Late Night Cartoons
Written By: Nicholas Kawchak
Edited By: C.J. Incorminias and Debbie Kawchak
How is it even that a cartoon character named Peter Griffin from the show Family Guy is more popular than late night talk show host Jay Leno? Watch out Leno and Letterman, here come the late night cartoons! Over the last decade there has been a drastic shift in the cartoon viewing audience. With the help of networks such as Comedy Central, Fox, Adult Swim (Cartoon Network), and MTV cartoons have covertly but rapidly become very popular and have evolved to suit the new adult audience. The new popularity has been due to a couple of factors. These late night hours, satiric humor, and adult behaviors allow for the adult audience to laugh and relate to embarrassing situations that the characters go through which are competing against late night talk shows.
One of the more notable changes was the move to later show times, which is when adults and teenagers are normally watching television. This change in time from 11pm to 2am has allowed for a larger viewing audience of older teenagers. An Excerpt from Toon In explains,
“The Adult Swim fare now consistently rates as the top block in its time slot on cable among the coveted young adult demographic. In the last year alone, the ratings for the entire three-hour block jumped by over 60 percent, from around 180,000 viewers to 431,000 viewers (as of April); a few shows in the block, like “Family Guy” (about a dysfunctional Rhode Island family), regularly draw more than a million viewers. Most of those viewers are young men. In fact, for males age 18-24, Adult Swim now demolishes the ratings of broadcast standbys like Leno and Letterman–beating Leno by 36 percent and Letterman by a whopping 87 percent.”
The fact that the Adult Swim network itself is taking on the late night talk show hosts and thwarting them in viewer ratings by that much shows how much late night cartoons have evolved to be suit the void of late night tv watching. The late night cartoons have even provided support and revenue for popular network stations when they are aired at all ties of the day. According to the article Night Fall written by Tony Case,
The two-hour core late-night block is a lucrative one for the nets, particularly NBC, which last year earned $446.8 million on the daypart, according to Nielsen Monitor Plus. CBS raked in $316.8 million in the same time period, while ABC rang up $143.7 million.
This testifies to how much late night cartoons are exceeding their mark. These shows have even expanded to air on other networks than they originally aired to reach a wider audience and promote and lure the massive audience to their own network.
T.V. cartoons have traditionally been developed with a children’s audience in mind, and are nearly always scheduled for daytime TV, which dictates their content. Now that late night cartoons have become more adult oriented, it has come to incorporate a variety of humor, vulgar messages, and explicit media content. For instance Seth Macfarlane likes to use satire and vulgar expressions to create humor making fun of things in our society. For the creators to make cartoons with their own brand of humor, they are all geared towards a different audience which is why the shows vary yet still attract a similar audience. Matt Stone and Tony Parker, the creators of South Park, based their show off of crude, dark, and parody humor to poke fun at and juxtapose different aspects of society. Whether its about a persons personality, mental capacity,or events that happen in the media, South Park makes fun of everything that is in the news but in a crude childish way through their characters Stan, Cartman, Kyle, and Butters.
These late night cartoon shows such as Family Guy, South Park, and the Simpsons all have their similar humor but it is the characters that make them enjoyable and unique in their own way. South Park is about a group of young kids who go on crazy adventures and get themselves into trouble which include things from guitar hero mania to Imagination Land.This next clip compares a traditional cartoon, Charlie Brown, with an adult cartoon, South Park. The clip shows that even though the characters of the two shows are the same around the same age, Charlie Brown is about a football kick while South Park makes fun of energy drinks using adult content.
It is the rebellious attitude of the young kids in South Park that makes it appealing to the adult audience and makes the show enjoyable to watch. Another show of the cartoon realm is Family Guy, about a man named Peter Griffin and his dysfunctional family, which uses pop culture references to poke fun at celebrities or companies. They try to appeal to the recent craze of something happening in the media.In this Family Guy clip, Peter Griffin becomes addicted to methamphetamine and then it transitions into the Simpsons and how church is about a bunch of made up stories that never happened.
As the video shows, Family guy includes drug use, family violence, and they make fun of red bull and methamphetamine whereas the Simpsons makes fun of more ordinary things, such as church, their grandpa and that church is all about made stories. Simpsons is very similar to Family Guy in that it is about a dysfunctional family except in the Simpsons they make fun of all of the characters in the show. Justin Peters writes in the article Toon In,
“Like The Simpsons, South Park also strove for an element of realism. “Most kids on TV are just projections of what adults think kids should be like,” observed “South Park” cocreator Matt Stone. “Kids are not sweet and innocent. They’re mean and vindictive . . . and that’s what makes them so funny.”
Most of the producers actually produce shows that relate to the young adult population. For shows like the Simpsons and family guy it is for the most part an honor for celebrities to be on the show because as much as it is funny to watch, these episodes most have been known to help with the celebrities own popularity.
Humor is a big part of drawing in the young adult audience and the producers of these shows use different techniques to entice their viewers to watch the show. Justin Peters of Toon In writes,
“Aside from budget-conscious production values, the Adult Swim shows are united by a shared postmodern ethos: ironic detachment and meta-commentary on the metaphors and tropes of bad television.“
The audience that Lazzo’s team are aiming at have grown up on bad TV so they will find it funny being ridiculed in these cartoons. Most of the producers actually try to produce shows that relate to the young adult population. In that respect the most producers want to convey “locker room talk” or other vulgar expressions, which feeds into the rebellious and anarchist views of a young adult who find humor in it.
The battle between late night talk show hosts and late night cartoon producers have been going on ever since the shows started poking fun of each other. This interview of Seth Macfarlane shows that during the writers strike he created a Family Guy episode in which he made fun of Jon Stewart for broadcasting his talk show during the strike.
As seen in the interview late night talk show host, Jon Stewart did not take kindly to the episode of Family Guy and did not appreciate that the episode was mocking him. Ironically enough, Jon Stewart makes a living doing the same thing to other people yet when Seth Macfarlane makes fun of him; he got angry and took offense to the Family Guy episode. It shows how late night talk show hosts are beginning to take notice of the late night cartoons that are now competing over the young adult audience that watches television from 11pm until 2am.
Cartoons have become exponentially more popular during the last decade surpassing viewership of most late night talk shows because of their crude and rebellious humor that captures the attention of the old adolescent and adult audiences. The producers of these shows produce one episode after another in which they convey different methods of humor that attract the adolescent audience to the shows. With characters such as Peter Griffin, Cartman, and Homer and Bart Simpson, the producers create characters that the viewers can connect with and relate to which allows the producers to instantly hook the viewer into watching the show. These shows allow the viewer to live out an inner fantasy since they know they cannot act like the characters on the show but he can watch these immoral actions in the shows of late night cartoons.
Peters, Justin, Toon In, Washington Monthly, June 2004
Case, Tony, Night Fall, MediaWeek, May 2007
Piers Tonight, CNN, October
The Simpsons, Youtube, October 2010
South Park, Youtube, October 2012
Peanuts, Youtube, January 2010
Family Guy, Youtube, May 2012
Feature Image, Nick Kawchak