You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Whims win for sassy Swim

Cartoon Network @ 20

“I very often think that you make the show you believe in, and that you must then trust it,” says Mike Lazzo, senior exec veep of Adult Swim, the successful latenight programming block spawned by Cartoon Network.

That’s easier said than done when the shows feature an often-violent bunch of redneck squids, walking food products that fall into a slew of bizarre existential conundrums and a surgeon who wears clown makeup and smears blood on his scrubs before each day of work.

But the ability of the network’s execs, including Lazzo, to take a chance on surreal, offbeat shows has led to explosive success in Adult Swim’s 11-year existence.

Which is funny, considering Adult Swim began rather innocuously in 2001, occupying only two nights a week with the aim of giving night owls age-appropriate content instead of more kids’ programming.

“No one really knew how it would turn out. We had one year to try it out,” says Stuart Snyder, prexy and COO of Turner Animation’s young adults and kids media division.

By that year’s end, the net had posted a 67% growth rate with the 18-to-34 demo, along with an 84% bump in delivery compared with 2000. And though Adult Swim originally grew out of repurposing old animation (as with “Sealab 2021”) and finding syndicated content, the core of the net’s growth has become finding and cultivating talent and eventually allowing showrunners to pursue their visions in full.

“We look at the people instead of the actual show — once we’re comfortable with the talent, we give them the free rein to make the show they’re compelled to make,” Lazzo says.

For Adult Swim stalwart Dave Willis, that process began in the mid-’90s with a show that in many ways lay the foundation for Adult Swim: “Space Ghost Coast to Coast,” which melded old animation and new voiceover work for mature-audience laughs. Working on the program, Willis began to see new possibilities of what TV programming could be.

“When we were making ‘Space Ghost,’ we were making an Internet-type show before the Internet even really existed,” Willis says. “We were the only show on TV that was a quarter-hour, and we started working with non-sequitur humor and other elements we see everywhere now.”

Willis eventually got a chance to pitch his own show, which he admits went “disastrously.”

“I remember the moment we lost the entire room: When I described the show as ‘sentient food objects that live in a dilapidated house in New Jersey, and stuff happens to them,’ ” Willis says through stifled laughter. “Everyone sort of started to look at their BlackBerrys. Mike (Lazzo) even left the room to take another call.”

In spite of all that, Lazzo and the net saw enough potential in Willis and partner Matt Maiellaro to invest in the idea. Luckily for them, that awkward pitch blossomed into “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” — the net’s longest-running original show — and set the stage for Willis to co-create another popular program, “Squidbillies.”

Willis’ story serves as the perfect example of Adult Swim’s business model, which largely manages risk by investing in lower-budget programs that emphasize cutting-edge writing over expensive animation or live productions — and in the process discovers some of the most inventive talent in the biz.

“We know that some of the ideas we try are, frankly, ridiculous,” Lazzo says. “I’ll put it this way: Sometimes, you have to try things that are completely wrongheaded than be overly conservative. That’s one of the problems with programming — that people try to remake past success.”

Seth Green, who co-runs the successful sketch-comedy stop-action skein “Robot Chicken,” knows firsthand that by taking such risks, Adult Swim has successfully forged a rare relationship with its now-dedicated following — and its creative talent. But for Green and co-creator Matt Senreich, the matter boils down to one thing:

“We have experience at a lot of networks and studios,” Green says. “Here, we’ve been able to make a show that we couldn’t have done anywhere else.”

Cartoon Network @ 20
Creative minds unleased | Whims win for sassy Swim | Animators trust innner risktakers | Toons speak global language | A wealth of health in net’s social efforts | Cartoon Network: 20 years of milestones

More TV

  • Germany's Leonine Buys ‘Dark’ and '4

    German Indie Studio Leonine Buys ‘Dark’ and '4 Blocks' Producer W&B TV

    Leonine has acquired “Dark” producer W&B TV from Endemol Shine. Fledgling German studio Leonine had already bought Wiedemann & Berg Film and established itself as a Munich-based movies, TV, and digital production and distribution group. It has now added the W&B TV unit to its roster. The production company is behind several big German dramas [...]

  • PBS Masterpiece Boards British Political Thriller

    PBS Masterpiece Boards Hugh Laurie, Helen McCrory Political Thriller 'Roadkill'

    Britain is getting a new prime minister – on TV, at least, after “Peaky Blinders” star Helen McCrory signed on to play the part in the BBC political thriller “Roadkill.” PBS Masterpiece has boarded the series and will co-produce and launch it in the U.S. Masterpiece’s Rebecca Eaton will exec produce the project. McCrory joins [...]

  • U.K. Producer Barcroft Studios Sold to

    U.K.-Based Producer Barcroft Studios Sold to Future in $30 Million Deal

    Barcroft Studios has been bought by Future in a £23.5 million ($30.1 million) deal. The U.K.-based production outfit specializes in factual fare for channels and platforms, and its own branded channels on the likes of YouTube. Future is a U.K.-listed print and online publishing and events business. Sam Barcroft will stay on as CEO at [...]

  • Writers vs Agents Packaging War WGA

    Agencies' Antitrust Suit Against Writers Guild Set for January Hearing

    The antitrust suit filed by Hollywood’s major agencies against the Writers Guild of America has been set for a Jan. 17 hearing. U.S. District Court Judge Andre Birotte issued the calendar update this week on the litigation, filed on Sept. 27 by CAA, UTA and WME after the agencies consolidated their individual agency suits. The [...]

  • Gabrielle Carteris SAG Awards

    Gabrielle Carteris Preps for 26th Annual SAG Awards

    SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris is already looking forward to the 26th SAG Awards on Jan. 19, held in its usual location at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. “One of the best things about the SAG Awards is that it’s a peer-to-peer recognition,” she says. “It’s the highest honor for performers to be recognized by [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content