Fox aims to extend animation domination to Saturday night


Viewing info

‘Axe Cop’ airs at 11 p.m. Saturday, followed at 11:15 p.m. by ‘High School USA!’ Both are rated TV-14-DLSV (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14) with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language, sex and violence.

Los Angeles Times

Veteran character actor Jack McGee, known for his stints on NYPD Blue and Rescue Me, is in a shoe-box-size room gobbling like a turkey — to the immense pleasure of four grown men.

“Sound a little more defeated,” the writers and producers instruct him.

Playing an evil ruler of a planet has its challenges — more so when it’s an animated character dubbed Turkey Turkey.

“What is this? Which network is this for?” McGee asks with a quizzical face once he’s finished.

The show is called Axe Cop, and it’s one of Fox’s animated commissions that will be vying for attention beginning this weekend on Saturday nights. Yes, Saturday nights.

The network long ago established a firm grip in the animation genre with its Sunday-night block of cartoons, propped by stalwarts The Simpsons and Family Guy. Now it’s coloring a bit outside the lines, delving further into the circuit with a project it calls Animation Domination High-Def.

The programming outpost aspires to be a destination for an audience of adolescents and young men who might rather spend their Saturday nights partying. Its slate of 10-to-12-minute off-kilter cartoons will air on TV’s castaway night from 11 p.m. to midnight, and will be supplemented with online digital frills (GIFs, animated shorts, user-adapted content, etc.) — making the ADHD acronym all the more fitting.

As the network attempts to fill a void once occupied by zany sketch show Mad TV, it does so while attempting to reimagine the costly and lengthy animation process.

“I had this idea of creating a subsidiary that could really benefit from Fox’s dominance in our brand of animation, which is a huge part of our identity,” said Kevin Reilly, the network’s chairman of entertainment. “But I really wanted a whole different culture — something a little more alternative, something more experimental.”

Something more like Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim? It looks that way. The network hired former Adult Swim development head Nick Weidenfeld and producer Hend Baghdady to run the enterprise.

And it’s an ambitious one. Fox is providing financing for 3 1/2 years and is aiming to launch 13 quarter-hour series and three half-hours in that time.

Spearheading the venture are Axe Cop, based on the popular Web comic about a stoic, mustached crime fighter who eats only birthday cake, and High School USA! — imagine an Archie Comics for the Eastbound & Down crowd. January will see two more shows premiere.

It begins in its regular time slot this weekend after getting a special prime-time preview last Sunday alongside Family Guy.

Everything — even the animation, which on other shows is sent off to South Korea — is done under one roof at a 12,500-square-foot studio on Sunset Boulevard, allowing for more collaboration between writers and animators.

Everyone involved seems to be entering with realistic expectations, in terms of ratings and advertising revenue.

“I do not expect to turn the lights on and take over the world,” Reilly said. “It takes a while to form a new habit and get animation fans aware of what’s on.”

With ADHD aimed at hard-to-reach 18-34 males, traditional advertising is getting chucked. Advertising blocks will run at the top, middle and end of the half-hours, leaving each series to run uninterrupted. The goal is eventually to have ADHD-created cartoon-ads.

“This is either going to be a really awesome and successful risk,” Weidenfeld said, “or a disaster — but an inexpensive one.”

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