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Midnight Munchies with [adult swim]

How Cartoon Network's programs became a hip destination for humor-hungry insomniacs

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Thompson: They want validation. When they ask that question, the answer they really want to hear is, "Fuck yeah! I'm on drugs right now!" And then they can say, "Kick ass! Let's go smoke pot!"

Willis: "I've got a doobie, let's go write an episode."

Ouweleen: I think they want validation of their lifestyle.

Reed: "I get high -- will one day I have a TV show?"

Crofford: That's the thing with these lo-fi shows -- everyone thinks they can do one. "I've got pot, I've got a computer, I watch the shows ... ."

Willis: There was a kid who was one of our college reps who cornered me and said, "We have this cartoon we do called "Pot Heads." Our heads are in it, but we're planted in flowerpots. And we're stoned! But like, I totally forgot the address of the website we put it on ... ."

Ouweleen: I'm shocked by the broadness of the fan base. I run into people who are professionals who watch us. Some Wall Street guy on the subway saw me with an Adult Swim bag and said, "I love Sealab." My kids' kindergarten teacher knows the show -- which is really frightening.

Reed: That means he's smoking pot.

When did Adult Swim start to take off?

Crofford: Family Guy and Futurama really opened the floodgates. Family Guy was just a 13-week test, because a lot of people were convinced it was going to kill us. People were going to revolt and send letters.

Ouweleen: Torches and pickaxes.

Crofford: And instead it became our most popular show. Because of those shows, the mainstream audience discovered Adult Swim, and now they're sticking around for the originals. For Aqua Teen, the numbers for the midnight hour have gone through the roof. Sealab and Harvey Birdman are coming around next.

Ouweleen: We got ratings charts saying "Double David Letterman's delivery!" and I remember thinking, "Oh my God! How'd we cook these numbers?"

Reed: And then you see stuff like this [indicates the pens, plushies, Rubik's cubes and other Adult Swim-related merchandise on the table] and you realize there's someone in a factory making Adult Swim products and saying, "What is this crap?"

Willis: We started getting a lot of backhanded compliments. Other Turner employees would see us in the bathroom and say, "Well, you really saved that one. I thought that was a piece of shit, but you pulled it out."

Reed: "Conventional wisdom said it was going to be awful."

Ouweleen: "I still think it's way beyond you, but somehow you did it."

When the shows began succeeding, did you try pushing more taboo content past the censors at Turner's Standards and Practices?

Thompson: Just recently it's changed in what we could say about religion. About a year ago, Adam wrote a great episode that featured a discussion about Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Reed: A character on Sealab wanted to do a Christmas pageant with a life-sized nativity scene and real camels. And someone said, "That isn't fair to all the Jewish and Muslim crewmembers." So they had a big talk about religion. And the network said, "This is all fine -- except for every reference to religion." The whole point of it was about tolerance about religions, but they said "No." So we had to make up all these religions.

Thompson: Like the Krebbish.

Reed: Their Jesus was a drunken cowboy.

Thompson: The religion of drinking and revenge.

Reed: Their tagline was, "He kills for your sins."

Thompson: We learned our lesson. But just recently we had a joke that revealed that society's strings are being pulled by the Five Jewish Bankers who Run the World. And you go up into outer space and see the Death Star of David. That was the first time that something like that went through. I think if we'd written the [Christmas party] script today, it wouldn't have been changed.

Crofford: We're able to push things a little further. It used to be that Cartoon Network had its own standards, even for adult shows, which were stricter than TBS or TNT. We said, "This is crazy, we're attracting all these 18-to-34-year-olds, who are also watching Comedy Central. Comedy Central doesn't do this. TBS doesn't even do this -- why can't you be a little more lenient?" And at Standards and Practices they said, "You know, you're right."


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