Paul Dini Discusses Why Networks Are Getting Animation So Terribly Wrong

It’s not really a secret that it’s hard for any half-way decent animated show starring superheroes to stay on the air; Beware the Batman is on track to get spiked in 2014. This on top of the cancellation of Young Justice and Green Lantern. And there’s one guy more in the know about this than anyone: Paul Dini, who essentially runs the DCAU creatively. Unfortunately, he doesn’t make the business decisions… and therein lies the problem.

Dini talked a bit about the cancellation of Young Justice on Kevin Smith’s Fat Man on Batman podcast. If you want to listen to Smith rant about cartoons for forty solid minutes, you can find the whole thing here. Or you can skip to 39:30 and hear Paul Dini lay out the ugly business behind cartoons; if you’re at work, here’s the relevant bit, courtesy of this handy transcription from A Bird’s Words:

“…there’s been a, a sudden trend in animation, with super-heroes. Like, ‘it’s too old. It’s too old for our audience, and it has to be younger. It has to be funnier.’ …the audience we wanna go after, is not the Young Justice audience any more. We wanna go after little kids, who are into—boys who are into goofy humor, goofy random humor, like on Adventure Time or Regular Show. We wanna do that goofy, that sense of humor, that’s where we’re going for.’”

Dini goes on to note that the same executives don’t want girls, because girls don’t buy “boys toys”, and that they don’t want older audiences. And this is bizarre for a litany of reasons.

Yes, kids watch Adventure Time and Regular Show, but Cartoon Network in particular has to be aware that those shows have adult fanbases that likely dwarf the kid ones. Regular Show in particular is essentially a huge dose of ’80s and ’90s nostalgia. The first episode rips on hair metal bands and reunion tours. Basically when the kid audience for that show hits college, social media will light up with “How the hell was I allowed to watch this as a kid?”

Similarly, a lot of these shows aren’t exactly lighthearted romps. Adventure Time in particular can really bring the pain. I wonder how parents explain the Ice King’s dementia and psychosis to their kids; those must be fun conversations.

Realistically, it seems that the problem here is not the shows but the executives; the audience and who’s watching is shifting, and they can’t figure out how to leverage that. Unfortunately, that also seems to be a problem for the fanbases and the creators, not the people with the money.