'Robot Chicken' Producer On His New Larry David, Larry Flynt Comedy Central Project (Q&A)

Alex ShadowMachine - H 2011

Alex ShadowMachine - H 2011

Alex Bulkley talks to THR about talking animals, retired superheroes and why reviving a 'Liquid Television' style concept could prove very lucrative.

If Alex Bulkley and his ShadowMachine co-founder Corey Campodonico have their way, they’ll be at the center of TV’s animation boom.

The duo behind Robot Chicken is developing an animation showcase entitled TripTank at Comedy Central. The project is set to feature a collection of recurring animated shorts built into a half-hour block much like the 1990's hit Liquid Television. The plots, which will come from such names as Will Ferrell's partner Adam McKay, Tom Gammill (The Simpsons, Monk) and Jon Glaser (Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Human Giant), range from a magical alcoholic wheelchair helping sick children to a group of aliens studying the world’s most average guy.  

To hear Bulkley tell it, TripTank will serve as an animation farm league for MTV Networks, which will have the first shot at turning the shorts into full-fledged series, a trajectory followed by The Simpsons, South Park and Beavis & Butthead (the latter got its start as a short on Liquid Television). The producer spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about the concept, the most popular pitches and the involvement of both Larry David and Larry Flynt.

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THR: How did this project come about?

Bulkley: There are a ton of creators with great projects, and often times it’s a very tough sell to networks. Really, it’s amazing how few opportunities R-rated or adult animation has out there. Very often, networks don’t really understand what animation can be. That's why shows like South Park, The Simpsons, Beavis & Butthead or even our show Robot Chicken all started out as well-produced shorts. Once you can see that worlds in animation, you find your audience and off it goes. So that’s the genesis of this. We created a platform for all of these great concepts --we're doing all of the formats of animation-- to come together and get a shot at broadcast quality production.

THR: I imagine there were some themes that got pitched often. What were they?

BulkleyWe were looking for great animation shows for the 18 to 34 demo, so the retired superhero is definitely in the perpetual zeitgeist. It’s incredible how many mundane life-of-a-superhero shows are floating around. Lots of talking animals too. What we were focused on were good premises that have series potential, as opposed to just one-off jokes.

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THR: Walk us through the pitch process. 

Bulkley: We did a whirlwind of meetings in New York, and then a lot in LA. We met primarily with comedians; we ran through all of the agencies’ clients. People would sit down with us and some would have just a show concept; others had fully realized artwork or scripts.

THR: What is the end goal with something like this? I assume ShadowMachine will remain on as producer if these shorts get picked up to stand-alone series?

Bulkley: That’s the idea. This is really a farm league for MTV networks as a whole. This is their opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t. They’ll get the first shot. And sure, those spin offs are huge opportunities for our company too. If we find even one that spins off and is successful, that’s enormous for us. Over the course of a season, we’ll probably end up with 30 individual shows or candidates. Each episode is currently a half hour, which could include somewhere between five and eight shorts depending on the timing. Currently, they’re all running at about the four or five minute range.

THR: What can you share about the storylines from the shorts you’ve chosen?

Bulkley: One of the highlights is I Owe Larry David Money, which was created by Laura Kightlinger (Will & Grace, Pretend Time). She stars with Larry David and guest star Larry Flynt, who we actually voiced a little while ago. So the plan would be to pick up say seven or eight of those, and run them over the course of what will be TripTank's season one.

Also, we have a great show called The Coliseum by Tommy Blacha (Pretend Time, Mind of Mencia). It’s a behind the scenes look at the Roman Colosseum. Imagine a behind the scenes at Saturday Night Live, but with all of the blood, gore and carnage. It’s absolutely hilarious.

THR: Why Comedy Central?

Bulkley: We felt like they had the right audience. It's a broad audience and its comedy-based, so people know what to expect there. We’ve had more than 300 pitches come to us over the past eight or nine months. We brought it down to about 15, and now the idea is that we’re going to produce the crème de la crème for this first episode. It’s very similar to the format of Liquid Television. It’s a block of animation, and you’ll never know what will appear in each episode.