TBS greenlights animation series

'South Park' alum behind 'Neighbors From Hell'

HOLLYWOOD — Just as its sibling Cartoon Network is expanding into the live-action space, TBS is getting animated for the first time.

The Turner net has greenlit the half-hour series “Neighbors From Hell,” which comes from 20th Century Fox TV, which is making its first foray into producing an animated show for cable, and DreamWorks Animation.

Show reps Jeffrey Katzenberg’s latest stab at conquering the lucrative world of primetime animation, where his previous foray was NBC’s “Father of the Pride.”

TBS ordered 10 episodes of “Neighbors,” which it plans to pair with its off-net run of “Family Guy.”

“South Park” alum Pam Brady is behind “Neighbors,” which revolves around the Hellmans — an all-American suburban family that happens to hail from Hell. Brady wrote the pilot and will exec produce with Mireille Soria (“Madagascar”) and Katzenberg.

Michael Wright, exec VP and head of programming for TBS, TNT and TCM, said the cabler had been in the hunt for an animated series.

“When you look at the TBS schedule, one of the things that performs well for us night in and night out is ‘Family Guy,'” Wright said. “Our strategy has always been to try to develop programming that’s compatible with what’s already there and working.”

The idea for “Neighbors” initially came from DreamWorks Animation. Katzenberg thought it might be a great vehicle for Brady, who was in the midst of an overall deal at 20th. That’s when 20th came aboard; the show was then developed for Fox, which ultimately passed.

Enter TBS. Wright said he mentioned his desire for animation to Katzenberg, who called up soon after with “Neighbors.”

On “Neighbors,” the Hellmans — Balthazor, wife Tina, children Mandy and Josh and dog Pazuzu — have been sent to Earth and disguised as normal suburbanites in order to help humans avoid winding up in hell. Their mission turns dicey when Balthazor finds himself drawn to the humans’ quirky qualities.

Katzenberg called the show “a fish-out-of-water twist on the suburban comedy genre.”

Wright noted that 20th is not only behind “Family Guy” but is the only company that has had a successful animated run in primetime. Twentieth Century Fox TV chairman Gary Newman said the Turner deal comes as the studio looks to expand its animation biz beyond just its sister Fox net.

“There are only so many time periods on Fox,” he said. “And with the other networks not buying much animation, that left us the option of turning to cable.”

Newman said the studio has had to adjust its primetime animation economics to fit cable’s lower license fees and smaller episodic orders.

“The cable model is a different animal,” he said. “But animation sells well in DVD and works overseas. So by keeping a reasonable control over production costs, we’ve found a model that can work. Necessity is the mother of invention, and we challenged our production people to come up with an animation process that will allow us to produce this at a lower cost.”

That includes striking a balance between most animated cable series, which utilize smaller writing staffs, and primetime, which takes advantage of retakes and rewrites even at later production stages.

Because “Neighbors” is a smaller-budget cable property, Fox TV Animation — an IATSE signatory — will technically produce instead of 20th, where shows like “The Simpsons” are signed up with the WGA.

“It will be done on a tighter schedule, and we’ll take advantage of efficiencies, but you will see no difference between ‘Neighbors From Hell’ and the shows we produce for the broadcast networks,” Newman said.

Twentieth’s stable of primetime animated hits include “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy,” “King of the Hill” and “American Dad,” while DreamWorks Animation is behind Nickelodeon’s “Penguins of Madagascar,” which just preemed to the biggest launch numbers in the network’s history.

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