Few shows are as suited to a modern attention span as “Robot Chicken.” Its sketches — often but a few seconds long — are ideal online viewing and tap directly into the fanboy mind that enshrines “Star Wars” as gospel and led comicbook superheroes to box office glory this past decade.
But is the show’s rapid, ADD-style format a product of the culture’s dwindling attention span or a leading contributor to it?
“It’s both, and that’s actually something that we struggle with,” says Seth Green, co-creator, executive producer, writer, director and voice actor for “Robot Chicken.”
Things have been moving toward shorter bursts of content for a long time, Green says, citing as precedent MTV’s 1990s series “Liquid Television,” short-film festivals and even a Comedy Central clip show called “Short Attention Span Theater.” And with younger viewers increasingly turning to mobile phones for all their content, it’s not going to change anytime soon.
“We just like telling jokes, and we like telling them quick,” he says. “We don’t like wasting time.”
Adds co-creator, executive producer, writer and director Matthew Senreich: “I would love to say that I had the foresight to know the Internet would have exploded the way it did and short-form content would be so easily accessible, so our show fits into that perfectly.
“We just knew we wanted to keep sketches short enough where someone wasn’t rolling their eyes saying, ‘I can’t believe this sketch is still going on.’?”
Adult Swim exec veep Keith Crofford says he thinks the rapid-fire format is a product of the short-attention span culture and stacks the deck in favor of the show finding an audience.
“You’re churning through material so fast that you’re bound to find a couple of things that you love even if there’s a couple things that you hate,” he says.
Head writer and exec producer Doug Goldstein says the show had to wait for the right time to find its audience. “I think we’ve always wanted to be a short-attention-span society, it’s just media had to catch up and give us what we wanted,” he says.
But there was never a conscious effort to make “Robot Chicken” fit such big-picture ideas.
“We had things to say and things to make fun of, but they weren’t things that really needed a long time to talk about it,” Goldstein says. “We wanted to talk about how, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if a Transformer got prostate cancer?’ That’s not exactly a joke that takes 20 minutes to tell.”
However, that is a joke that works on YouTube, which launched within days of the premiere of “Robot Chicken” and played a significant role in building its audience. The show is the top-rated original program on Adult Swim, as well as a hit on DVD with more than 1.3 million units sold.
The show’s true impact goes far beyond the numbers. Green, Senreich and crew are as popular as any actor or director at Comic-Con, and “Robot Chicken” has developed into the comedy voice of the fanboy generation.
“All of us growing up felt a little alienated, like misfits — super-separated by the things we liked,” says Green. “And as you get a little bit older, you realize that everyone growing up feels that way, and we had the same kind of experience with this show. We just felt this stuff was our personal musings, our private, super-nerdy thoughts, and yet, over time, that’s grown exponentially.”
That helps explain why the show’s fanboy-focused sense of humor has connected with so large an audience and charmed George Lucas into lending his voice to a sketch and granting “Robot Chicken” rare permission to make three “Star Wars”-themed specials. A similar special focused on the heroes of DC Comics is next on the “Robot Chicken” docket.
Hitting the 100-episode marker without signs of slowing down has changed the perspective on how long the show could go on mining pop culture for comedy sketches.
“We’re really trying to evolve it, not to become something different than it is, but to be come a better, more realized version of what it is,” says Green.
“When we started the show, we all expected to be done in a couple years,” adds Senreich. “But the more we do it and the more response we get, the more we realize we’re a sketch comedy show — and we can last as long as we’re funny.”
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