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Searching for the Next Breakout Animated Hit

Networks experiment with unconventional development schemes

“The Simpsons” began as a toon segment on “The Tracey Ullman Show,” “South Park” got its jumpstart as a viral Christmas card and “Robot Chicken” emerged out of an Internet-only precursor. So it’s long been clear that award-winning animation can be nurtured outside the traditional pilot-to-series development track.

Such once-novel routes have become commonplace. Network execs and new-media honchos have made it a priority to root out the next big hits by embracing short-form and incubating talent in-house. But the process remains an inexact science.

That’s why Cartoon Network and Adult Swim, per chief content officer Rob Sorcher, are experimenting with the CN Shorts Program to breed the next big skeins. Sorcher says the program cuts the production timeline down and allows creators to avoid foundering in “development hell.”

The current program and its former iteration, “The Cartoonstitute,” have given rise to “Uncle Grandpa,” “Adventure Time,”(pictured above) “Rick and Morty,” “Steven Universe and Clarence,” as well as the Emmy-winning “Regular Show.”

“What we’re looking for in the end is that incredible spark that we think, ‘Holy God, this could turn into a fire,’ ” Sorcher says, of the artist-led program. “We’re looking for that cookie that we haven’t tasted yet.”

Fox ADHD, an online block slated for a July 27 launch, is also hunting for that elusive cookie. But the newbie brand, according to head of programming Nick Weidenfeld, is ditching the pilot process entirely and diving six episodes deep into a series instead.

“As much as I love ‘Family Guy’ and ‘South Park,’ this generation doesn’t necessarily want something so cynical, mean and ironic,” Weidenfeld says. “The things that you think are too weird or too silly now … those are the (shows) that should be contenders, because they’re going to speak to that next audience.”

Another forward-thinking group is Mondo Media, which has already made a name for itself with its slate of subversive digital skeins such as cult hits “Happy Tree Friends,” “Deep Space 69” (pictured below) and “Dick Figures.” The company, per veep of animation development and acquisitions Aaron Simpson, digs through dozens of online videos every day.

“We’re combing through to find the voice that can cut through all the clutter,” he says.

 

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