Fox's Animation Domination High-Def Makes an Ambitious Play for Late-Night
Launching Saturday night, the new cartoon block from executive producers Nick Weidenfeld and Hend Baghdady targets a younger crowd with high-profile voice work, a non-broadcast sensibility and an old-school approach to animation.
If Seth MacFarlane's Sunday night fare often bristles the more straight-laced viewer, Fox's late-night extension of its Animation Domination franchise might just cause them to scratch their heads -- but that's they're going for.
The younger-skewing Animation Domination High-Def block embraces its non-broadcast identity with a flagship created by a five-year-old (Axe Cop) and another series juxtaposing an Archie-esque group of teens with subjects like "sexting" (High School USA!). The 15-minute shorts mark Fox's first foray into the late-night space in some time and are a 180-degree turn from previous time slot efforts.
Tonal similarities to Cartoon Network's successful Adult Swim block are natural and not a coincidence. Leading the ADHD charge are Adult Swim alums Nick Weidenfeld (the former development head) and Hend Baghdady, the block's executive producers. The two set out on the daunting task of launching a studio and a slate in early 2012, and after a strong sampling in primetime last week, they're ready to roll out a block that will eventually see several other series join the lineup.
"I could not stop looking at Twitter, and I don’t think I will ever do that again because I just entered a rabbit hole," Weidenfeld told The Hollywood Reporter of Sunday's test run. "It was very positive, especially for Axe Cop, which I think was interesting because it's so different than the stuff that's on Sunday. The whole storytelling narrative is bizarre, and we were following Family Guy."
Axe Cop is indeed the more high-profile of ADHD's initial offerings. The brainchild of Malachai Nicolle (now eight), Axe Cop has dominated much of the ADHD conversation because of the comical red tape that kept anyone from addressing the voice behind the title character until just a few weeks ago.
"He just loves Axe Cop so much, and he feels responsible for it," Weidenfeld says of Nick Offerman, who originally brought the web comic to him, only to see his involvement temporarily muddied by his standing contract with NBC's Parks and Recreation. "The man has a very, very, very discernible voice, so no matter what you're going to say, the Internet is going to say, 'Whoa, it's Ron Swanson.'"
Properly crediting voice actors is barely a footnote when looking at all that ADHD is attempting. Unlike most stateside cartoons -- South Park and Pixar efforts being two notable exceptions -- it's a rare operation that is creating all animation in-house at its Hollywood headquarters. Rather then writing and packaging something to be assembled in Korea or elsewhere, Weidenfeld and Baghdady's studio, Friends Night, has its writers, directors and animators working together.
"The way we're doing it is bringing in talent that gravitates towards traditional animation," says Baghdady, whose credits include The Andy Milonakis Show, Warren the Ape and The Greatest Event in Television History. "The idea is that because we are all under one roof, if an idea happens, you will be able to write that into the episode -- you aren't married to the content when the writers are done. We can go back to the writers to record things and change things, so we have a different kind of flexibility that's pretty unique."
It's also afforded a fluidity for the sprawling staff, which has spent much of the time leading up to the launch tackling side projects like daily GIFs to raise awareness and goodwill for ADHD.
"Before we started this, I went on a tour of Pixar, which really made me understand how things can be done differently," adds Weidenfeld. "I was talking to this guy that was one of the designers on Finding Nemo. I asked him what he was doing next, and he was designing a Nemo-themed restaurant for Disney World. That’s how something should be done. If you don't compartmentalize artists or writers, that ultimately makes you a better artist."
ADHD doesn't officially hit the air until 11 p.m. on July 27, but the independent spirit behind the endeavor has already earned Weidenfeld and company a lot of praise. The Washington Post recently penned a glowing profile, calling him "The next Jeffrey Katzenberg."
"You know there is going to be hit and misses," says Weidenfeld. "When you're making a TV show, you are really just concerned with your TV show -- that's it. You are not concerned with building an environment or creating a brand. When you're trying to launch with a block, I think the biggest difference is putting all of these people and projects together like puzzle. But that's the fun part."