October 9, 2006
It's Thanksgiving in Canada, which means spending lots of time in the yard raking and doing the things you should have been doing on the "real" weekend. While getting my fingers into the dirt, leaves and grass I listened to my audio recording of the "Not Just for Kids: The Animation Audience" panel from the Television Animation Conference. I was struck by the amount of interesting tidbits that were brought up during the discussion, aside from some that I had mentioned earlier. I was also struck by how these points all merited further questions and exploration that never really materialized.
As I mentioned earlier, Cartoon Network's Michael Ouweleen placed part of the onus on advertisers, who only see things in terms of outdated demographic categories; his opinion was that there has to be some way to force a change in how advertisers work, especially with the advent of new technologies like digital video recorders (DVRs). Rather than try to make a show for a predetermined demographic, he suggested, why not make the show you want to make and advertise directly to whoever watches it? The technology already exists to keep track of the viewing habits of individual audience members, so why not use it?
As sort of another take on this, PBS's Linda Simensky mentioned that PBS had largely become the domain of children and older audiences, or so they thought. She spoke of one kids' show that turned out to have a sizeable teen audience, and case where she was looking at audience breakdowns for the kids' programming and discovered that 40% of the viewers were outside of the expected demographics. (She also stepped in to correct the horrible misuse of the word "genre" when speaking about animation.)
At one point Kids WB's David Wiebe said that in the realm of North American adult animation there have been more misses than hits, and wondered if it would ever reach the same level as anime. A bit later Michael sort of countered this by comparing how many live-action shows fail, which went back to an earlier statement of his where he said that kids generally don't differentiate between live action and animation—they're all just "shows." He also suggested that it might be time to stop creating barriers between live action and animation unnecessarily. Had I been able to stick around longer for the panel (I had to leave early) I would have suggested to David that the majority of the adult animated shows that failed were too self-conscious in trying to be hip. Two of televised anime's secrets are that (a) it fully embraces its story, regarding animation as the chosen medium, not a set of storytelling parameters, and (b) on TV, most truly adult animation (e.g., Cowboy Bebop) airs late at night, while the daytime stuff is created by people smart enough to take kids seriously.
Teletoon's Caroline Tyre noted that their adult viewership has only been increasing over time, with a lineup that's a mix of American programming and homegrown (or at least co-produced).
What all this says to me is that just about all of the elements are in place for a significant amount of adult animated programming on TV—heck, I'd go so far as to say there's already a significant amount. There are also people in place willing to capitalize on it or nurture it. I would suggest, however, that what's missing is the desire to expand the notion of adult animated programming beyond edgy humour, anime (insofar as it's aired on North American TV) and superhero shows. I love shows within each of these genres, but it's only a slice of what's possible.
Anime gets mentioned a lot when people talk about adult animation, but I don't think they stop to think about what anime really offers: a wide range of stories and storytelling styles. When we get to the point that we have a few good character-driven animated comedies or dramas on the air, then I'll believe we've progressed.