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Fox hopes new animation block will launch the next Simpsons

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High School USA!

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Fox High School USA!

On one hand, it's a quick and, perhaps, easy-to-overlook preview of a couple of new cartoons that will eventually take up residence in Fox's late-night Saturday slot.

On the other hand, however, it's also a scheduling move that hints at greater aspirations and asks, very quietly, one very big question: Is there another Simpsons in here somewhere?

When Fox previews its new Animation Domination High-Def programming block this week (Sunday, July 21 at 8:30 p.m.), it's sending a clear signal to the rest of the cartoon-creating TV and cable business it intends to reclaim its place as the leader in pioneering animation for the small screen.

"The reality is that Fox has a really long history and a successful history of animation, and that having a space to do experimental and more interesting kind of animation is really important," said Nick Weidenfeld, head of the team responsible for creating the new Animation Domination High-Def fare. "It's how The Simpsons grew from The Tracey Ullman Show into a behemoth on Sunday night, and Saturday night offers a space to do that."

At the same time it fuelled the development of Fox's current Sunday-cartoon juggernaut that spawned King of the Hill, Family Guy, The Cleveland Show, Futurama and Bob's Burgers, the success of The Simpsons also inspired a wave of adult-themed animation in the cable realm, starting with Ren & Stimpy and South Park and eventually mushrooming into dozens upon dozens of titles and entire programming blocks such as (U.S. cable) Cartoon Network's popular Adult Swim concept.

With Animation Domination High-Def, Fox is signalling it intends to step up production of new material with the aim of creating a farm system that will feed its prime-time cartoon roster.

After previewing ADHD fare in prime time on Sunday, Fox will install the experimental-animation package into its Saturday 10 p.m. slot on July 27. The block will showcase a number of new cartoon products each week. The July 21 preview includes an episode of the loopy, action-packed adventure Axe Cop -- which was created by a five-year-old and illustrated by his 30-year-old brother -- and a first glimpse of High School USA!, a coarse-humour-driven cartoon whose characters bear an uncanny resemblance to some well-known comic-book students from Riverdale High.

There isn't anything in the preview that suggests a Simpsons-sized spinoff success, but eventually creating one is clearly part of what the ADHD team is hoping to accomplish.

"I think that's absolutely one of the goals," Weidenfeld said earlier this year when Fox introduced the Animation Domination High-Def concept during Fox's portion of the U.S. networks' semi-annual press tour in Los Angeles. "It's a path that (they) could go down. Should they develop a property that they own, that is interesting, and can exist in the prime-time space, that would be wonderful. That is not the only metric of success (for ADHD), but I think that it's something that everyone would be really excited about."

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 18, 2013 C6

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