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Panel toons into animated issues

Vertical integration, alliances, branding and licensing are all facts of life, but some of TV’s top animation execs say the toon biz is still being driven by knockout ideas.

“We’re all producers at heart and we love original ideas,” Fox Kids Network chairman Margaret Loesh told a packed room of animators and toon producers Tuesday as part of the First Intl. Business Conference of Television Animation, a two-day confab held in conjunction with the World Animation Celebration in Pasadena.

Joining Loesh on the panel titled “What Are American Broadcasters Looking For?” were such cable, web and syn-die honchos as Bohbot Entertainment CEO Allen Bohbot, Warner Bros. TV Animation prez Jean MacCurdy, Disney TV and TV Animation prexy Dean Valentine, Albie Hecht, senior veep of Nickelodeon Prods., and Abby Terkhule, executive VP and creative director for MTV.

Hecht took a direct approach to answering the question of what his net was seeking: “Good, stupid, weird is probably a good range for us, make us laugh,” he said, adding that characters or ideas so bizarre that the creators might think twice about pitching them are often the golden ones.

Given the current demand for animation — some 125 toon series are now on the air — and the weakening of the barriers that once separated net from cable from syndication, the experts say placing a show is now not as difficult as finding an audience for it. “The question is no longer how can you get on (TV), but how do you let somebody know you’re on,” noted Valentine.

What obviously helps is branding, forging a strong identity in the kids arena the way Nickelodeon and Fox Kids have done in the past few years. “If you’d asked me 10 years ago whether branding means anything to kids I would have said no, kids watch shows they like. But today, branding has become important,” stated Bohbot, who de-scribes his syndie kids weblet as “the little guy in town.”

With so many new studio/broadcaster alliances and the phenomenon of big companies being gobbled by huge com-panies, the independent producer might seem to be on the endangered list. Warner Bros.’ MacCurdy stressed oth-erwise. “I really think it is a misnomer that all the vertical integration means everybody wants to produce every-thing inhouse,” she stated. MacCurdy likewise assured the crowd that pre-sold concepts — toon series based on toys, comics or films — would never make originality extinct. “In minimizing your risk (by airing pre-solds) it is often also minimizing your potential success.”

Ken Faier, publisher of Canada’s KidScreen Magazine, moderated Tuesday’s panel.

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