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Are We Close To A Second Golden Age of TV Animation?

With the news that Russell Brand is following Jonah Hill’s lead and creating and voicing a new animated series for Fox, I’ve started to wonder: Are we close to animation becoming mainstream television entertainment for the second time?

Don’t get me wrong; The Simpsons has clearly been mainstream for years – decades, even – now, but even so, I’d always kind of assumed that the other animated shows on Fox were more of a niche thing, hooked around the idea of an “animated block” on Sundays. After all, both Futurama and Family Guy got canceled for low ratings for awhile, and I refuse to believe that American Dad is more than some weird contractual obligation to Seth McFarlane than a real success in and of itself. But between the Jonah Hill show, this new Russell Brand series and the upcoming Napoleon Dynamite animated series, it feels as if something is happening, somehow.

We’ve been here before, of course, with shows like The Flintstones (A revival of which is forthcoming), The Jetsons and all of those classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons that you can find on Boomerang these days; in fact, I’m not entirely sure why cartoons even fell out of favor as a mainstream medium for so many years (There’s probably some sociological reason, but I like to pretend that it’s really just because the stories in Top Cat proved to be so ridiculous that audiences realized they’d rather watch live action, instead), but for decades, they were consigned to Saturday mornings, with low budgets and, as time went on, increasingly low ambition and expectation. American animation slowly made itself into the ghetto that television had decided it was years earlier.

I get that the success – both in terms of ratings, but also profit – of The Simpsons has proven that audiences will accept mainstream, not kid-centric, primetime animation, but I suspect that what’s behind stars like Brand and Hill taking up the medium is more the creative legacy of shows like Beavis and Butthead, The Venture Bros and some of the more culty animated shows out there, coupled with the fact that voicing an animated show takes far less time for the name stars than making a live action show of the same running time, but keeps their name out there in the public eye. I’m not arguing that animation is necessarily cheaper than live action – It’s certainly more time-consuming once you factor in the time it takes for the show to be animated – but for the name brands that the networks are hoping to take advantage of? It’s much, much easier of a time commitment to handle.

Of course, for it to become properly mainstream, it’ll need more than Fox to put cartoons on in primetime. I feel like that’s the next step, really, towards the second respectability of television animation; another broadcast network putting its own animation series as a primetime anchor. All it takes is for Fox to have another breakout animated hit on its hands – which, for all we know, could be Napoleon Dynamite – and one of the other networks could sign on for their own animated show, and then it becomes a trend. Not that all trends last – or even catch on – but… Well, doesn’t everyone wish that we could have a Jetsons revival, just a little bit?


  • A. Holland

    I don’t see how we can be in a Golden age of TV animation when more and more shows are CGI instead of 2D-animated, Simpsons is getting worse and worse and Seth McFarlane is soon going to have what, five or six shows on tv. 

    Sounds more like the dark ages to me.

  • Brandon Dingess

    There won’t be a new Golden Age if networks start putting out more detritus like now-essentially-canceled “Allen Gregory.” I don’t have very high hopes for “Napoleon Dynamite,” either. I mean, seriously, the property is eight years old. It was a niche-within-a-niche when it was new and people who were kids when it came out have had time to complete both high school and college since anyone last talked about it. My first thought when it was announced was “Who asked for this? Whatdemand led to this being produced?”

  • Brandon Dingess

    McFarlane has basically said he wants “Family Guy” to end, so I’m hoping his “Flintstones” reimagining will take its place. I’m kind of curious to see what he does with that since he’s said it’s always been a dream of his to work on that property.

  • -___-

    CGI is still animation, genius.

  • Sageshinigami

    I stopped reading when you insulted Top Cat…

  • Avikishundat

    To me the golden age of TV animation was the 90s.  Not only did the success of the Simpsons reach it’s pinnicle during this time but the medium itself changed.  MTV and HBO experiemented with edgier animated programming.  The first CG animated shows like Reboot and Beast Wars were introduced.  Japanese animation found an audience in North america with Sailor Moon and Dragonball.  Nickoldeon and Cartoon Network were formed as animation dedicated cable channels. And thats justthe tip of the iceberg.

    There was an explosion of creativity and innovation in animation during the 90s.  Everything that we’re seeing today is simply building off of the 90s.

  • David

    I was thinking more of the quality shows we have like Adventure Time, Phineas and Ferb, Batman: Brave and the Bold, Young Justice, possibly the Regular Show, and the like.

  • Rod G

    When there’s a prime time animated action series that’s not based on a comic book character . . .

    When said series stands up with the best live action shows of a similar nature . . .

    When said series can make the most exciting anime shows look like kid stuff . . .

    Then we REALLY will be in a golden age

  • Steve Miller

    Are you an idiot?  We’ve been in a golden age of TV animation since the mid-90s.

  • Jonathan Nathan

    Right, his point was that because animation is not going in the direction HE wants, that means it all sucks. “By God, they’re animating things in a different style, and they’ve given several shows to a particular superstar creator that seems to appeal to basically everyone no matter how many people seem to want to pretend they hate his flagship program! It’s the dark ages, I tell you!”

  • Jonathan Nathan

    In reply to Avikishundat, but for some reason not appearing as a reply to Avikishundat:

    Definitely. The 90s was an all-around great period for animation. There’s been some cool stuff since, as well, but it often feels like it’s just treading the same ground now.

  • Jonathan Nathan

    In reply to Rod G, but for some reason not appearing as a reply to Rod G:

    What a weirdly specific set of criteria. Also, I can’t help but notice you referred to “the best live action shows of a similar nature,” with “of a similar nature” referring to an “action series.” I’m afraid I must have missed all these top-shelf live-action “action series” on television today. What, exactly, would this hypothetical cartoon have to stand up with? Leverage? Burn Notice? That’s not much of a challenge.

  • A. Holland

    Just because a lot of people like it doesn’t mean it’s good. McFarlane’s shows and modern Simpsons is lowest common denominator humor, and that’s ok, I get that a lot of people find that funny, but it still isn’t good. Like how Michael Bay movies and Britney Spears are popular but not good.

    Also, I don’t dislike CGI because it’s different, but because it’s ugly. TV cgi animated shows nearly always look awful. The characters look creepy and plasticy. There are exceptions, of course, PIXAR usually do an excellent job, and it’s perfectly possible to do good CG-animation, I just don’t see it happening a lot. 

    beyond that, though, it’s just sad that’s traditional animation is dying to be replaced by cgi, regardless of whether cg is good or not.

  • A. Holland

    Hear hear! Well said!

  • 0bsessions

    Hate to break your rose colored glasses, but Simpsons has ALWAYS been lowest common denominator.

    Not to say I didn’t love Simpsons in its hey day, but it was never exactly high brow television. It was basically Married With Children, except without live actors. It has its clever moments, but it was to the early nineties what South Park was to the late nineties and so on and so forth.

  • Jacob

    Allen Gregory is getting fine ratings, why would it be “now-essentially-canceled”?

  • Jacob

    Hate to break it to you, McMillan, American Dad is kept around because it pulls decent ratings (for Sundays). And it’s better than Family Guy, so there’s that too.

  • Statham

    No way. The Simpsons at least used to have heart to it, and be more about the family. It was clever and the stories weren’t too ridiculous. Nowadays, the show gets by on Homer being a prick, celebrity guest spots where the celebrities don’t actually figure into the story like they did with say, Danny DeVito as Homer’s brother, back in the day, and low-brow crap. The show used to be way better because of the family dynamic, which is completely half-assed and cliched now.

    If they were really going to shake things up, they should do what Friends did and actually have the characters age. Bart would be more interesting if he wasn’t ten forever. Homer should actually lose a job permanently. Continuity rather than resetting everything to make Homer a dipshit again next week would be far better.

  • Brandon Dingess

    It actually wasn’t getting fine ratings — it was shedding a helluva lot of its lead-in and harming the 9 p.m. hour.

    It’s season finale was pushed out a week from its originally scheduled air date. Instead of airing with other new episodes, it was relegated to being the only new episode on a night of repeats.

    Also consider that no further scripts or episodes beyond the original order were made. It’s not on the midseason schedule either, but that has less bearing with the longer production times of animated shows. However, it’s unlikely that a show with such poor ratings would come back next fall after everyone except Jonah Hill has forgotten about it.

    Plus, Fox has Napoleon Dynamite coming up, and they’ve ordered an animated series from Russell Brand. They’ve also given a larger order to Bob’s Burgers. They’re going to keep throwing things at the wall to see what sticks, not bringing back poor performers. 

    Here’s a link to show you how bad its ratings were in relation to everything else on the Fox schedule:  

    Fringe is the only show lower than Allen Gregory and Fringe probably had a special production deal that allowed it to come back this year.

    I’m sorry if you enjoyed the show, but it’s not coming back unless the sky opens up or every other show on Fox inexplicably sinks. 

  • Dayfan

    I don’t know man, I hope so but Disney and cartoon network aren’t even trying anymore. It’s like Picasso designs their cartoons now. The only good thing is Young Justice and the Man of Action stuff, which I don’t watch but recognize it looks nice

  • Jacob

    The ratings aren’t that different than The Cleveland Show, and it got renewed.

  • Brandon Dingess

    Seth MacFarlane carries a lot of weight with Fox and has a legacy with them. Jonah Hill does not. Besides, Cleveland was renewed for multiple seasons on the basis of its first season, as it often the case with animated series on Fox. As much as things are a numbers game, there are often other concerns that can buoy a low-rated series like Cleveland (the Seth connection) and Chuck (WB giving the series away to reach syndication). Allen Gregory has nothing in its corner like that and all Fox has to go by is the numbers.

  • Bicycle-Repairman

    People who say that “The Simpsons” has always been “lowest common denominator humor” don’t understand the more sophisticated jokes on the show. “The Simpsons” has made references to history and classic works of art and literature that most people are probably unfamiliar with.

  • Tae

    Can we find a way so Russell Brand never does anything?