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With both Disney Channel and Nickelodeon holding their upfronts (their annual announcements of upcoming programming) this week, the industry is eyeing them as Disney continues to gradually gain viewers over its long-time competitor and former champion. And it appears that in order to stay on top, Disney is getting a bit more animated, something we have Phineas and Ferb to thank for.
Ten or even five years ago, the Disney Channel wouldn't be the first network on your mind when it came to searching for unique, creator-driven cartoons. That was Nickelodeon's thing ever since they got the ball rolling on original creator-driven cartoons over 20 years ago. And Nick would probably be the place you'd expect the likes of Craig McCracken, creator of The Powerpuff Girls, and The Brothers Chaps (Mike and Matt Chapman), the minds behind the quirky self-produced "Homestar Runner" webtoon, to be making development deals with. But, as an interesting article in the Los Angeles Times points out, it's the Mouse House that's wooing them. An agent for TV writers is quoted as saying that Disney is now "the first stop" for animators with unique ideas when in the past it was the last resort, a place where ideas had to be "reverse-engineered" to fit the Disney mandate. The unexpected success of Phineas and Ferb- a bizarre series that Disney picked up after years of pitching without batting an eyebrow at its quirky premise- seems to be an obvious tipping point, but insiders are also pointing to the 2008 hiring of Eric Coleman, who served in Nickelodeon's animation department for years as a development executive, as Disney Television Animation's Senior VP of Original Series.
Whatever the reason, Phineas and Ferb are set to be joined in 2012 by McCracken's Wander Over Yonder and Alex Hirsch's Gravity Falls, which Hirsch himself points out is filled with "magical strangeness" that at one time he didn't think would be the thing he'd end up selling to Disney. And, not surprisingly, their signature animated show is leading the way as well, headlining a special event in July called "Summer Adventure Weekend" with the first part of a platypus-sized cliffhanger: "The Flynn-Fletchers are off on an African safari, leaving Perry at home to deal with Doofenshmirtz and his most evil plot yet: to take over the OWCA. But when Doofenshmirtz accidentally zaps Carl the intern with his Ultimate-Evil-Inator ray, Carl takes over the OWCA (Organization Without a Cool Acronym) and imprisons Doof and Monogram. Agent P steps in but gets zapped with one of Doof’s many rays and in the cliffhanger of all cliffhangers, disappears. The mystery of Perry’s whereabouts will be continued in August." Bizarre? Yes. But that seems to be the new norm at Disney, and viewers- and creative types- probably wouldn't want it any other way. Will Disney Channel be the new cable TV animation powerhouse of the 21st century? Only time will tell, but things seem to be pointing that way...as crazily as they possibly can.