When Michael Ouweleen joined Cartoon Network in 1996, “There was a hard and fast rule of no live-action people on the network,” the senior VP recalls. “I started to fudge with that because you needed stuff to contrast with cartoons.”
In 2003, Ouweleen hired a couple twentysomethings to host the net’s “Fridays” block, reaching out to local Atlanta schools for kids who might like to appear in the background. That’s how he met Blake Michaels, the hyper 10-year-old “superfan” who recently took over hosting the Friday-Saturday “Fried Dynamite” block.
“I am digging this because now we’re working with people who are the age of our audience,” he says.
And on the original programming front, a one-off movie called “Re-Animated,” about a flesh-and-blood middle-school kid (Dominic Janes) who sees animated characters, naturally grew into the net’s first hybrid show, “Out of Jimmy’s Head.”
“It was a natural way of dipping our toe into the live-action pool,” says Ouweleen. “And then doing the live-action version of a cartoon, ‘Ben 10,’ seems normal to us.” That project, “Ben 10: Race Against Time,” debuts in November.
“What I’m hoping is that our casting for live-action directly influences our casting for animation,” says Ouweleen, who expects to see more young talent behind the microphone in the net’s not-too-distant future.
Though cartoon kids are traditionally recorded by women, the lead voice on “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends” comes from 19-year-old Sean Marquette, and upcoming toon “Chowder” stars pre-teen Nicky Jones.
“It’s sort of like the ‘Peanuts’ voices of old,” Ouweleen says. “There’s something about the decisions only a 9-year-old brain can make that makes it so much more funny.”
Recent breakthrough: Cartoon Network’s new live-action programming. “The kids we’ve cast feel like they could come work at the network in 10 years. They have the same creative take and work ethic.”
Role model: “Ted Turner. Just how he approached building businesses. His spirit is still lingering around this place.”
What’s next: More live shows in development.