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What a Waste: Adult Swim’s Move to Primetime

by on December 9, 2010

Adult Swim is coming to primetime. As explained in typical Adult Swim fashion, the pseudo-network for adults is taking up seven more hours of what used to be Cartoon Network’s 9pm primetime slot. So if more good is good, why does the whole move seem like a such a depressing shame to everyone involved?

You’ve got the benefactor, Cartoon Network, who has been slowly throwing away primetime to Williams Street since 2008, back when the move to 10pm was announced. Things seemed reasonable enough back then: not much use was made of the 10pm hour, and Adult Swim was adding King of the Hill to the lineup, a quality show with hundreds of episodes practically made for hour-long stripping. But unlike 10pm, the 9pm hour was and still is a very important and strategic programming slot with several premieres lodged in. If Adult Swim is taking up an important hour in primetime, they better have some killer app to make the move worthwhile. In fact, they’ve said that 9pm would be different from usual Adult Swim fare, showcasing tamer family fare instead. So, what is
Williams Street’s plan for the prized hour?

The same ground-breaking move they did last year: an hour of King of the Hill, moved up for an hour of American Dad at 10pm. And while I’m glad that Seth MacFarlane’s brilliant series is finally getting its time in the sun, it all feels like such a waste of what was previously a pretty diverse hour. To give them credit, KOTH isn’t the only show in the new hour. There’s also the Venture Brothers, which while certainly a great show, doesn’t exactly fit Williams Street’s claims of a tamer primetime hour. And on top of all of that is the acquisition of the short-lived NBC series God, the Devil, and Bob, yet another baffling pick-up in a long line of bizarre programming decisions by Adult Swim. There’s no real reason for the show to be picked up. After all, hardly anyone is familiar with the show, and the few that do simply know it as “that NBC show that got canceled after three episodes”. Even if the show were to inexplicably strike gold with Nielsen viewers, there’s nowhere to go with it past the initial 13 episodes. It’s as if Adult Swim had no idea what to do with their money, which brings me to my next point…

Adult Swim themselves has no idea what to do with the extra hour. Adult Swim can’t manage or attract viewers before 11pm, as seen through the bombing of the (admittedly admirable) attempt to put highly-advertised premieres of Delocated and Childrens Hospital on the 10pm hour, so they’ve pretty much given up on any strategies involving it. This forfeit is echoed by the upcoming agenda for Adult Swim primetime, which brings nothing new different to the station. So, if Adult Swim doesn’t need or want primetime, then why are they getting it? The answer is another instance of giving up, on Cartoon Network’s part. The truth is that these hours are shoved onto the network simply because the ever-third childrens daypart thinks it would be easier to send the problem of programming a network to someone else, while the ever-growing slate of Cartoon Network’s original programming needs the space the most.
Adult Swim has 9pm simply because Cartoon Network doesn’t have to confidence to use it.

But the party that loses the most out of this are the viewers. Who is this move for? King of the Hill is too “boring” for children and Venture Bros.‘ content is way too extreme for the crowd that watches Johnny Test, so that throws out most of that demographic, who will probably be ignored by Williams Street anyway. It’s certainly not for adults, that’s for sure. Ratings have proven that Cartoon Network is perceived as a channel to watch “when nothing good is on”, as seen by how the network’s strongest shows usually buckle in the face of any real competition. A big reason why 10pm has failed isn’t necessarily because of the quality of the shows or lack of advertisement, but rather because other, more popular networks tend to run stronger competition during those times. After all, why watch reruns of FOX sitcoms when you could watch new episodes of Burn Notice and Mad Men instead? The idea of this effect stretching to 9pm, where even more competition is scheduled, is a pretty chilling prospect for both CN and AS, ratings-wise: it shuts everyone out of what should be a keystone slot in the channel lineup.

And honestly, Adult Swim doesn’t need or deserve it anyway, especially when around half of their schedule is a stagnant, pointless waste (I’m looking at you, 2am encore block). As a whole, there’s a sinking feeling of creative stagnation and complacency at Adult Swim, a sad sight for a network that prided itself on being as original and off-kilter as possible. Most of Williams Street’s diverse original production slate is either canceled or very old, the black-and-white cards and intentionally low-budget ads have long overstayed their welcome, and other networks like Comedy Central and HBO are starting to steal their thunder when it comes to quality, off-beat adult animation. It’s all getting really old, and I’d never think I’d see the day where I would wish Adult Swim could just be normal for once.

In an odd reversal of attitudes, Adult Swim’s more professional older brother Cartoon Network is actually starting to seem like the more bizarre and risk-taking network of the two, with the production of Adult-Swim-esque series like Regular Show, Robotomy, and the Problem Solverz, and interesting and clever programming decisions (like the switch to a quarter-hour format and premieres on days without competition). For once, not only is Cartoon Network the underdog, but an underdog that deserves much better. Oh, how the times have changed.

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