Animation is faring better than ever at the box office with both Shrek and Monsters Inc. both destined to earn well in excess of $200 million. Hollywood is recognizing the importance of animation by creating a new Oscar category, Best Animated Feature, but things are different on the small screen. Fox recently dropped its daytime cartoon block (see 'Fox Axes Daily Toons'), and today Variety reports that the network is considering a number of scenarios, most of which will spell the end for what had been the top kiddie line-up of the 1990s. The problem is that ad sales have softened and Fox's Power Rangers-led ratings dominance of the past has been eclipsed by competition from the WB (with Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh), ABC (One Saturday Morning), CBS (Nick Jr.), and of course, the Cartoon Network. Now the four-hour, anime-laden Fox Kids Saturday lineup is in jeopardy, and shows like Transformers (see 'Fox Adds Two New Anime'), Medabots (see 'Medabots To Bow on Fox Kids'), Mon Colle Knights (see 'Mon Colle Knights Debuts on Fox'), and Digimon could be looking for new time slots on a different network.
It is possible that Fox will 'lease' the Saturday morning block to a 'packager' like Nelvana, 4kids, or DIC Entertainment, but Variety also notes that Fox might use the time block to attempt to attract an older 18-34 audience by recycling programming from its FX network, which could eventually yield more in the way of ad revenue if the network could get the more mature audience to watch. NBC, which currently fields a group of live-action shows featuring teen actors and aimed at slightly older demographic than the other networks' Saturday morning lineups, is reportedly looking to partner with a cable network that could help bring an audience to Saturdays by promoting the shows throughout the week.
It is possible that NBC could return to an animated lineup at the same time that Fox dumps its toons, but it is unlikely that anime would be as well represented on NBC as it currently is on Fox Kids. The Transformers and Digimon are already well-known anime properties, and they should be able to find a home, on cable if not on network TV. Mon Colle Knights is one of the most humorous shows on Saturday morning, while the almost equally funny Medabots has loads of potential, both as a cartoon series and merchandising vehicle. It would be a shame if these series were shelved or relegated to obscure timeslots on cable networks. The current slowdown in ad sales has exposed problems with creating network-animated series, problems that extend to the once sacrosanct 'kiddie' block on Saturday morning. Perhaps the future of animation on television (outside of prime time) lies with specialized cable networks. Fox's decision on what to do with its Saturday morning Fox Kids block is expected within a week or two. It will have a major impact on children's programming, and perhaps on the way in which anime series are marketed in the U.S. Stay tuned.