Old toon comedies remain Emmy-fresh

Road to the Emmys: Comedy - Animation

Few Emmy nominees are as long in the tooth as the comedies in the animation programming category, where “The Simpsons,” “South Park” and “Futurama” not only have more than 40 seasons of shows among them but have owned the category in every year but two this century.

The most obvious explanation of their dominance is they continue to be good … even those that overcame the ultimate hurdle.

“I don’t think our secret weapon in the Emmys is getting ourselves canceled every couple of years so we can always come in as the fresh underdog,” says David X. Cohen, co-creator and exec producer on “Futurama,” which originated on Fox and was resurrected on Comedy Central.

Even after having produced enough episodes to creatively exhaust dozens of other shows, animation has several advantages over live-action when it comes to keeping the material fresh. It is no more difficult to send Homer Simpson to the moon for a single joke or have “Family Guy’s” Peter Griffin parody “Singin’ in the Rain” than it is to have characters sit at a table and talk.

Also, characters need not age, allowing Bart Simpson to still be 10 years old after 22 seasons.

“If people like it, then it doesn’t have to change, whereas with a sitcom, things are changing and biology is working against you,” says Cohen.

Being so long-lived has created some unusual dynamics in the Emmy race, including a little bit of fanboy fervor from the competition.

“We watch their shows,” says Seth Green, co-creator of “Robot Chicken,” nominated this year for its third “Star Wars” parody special. “We’re actually really, really into them, and they’re part of why we’re into animation.

” ‘South Park’ feels like it gets better and sharper every year, ‘Simpsons’ is still funny, ‘Futurama’ is still funny. There’s a reason those shows don’t get cancelled and keep winning awards.”

Even with such consistency, it remains a difficult category to predict. “It’s truly a program award, so you’re looking at direction, you’re looking at the storyboards,” says Rich Appel, who has worked as a writer and producer on most of Fox’s primetime animated series and is exec producer on “The Cleveland Show,” nominated for the first time this year.

However voters decide, Appel says quality should be rewarded regardless of how long a show has been on the air.

“I have no principled belief that old shows have to make way for new shows,” he says. “If a show can maintain the heights that it reaches at its best, it’s going to be nominated year after year.”

Laughed behind | Old toon comedies remain Emmy-fresh
The nominees

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Reed Hastings seen on day one

    Reed Hastings on the Streamer Wars: 'It's a Whole New World Starting in November'

    After dominating the subscription streaming scene for so long, Netflix is girding for a new phase in the SVOD wars with the entry of more deep-pocketed players like Disney and Apple, CEO Reed Hastings said Friday. “While we’ve been competing with many people in the last decade, it’s a whole new world starting in November…between [...]

  • BBC ITV BritBox Streaming

    Viacom's Channel 5 and Comedy Central Join BritBox Ahead of Its U.K. Launch

    Viacom-owned Channel 5 and Comedy Central have joined BritBox, the “best-of-British” subscription streaming service created by the BBC and ITV. The platform, already available in North America, is due to launch on home turf in Britain by year’s end. Under the deal with Viacom, shows from the U.K.’s Channel 5 can appear on BritBox following [...]

  • The-Head

    Behind the Scenes With Mediapro’s Antarctic Thriller Series 'The Head'

    On Sept. 13, the cast and crew of Mediapro’s upcoming dramatic thriller “The Head” gathered at a swanky Santa Cruz de Tenerife hotel to kick off promotional duties for this English-language series, which will wrap shooting later this month. It was day 50 of production, and the cast had been working late, rushing to get [...]

  • The Plague Season 2 Spanish TV

    Telefonica, Atresmedia to Create Content Factory Behemoth

    SAN SEBASTIAN  — In a game-changing move for Spanish-language production Telefonica, Europe’s third biggest telco, and Atresmedia, the original co-creators of “La Casa de Papel,” are uniting to create a new joint contents production giant. Aimed at gaining more scale and uniting talent relations – writers, directors and producers – the 50/50 joint venture will [...]

  • KKR-Backed German Media Conglomerate Finally Has

    KKR-Backed German Media Conglomerate Finally Has a Name: Leonine

    The KKR-backed German media company formed through the merger of Tele München Group, Universum Film, i&u TV, and Wiedemann & Berg Film finally has a name: Leonine. The company revealed its moniker Friday, saying that “Leonine” met its criteria of being associated with its home region of Bavaria and Munich, in southern Germany, and of [...]


    San Sebastian: Leticia Dolera on Canneseries Winner ‘Perfect Life’

    SAN SEBASTIAN —  “La Casa de Papel” (“Money Heist”) may be the most seen of Spanish series this year. Leticia Dolera’s still-to-bow “Perfect Life,” however, is the most laureled, sweeping at April’s 2nd Canneseries TV festival both best series and best special performance for its female leads, Dolera herself, Celia Freijeiro and Aixa Villagrán, from [...]

  • Screen writer Beau WillimonMary Queen of

    Beau Willimon Re-Elected as President of Writers Guild of America East

    Beau Willimon, the playwright and showrunner who launched Netflix’s “House of Cards,” has been re-elected without opposition to a two-year term as president of the Writers Guild of America East. Willimon also ran unopposed in 2017 to succeed Michael Winship. Kathy McGee was elected to the vice president slot over Phil Pilato. Secretary-treasurer Bob Schneider [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content