MTV Wants to Dabble in Animation Again

Bill Plympton, who is prepping for the October 6th theatrical release of his feature Idiots and Angels in New York, has been writing a blog diary describing the tough slog of self-promoting an indie animated feature. In the course of doing so, he revealed a worthwhile news tidbit in one of his entries from last week:

Then I’m talking on the phone to Tom Akel of MTV who’s setting up a new animation web channel (he even wants to bring back Liquid Television) and wants to do some interviews and maybe show some of my shorts.

Akel’s on-line bio lists him as a supervising producer who heads digital production of shows and games across MTV.com. It’s nice that MTV is considering animation again, but in today’s bottom line-driven TV industry, don’t hold your breath for any network to aggressively embrace indie and short-form animation–even on-line.

Can anyone envision a Liquid Television-type program ever happening again, where a network would support animated programming without concern about profit or return on investment? I certainly can’t. And more importantly, in the bountiful world of on-line animation, who needs a corporate monolith as a curator of animated content?

MTV spent years cultivating an enviably hip identity through animated station IDs and short film commissions only to squander it all. If their on-line initiative recaptures some of that animation glory, nobody’s going to complain, but if they want to begin competing at this late stage in the game, they’re going to have to offer the Internet something truly special that hasn’t been seen before.


  • http://cartoonsof1939.blogspot.com/ Ted

    How much did Liquid Television cost MTV? I’m sure they paid licensing fees, and at elast some of the segments were produced for the show, but how much of the production costs were borne by MTV? A significant portion of the segments were previously released, but perhaps I am overestimating their presence in the show. I can certainly see a cheap compilation show where a network licenses already existing shorts to be feasible now. IFC (or maybe it’s Sundance) shows isolated shorts here and there; a compilation show is an obvious next step.

  • http://www.frankpanucci.com FP

    When LIQUID TV was new, there was not yet a widely known WWW and no practical broadband. These days, using too many online sources to mention, I essentially make my own LIQUID TV episodes. I find about three or four hours a month of likely-looking stuff, download it while working, and burn to DVD for later viewing. It’s on tap whenever I feel like it in quantities unimaginable twenty years ago.

    • Jorge

      Hey give us some links to dl all this stuff you talk about. I do kind of the same w/ music videos but i have very little sources for good animation. Thanks

      • http://www.frankpanucci.com FP

        I posted links and instructions about downloading files, but they never showed up here. There must have been a technical hiccup, or I forgot to click “GO“.

        In short (because I’m not typing all that again), browse with Firefox and use the DOWNLOAD HELPER plugin, and you can grab animation from almost any site on the web that hosts video – YouTube and Vimeo, for instance. Use your choice of program to convert to DVD.

      • http://www.frankpanucci.com FP

        Here’s a peek at my animation download folder:
        http://img201.imageshack.us/img201/7245/animdl910.jpg

  • Chris Sobieniak

    If only it was 20 years ago and this was all happening anyway. (let alone MTV still showing those cool ID’s on the air).

  • Cyber Fox

    MTV woudn’t have the nads to release Sifl & Olly on DVD/Netflix Instant Stream but they’re thinking of reviving Liquid TV? WTF??

    • Chris Sobieniak

      That’s what I felt! (at least we got The State released in some capacity)

  • Writer of Wrongs

    If are you look at it in this light, Liquid TV was not a money loser. It helped introduce Beavis and Butt-Head and Aeon Flux to the MTV audience. Both shows went on to make MTV tons of money in both TV and movies.

    A compilation show can be a great incubator for future series. Oh Yeah (though mostly terrible) spawned Fairly OddParents which has paid Nick serious dividends. Cartoon Net’s “What a Cartoon” launched several hit series. I’m surprised more channels that want to get in the game or are floundering (I’m looking at you CN) aren’t developing shorts series. The key is putting those shorts on the air and letting the audience tell you what works and what doesn’t.

    • http://ryuuseipro.blogspot.com/ John Paul Cassidy

      Oh Yeah (though mostly terrible) spawned Fairly OddParents which has paid Nick serious dividends.

      No, no, you want to know what was “mostly terrible?” RANDOM! CARTOONS. Our own Jerry Beck’s HORNSWIGGLE was one of the few cartoons on that program that I actually liked. Most of the other entries were so pedestrian, they were painful to sit through. Kind of like waiting for the bell to ring on the last day of school before Summer Vacation.

      On the other hand, OH YEAH! had plenty of interesting cartoons I liked.

      But I agree with you on the other things, especially CN. However, I’m afraid that MTV cannot take chances on any more animated shows. After the end of DARIA, they stopped caring about animation, and, like Nickelodeon, loves to cancel shows before the season could end. (Case in point: CLONE HIGH. I was mad when they stopped airing that. It had 5-7 episodes left to go!) If they bring back LIQUID TELEVISION (which I loved when I watched it!), I’ll believe it when I see it. But the same thing could be said about all of Viacom, which depends on the “sponge” to stay alive.

      • holyduck

        MTV hasn’t been doing well at all. They had to close the MTV Store in TIMES SQUARE! … my hopes are not changed by this news.

  • http://suspended.tv/blog ralph phillips

    i recently purchased a bunch of mtv animation from itunes. i haven’t seen them since i was a kid. and they are as good as ever. the maxx, the head, aeon flux, beavis and butthead.

    all awesome, particularly the maxx. damn that show was ahead of it’s time. all the super subtle uses of 3d animation, back then? works out so well. it would be great for ny animators as well, having the big company in the city pumping out animations, all this amidst cartoon network falling out with the west coast wanting to bring animation back east? great time to be an animator in ny.

    aachew… oh look. an mtv logo. wanna see? WELL I DIDN’T WANNA SHOW YOU ANYWAY!

    • Chris Sobieniak

      That ID was really good if you were expecting to see it!

  • Russell

    About a year ago I had a phone conversation with a producer tasked to bring back Liquid Television. I was a bit skeptic about their intent going into the phone call. I didn’t talk to Tom Akel, and I can’t be certain that the person I talked to is even still on the project. But she was very much aware of all the concerns mentioned above. At the time she said the goal was to have a mix of already completed shorts, and original in house content. Like I said I cant comment on how their efforts are going now, but at least the person I talked to had a decent understanding of animation and how to handle it, not just some producer wanting to capitalize on the success of adult swim.

  • http://www.frankpanucci.com FP

    In a history of, I think, MTV I checked out from the library in the 1990s, it was stated MTV paid $500 per minute for LIQUID TV animation. According to the book, many animators were approached and declined the offer, calling it “insulting”. Nope, I have no idea what the book was called or if it was about MTV or something else. I used to check out ten books a week. Now I just reads on the inner nets.

  • http://asteriskpix.blogspot.com Richard O’Connor

    The original animation of Liquid Television was produced by Colossal Pictures, mostly out of San Francisco. The studio sunk A LOT of money into the show. I don’t know what MTV paid them, but I’d guess it was in the range of $15k/minute.

    $500/minute must have been for acquisitions. Depending on the nature of the contract that’s much better than the average online outlet these days.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      The show itself was a mixture of original and acquired productions. Aside from the material done by (Colossal) and a few other made specifically for the show, you had material often combed from film fests like Spike & Mike which made up the rest of the half hours (of which there was only 22 episodes spanning three seasons, so it was very limited if you noticed the same episodes kept recycling themselves constantly back then). Some of those I can think off at the top of my head included for example Mike Judge’s early films like “Office Space” and the Beavis & Butt-Head films, Paul Driessen’s “The Killing of an Egg”, Bill Kroyer’s “Technological Threat”, Bob “Scanner Darkley” Sabiston’s “Grinning Evil Death”, even an edited version of “Koko’s Earth Control” sync to a techno score. Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s piece from the 1987 “Manie Manie: The Labyrinth Tales” (a.k.a. “Neo-Tokyo”), “The Running Man” was rather a pivotal moment for the entire show. That’s the one moment most viewers remembered well from having experienced that in all it’s broadcast glory.

      While it was nice that they did show a lot of these gems to a wide audience via Liquid TV, sometimes the rather slap-dash presentation didn’t always clicked well for me, such as the way Joe Murray’s student film “The Chore” ends abruptly due to the fact it’s final gag occurs during/after the end credits. Of course like anything else, it drives you to look for these things, get in touch with those in the know or even go to these festival screenings to see more of it. Those were fun times in my life when the idea of still being interested in “cartoons” while in high school seemed so moot.

    • http://garrisonsjunk.blogspot.com Chris Garrison

      Delving into my dusty, archived records, I find that I got a meager $8000 for a one minute piece I did specially for Cartoon Sushi, as an independent animator in ’98. The budget was tight, but I was happy to have my work seen by a wide audience. The cartoon has gone on to get a lot of clicks on youtube, so I’m happy about that, too. (thinly veiled plug)
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lwm1KevWJjU

  • Steve

    How would it differ from sites like Channel Frederator? or Joe Murray’s proposed KaboingTV?

  • http://psychdrive.com Lenny

    Cool. I say bring it on. Sounds good. Keep sifting and finding new cool stuff.

  • http://www.sweetposer.tk/urbmn/ Cameron A.

    I always felt MTV’s interest in animation, at least during the early-to-mid-1990s, was an extension of the “alternative rock” audience it was trying to court. Once alt-rock ran its course, MTV’s animated output became pedestrian.

    Granted, MTV still put out Daria, UnderGRADS and Clone High, but post-alt MTV cartoons focused almost exclusively on the topic of “this is what high school/college/urban life is like.” It didn’t help that shows like Downtown and Clone High were relegated to one-season runs.

    I can’t help but feel Liquid Television and Beavis & Butthead are coming back since they’re established properties. I like Warren the Ape, but that’s the fourth show starring Greg the Bunny characters (five if you include Junktape) since the late 1990s. I’m not convinced that MTV will run headlong into truly original content again, not in the era of DJ and the Fro.

    As an aside, is the world now ready for MTV’s Heckle and Jeckle/Curbside? I couldn’t resist referencing that pilot, since Beck was one of the people behind it. Heh heh heh.

    • http://www.sweetposer.tk/urbmn/ Cameron A.

      Stupid me. I conflated the 1998 Nick pilot and the unmade MTV series into one show. Sorry about that.

  • Adam

    They’re still involved with The Animation Show, right?

  • holyduck

    Bet you anything that Christy Karacas and Augenblick Studios will be involved in some way.

  • Ben

    Too little, too late, MTV, You’ve done this already, once of course, with LIQUID TELEVISION, then again a few years later with CARTOON SUSHI. Both times you pulled the plug too soon. Back in the day when you were “hip and edgy”, this was cool, but now this seems like a sad attempt to regain the glory days of years gone by.

  • http://lineboil.com Aaron Simpson

    I think the dabbling has already begun. You already reported on the new Beavis and Butt-head effort, and they’re also doing Good Vibes, an animated comedy from Pineapple Express director David Gordon Green. They had a Lorne Michaels series in development last year called The Awesomes (with Seth Myers), and a show called Who’s Your Daddy, but I think they’re both dead. In the spring, it was reported that animation is a big priority at MTV…. “Launching a scripted lineup of live-action and animated series has been a priority for MTV’s president of programming Tony DiSanto who recently hired veteran David Janollari to head the network’s scripted development.”
    http://www.deadline.com/2010/04/mtv-goes-scripted-with-new-animated-series-live-action-pilot/

  • Pickup Truck

    They should also bring back the awesome animated MTV logos ala Marv Newland!

  • The Gee

    Amid wrote:”…but if they want to begin competing at this late stage in the game, they’re going to have to offer the Internet something truly special that hasn’t been seen before.”

    Given that the web is constantly changing and to a degree is being sequestered by various outlets (Apple’s iTunes, etc.; Microsofts XBox Live, every App(lication) store there is) who’s to say that it is too late in the game?

    I’ll grant anyone saying that a lot of efforts online have flopped like fish and eventually died. But, if Viacom, MTV, wants to put up something different whether by curating, acquisitions or commissioning, let ‘em try. I’ll agree to not expect the world of it but the pie is being divided into such small slices that expecting MTV’s animation effort to become as big as Facebook or as popular as some video game or movie is a bit much.

    Whatever MTV is right now, in terms of branding and content, it still has a chance to push the envelope for its own fortunes just like a lot of other companies that are under big corporate umbrellas. If they are allowed by the upper ups to try something different with animation then hopefully it works and people get work/money from it and an audience enjoys it all.

    Just keep in mind, it doesn’t have to be just a site or on a site, it can be a direct purchase thing, like those apps for mobile devices.

    That said, MTV’s effort, whatever it might be, will not or won’t be the only effort out there by a large established content provider. If it is too late for anything, quite frankly, it is too late to keep saying it is “too late.”

  • Vzk

    I hope they bring back the Brothers Grunt. ;)

  • http://www.daganm.blogspot.com Dagan

    Wow!

    The return of ‘Liquid Television’ could
    be very cool…

    I do think that it would be difficult to capture
    the ‘magic’ of the originals… That show was
    just special, plain and simple.

    I think MTV is up to the challenge, though. NY has lots
    of talented animation artists who would LOVE to be a part of that! ;)

    I would love to see a thoughtfully executed return of one of my favorite shows ever… I’ll be watching how this develops. :)

  • http://www.daganm.blogspot.com Dagan

    –’Stevie and Zoya’

    –’The Specialists’

    –’Invisible Hands’

    and of course

    –’Stick Figure Theatre’

    … I mean, come ON!
    They just don’t MAKE em’ like that anymore! :)
    (But they should)!

  • Vzk

    They’ll probably just get a bunch of stuff from Newgrounds or Youtube, maybe a dash of original material and call it a show.

  • The Gee

    As much as I’d want this to be something HUGE, even if it isn’t shouldn’t it be a good thing that there’s rumblings that it might happen?

    It is easy to diss it as a failed effort before it even leaves the gate. It is also easy to raise the expectations to it must be a market maker. But, even if it just sits at some level and continues wouldn’t that account for something? I mean, if there is a site and they put money into it and continue production then that in and of itself should be good.

    Let’s face it, the time and budget elements are the reason why there is no animation equivalent of Funny or Die.com Funny or Die (and sites like College Humor) spawned a lot of imitators. So, having a big company that has tried animation before step into the fray online should just be seen as good. So, hope for good and maybe they’ll surprise all of us with best.

  • Compn

    i still cant believe they are bringing back beavis and butt-head. if they bring in new shorts on a new liquid television, thats great! at least some of those shorts have music in them, it’ll be more music on mtv. haha

    CN was supposed to do a compilation show ‘cartoonstitute’. wonder what happened to that? regular show was a pilot in it.

    mtv really started a lot of animation careers. mike judge, chris pyrnowski (megas xlr/downtown/metalocalypse), peter chung. just to name three big ones. it’d be great if they can introduce us to future artists.

    mtv also has some animation in other countries, check out usavich from mtv japan. http://www.mtvjapan.com/usavich/index.html

  • http://www.rubberonion.com Stephen “RubberOnion” Brooks

    AWESOME!!

    That’s it…

  • rebecca

    Liquid Television is what made me even more of an outcast in my last years of high school (I was told that I was too old to be watching cartoons, and that I should be interested in other things which were more becoming of someone of my age). Since leaving high school and having the opportunity to own a collection of the program on video (which includes my favorite stick figure theater crash of the Hindenburg)has opened up conversations and friendships. I hope that Liquid TV comes back and is again shown on free to air Australian TV. Good bye going out Saturday nights, hello my old friend Liquid TV.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      Sounds like my life! It just wasn’t something I wanted to flat out say to my pals in school that I still watched cartoons even though I didn’t think they would’ve mind either.