16 December 2013

Networks Toying With Us?

In the latest “Fat Man on Batman” podcast, writer Paul Dini spoke candidly about recent trends in superhero cartoons on television (as transcribed by Vi):

There’s been…a sudden trend in animation, with super-heroes. Like, “It’s too old. It’s too old for our audience, and it has to be younger. It has to be funnier.” And that’s when I watch the first couple of episodes of Teen Titans Go!, it’s like those are the wacky moments in the Teen Titans cartoon, without any of the more serious moments. “Let’s just do them all fighting over pizza, or running around crazy and everything, ’cause our audience—the audience we wanna go after, is not the Young Justice audience any more. We wanna go after little kids, who are into—boys who are into goofy humor, goofy random humor, like on Adventure Time or Regular Show. We wanna do that goofy, that sense of humor, that’s where we’re going for.” . . .

They’re all for boys. “We do not want the girls.” I mean, I’ve heard executives say this…, saying like, “We do not want girls watching this show.” . . . They. Do. Not. Buy. Toys. The girls buy different toys. . . .

I’ll just lay it on the line: that’s the thing that got us cancelled on Tower Prep, honest-to-God was, like, “We need boys, but we need girls right there, right one step behind the boys”—this is the network talking—“one step behind the boys, not as smart as the boys, not as interesting as the boys, but right there.” And then we began writing stories that got into the two girls’ back stories, and they were really interesting. And suddenly we had families and girls watching, and girls really became a big part of our audience, in sort of like they picked up that Harry Potter type of serialized way. . . . But, the Cartoon Network was saying, “Fuck, no, we want the boys.” Action, it’s boys’ action, this goofy boy humor we’ve gotta get that in there. . . . And I’d say, but look at the numbers, we’ve got parents watching, with the families, and then when you break it down—“Yeah,…we’ve got too many girls. We need more boys.” . . .

And then that’s why they cancelled us, and they put on a show called Level Up, which is, you know, goofy nerds fighting CG monsters. It’s like, “We don’t want the girls because the girls won’t buy toys. . . . Boys, boys, boys. Boys buy the little spinny tops, they buy the action figures, girls buy princesses, we’re not selling princesses.”
In fact, we already knew this.

Back in 2010, as Young Justice was launching on the Cartoon Network, co-creator Greg Weisman said:
I think, from an economic standpoint, we have to hit boys 6 – 14 for Cartoon Network to sell their ad space or whatever, so if you think of it as a bull’s eye with concentric circles, that’s the bull’s eye we have to hit.
I quoted that back here. Weisman and his fellow creators wanted to do more than that, and they created a fine show that appealed to a wider set of viewers. In fact, it did all the things that Dini just said the Cartoon Network didn’t appreciate. The mood was generally serious instead of goofy. There were lots of female characters and relationships. The story was serialized. And in the second season, the story became even more complex, with more adult themes.

When Young Justice wasn’t renewed after two seasons, Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool declared amid comma splices that the decision was “down to lower toy sales than expected.” As Weisman told the Denver Comic-Con, merchandise sales can make up a large part of the revenue for a show for the Warner Bros. A surplus of Green Lantern merchandise was a factor in the simultaneous cancellation of the Green Lantern animated show.

But in fact the Young Justice toy line was cancelled in April 2012, weeks before the second season launched. Production on that season continued through October, and the show itself ran until March 2013. Though the lack of toy revenue would have affected the larger corporation’s calculations about the show (both Warner Bros. and the Cartoon Network are part of what’s still for the moment called Time Warner), the show still had the chance to pull in an audience.

But that had to be the right sort of audience. As viewers of commercial television, we always have to remember that networks don’t make their money by providing us with entertainment. Their business is to supply their advertisers with our attention. And if those advertisers want the delivery of males aged six to fourteen, because that’s who will ask for their products, a larger audience of other eyeballs isn’t going to offer them much more value. In this era of “narrow-casting,” basic cable channels and Saturday-morning cartoons all have niche audiences to deliver.


Richard Bensam said...

Every time every bad thing I've suspected about the management at Cartoon Network is confirmed, it turns out my imagination didn't go far enough and they're even worse than I thought.

J. L. Bell said...

One question this raises is whether there's an outlet for a show like Tower Prep or Young Justice—superpower-based, not goofy, about teens, with both male and female leads, and with serialized storylines—on American television today.