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Classic shorts model proves to be long on series appeal

Cribbing from the annals of animation past, industry veteran Fred Seibert has built his career on developing short-format broadcast forums that serve as concept testing grounds and series development launchpads.
July 1, 2002

Cribbing from the annals of animation past, industry veteran Fred Seibert has built his career on developing short-format broadcast forums that serve as concept testing grounds and series development launchpads.

During his stint as Hanna-Barbera president (1992 to 1996), Siebert created shorts showcase What a Cartoon! (now Cartoon Cartoons), which debuted on Cartoon Network in 1995 and launched The Powerpuff Girls.

After leaving Hanna-Barbera to pursue projects for his own New York-based prodco Frederator, Seibert signed on to develop the Oh Yeah! concept. Drawing on the talents of 20 creators, production on 51 original Nick cartoon shorts began in 1997, and Oh Yeah! made its on-air debut in June 1998.

Structured to pump out cartoons with comparatively brief life spans–from one to six episodes are produced for each short series–Oh Yeah! is still burning through the original 51 shorts four years after its inception, investing little time or money in new development. ‘We did all of our Oh Yeah! shorts for the cost of two normal series–51 bites at the apple instead of two,’ explains Siebert.

But production on a new batch of shorts could ramp up in the near future, with Seibert (now co-president of a new consulting outfit, also called Frederator) looking for fresh talent and short pitches. Exclusive to Nick on the kids TV side, Siebert is looking for animated concepts for preschoolers and kids six to 11 that jibe with Nick’s on-air personality.

To date, a number of Oh Yeah! shorts have moved on to longer-format versions at Nick, a shift that Siebert says always depends equally on ratings results, executive intuition and kid feedback: ‘When we showed ChalkZone to [Nick's president of film and TV entertainment] Albie Hecht, he immediately said, ‘we have to watch this one.’ And then we played it for a focus group of kids, and they loved it.’ Series development was quickly approved, and Nick debuted ChalkZone–a series chronicling the adventures of artist Rudy Tabootie and his magic chalk–last March. The prime-time premiere drew an 8.6 rating among kids two to 11–the highest kids rating for a North American series launch ever–and nabbed four million total viewers.

Another of the early Oh Yeah! projects, The Fairly OddParents first aired in June 1999 and was greenlit for series development in October 2000. The long-form show premiered last March on Fridays at 9 p.m. (garnering a 5.8 rating with kids two to 11), and on Saturdays and Sundays at 11:30 a.m. (nabbing a 6.1 rating with the same demo).

Other Nick pick-ups from the Oh Yeah! animation mill include John Fountain’s The Tantrum (which is about the world’s crankiest superhero), Mina & the Count by Rob Renzetti, and Jamal the Funny Frog by Pat Ventura; TV development timelines for this trio of projects was still being determined at press time. On the big-screen front, Nick Movies and Paramount have optioned Mike Bell’s Super Santa for live-action adaptation in cooperation with Frederator. Says Siebert: ‘I’m trying to convince Nick that there are other big hits in the pile just waiting to be produced. My favorite ignored short right now is Tutu the Superina by Bill Burnett–it’s about a ballerina who’s also a superhero.’

Some other never-before-seen shorts in the Oh Yeah! treasure trove include: Baxter and Bananas, a toon that’s reminiscent of Calvin & Hobbes in that it focuses on the foibles of a boy and his sock-monkey friend; and Dan Danger, which stars a super-manly TV action hero who’s afraid of everything off-screen.

Oh Yeah!–which averaged roughly 969,000 viewers in Q2 2002–will begin debuting eight as-yet-unseen shorts in a 9:30 p.m. Friday night slot on July 12, alongside an 11-minute episode of Invader Zim.

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