An interesting development within Cartoon Network was overshadowed by the slew of other announcements unveiled at the cabler's upfront presentation last week.
Rob Sorcher, Cartoon Net's newly appointed chief content officer, is spearheading a development initiative they've dubbed the "Cartoonstitute." Sorcher (pictured left) wants to get a bunch of original development in the works pronto (insert a Hanna-Barbera zoink and pat-a-pat-a-pat-a-pat sound of running bare feet here), and so he's carving out a space with the Burbank-based Cartoon Studios facility for an artists colony that he hopes will harvest funny fruit in the near future.
Cartoonstitute will be run by two veteran Cartoon Net producers, Craig McCracken, of "Powerpuff Girls" and 'Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends" fame, and Rob Renzetti ("My Life as a Teenage Robot"). Sorcher aims to put six artists to work full-time on pilots and short segments for the channel immediately, under the guidance of McCracken and Renzetti. As many as 30 more artists -- some already in-house at Cartoon, some new to the toon net tent -- will be brought in to pitch in and/or develop their own ideas at any given time, particularly when they're on production hiatus from other Cartoon Net shows.
Sorcher was part of the early Cartoon Net exec team in the mid-1990s and rejoined the channel in January after six years at AMC. He wants to generate 150 bits of programming for Cartoon Net during the next 20 months. It's an ambitious target, and a sign of how eager the new programming chief is to inject new characters and fresh yuks into Cartoon. The mission, as Sorcher sees it, is to create a "think tank" for animators. A productive think tank.
"I wanted to put a swift development track together," he says, "but the other side of it is thinking about long-term development and what it takes to get a successful cartoon series. I know that a lot of it comes from setting out the conditions where artists and writers can really succeed at doing that. We started thinking about how to create an environment where this kind of creative thinking can happen."
McCracken and Renzetti will oversee the operation in their own dedicated area of the Cartoon Studios building, with McCracken serving as exec producer and Renzetti as supervising producer. Cartoon is close to wrapping its first batch of development pacts to fuel its development drive. (McCracken is pictured at right at the 2007 Annie Awards where he picked up a kudo for "Foster's.")
Putting the initiative in the hands of artists was important because they'll be able to speak to and work with other ink- and paint- and CG-stained wretches in a way that no executive ever could. One thing Sorcher's learned is that in many cases, a cartoon character needs to be developed and refined on its own, before the many other elements of a show are determined.
"Many times an artist has an idea for a character, but it becomes a big obstacle if you ask them to pitch you the entire show before you move forward," Sorcher sez. "It can be so daunting that the ideas go nowhere; I've seen it happen. So the idea is to get people immediately working on ideas, concepts, drawings. We want artists talking to artists and putting their notions on paper. Then we'll figure out if there is a hit series lurking among those characters and concepts," Sorcher says.
Because of the need for speed, Cartoon Net is looking for animators, scribes, directors and storyboarders with experience. They're not setting up a recruiting station on the campus of Cal Arts, though over time Sorcher sez he'd love to expand the Cartoonstitute to include an apprenticeship-type program for promising art students.
"This is a huge deal. The goal is for us to become the premier television studio where animators want to work," Sorcher sez. "This should be the environment where they dream about coming to do there shows, where the process (of development) is respected and led by artists."