Marking a shift away from its traditional strategy of working internally or with the same stable of domestic shops to produce toons sporting a very distinct house style, U.S. animation destination Cartoon Network has recruited ex-Classic Media senior VP and executive producer Bob Higgins to shake things up. Operating as senior VP of programming and development, Higgins plans to diversify the channel’s approach to kids TV in two fundamental ways – by looking beyond Cartoon’s in-house team and U.S. partners to the international creative community for projects that embrace new and unique animation styles.
‘We’re going to try and break up the look of the network a bit more,’ says Higgins, who’ll be looking at CGI, Flash, 2-D/3-D combos and animation/live action mixes as he starts scouting for new shows. ‘But whatever it is, it needs to speak to our audience of seven- to 12-year-olds,’ he adds, explaining that Cartoon has come back to focus on its core kid demo again after a year or two of expanding its programming scope to include older (Adult Swim block) and younger (preschool-skewing fare like ShoPro’s Hamtaro) age ranges.
One might wonder whether this style switch-up will initially be at odds with Cartoon Network’s branding, which has been somewhat defined by the channel’s focus on 2-D cel animation. But Higgins maintains that it’s Cartoon’s programming tone, rather than its aesthetic, that characterizes the channel’s identity. ‘A lot of our branding comes through in attitude, which is slightly naughty and cheeky,’ he says. ‘As long as we stay true to that attitude, we’ll be fine.’
To get the variety of toon styles he’s after, Higgins will be turning to some new program origin sources. ‘I want to open up to [foreign and domestic] independent producers and other studios. We’re interested in talking to anyone who has a great show that could drive our ratings.’ Higgins is open to co-production opportunities and will also be looking to commission exclusive, first-run programming from outside companies. As far as approach goes, ‘I answer to everything: phone calls (404-885-2263), e-mails (email@example.com), or even someone shouting ‘Hey, you!’ from across the street.’
In addition to overseeing the development and production of Cartoon Network series, shorts, made-for-TV movies and one-off specials, Higgins will supervise the acquisition of foreign- and domestic-produced shows, as well as managing the schedules for both Cartoon Net and Boomerang.