Animation: Not Just for Kids’ Eyes

Adult Swim and other adult-targeted cable networks are drawing up plans for new, edgy animated content not meant for kids’ eyes.

Upstart network FXX’s first original series will be an animated project, Chozen, from Eastbound & Down creator/star Danny McBride that will launch next year. Sister service FX is enjoying ratings success with its spicy animated spy spoof Archer, which returns for a fifth season next year.

This past summer, CMT jumped into the animated arena with Bounty Hunters, featuring the voices of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour stars Jeff Foxworthy, Larry the Cable Guy and Bill Engvall.

Executives said animated projects allow networks to draw younger viewers with edgy and creative original fare that plays well across several platforms. “Animation really speaks to and for the young adult demo,” Cartoon Network and Adult Swim president and chief operating officer Stu Snyder said.

While the animated genre is synonymous with kids’ programming, content distributors in recent decades have created successful animated content to target adult viewers: Comedy Central’s South Park and Fox’s The Simpsons are among the most successful and longest-running shows in television history.

CMT executive vice president of development Jayson Dinsmore said networks such as his are taking a closer look at animation as a point of differentiation from channels that rely heavily on live-action reality and scripted fare.


“We’re always looking for new and different ways to entertain our viewers and to bring in new viewers,” he said, adding that the network has several other animated series in development, though he would not disclose specifics.

CMT’s Bounty Hunters, which chronicles several friends who band together to track down “redneck fugitives,” garnered 371,000 viewers in its July 13 debut, more than the network’s primetime average of 300,000 viewers.

Animated content also repeats well, Dinsmore said, aiding not only the linear channel but also any digital and TV Everywhere offerings.

Adult Swim rode its lineup of original animated series such as Robot Chicken, Aqua TV Show and Squidbillies to finish the third quarter as the most-watched network among adults 18-34 in primetime and total day, according to Nielsen. The Turner Broadcasting System outlet plans to run as many as 13 animated series over the next year, officials said.

Snyder said that animation programming lets content producers to create virtually any type of story or visual, allowing for more creativity than can occur in live-action scripted or reality series. Innovative risk-taking plays well to younger adult viewers already well versed in animated programming, he said, as they’ve grown up watching cartoons on kid-targeted networks such as Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and Disney Channel.


 “Clearly from a standpoint of Cartoon Network we have had an audience that has grown up with great comedies and animation, and as they age it would make sense that they are already accepting of animation,” he said. “Our audiences are enjoying great content … I think that we’re in a golden age of animation.”


Cable nets are turning to adult animation to gain cross-platform traction with younger viewers.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.