Animated characters often defy the laws of physics as often as any other expectation, so it should come as no surprise that this year’s Emmy nominees for animated series honors seem to move in incompatible orbits. Two are kid-oriented skeins with just one season behind each of them, and more than half of the category is occupied by long-running adult shows.
“I was shocked we were nominated,” says Craig McCracken, director-executive producer of Cartoon Network series “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends.” “I thought the bigger shows that were nominated this year like ‘South Park’ and ‘Family Guy’ and ‘The Simpsons’ would sort of squeeze us out, but it’s nice the Academy is noticing animated shows for children, too.”
There was a time when animated shows were securely positioned in children’s programming slots, but today animation is for every audience. “It was ‘The Simpsons’ that really changed the way people looked at animation and started the trend of an animated series with humor meant for adults,” says David Goodman, executive producer of “Family Guy,” one of this year’s nommed series.
“I think when Fox saw their success, they realized there’s a generation that grew up watching animation and so it’s not strange for them to watch more adult humor as part of an animated show, and that’s partially why the nominee list in this category looks the way it does today,” he observes.
Animation can help auds swallow the kind of edgier subject matter that keeps adult viewers coming back over the years. “I think a lot of what they do on ‘South Park’ is more palatable because it’s animated, so it makes for a more cutting-edge kind of show,” says Lauren Corrao, Comedy Central’s executive vice president of original programming and development. “South Park” is nominated for its “Trapped in the Closet” episode, which angered Tom Cruise and Isaac Hayes.
Adults also make more consistent viewers. “I worked on ‘Alf’ in the 1980s, so I saw what happens when a younger audience outgrows you,” says Al Jean, executive producer for “The Simpsons,” also nommed. “Adults happen to be a little more faithful to the programs they like, which is why you’re probably seeing shows cater to them and then have a longer lifespan.”
Now that animated shows are watched by a wider age range, there’s even an impact on the shows made just for kids. “We definitely don’t dumb anything down, because kids are very smart and they watch a lot of shows,” says Joe Murray, executive producer of the nominated series “Camp Lazlo.” “We also know parents will be watching with their kids, and we want there to be something for them, too.”