All Kids out of the Pool
I am a Cartoon Network addict. I didn't used to have an excuse. But then, back in 2001, Cartoon Network launched [adult swim], a block of programming intended for viewers aged 18-34, originally only aired on Sunday nights. Adult Swim has been phenomenally successful, totally dominating its target demographic, revolutionizing programming for this audience, shattering basic cable records, and just generally being awesome. It's since grown to fill every night from 11 PM - 6 AM. Now, my cartoon addiction is hip and grown-up instead of dorky and neotenous. Right? Hello?
Adult Swim knows how to package programming to draw in viewers and keep them coming back; in fact, the programming block has become a sort of resuscitation chamber for good shows previously killed by mishandling or fickle programming executives. Matt Groening's Futurama, Seth MacFarlane's Family Guy, and Brendon Small's Home Movies were all canceled and then picked up as reruns by Adult Swim. Adult Swim's nightly positioning kept the audiences alive and buying DVDs, and before you knew it, Family Guy was back on Fox, Futurama had new episodes in production for Comedy Central, and Adult Swim themselves had funded production of new episodes of Home Movies. All are on DVD, most notably the new Futurama DVD Bender's Big Score, a movie composed of the first new episodes of Futurama since Fox canceled the series in 2003.
Adult Swim's format includes both 15 and 30 minute shows bracketed by simple text card bumpers that give a voice to the block's creators. The bumps show ratings from previous weeks, make fun of dumb posts on the adult swim forums, and drop hints about upcoming programs, having a conversation with viewers and engaging them in the production of the block and the further consumption of the content. These guys know how to talk to an audience that every advertiser wants to reach.
Adult Swim's original programming, much of it produced by Turner's Williams Street production shop, has also become a force to be reckoned with in its highly sought after demographic, producing shows that have pushed the boundaries of sharp writing, cheap production, poor taste, and gratuitous violence. DVD sales for Adult Swim shows have been strong and the sets are loaded with extras; adding some of this stuff to your collection can be an awesome draw for audiences that might otherwise find little of interest on the shelf.
Aqua Teen Hunger Force could be thought of as Adult Swim's flagship show; its cheap, grotesque animation, vivid characters, and brilliant writing set the tone for many of Adult Swim's subsequent programs. In a good way. ATHF Season 5 is airing now, and all 5 seasons are out on DVD plus the 2007 Feature Film Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters, which cost $750,000 to make and netted over $5,000,000 in the box office.
Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law represents characters from throughout the Hanna-Barbera stable of properties when they get into legal trouble, such as when mob boss Fred Flintstone needed to beat a racketeering charge, or when Secret Squirrel got picked up for indecent exposure. Not nearly as gross or over-the-top as ATHF, Harvey Birdman has 3 volumes on DVD and is a worthy successor to early Williams Street breakthrough animated talk show Space Ghost Coast 2 Coast, which was one of Turner's first experiments in producing cartoons for ostensible grownups. Harvey Birdman ended in 2007, but new episodes of Space Ghost Coast 2 Coast are now airing on Gametap, Turner's videogame download service. Harvey Birdman also has a Phoenix Wright-inspired courtroom videogame for PS2 and Wii.
Venture Brothers is my favorite Adult Swim show; loosely inspired by Jonny Quest but also by every action cartoon or superhero trope from the 70's and 80's, Venture Brothers has some of the best writing, characters, voice acting, and animation of Adult Swim's original shows, and it's one of very few AS offerings that has an ongoing story. Seasons 1 and 2 are out on DVD and Season 3 airs this summer.
Robot Chicken is the brainchild of Seth Green, who provides the voice of Chris Griffin on Family Guy, was Oz the Werewolf on Buffy, and played Scott Evil in the Austin Powers series. Seth writes and does tons of voices for Robot Chicken, which is essentially a micro-sketch comedy full of tv parodies performed by stop-motion action figures. There are 2 seasons on DVD, and the third season is currently airing.
Aaron McGruder's Boondocks was also brought to TV by Adult Swim. Like the comic strip, the show is not without its controversy, but the writing is awesome, the voices are fantastic, and every episode just kicks ass. There's one season on DVD now and new episodes still airing.
In addition to Adult Swim's comedy lineup, they also air quite a bit of Anime and are a major player in the economics of Japanese shows getting dubbed into English. Anime that has aired on Adult Swim is guaranteed to have a formidable audience and is much higher profile than the Anime that airs on other networks or is only available on video. The utterly brilliant and incomprehensible FLCL got its US start on Adult Swim, and the huge popularity of the Fullmetal Alchemist juggernaut was driven primarily by its AS exposure. AS was also the first US broadcast of the seminal Cowboy Bebop, and they continue to air the simply amazing Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Cartoon Network also co-funded the production of a second season of giant robot enigma Big O, providing more episodes to a global audience. Most of all, Anime and Manga legend Rumiko Takahashi's Inuyasha, one of the biggest Anime shows in the US and Japan, airs solely on Adult Swim. Finally, two comedic anime, rarely translated for english audiences, have aired on AS: the utterly alien and unmissable Super Milk Chan, and the simpson-like but far more crass Crayon Shin-chan, which has 26 new episodes being translated. All of these shows now have a substantial US audience thanks to Adult Swim, and if they're not already in your DVD anime collection, they should be!
Phew, I knew I shouldn't have started talking about this. There is just too much good stuff on Adult Swim. Next time, I'll blabber about all the great shows on Cartoon Network that are supposed to be for kids!