It seems that cartoons pandering to an adult audience are still an important staple in linear broadcasting.
Just last week, during Fox Africa’s media day, Evert van der Veer, general manager of Fox Networks Group Africa, mentioned that since tweaking the channel’s prime time schedule to include The Simpsons, Family Guy and American Dad, the channel has doubled its viewership between 3pm and 11pm.
The cartoon block, part of the late afternoon and early evening schedule, is part of that successful formula.
It’s the first time American Dad has been broadcast in South Africa since 2005, when part of the first season aired during the now long defunct Open Time slot on M-Net.
American Dad, the brainchild of Seth MacFarlane, is a family sitcom following CIA agent Stan Smith, his family and the exploits of Roger, an alien that lives in their attic.
The show, currently in its 15th season, has been well received by critics thanks to its gallows humour, seamless animation and fantasy aspect that includes space travel, body switching and more traditional sitcom storytelling.
But American Dad’s success is largely thanks to Family Guy, the third-longest prime time cartoon series behind The Simpsons and South Park.
Family Guy has a unique place in the world of animation as it relies on cutaway gags for much of its humour.
Although it evolved through the years, initially a major plot line of the show was matricide, with one year-old Stewie Griffin hellbent on killing his mother. But Stewie softened in later seasons into more of a pansexual person who delivers some of the show’s biggest laughs.
“I don’t know that anybody ever expected the show to go this long,” says show creator and cast member MacFarlane, who voices Stewie, Peter and Brian among a myriad of other roles in the show.
“I guess keep doing what you’re doing is what I would say to us. Make sure you keep evolving the show, make sure you keep trying to adjust with the times. For an animated show, that’s what keeps you alive.”
The same rules apply for The Simpsons, the longest-running scripted show in television history that marked its 600th episode in 2016. It started in 1990 and has remained one of the most ground-breaking and innovative entertainment franchises, recognisable throughout the world.
It has won 32 Emmy Awards, 34 Annie Awards, a 2016 People’s Choice Award and has had a spin-off feature film.
But the success of these kind of cartoons are becoming cemented in the nonlinear realm as well. Today Netflix is starting Disenchantment, a cartoon series by Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons.
It’s doubtful that there’s ever been a time when the world wasn’t fascinated by royalty, and Disenchantment takes it a step further.
In the 10-episode adult animated comedy-fantasy series, subscribers will be whisked away to the crumbling medieval kingdom of Dreamland for the misadventures of borderline alcoholic princess Bean, her feisty elf companion Elfo, and her personal demon Luci.
“People will be surprised. No matter what you think you’re gonna get, it’s going to be something different,” Groening says.
The adventure starts after Bena barely escapes an arranged marriage and goes off to explore unfamiliar lands filled with gnomes, goblins, imps, mermaids and swamp monsters. Some heartfelt lessons await.
In April, during Netflix’s two-day showcase of what’s to come on the entertainment juggernaut, Disenchantment was cited as one of the high-profile new shows for 2018 – and it’s easy to see why.
Some of the voice talents include Abbi Jacobson (Bean), Eric Andre (Luci), Nat Faxon (Elfo) and long-time Groening collaborators John DiMaggio, Billy West, Maurice LaMarche and Tress MacNeille.
Groening is happy to dabble in the new world of entertainment that Netflix provides because this time the whole first season is a collective story, instead of an episodic or multi-episode story arc like The Simpsons.
“When Netflix came along, the new way of putting every episode up at once was a really compelling way of storytelling. We’re used to telling stories one at a time every week, and there’s a reset at the end of each episode.
“With Disenchantment, we get to tell a giant arc of a story, along with many little arcs. It’s what medieval epic fantasy is made for.”
Catch Family Guy, The Simpsons and American Dad on Fox Africa week days from 4.10pm on DStv 125, StarSat 131 and Cell C Black 201. Disenchantment is available on Netflix.