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Mindless TV cartoons?

Share your views on the state of the Animation Industry.

Mindless TV cartoons?

Postby Charles » Tue Nov 02, 2010 10:47 am

While visiting a friend recently, a mother of two children, the kids were watching an animated series on the Disney Channel. It's called Fish Hooks.

The kids were watching, but that's about it. They weren't laughing, or smiling, or reacting in any way. They were just sitting there watching.

Without a prompt, their mother mentioned that she didn't like this cartoon and most of the cartoons that are being produced for TV nowadays. I asked why. She said they were mindless. Not like cartoons that went before and got you involved in the story or the comedy. These cartoons were simply mindless. She went on to say that she didn't like the energy coming from them. They were all the same. Very annoying and hard to sit through. Like finger nails across a chalk board.

So I put the question to my class at Cal State Northridge last night. I mentioned this experience and related what the lady thought. Then I asked my students if they agree with her or disagree.

There was resounding agreement. The class felt that the cartoons being produced by the cable TV stations that specialized in cartoons were creating dumb shows that were centered around the same thing. Gags and screaming characters mostly.

I think there's interesting things going on with Fish Hooks and other animated TV fare. I like the design, the animation is very good, there's some unusual effects being utilized...

What do you think? What's your opinion about some of these shows and the state of TV animation in general?

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Re: Mindless TV cartoons?

Postby Glen Moyes » Tue Nov 02, 2010 2:38 pm

Oh boy, this topic is right up my alley and what we are trying to do as an start-up studio (i.e., I've given this years of thought, so get ready.)

To further understand today's kids shows, I suggest everyone to do some research on how marketers target kids, in particular a well established marketing strategy called The Nag Factor. Advertisers have been using that strategy for years, and there appears to be a trend towards the children's shows themselves becoming more like the ads: wacky and loud.

The other part of this is how there's such a strong focus today on pitching a show concept. The pitch is everything, they say. What happens after the pitch? What's the story and how will the series end? That's not important, just the pitch and the log line, which will make the studio decide if your idea will be marketable or not (which is why the best log line is, "My story is online and has two million viewers.")

I think the major focus on today's kids shows is if they will sell tons and tons of merchandise. I just can't see how a studio can make enough money simply by airing the show on TV. The show needs to sell merchandise to be financially successful.

In other words, story is unfortunately secondary to the monetary success of these shows. Will the kids appreciated it more? Probably. Will the parents appreciate it more? Absolutely. But how much more merchandise sales will you get from it, especially when you understand how parental buying habits work?

Story takes a long time to get right. I repeat, it takes a long time to get right. This is something that I'm learning first hand while co-writing an entire script for a five volume comic book (in advance) over the the past two years. Think about how long a 90 minute Pixar movie takes in order to get the story nailed down. Think about how much time needs to be spent to make a show with a solid story and meaningful characters. Will that make the backpacks that much more appealing to offset the cost? Honestly, I don't think it will, again, think about how parents buy merchandise for their kids. Good stories just take too much time and don't affect the sales of merchandise of shows that people can watch on TV (the italicized part is important, I'll get to that later).

The Nag Factor works. It's why kid advertising is the way it is. It flat out 100% actually works. But trying to figure out how a meaningful story and characters could work with a show that has the Nag Factor as it's strategy, just doesn't seem to mix in my head. But could they? I'm not sure—I honestly haven't thought about that since now—but for the sake of argument lets assume that they can't.

Here's my thoughts:

  • Kids can watch anything. They enjoy shows that adults enjoy. And they are used to seeing things that they don't understand. That's how they learn, so you don't have to bring a story down to their level, besides the parents watching the show with their kids will hate you for that. It doesn't have to have the nag factor for them to like the show.
  • You can have appealing marketable characters that kids will want to have on their backpacks, and have the show with a good story, but a new way has to be used that will trick parents into buying merch, without resorting to the Nag Factor
  • Properties for young adults and up don't have this dilemma. They like and understand good stories. These people have money and will by what they want without having to nag their parents. In my ideal world I would make a show focused towards young adults in subject matter but then also wouldn't have anything offensive to kids. That my friends, is my vision of what kids shows of the future should be.
  • If a kids show with a better story (and lacks the Nag Factor) is to be successful, then parents need to be buying the show itself instead of watching it on TV. Parents don't like the shows on TV, they don't like the ads on TV, but they'll watch in anyway because they are already paying for it through their cable/satellite TV provider. If parents didn't have cable/satellite TV, and had to make actual buying decisions on their kids shows, they will pay for the best ones, and these shows would be ad free.

The Nag Factor works on TV shows and how studios have to make money from that. One key point I want to make is that if everything was Video on Demand, the way shows are made would be dramatically different.

I'll let the community chew on that for a bit.

The next question would be how do you "compel" parents into buying merch from these shows? But I want to see what other people think first. :)
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