Inkubation period at Fox


News Corp. is drawing up big small-screen animation plans.

20th Century Fox TV and Fox Broadcasting Co. have teamed to launch Fox Inkubation, a joint venture designed to discover new animation talent and develop animated projects outside of the traditional model.

Additionally, 20th TV has formed a new animation department focused on more conventional development of cartoon series and has tapped Jennifer Howell, executive vp of Matt Stone and Trey Parker's Important Films, to run it.

"So much of our success has been driven by animated shows, and we have been contemplating how to step up our efforts in the area," 20th TV chairman Gary Newman said. "We believe it is critical to our future success."

Separately, Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly had been looking to do the same on the network side, so the sister companies joined forces to create Inkubation, which also will be overseen by Howell.

The initiative will give aspiring writer/animators funding to make two-minute shorts in lieu of penning a script.

If the shorts are successful, Fox and 20th TV may order additional shorts or go to pilot, possibly pairing the newcomers with experienced showrunners.

"A lot of the greatest voices in that arena came from outside the system, like Matt Groening, Matt Stone and Trey Parker and Seth MacFarlane," Reilly said. "We want to let these voices be produced in a pure way."

Instead of a script order, young animator MacFarlane famously was given $50,000 by Fox and 20th TV a decade ago to produce a 15-minute presentation of a show based on characters from his college thesis. The show became "Family Guy."

Inkubation already is working on its first slate of projects, with about a dozen deals in the works. The plan is to have 20-25 projects in the pipeline at any given time, Newman said.

Fox will get a first crack at developing the shorts into primetime series.

Fox doesn't have an urgent need for animated comedies. It will add two new series — the "Family Guy" spinoff "Cleveland" and "Sit Down, Shut Up" — to its animated staples "The Simpsons," "Family Guy," "King of the Hill" and "American Dad" next season.

But the goals with Inkubation never were short-term.

"We're seeding for the future," Reilly said.

The shorts produced through Inkubation also are expected to get distribution on digital platforms and used in viral marketing.

Parallel with the nontraditional development through Inkubation, 20th TV also will step up its more standard development efforts in the animation series arena through its newly created department, which will concentrate on developing for cable channels, other broadcast nets and the Internet.

Howell was a natural choice to run the department and Inkubation, 20th TV chairman Dana Walden said.

"There is no animated show outside the ones we produce that we respect more than 'South Park', and she has played such an important role in the ongoing development, writing and marketing of the show," Walden said. "She brings an unique perspective of a creative executive and a producer."

Howell, who had been with Stone and Parker from the earliest days of "South Park," also was a supervising producer on the show.

She will serve as senior vp animation at 20th TV, reporting to Newman and Walden, while senior vp production Marci Proietto has been tapped to oversee production of the department's projects. (partialdiff)