The Case for Fifteen

Posted: May 4, 2010 by chdr in Animation, Animation Editorials, chdr

This week, I’ll be covering the recent trend of fifteen-minute premieres and what this may mean for the future of television animation. Read more below the break.

In the early days of television animation, cartoons often imitated the silver screen. Previously, most if not all animation consisted in the form of theatrical shorts that aired before movies. A lot of these shorts would feature recurring characters such as Bugs Bunny or Droopy Dog, and could be seen as precursors to the modern animated series. For the most part, theatrical shorts were funded and produced by major studios at the time, and had big budgets and exposure. Television, on the other hand, was a fledgling medium with a handful of networks, a relatively small base of viewers, and vastly lower budgets. Animated series were almost identical to their theatrical counterparts, consisting of seven-minute shorts centering around a recurring character. What television didn’t have though, was the budget. To save on costs, multiple series were farmed to single studios such as Filmation or Hanna-Barbera, which created animation on the cheap with recycled animation and character designs. To save money, various series were paired up with each other in the same timeslot, with only the most profitable characters getting full shows of their own.

Flash forward over half a century later. Television is booming, with budgets and audiences rivaling or even topping the movie industry. Television animation is more diverse than its ever been, with a return to the high-quality animation and art that the theatrical age brought in. With the exception of action shows and adult sitcoms (both of which became more common), the act of bundling series together is a thing of the past. Most cartoons consist of two fifteen-minute segments paired up in a convenient thirty-minute slot. With the advent of higher budgets, any series could not afford thirty minutes, regardless of popularity or the studio backing it. But now, things seem to be going in the opposite direction.

The trend started a few years ago, when the kids network Nickelodeon came up with a brilliant idea: instead of showing the full episode all at once, show episodes one segment at a time! More premieres means more ratings! Pretty soon, all of their animated series resorted to this format, save for half-hour episodes or special events. This way of premiering cartoons soon made its way over to Disney Channel and Cartoon Network. Cartoon Network has taken this a step further, announcing that all future comedy series in production will be shortened to one 15-minute segment only. Whether or not the others will follow suit is unknown. While this could be seen as a rip-off, moving backwards in a way, I have a few reasons why the discussion on 15 minutes should go from “Why go backwards?” to “Why go back?”.

On the point of rising animation budgets, studios can currently produce high-quality animation with their current budget. Fifteen minutes of less runtime means that more money and effort that can be concentrated into creating vivid, fluid shorts. Less time means more space for more shows. Theoretically, the amount of funding that goes into one half-hour show could create two quarter-hour shows, increasing network diversity. As an extension of that idea, less time means that more shows can be crammed into a timeslot, leading to more diversity on a network’s schedule.

So, what are your opinions on the end of segments? Make a comment!

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Comments
  1. Great article. I have to agree: people are complaining too much about what could very well be a positive change. Segments were already considered their own episodes by production standards, and this change would allow for the network to get more out of a smaller time-slot.

  2. Disagree.
    Despite the diversity argument, the fact is that we just end up getting less cartoon. Segment premiers means that CN needs to order fewer episodes to fill the same amount of season time. Consider- Chowder and Flapjack Seasons 1&2- 20 episodes each, and half hours too. That’s a lot of good stuff for us. Chowder’s 3rd season- 9 episodes, it barely looks like a season, but it covers the same amount of time on air as a 20 episode. Rip off.
    Flapjack’s 3rd season- 6 EPISODES! Regular Show’s first season- 6 EPISODES!. That’s hardly anything to call a show, yet they’re acting like it’s a good thing. The fact is we get less of the shows we love, CN pays less, and there’s more room for the network to be dominated by action and live action shows, when imo comedy is really what they do best (I thought Generator Rex was exceedingly mediocre).
    I think it’s disgusting that while we get 32 half hours of Ben 10 we just get 12 fifteen minute segments of Flapjack or Regular show, when honestly those shows are more creative and have more all ages appeal. It means that shows end faster too.
    The only upside is that it gives CN more room to pick up more shows, however, if that means shit like Tower Prep, forget it.

    Think about it
    1-hour live action shows
    half hour reality shows
    half hour action shows
    15 minute comedy shows

    CN is still tipping the balance in favor of its lower quality, less creative, yet sometimes higher rated shows. Even if you look at the schedules and it seems like there’s a bounty of animation, there’s actually less; more live action, and more action, less laughs.

  3. toonfaithful says:

    Great Article, chdr. I don’t know why other people are complaining about this? It isn’t new. We can have more space for cartoons/premiere segments. MAD, Secret Mt Fort Awesome, etc. are probably gonna have 15 minute premieres. What’s with this “30-minutes makes the show more epic” stuff? Cartoons from long ago were 11-15 minutes. They were epic. Heck, people these days are signing petitions to bring the old cartoons back, they didn’t care whether the cartoon was 30 minutes.

  4. @Toonfaithful
    I don’t care that much about the length honestly, though I do like the option for shows to go half hour. What bothers me more is that it results in shorter series. Half the episodes cover the same amount of airtime, therefor, fewer episodes are picked up.

  5. […] Swim has done from the beginning. You can read more about that in chdr’s discussion on that topic here. Adventure Time and Generator Rex are a taste of things to come. I’m not too sure I like the idea […]

  6. Sketch says:

    On one hand it could mean more variety in the prime time line-up. On the other hand Kieran is correct that it means CN can order less of a show now and that isn’t a good thing but if shows do well they’ll still get more episodes regardless of the length. Six episodes of a fifteen minute show which would have originally been 12 shorts is now six shorts and that is concerning but if the shows do well then they’ll get more episodes ordered.

    15 minute shows have worked plenty well for Adult Swim over the years and I could see them work well for CN prime time. Reruns will of course get doubled up if not quadrupled up if something is a hit so the daily schedule wont likely have more variety but at least prime time might.

    Either way it’s not really a good thing or a bad thing it’s just a different thing.

  7. Adult Swim has been consistently better run than CN though.

    I just wish they could do the hour long 4 show blocks but then still order in half hours or order longer seasons. But the trend seems to show that that’s not the case.

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