when I found out they were toys first...

To be frank, I don’t remember an awful lot of these. being a child of the mid-80s, I missed more than half the decade, also having been raised in Ireland, I was dependent on whatever RTE could afford or care enough about to import.

What made cartoons of that decade stand out more than anything else? Toys of course! Yes indeedy, this was the decade where cartoons reigned supreme as the marketing vehicle to children, even moreso than today or the 1990s for that matter.

You couldn’t turn on a TV without seeing a show based on a toy. be it The Care Bears, Transformers, G.I. Joe and so on. The strategy was successful, but of course, the shows themselves dated quickly. Although some managed to achieve a certain level of cult status.

Thankfully, somebody wised up in the 90s and realized that cartoons worked much better if they were the source of the toys, not a cog in the marketing machine. Today we have smart, funny and intensely entertaining cartoons to watch 24/7 and the toys that go with them are top notch too. How much nicer is it to see Spongebob getting into trouble in Bikini Bottom than, say, the Transformers off to stop the evil Deseptacons, again!

The reason for this post is the word filtering through the internet that the two guys behind Ruby-Spears have announced that they intend to start marketing old Jack Kirby ideas as a combined TV show and toy line.

Great! If that’s what they want to do, then more power to them. There can never be enough cartoons in this world. There will always be good and bad shows, sometimes (like the 80s) there will be more bad ones than good ones. Nonetheless, I think we can all agree that some form of animation on TV or otherwise is better than nothing. Now if I was in charge, you can bet you’d only see the best, creator-driven cartoons ever made. But unfortunately I’m not in charge, so we’ll have to deal with what comes out between now and then.

Nope, what I’m wondering is where they’ll find a willing buyer. Disney is only interested in its own properties (or those developed in-house). Nickelodeon, while sometimes going outside Viacom, has so far chosen to develop their own shows and market them accordingly. With the stunning success of Spongebob Squarepants, I can’t see them changing their tune either. As for the Cartoon Network, they’ve decided to change their direction away from cartoons. Although they have bought in shows, such as Cookie Jar’s Johnny Test, the network has an abysmal record of translating their shows into marketable products. Ben 10 is the exception rather than the rule, and even then the show has a very, very narrow focus on boys aged 6-11.

That leaves the broadcast networks. Which as we all know, are a bit of a graveyard for kids shows these days. ABC airs constant (and I mean constant, i.e. the same 20 episodes) re-runs of Disney shows. NBC has handed their Saturday mornings to Quobo, the quasi-cable channel. That leaves the CW and CBS. The former entrusts 4Kids, the latter used to use DIC before they got swallowed up by Cookie Jar.

Of all of these, the most likely prospective buyers are 4Kids and Cookie Jar, although 4Kids has focused more on anime imports, such as Sonic X and TNMT in recent times. DIC of course, has brought us many toy-related shows over the years. So perhaps they may be the buyers for and toy-related show that comes out of this. Such a shame the ratings are in the sub-1.0 level.

There is plenty to be hopeful about, but the last 20 years have proven that cartoons that are creator-driven stand to make much more money for toy makers than themselves. They would be wise to realize this.

Renewing TV Shows

From about.com

It is the dream of every show creator to be renewed for another season. It is in many ways the ultimate compliment; “your show is so great and you are so talented, that we would like to give you a huge pile of money to make some more!”

Sounds great doesn’t it? And with the animation industry as transient as it is, getting an order of more episodes is a fantastic form of job security. You know when you are likely to run out of work, unlike say, myself, who could get the can any time, whether the job I’m working on is finished or not.

While renewing shows is generally a good thing (and there are plenty of examples where shows have been inexplicably renewed), sometimes it amazes me how quickly TV people jump the gun when it comes to shows.

The Cleveland Show is a prime example, where it was renewed before the pilot was even broadcast. That took a lot of guts in FOX’s part and yet it was certainly viewed as arrogance by some people, who thought that they should have waited to see concrete numbers before committing to a second season.

Too many shows have been screwed around by the networks and have ended up being cancelled because of supposed low viewing numbers. Two of said shows have been FOX productions so perhaps that’s something they should really work on.

Kids networks like Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon are slightly different in that they don’t broadcast new content at the same amount as other networks (perhaps another reason I don’t cough up for cable) so they seem to be able to re-run shows ad-nausuem without wearing out their audience.

With the advent of online streaming and video on demand, we should see a switch to more precise viewing numbers. I hope that shows can get out there sooner, in other words before the entire season has finished production. As Adventure Time has proven, a show can have plenty of fans before it even gets off the ground. Every show should be like that, not just the really good ones.