As the creator of some of Nickelodeon’s most successful series, like The Fairly OddParents, Danny Phantom, and T.U.F.F. Puppy, Butch Hartman knows a thing or two about working with a network. Which is why he’s starting and funding his own, called the Noog Network, a strictly online venture where he can maintain freedom and ownership of his cartoon and live-action creations.
Not that Hartman is done with Nickelodeon, or any other network for that matter. Cartoon Brew caught up with Hartman via email to discuss his weekend “side project,” the promise of the app space, animation in the age of the Internet, and more.
CARTOON BREW: The Noog App, which is aimed at kids 6-14, is your own project. Why launch your own network, and how is it going so far?
BUTCH HARTMAN: I’m primarily doing it because I have always wanted to have my own place –- yep, “network” — where I can conceive, produce, and broadcast anything I want. Years ago, it was inconceivable that a single individual, unless they were someone like Oprah Winfrey, could start up their own. It would have taken hundreds of millions of dollars to start one on traditional, broadcast television.
But now, with the Internet, it takes far less time and money. It still takes a ton of work and passion to get things done, but doing things on the web is far less daunting now. The Noog Network is entirely self-funded; I have no investors. I never even wanted one. This way, I am beholden to no one but me (and my awesome wife Julieann). I can think of an idea on a Monday and have it on the network by Friday. No committees. No red tape. Just me.
CARTOON BREW: Why have you shifted in this direction, after working in network animation for so long?
BUTCH HARTMAN: Honestly, I’ve always loved the app space, and wanted to make one although I never really knew which way to go about it. Should I make a game? A self-help app? Something that helps you find your car keys? The possibilities were endless. Then it occurred to me: I have a lot of cartoon and live-action show ideas that I’ve conceived over the years. A lot. Not all of them were necessarily ready to pitch to a major network, but I knew a lot of them were good and had potential.
So instead of trying to get a major corporation to invest a lot of money (which can take a while), I thought why not just make short pilots of these ideas myself and see if they work? Easy enough, but where was I going to show them? Randomly scatter them on the Internet? Some random channel? I feared they’d get lost in the shuffle, and look like everything else out there in cyberspace. Then I had the idea of creating my own channel, my own space where my ideas could live exclusively. That’s when the idea of an app occurred to me. Then I was off and running.
CARTOON BREW: Are you going to premiere new animated projects of your own on Noog?
BUTCH HARTMAN: Oh yes, all of the programs currently available on the channel are mine. Why? Not because of arrogance, believe me. I’d love to have outside ideas submitted to me, but I’d have to pay for them. This way, for now, my production overhead is a lot lower — because I don’t cost me anything! I do have plans to premiere two new shows very soon, both of which were conceived by outside creators, but that’s about it for now.
CARTOON BREW: Any plans to continue with Nick?
BUTCH HARTMAN: I’ve had a fantastic relationship with Nickelodeon for many years now, and hope to always have one. They’ve treated me very well; we’ve had some amazing successes together and will continue to do so. Right now, the Noog Network is completely a side project that I work on during the weekends.
CARTOON BREW: How do you see Noog differentiating itself from competing online tween channels, many of which are backed by big corporate dollars?
BUTCH HARTMAN: I’m different from the big-money guys in one major way: I am personally invested, because I’m spending my own money. I know some think that is a foolish risk, but I don’t think that’s the case. I have total freedom. Freedom that I wouldn’t have if I was dealing with investors. I’d be constantly having to reassure them everything was fine and wouldn’t be able to focus on the creative aspects of the network which is what will make the difference in the long run.
“It’s a risk, but it’s my risk, and I am 100 percent fine with that. I’d rather aim high and miss, than aim low and hit every time.”
I think that, when you experience the Noog Network, you’ll feel a different level of “personal service” that you won’t feel in a larger channel. I’ve poured my heart and soul into every aspect of this. Every live show, every script, every toon, every game, every character, even every building and cloud in the background. We’re starting small, but we’ve only been live for three weeks. Believe me, by this time next year, we will be much larger. I plan on adding new programming and games all the time. And yes, it’s a risk. But it’s my risk, and I am 100 percent fine with that. I’d rather aim high and miss, than aim low and hit every time.
CARTOON BREW: Any thoughts on current programming on Nick, or other networks?
BUTCH HARTMAN: I think Nickelodeon is trying some great new things to shake it up. Hey, you have to! Audiences are very fickle and you have to do what you can to keep their attention. I’m finding this out myself right now.
As far as other networks, I think we are running out of family-friendly stuff to watch. I have two daughters and, as they were growing up, I found it harder and harder to find stuff I felt was appropriate for them to view. Even when I’d find a good show, the commercials in between shows were terrible for them! It was really tough. Everyone nowadays seems to be going for the quick success of the “shock moment.” I feel this is not smart. Strong characters and strong stories will always win the day. And family-friendly entertainment is alive and well; just ask anyone at Pixar. The entertainment on the Noog Network is family-friendly. Our slogan is, “A safe place for kids,” and it always will be.
CARTOON BREW: Last thoughts on how Internet programming is changing the TV game?
BUTCH HARTMAN: It’s completely changing it! Now that kids can carry their own TVs in their pockets and watch things whenever they want, the networks are going to have to figure out how to capture that audience, if they are going to survive. When I was a kid we had three channels; now there are 3,000. It’s definitely a whole new world. Wait, a whole Noog world!