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Phineas and Ferb on the Fast (Company) Track to $tardom

Mobo85 October 21, 2010 User blog:Mobo85

"MOM! Phineas and Ferb have an article in the November issue of Fast Company magazine!"

Indeed they do. Following the lead of the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, the financial magazine takes a look at what Disney hopes will be their latest cash cow, which article writer Adam Bluestein calls "kiddie MythBusters meets sitcom-sibling hijinks meets classic spy spoof" and Disney Channel's Gary Marsh compares in terms of humor style to Seinfeld creator Larry David's semi-autobiographical trials-and-tribulations series Curb Your Enthusiasm, and which the magazine puts as the latest in a timeline of witty cartoons that appeal to both adults and children which includes classic Warner Bros. cartoons, The Bullwinkle Show (one of P&F's major inspirations), The Simpsons, Ren and Stimpy, Pinky and the Brain, and the current king of the kiddie corral that Disney hopes their intrepid duo can dethrone, the Spongy One himself. Gary (Mr. Marsh, not the yellow guy's pet snail) says that as far as Mr. Absorbent-and-Yellow-and-Porous is concerned, Phineas and Ferb is "pacing very well" compared to where SpongeBob was at the point in his run where they are now, both on and off TV- at this point in his lifespan, he had 75 licensees making him $500 million; Phineas and Ferb has twice that. Although Disney does not disclose their sales figures, Lisa Avern of Disney Consumer Products predicts a 400% growth in merchandise sales for 2011. In a little bit over a decade, Mr. S has flung a lot of Krabby Patties, ringing up $8 billion in merchandise sales. It's in the hopes of matching this number that Disney's licensing division, a $2.4 billion business, is giving the strange-headed stepsiblings a push alongside more established moneymakers such as the Disney Princess or Toy Story brands- because as Mr. Marsh says, "if there's an upside to a show, it's because we're able to exploit it off TV" (read: merchandise the heck out of it).

Of course, many studios are willing to churn out an inferior product in the hopes that kids won't know the difference and just buy the merchandise (or bug their parents to buy it for them). Thankfully, that's not the case over at Disney when it comes to Phineas and Ferb, and the two other folks interviewed for the article are who we can thank for that: the men who brought the dynamic duo to life and still take care of their babies as they take care of the Mouse's bankroll, Dan Povenmire and Jeff "Swampy" Marsh. (Swampy is unrelated to Mr. Marsh.) Disney will not say whether or not they receive a share of the royalties from the licensed products, but they seem to be enjoying the success just as much as Disney is, working with the licensing division for product ideas and appearing at Disney Stores to promote the show and its merchandise. After all, it isn't every day that you get to see a character you created being serenaded by Wayne Newton onstage in Las Vegas- just one of the many quirky ways Disney helped promote this quirky series to potential licensors. Of course, as far as Dan and Swampy are concerned, the show comes first- they and their team of four writers, two directors, twelve storyboard artists, and a storyboard supervisor all contribute story and gag ideas for episodes, with Dan and Swampy themselves wearing many hats as writers, directors, voice-over artists, and songwriters. It's more in the vein of the freewheeling fun of Termite Terrace (the old Warner Bros. animation lot), where everyone had a say in the matter and fun and pranks prevailed, rather than the stiff boundaries of most modern animated series where everyone has a certain role and can't break out of it. It was certainly a risk for Disney, whose previous animated series were script-driven rather than storyboard-and-gag-driven. Heck, the entire series was a risk for Disney- how many other animated series on TV make jokes about the villain's failed love life or the alimony he receives from his ex-wife or feature bizarre running gags such as a giant baby head or a hallucinatory zebra who calls people "Kevin?" Both picking up the show (which Dan and Swampy shopped for years without success) and having them do it the way they wanted to were certainly risks, but ones that truly paid off in the long run- so much so that Disney's other animated series, Fish Hooks and Gravity Falls, are also storyboard-and-gag-driven series.

Although Disney had no marketing plan for Phineas and Ferb at the start other than "launch slow and build," the series has now reached the point where it can say it has sold over 1 million products, and its quirky complexity and all-ages appeal have helped in that: music-based merchandise is a hit (not a surprise for such a song-driven show), side characters such as Perry the Platypus are just as popular on merchandise as the leads, Valentines featuring the characters were a surprising success for a show targeted mainly to boys, and merchandise is selling well at the alternative teen store Hot Topic, who also gave SpongeBob an early boost. Clearly, Disney's big risk paid off- quite literally- making both the creative team and the corporate masters happy. Congratulations to Dan, Swampy, and Mr. Marsh on their success and keep it up. And thanks to Mr. Bluestein and Fast Company for a really great article. Clearly, Phineas and Ferb are in good hands...and that's something to make even the stingy Mr. Krabs green with envy.

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